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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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Bobby Craft in "S.Claus and Company" at Workshop Theatre
Now Playing:
"Hand to God," April 21 - May 8, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.

"The Imaginary Invalid," April 20-29, South Carolina Shakespeare Company.

"Love Lies," April 21-30, WOW Productions, 807-2969.

"An Evening of Late Night One-Acts," April 28 - May 7, On Stage Productions, 351-6751.

"Sealed For Freshness," April 28 - May 7, Chapin Theatre Company, 240-8544.



Upcoming:
"Catch Me If You Can," May 5-28, Town Theatre, 799-2510.

"The Man Who Came to Dinner," May 5-13, Village Square Theatre, 359-1436.

"Don't Dress For Dinner," May 12-21, Workshop Theatre, 799-6551.

"The Producers," May 25 - June 4, Sumter Little Theatre, 775-2150.

"Rock of Ages," June 2 - July 1, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.

"Quilters, a Musical," June 9-10, Ritz Theatre of Newberry, 276-6264.

"Second Samuel," June 9-18, Village Square Theatre, 359-1436.

"The Commedia Sleeping Beauty," June 10-18, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.

"Sex On Sunday," July 7-15, Trustus Side Door Theatre, 254-9732.

"Beauty and the Beast, Jr.," July 23-30, Village Square Theatre, 359-1346.

"Madagascar - A Musical Adventure," July 28 - August 6, Chapin Theatre Company, 240-8544.

"Black Super Hero Magic Mama," August 4-12, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.





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Walking On Water Productions

On Stage Productions
Love Lies at WOW Productions Follows the Ups and Downs of Love, Commitment, and Obsession

Review by August Krickel

If the Oprah Winfrey Network decided to remake Melrose Place, you'd have Love Lies. Based on her novel My Heart Says This, Shaniqka Thomas's new play, which made its world premiere at the WOW Productions Performing Arts Center on Shakespeare Road this past weekend, is part romantic comedy and part thriller. Following the intersecting lives and relationships of attractive, young urban professionals, the story is technically set in Columbia, but could take place in any metro area. Although the plotline occasionally veers into soap opera territory, soap operas can be immensely enjoyable, as long as the characters are appealing and the actors flesh them out believably, which is certainly the case here.

Most of those characters are easily recognizable and identifiable types. Chelsea (Dana Bufford) is the sweet Everywoman, a wedding planner whose experience in the dating scene leads her to suspect that when a man mentions love, love lies, and so does he. Camron (William Young IV) is the smooth, successful hunk, focused on his career, sensitive yet fearful of commitment. Maxwell (Rod Lorick) is his carefree partner, sidekick, and all-around comic relief figure. Angie (Kimmie Says) is their sassy secretary - "Executive Assistant, thank you!" - and Chelsea's gal pal, while Madison (Arischa Conner) is Chelsea's straight-talking sister and confidante. Their interactions might play out in predictable fashion, with observations made along the way about the war between the sexes, were it not for the entrance of.... (insert ominous chord of music here) Emily (Sierra Folder), the psycho ex-girlfriend. Resembling Rihanna, with J-Lo's curves, Folder commits fully to the bipolar highs and lows of her role, cooing seductively and coquettishly, then going ballistic when crossed.

The author co-directs with Tangie Beaty, and they have assembled a talented cast. What impressed me most was how natural the actors' interactions and timing seem on stage, even though the audience is only a few feet away in the compact black box-style performance space. The cast is clearly having fun with the material. Some of the dialogue almost seemed improvised, or even at times ad-libbed.  And that's not a bad thing, as long as it's believable. Bufford and Conner are probably the best at replicating the back-and-forth repartee of BFF's, while Lorick's impish wisecracks get the most laughs. Young's performance is more physical, with his body language and pained expressions suggesting pain, confusion, and frustration. Interestingly, all actors wear head microphones, which really are unnecessary given the close proximity of the audience. As a result, at times the actors succumb to temptation to say their lines very softly, just as they would in ordinary conversation with a friend, turning their faces or bodies towards their scene partners. I was still able to hear everything, but I think the material would be served better if they ditched the mikes, turned out to the audience a bit more, and aimed for a little more heightened theatricality, since the realism and verisimilitude will still persist within the script, as interpreted by the actors' characterizations.

Donna Johnson's scenic design is outstanding, creating two separate acting areas on the tiny stage, representing Chelsea's apartment (which is just a couch, a coffee table, and the entrance to her bedroom) and Camron's office (a smaller couch, a desk and a chair.) Contrasting and complementary color schemes indicate each location, with gray trim unifying them visually. Chelsea's side is decorated with a couple of pretty pictures of flowers, while a bold cityscape in metallic gold adorns the walls of the office. Costumes by Tramel Foulks similarly help to define characters. Camron is solid and muscular, and so wears loose-fitting power suits and casual wear in muted tones, while the livelier and lankier Maxwell wears sportier bootcut slacks and colorful shirts and vests. There's even a great visual joke when two characters appear wearing t-shirts from rival fraternities. Johnson also runs the sound board, and executes some crucial sound effects with precision. Many of the scenes are accompanied by a soft musical underscore, and the selections of piano-centric jazz are very pretty.

Generally one avoids reviewing the material, and concentrates on the performance, but with a new work, it's appropriate to do a little of both. Especially since in the heyday of Broadway, shows often ran for months in out-of-town previews, while the authors made countless rewrites based on audience feedback, prior to premiering in New York.  As a playwright, Shaniqka Thomas is strongest at creating characters that one can relate to, and at crafting naturalistic dialogue. She has a flair for comedy too, usually more character-centric than dependent on one-liners. And she has plenty of fertile ground to explore within the habits of modern singles in the dating world, including the distinction between making love and just having sex - which Steve Martin and Sarah Jessica Parker similarly raised in the 1991 film L.A .Story - and the age-old choice between the girl-next-door or the exotic temptress - i.e. Mary Ann or Ginger. And although the setting is clearly the modern American south, the themes of commitment vs. temptation are universal. Any number of colloquial lines like "Now you trippin' girl" could be changed to "you've gone barmy, luv," and you could set the show in London.  (And now I'm imagining some future production in Mumbai where an Anglo-Indian says "clearly you have taken leave of your senses, Priyanka.") Where I feel the script could use some fine-tuning is in the more lurid aspects of the second act, which sort of devolve into telenovela territory. No one awakes from a coma, or turns out to have an evil twin, but the plot turns in a sensationalistic direction that we've seen many times before. Although the play only runs a little over two hours plus intermission, there's easily 30 minutes of exposition that could be cut or at least trimmed down. Still, thanks to the lively pace and the believable characters with whom we can easily identify, the show is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon or evening.

This was the first time I have seen a show at the WOW Productions Performing Arts Center, which is located at 5816 Shakespeare Rd, Suite A. It's a nice, spiffy little space with a small lobby, ticket window, concession stand, and room for around 60 patrons per show - slightly larger than the Side Door at Trustus, slightly smaller than USC's Lab Theatre. Everyone from box office staff to ushers to the creative team were most welcoming and gracious, and the cast was waiting in the lobby to greet patrons as they left. Love Lies returns Friday, April 28 for four more performances: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM, with additional 3 PM matinees Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Visit http://www.wowproduction.org/love-lies-stage-play for ticket information.

 
 
 
Hand to God at Trustus Theatre: Satan-Possessed Hand Puppet, or Teen Angst?

Review by August Krickel

Hand to God is both a profanely irreverent fable about a simple hand puppet which may be possessed by Satan - if Satan sounded a little like the late comic Sam Kinison - and a gripping and insightful portrait of a fractured family coping with loss.  The play touches all the bases one has come to expect from Trustus Theatre; societal values and institutions like religion are challenged; jokes are raucously funny; raw emotions are laid bare; there's the simulation of disturbing violence and violent sexuality; there's even graphic puppet nudity and sex. In short, playwright Robert Askins' dark, Tony-nominated satire fits Trustus just like a glove - or like the hand puppet referenced in the title.

Jason (Jonathan Monk) is an ordinary teen who struggles emotionally after the recent death of his father. Mom Margery (Jennifer Hill) throws herself into the church, specifically a youth activity/ministry involving puppets, which she hopes will help her son to heal. Also in her group are angry, aggressive Timothy (Patrick Dodds) whose mother drops him off at puppet club while she attends AA meetings, and sweet, nerdy Jessica (Martha Hearn Kelly), the only attendee who is actually into developing her puppetry skills. Hovering around is Pastor Greg (Paul Kaufman), vaguely ineffectual as a boss and a spiritual leader, and utterly incompetent as a creeper and would-be suitor for the hand of the sexy young widow. Suppressed emotions finally explode when Jason's fabrication of felt and buttons, Tyrone, takes on a life and foul-mouthed personality of its own, expressing every ugly truth that milquetoast Jason fears to say. Is this the work of Lucifer, as Tyrone proclaims?  Or is Jason just screwing with everyone, finding his own crazy way to assert himself? 

Monk adroitly switches back and forth from his Jason and Tyrone personas, carrying on rapid-fire arguments with his cloth-clad hand so believably that one hardly notices his mouth moving whenever Tyrone speaks. Kelly does the same in one brief scene with her own creation, and both actors manage to have a simple, low-key conversation entirely disconnected from the interaction their hand puppets are engaged in. Dodds has effectively played troubled youths before, and here gets to add an extra layer of rage, capturing the paradoxes of adolescence when he screams "I love you, you bitch!"  Kaufman's characterization is subtly complex, revealing that however inept Greg may be as a minister, he is able to come through as an adult when the chips are down. Hill - best known in recent years as a designer of twisted sock puppets and eccentric plush toys - makes a welcome return to the main stage at Trustus, where she was once a member of the Apprentice Company (as was director Patrick Michael Kelly.) She co-designed the puppets with husband Lyon Hill, who also co-designed the set with Brandon McIver. As the grieving Margery, Hill fully commits to every scary nook of her character's troubled psyche, and she pulls no punches with the brutal intensity of where her pain takes her.

And yet the play is technically a comedy.  Possessed hands have been featured in Evil Dead 2 and Idle Hands, and the last season of the tv series Scream Queens, while evil dolls are nearly a sub-genre of their own, having been featured in episodes of The Twilight Zone and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the William Goldman novel (and subsequent Anthony Hopkins movie) Magic, and the Chucky slasher film series. So a possessed hand puppet is a natural progression. But horror isn't the goal here.  Tyrone makes some fairly profound observations on the nature of humanity, noting that "right" usually means "all of us," while "wrong" ends up meaning "you."  Director Kelly finds a happy medium in which the audience can laugh at each of the many witty lines, and smirk with guilty pleasure at Tyrone's indictments of the failures of modern civilization, yet still remain emotionally invested in the real-life family drama that transpires simultaneously. Timing and pacing are superb. The excellent scenic design credibly replicates the Spartan interior of a church basement repurposed into an activities room; tiny nuances - like electrical conduits running down the walls to outlets and light switches - are rendered in intricate detail.  Authentic-looking brick walls are adorned with kitschy religious posters, and a simple mural of a sun over some mountains, painted in pastel shades of purple and blue and orange (probably by some youth minister in the 70's, while singing Kum ba yah.)  

Hand to God is satisfying and entertaining as a very dark and subversive comedy, and as a showcase for the acting skills of its cast. The iconoclastic questions raised concerning freedom vs. repression vs. self-expression are thought-provoking, to say the least. Yet the underlying tragedy of a mother and son coming to terms with grief adds an unexpected depth to the material, making the play a fine addition to the Trustus tradition of pushing the envelope and exceeding theatrical expectations. For tickets contact Trustus at 254-9732 or visit the website.


 
 
 
Molière in the Park: 
The Imaginary Invalid Provides Laughter, Live Under the Stars

Review by August Krickel

Monsieur Argan isn't such a bad sort, really. He's just fussy, and finicky, and tired. There's always another bill to be paid, another family member begging some favor, or another servant presenting some problem. In frustration, he has succumbed to the many blandishments and miracle cures hawked by the doctors, apothecaries and quacks that thrive in mid-17th-century Paris in the decades before the Age of Enlightenment. Luxuriating in his status as an invalid, Argan ensures that he will receive constant attention, constant sympathy, and a perpetual supply of excuses to avoid doing anything he doesn't want to do. The South Carolina Shakespeare Company's mission for the last 25 years has been to present audience-friendly and accessible revivals of classic authors whose work might otherwise only be found in the classroom, and they're at it again with a lively and witty take on Molière's satirical comedy of manners The Imaginary Invalid, which runs through this weekend, live under the stars in Finlay Park.

While evocative of the eloquence and formality of the aristocracy, Miles Malleson's modern translation of the French original is easy to follow, and the dialogue flows like posh Noel Coward banter. (British film/stage buffs will recall Malleson in countless character roles, including what Wikipedia describes as "the poetically-inclined hangman" in 1949's Kind Hearts and Coronets, and Canon Chasuble in the 1952 film version of The Importance of Being Earnest.)  As Argan, Hunter Boyle takes center stage and rarely leaves it, thereby requiring that all action, reaction, and plot developments radiate from and focus on him. It will be hard to believe for fans of Boyle's many over-the-top performances as larger-than-life figures like Falstaff in last year's Merry Wives of Windsor, but his portrayal of Argan is quite subtle and nuanced. Thanks to SCSC's excellent area microphones - and thankfully none taped to the actors' faces - even Argan's tiniest sighs of exasperation and most faintly muttered asides are easily heard. And with each arched eyebrow or roll of the eyes, Boyle speaks volumes.

Foremost among Argan's dilemmas is what to do with his eldest daughter, Angelica (Mary Miles.) His mercenary, gold-digging second wife, Beline (Ruth Glowacki) suggests shipping her off to a nunnery, but Argan hopes to marry her to an oafish young doctor (Greg Bolton) from a family of doctors, thus ensuring him a lifetime supply of free medical care. Angelica, however, is already smitten with love for handsome young Cleante (Alex Jones), who disguises himself as a substitute music tutor in order to visit her. Miles captures all of the giddiness and turbulent hormones of first love, while Jones is amusing in his stratagems to win her hand. Tracy Steele, looking rather like Lucius Malfoy in an elegant wig, gives, shall we say, a cocky performance as Bonnefoy, whose legal advice to Argan is filled with panache and double entendre. I'm not sure how much of that Molière intended, but if he didn't, he should have. And of course it wouldn't be a comedy from an earlier era if there wasn't a saucy, scheming chambermaid, Toinette (Sara Blanks.) Blanks manages to define a character from a lower social class without resorting to a Cockney or rural American accent, instead using mannerisms and attitude, a la Alice from The Brady Bunch. Rachel Glowacki very nearly steals the show from much older actors in her one appearance as Louison, Argon's younger daughter, who has learned far too many life lessons from her father already, and can twist him around her little finger with ease. 

Lee Shepherd's scenic design consists of varying levels, doorways, arches, and ivy-covered walls that suggest a posh villa, while never trying to conceal that we're watching a production outdoors - which works best for this venue. Director Scott Blanks keeps the pace moving quickly, the comic timing finely tuned, and the projection and mannerisms just broad enough to register with the upper reaches of the amphitheater in Finlay Park. He has cut a fair amount from the show - which is essential for Molière, who infamously takes ten minutes of exposition to set up a gag we already know is coming - to ensure a tidy running time of only a couple of hours, and has adapted musical interludes in the original into comic set pieces that work much better for a modern audience. There's a rather creative curtain call that you may not realize is happening.  So to guarantee that you're able to give each cast member his or her due acclaim, look for a culminating resolution on how Argan can find a suitable doctor. When they announce "Here and now" and Louison enters, that's the start of the curtain call, although action continues.

Shakespeare in the Park - or in this case Molière - is just about the last cool, classy, artsy thing still happening with regularity in Finlay Park, once the site of Mayfest and concerts by everyone from Peter Frampton to Mother's Finest to Hootie. You owe it to yourself - and the SCSC - to show them some love and support.  Plus, you can bring lawn chairs, blankets, and pic-a-nic baskets filled with treats and your beverage of choice, which will make you smarter than your average theater-goer. One logistical note: if you don't mid stairs, you can park in the lot off Laurel Street, and descend from there. Or, you can park in the lot off Taylor Street, and stroll across the lawn. In the latter case, however, note that entry from stage right (i.e. the side where the post office is and the playground used to be) is blocked, so just go around the little lake to the other side. The Imaginary Invalid returns Wednesday night, and runs through Saturday April 29, starting nightly at 8 PM, FREE OF CHARGE.  For information, visit http://www.shakespearesc.org/.
 
 
 
Animal Farm at USC's Drayton Hall Offers Timely Political Satire

Review by August Krickel

There are few authors whose names become adjectives that describe their work - Shakespearean, Faulknerian - and fewer still whose names become buzzwords in political discourse, yet "Orwellian" is as prevalent today as any time in the last 70 years. George Orwell was a prolific essayist and literary critic who died young, leaving behind only a handful of novels, including Nineteen Eighty-Four, a piece of speculative fiction looking ahead to a dystopian, totalitarian future, and Animal Farm, an almost-but-not-quite child-like fable which addressed similar themes, using barnyard animals as metaphors for figures in the Russian Revolution. Many/most of us encountered one or both of these works as required reading in high school or college, and there's usually a reference to Orwell at least once per day on cable news. So it's safe to say that Orwell is still relevant; the question, however, is how accessible and engaging can a live stage production of Animal Farm be, with human actors playing the animals (who in print were intended as satirical analogs for their human counterparts?)  An ambitious production directed by Stan Brown at USC's Drayton Hall Theatre featuring both MFA students and undergraduates strives to answer that question - with musical accompaniment no less.

The allegorical plotline recounts how the four-legged denizens of rural Manor Farm stage a rebellion, ousting their drunk, incompetent master Farmer Jones, and set up a communal society based on the principles of "Animalism," which boils down to the belief that all animals are equal. While the not-so-veiled references to dozens of figures and events in what became the Soviet Union are quite clever and detailed - history buffs will love figuring out which pig is Trotsky, which is Marx, and which is Stalin, and whom the horses are meant to represent - the basic story can be appreciated as a straightforward and cautionary tale of how easily we surrender our freedom.  Performers play multiple characters, easily transitioning from one to the next thanks to Valerie Pruett's excellently realized costumes, rendered in the muted pinks and tans and whites of animal skin, fur and feathers, and detailed masks -hand-crafted by April Traquina - which perch atop actors' heads, casting concealing shadows over their faces but never muffling their audibility. Sitting towards the rear of the theater, one hardly notices the human faces at all. At intermission, I moved closer, so as to see which actors were doubling in which roles, and was pleased to note that every cast member was using all the appropriate facial expressions to signify emotion, even though most of those nuances will be lost to all but the first three or four rows. It's a fine piece of ensemble work by all, with particularly good performances from Libby Hawkins as the Machiavellian pig Napoleon, Kimberly Braun as the more idealistic pig Snowball, and Kaleb Edley as the Sean Spicer-like spinmeister Squealer. And yes, it's the lowly swine who rise from the muck to seize control and establish an oligarchy behind the facade of Animalism - make of that what you will. Still, what struck me this time around, after reading the book as a pre-teen and seeing the 1999 tv-movie (featuring real and animatronic animals with voices dubbed by the likes of Peter Ustinov and Sir Patrick Stewart), was how the pigs were the only animals to bother to try to solve problems. They learn how to read and write, they make plans for a labor-saving windmill, they set up laws, and they figure out the mechanics of how to milk the cow; most of the other animals, however talkative they are, are nevertheless awfully dumb, and essentially lay down the red carpet for the rise of the pigs. I especially enjoyed Darrell Johnston's brief appearance as Old Major, the thunderous, fiery architect of Animalism. Nicolas Stewart as the noble if somewhat dim workhorse Boxer and Gabriela Castillo as Mollie, the equine equivalent of a vain valley girl, each have moments in which they can shine, and Castillo's voice is quite lovely in her solo.

Beyond the novelty of recognizable political "types" rendered as animals, there is plenty of humor. Some is to be found within the text, as when the animals vote on whether or not to include their wild brethren - rabbits, rats, and other vermin - as their equals; everyone votes "Yes" ... except for the cat. Some is thematic, as when Mollie willingly returns to human ownership because she loves to get fed sugar lumps and to be decorated with ribbons in her mane. Some comes from Brown's concept for the production, which has each animal using a different dialect found among English-speakers, and when you hear Jamaican and Anglo-Indian lilts in the mix, it's quite a treat. There are also some excellent voices in the cast, capably employed by Music Director Steven Gross to ensure optimum appreciation of Adrian Mitchell's lyrics and Richard Peaslee's score. On the preview night I attended, there were definitely some issues with sound - sometimes too loud, sometimes too tinny - probably due to the singers wearing head-mikes, which can be notoriously balky. Given the vocal strength of the cast, these probably weren't necessary. Nic Uluru's set is a nice mix of realism and suggestions of the agrarian setting.

Sir Peter Hall, the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, created this adaptation of Orwell's novel for the stage while he served as director of London's National Theatre in the 80's. He clearly was influenced by the works of Bertolt Brecht in his staging, acknowledging that a story is being re-enacted by actors in costume, with a didactic message as the goal. Like Brecht, he incorporated music, which, while pretty enough, is forgettable, and didn't really enhance my appreciation of the play's grander themes. I'm just not convinced that Animal Farm benefits all that much from being done live, no matter how skillfully and professionally that presentation may be. What I am convinced of, however, is the ability of USC's Department of Theatre to overcome just about any obstacle. Apart from entertaining the student body and patrons from the community, a goal of all department productions is to train future professionals in the field. Any one of these students, onstage or behind the scenes, might one day be called on to star in a revival of Cats, to direct a children's theater production of Aesop's Fables, or to design costumes or sets for classics by Aristophanes like The Birds or The Frogs. Meaning that training in productions like this is essential. Obviously the material is topical, but this is a rare case where I recommend a show mainly just to see and enjoy the talent of everyone involved on display and in action.  Animal Farm runs through Saturday, April 22 at Drayton Hall Theatre on campus; curtain is at 8 PM, plus there's an additional 3 PM matinee on that final Saturday.  Visit http://artsandsciences.sc.edu/thea/animal-farm-drayton-hall-theatre or call 803-777-2551 for information.
 

  










 
 
 










 

 




 
 

 
 

 










 
 


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