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"Marvin's Room" at Chapin Theatre Company

"Willy Wonka Jr." at Village Square Theatre

"Grease" at Dreher High School

"Habits of Mind"

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Greg "Bougie" Leevy in The Goat at Trustus Theatre

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Bobby Craft in "S.Claus and Company" at Workshop Theatre
Now Playing:
"Barbecue," July 21 - Septeber 8-23, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.  


Upcoming:
 "Rabbit Hole," September 22 - October 8, Chapin Theatre Company, 240-8544.

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame," 
September 22 - October 8, Town Theatre, 799-2510.

"Sister Act," September 15 - October 1, Village Square Theatre, 359-1436.

"Building the Wall," October 6-14, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.
 







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On Stage Productions

Barbecue at Trustus Skewers Preconceptions and Stereotypes of Class and Race With Raucous Satire

Review by August Krickel

Robert O'Hara's Barbecue, the season opener running through Saturday, September 23rd at Trustus Theatre, has nothing to do with delicious pulled pork, although plenty was on hand in the theater's adjacent parking lot for a festive opening night block party, thanks to the Bone-In Barbeque food truck. Plentiful beer and wine added to the celebratory vibe, and primed the audience for the raucous fun that unfolded on stage.

O'Hara's script is full of unexpected plot twists and turns, but I won't divulge any spoilers. Let’s just say that the story is told from multiple and possibly unreliable viewpoints, as comically bickering siblings stage an intervention - disguised as a family cookout at a public park - for an out-of-control sister whose volatile nature inspires her nickname, "Zippity-Boom." Some characters are played by more than one actor, and some actors play multiple characters, or alternate versions of the same character.  Stereotypes of substance abuse and addiction among lower-income, less-educated demographics, both white and African-American, are satirized mercilessly, although audiences can decide whether it's race, class, and cultural tropes that are the targets, or if it's our own preconceptions that are being challenged. Meanwhile pills are popped, Jack Daniel's and PBR are guzzled, and one bad boy is packin' a Taser, as a plan derived from reality television takes shape, to send Zippity-Boom to rehab, even if she says "no, no, no."  Act Two veers into radically different dramatic territory, exploring patterns that addicts follow even when sober, and the hypocrisy inherent in modern, reality-based entertainment.

On opening night, Director Ilene Fins successfully juggled quickly shifting tones and themes to create a more-or-less cohesive whole, although some may have felt a little cheated when expected plot developments in O’Hara’s storyline never materialized, and appealing characters became less so. Devin Anderson was a scream as an over-the-top pop diva with ambitions/delusions of Hollywood grandeur - think Whitney Houston or Beyoncé if they had pursued film careers more aggressively - but many of her best acting moments were accomplished silently in the first act with only fierce eye movements and body language. (Yes, duct tape was involved, which came as no surprise given the natures of the characters.) Dewey Scott-Wiley and Marilyn M. Matheus did good work as bossy if well-intentioned older sisters, while Christopher Cockrell and Kendrick J. Lyles were amusing as low-life younger brothers. I’m inclined to give top acting honors to Christine Hellman, who delivered a nuanced and understated performance as a recovering addict who finds a way to rewrite her own narrative. Mahogany Collins, Elena Martínez-Vidal, LaTrell Brennan, and Krista Forster rounded out the cast, and all had their own moments of outrageous antics, which drew plentiful laughter from the appreciative audience.

Heather Hawfield's excellent scenic design incorporated rugged wooden beams that formed a realistic picnic area, as well as a picturesque painted backdrop of surrounding foliage, rendered in intricate and visually satisfying detail by Hawfield, Richard Király, and Brandon McIver.

Barbecue is undeniable funny, in a take-no-prisoners, R-rated kind of way. While not exactly the profound statement on race and class that advance publicity and online plot summaries might suggest, the play skewers any number of societal quirks and foibles which are ripe for skewering, making for just the sort of entertainment that regular Trustus attendees have come to expect. For ticket information, call the Trustus box office at 803-254-9732, or visit http://trustus.org/event/barbecue/.

 

Inaugural Full Circle Production of The Pavilion Explores the Metaphysics of Second Chances


Review by August Krickel

The Pavilion is all about the lingering consequences of decisions, and the viability of fresh starts and do-overs, with some metaphysical musings on the nature of time and destiny thrown in for good measure. Set in a once-popular party venue in small-town Minnesota where a 20th high school reunion is taking place, Craig Wright's three-actor play takes a stab at exploring the vast mysteries of the cosmos, but it's the all-too-real human component that will likely resonate with audiences long after the cast's final bow.

Disclaimer: by the time you read this, that bow will have already taken place: the initial run of The Pavilion lasted five days only, and was presented last month in USC's Lab Theatre as a partnership between the University and a new professional acting company, Full Circle Productions. The brainchild of Theatre and Dance Department chair Robert Richmond, who directs this production, Full Circle takes its name from its roots: a number of theatre professionals with ties to USC as former students, teachers, or visiting artists, found themselves once again living in the Midlands, and wanted to do some good work together. Last year's campus production of Grounded was a sort of test drive for the operative model of Full Circle, in which small cast, simple-set shows - ones that Richmond describes as "being able to be put into a suitcase" and taken on the road - will tour to other venues, other campuses - both within the USC system and in other states - and possibly even other countries. There's also a good chance that this show will be done again in Columbia, so read on for what may lie in your theatre-going future. 

Peter (Andrew Schwartz) and Kari (Lindsay Rae Taylor) were the cutest couple in the senior class. Immature decisions were made, and he dumped her, heading off to college and a subsequent career in the big city as a psychologist, while she remained in drab Pine City, muddling through a humdrum and unsatisfying marriage, and working at a low-level bank job (literally - she's stationed downstairs with the safe deposit boxes.) While we never learn specifics, Peter believes that his own life is a mess, with relationships - the latest is with a woman 14 years his junior - never leading to any sense of fulfillment. His solution? Turn up at the class reunion, and try to reignite that old spark with Kari. One might find this notion awfully far-fetched - although if we think about our own craziest and most dysfunctional friends, acquaintances, classmates, and exes, I suspect most of us have seen or experienced worse - but Peter is equally motivated by genuine remorse, and the desire to seek forgiveness.  As Peter and Kari's inevitable confrontation plays out, the resulting effect is alternately poignant, sweet, and thought-provoking. 

At the core of Peter's troubled thoughts - and those of the author - is the issue of time, questioned and re-examined in various contexts. Life is too short to be unhappy, there's never enough time to reach all of our goals, one can't go back in time and change the past, but can one essentially restart the clock from zero for a second chance, or is one condemned to live out the ramifications of youthful mistakes?   Are we defined by individual actions forever, or can we grow and learn from our mistakes, and move on? 

And must we always move on, leaving the results of those mistakes behind?  Or can we somehow go back and fix them?

Much of the preceding is expressed by the cast's third actor, Jennifer Moody Sanchez, who begins as an omniscient narrator, but then takes on a dozen or more fleeting character roles as other attendees at the reunion. Most of these are the expected small town stereotypes: the class stoner, the gauche farmer, the local gossip, and the bless-her-heart queen bee who organizes the event. These are written quite broadly, and provide lots of comedy, as Sanchez segues seamlessly from one to the next, and from male to female and back, employing mainly changes in accent or body language.  In her narrator persona, however, she stops and re-starts the action, offers commentary on Peter and Kari, and tackles everything from the creation of the universe to some of those time-themed conundrums above. As a fan of the actress, I found these to be a treat, and enjoyed her tour-de-force of creating multiple roles from thin air; yet at times the playwright seemed to lose track of where these poetic monologues were going, and I was reminded of Jim Morrison lyrics at their murkiest, "as hosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind."

For me, the play was nevertheless elevated beyond a "Lorelai Gilmore goes to her reunion" television plot by the eloquence of the author's prose, and by the sincerity of the actors, moreso than by any actual or definitive philosophical conclusions.  When Schwartz and Taylor really get going and revisit all the hurt and pain and ugliness from their youth, their lines pop back and forth with nearly visible electricity. Director Richmond and designer Nate Terracio stage the proceedings in three-quarter-round, and the actors use every inch of the available space, constantly moving, crossing and countering, like prize fighters in a ring. It's a textbook demonstration of how to keep the audience engaged with a script that's almost all talk.  That said, there's a terrific bit of physical comedy where characters have deep conversation while doing that inevitable reunion staple, the Electric Slide. A few tables and benches, along with an array of festive lights overhead, are all that's necessary to suggest the setting, with the Lab Theatre's dark curtains something that actually might be found in an event venue. 

Reviews over the years have called this work an Our Town for a new generation, stemming the device of a narrator, the usually minimalist/non-existent set, and the universality of many of the issues raised. I was more reminded of Brecht, as commonplace emotions and experiences took on huge significance, with the narrator providing explication directly to the audience, and controlling assorted stage conventions.  Wisely, there are no explicit  references in the script to anything that might date the narrative (smart phones, Facebook, etc.) meaning that whenever the play is done, it can be a reunion of a class from exactly 20 years earlier, with appropriate pop music from the era playing throughout. 

While I doubt that The Pavilion will ever find the iconic status given to Brecht or Our Town, it's an excellent selection for the purposes of Full Circle, and not just because of the ease of touring the show. While the script ruminates over choices, it's the choices of the author and the production team that I think can provide almost endless opportunities for discussion. Could the play be done on a detailed, realistic set, and if so, would there be any benefit? Could the supporting cast of characters all be played by individual actors?  What challenges does the actor playing the narrator face when morphing quickly into other characters? And while Theatre 101 students delve into those quandaries, those in Psych 101 might ponder what pathologies are at work in Peter and Kari's interactions, budding philosophers might analyze the cosmic implications of time and meaning that are explored, and future playwrights would do well to speculate on whether the story would work better with only the characters of the former sweethearts, and if not, why not?

Long ago, USC used to have a Summer Repertory program, a popular annual event in which professional actors and stage technicians - often current faculty, recent graduates, and alumni - presented a quick summer season of four shows, offering high-quality entertainment to the community, while providing important experience and professional credits for its cast and crew. In that same era, USC benefited from association with the Aquila Theatre Company, who developed shows as artists-in-residence on campus, presented them with plenty of opportunity student involvement and engagement, and then set off on nationwide tours. The concept is the same as professional archaeologists involving students in some important dig overseas, or Physics or Engineering faculty giving students the chance to work on the development of some new technology. I have high hopes that Richmond and company will thrive, making their new company an integral part of the theatre scene on campus, in the Midlands, and all points beyond.  Full circle, indeed.

For details on future productions of this show and other Full Circle productions, visit https://fullcircletheatrecompany.com.

  


 

 

 


 



 
 

  










 
 
 










 

 




 
 

 
 

 










 
 


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