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Now Playing:
"Boy," January 13-21, Trustus Side Door Theatre, 254-9732.

"Sylvia," January 13-22, Workshop Theatre, 799-6551.

"You Can't Take it With You," January 20 - February 5, Town Theatre, 799-2510.

"Once On This Island, Jr.," January 27-29, Columbia Children's Theatre YouTheatre, 691-4548.

"Messiah on the Frigidaire," January 27 - February 5, Chapin Theatre Company, 240-8544.

"Seussical the Musical, Jr.," January 27 - February 12, Village Square Theatre, 359-1436.

"Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet," February 3-18, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.

"Annie, Jr., the Musical," February 9-12, OnStage Productions, 351-6751.

"Leading Ladies," February 9-19, Sumter Little Theatre, 775-2150.

"No Sex Please, We're British," February 10-18, Ritz Theatre of Newberry, 276-6264.

"Some Girl(s)," February 10-19, Workshop Theatre, 799-6551.

"Mr. Burns; a Post Electric Play," February 17-25, USC Longstreet Theatre.

"'Broadway, Past... Present... Forever!" February 17-26, On Stage Productions, 351-6751.

"Outlaw Song," February 23-26, USC Lab Theatre

"Miss Nelson is Missing," February 25 - March 5, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.

"Million Dollar Quartet," March 3-19, Town Theatre, 799-2510.

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Timely Boy at Trustus Tackles Issues of Gender Identity

Review by August Krickel

Seemingly ripped from today's headlines, Anna Ziegler's play Boy, running through this weekend in the Side Door performance space at Trustus Theatre, tackles issues of gender identity with raw emotions laid bare and no punches pulled.  Inspired by a true story, Boy recounts the life of Adam (Patrick Dodds), born male but initially raised female after a botched circumcision in infancy is thought to have destroyed any chance for an adult life as a man. (It should be noted that the story begins in the 1960's, when reconstructive surgery was not yet an option.) While Adam's physical situation - and the anguish he undergoes after deciding in adulthood to live as a man - is not literally the same as that of a person born into one gender who later chooses to transition to another, the societal and psychological challenges he faces are analogous. Meaning that anyone sympathetic to or with an interest in struggles faced by the LGBTQ community will find this work particularly meaningful, even though ultimately it's about a straight man born in a man's body who wants to live as a straight man.

Beyond the inherent messages of empathy and tolerance, and the important reminder that gender can be fluid and subjective, Adam's journey is engaging and compelling for the audience thanks to some incredible acting from Dodds and his castmates, and the direction of Ilene Fins. To give you an idea of how moving the production is, allow me to describe curtain call on opening night. As usual, the cast of five took their bows and left the stage - and the audience just kept clapping. Like at a rock concert. Occasionally if an audience is especially jubilant and appreciative, a cast will take one or more extra group bows before exiting, but this is the only time in my memory where a local cast has been compelled to return, as if they were the Rolling Stones. (And indeed they did, looking at each other hesitantly as if to wonder "Is this really for us?  What are we supposed to do now?" and then taking one more well-deserved bow.)

The intimacy of the 50-seat venue helps, with everything playing out in 90 minutes, with no intermission. Curtis Smoak's excellent set design helps. While the show could easily have been staged on the bare floor with random chairs as the only props, Smoak has created the semblance of a rich wooden floor, with matching cubes functioning as assorted tables and seats. Thus while simple, the performance space is defined very specifically, and our minds supply the rest of the props and walls for various interiors.  Ziegler's script helps. While four of her five characters are under-educated working class people who express themselves accordingly, their plain-spoken dialogue is replete with acting opportunities for depths of feeling that transcend the actual text. I'll give plenty of credit to the director, who has elicited the most moving performances I've seen thus far from three Trustus veterans, Dodds, Stann Gwynn (as the doctor who orchestrates Adams experience) and Harrison Saunders (as Adam's father.) Gwynn maintains an appropriately detached, placid, clinical demeanor in scenes where emotions are otherwise running wild, while Saunders represses unspoken anger for most of the play, unexpectedly revealing a sympathetic side towards the end. Jennifer Little plays Adam's well-meaning mother with sincerity and compassion.

In notes I took during the performance, I wrote first that Dodds' performance was "sensitive and nuanced," while Martha Hearn Kelly, as love interest Jenny, was "cute and flirty." A half hour later, I added that he was doing a great job depicting Adam as "tortured," and - underlined and in all caps as I wrote it at the time - "SO SAD." A little over five years ago, in a review of Spring Awakening, I described Dodds as "filled with rage and unfulfilled yearning" and praised his "perceptive, tragic portrait of a boy falling apart at the seams." He's only gotten better.  Sometimes Dodds and Hearn unexpectedly explode with fury and frustration; while surprising, and unsettling when they take place only a few feet in front of you, these moments are incredibly genuine, as we understand how years of repressed feelings, and experiences that have taken place off stage in between scenes, have led to these particular outcomes.

Boy isn't exactly the message play that one might expect, because at its heart the story is only about this one person's journey; Yet the broader meaning and implications can discerned easily. At times Adam's path towards self-discovery is just agonizing to watch. But without giving away any plot spoilers, I'll say that as in the best tragedies, we ultimately experience both catharsis and a satisfying resolution, making that agony completely justified and well worth the experience. 

"Boy" runs through January 21. For tickets call 254-9732.

Man's Best Friend, Re-Imagined as a Hot Blonde in Allegorical 
Sylvia at Workshop Theatre

Review by August Krickel

A middle-aged man introduces a scruffy-looking female to his posh New York apartment. Her sweater is torn, her stockings have runs and tears, and her shaggy hair is a messy blonde mop. Within moments, she proclaims that she loves him, and that he saved her life when he found her wandering in the park just an hour before, while he assures her that his wife will accept her too. Is she a hooker?  A homeless person? A crazy woman about to be taken advantage of?

Within just a couple of minutes, the audience realizes the much simpler answer: the titular lead of A. R. Gurney's Sylvia, presented by Workshop Theatre in the Market Space at 701 Whaley, is a dog. An adorable, loving, stray Labradoodle, played with charm and sass by Mary Miles. Her new master, Greg (George Dinsmore), is a melancholy empty-nester; with his children grown and his wife's academic career taking off, Greg now has no one depending on him, and the job in high finance where he has prospered has lost what little luster it once provided. Sylvia, on the other hand, offers unconditional, boundless love, and soon taking long reflective walks in the park with his dog becomes an excuse to play hooky from both family and employment obligations. At one level, we're in familiar Gurney territory - upper-class WASP malaise, with Greg a spiritual cousin of Andrew in Love Letters, the acclaimed Gurney play in which the male lead thrives in family, law and politics, yet is fulfilled only by a 50-year pen-pal correspondence with a childhood playmate. At a second level, we're seeing an obvious metaphor for an affair: Sylvia is young, attractive, free-spirited, fun-loving, and full of adoration. Greg's wife Kate (Lonetta Thompson) is alternately annoyed by and jealous of this new competition for her husband's attention, but when his new hobby borders on obsession and throws their marriage and his job into jeopardy, things turn darker.

Dinsmore uses a nice, even-keeled demeanor to portray Greg, although sometimes - at least at the matinee I saw - his low-key, ultra-natural, ultra-believable delivery could have benefited from more projection.  Thompson makes Kate as sympathetic as possible, especially in the plays final scenes where we see her attitude towards Sylvia starting to soften. David Britt has some good comic moments in three supporting roles.  But for me, the standout was Miles, an actress who I've been saying for years has deserved the opportunity to shine in a lead role locally. Thanks to her complete commitment to her role, a third level of meaning in the material can be discerned, although probably only by dog-lovers. Unlike portrayals I've read about in other cities, Miles uses almost no actual canine mannerisms. Everything is understood as a metaphor or allegory. Sylvia talks for example to both Greg and Kate in simple yet fairly eloquent conversational English, yet 95% of that conversation is what dog-owners know can be understood and inferred from the look in a dog's eyes. When Sylvia catches a ball, Miles simply take it in her hands; when Dinsmore asks for it back, she coquettishly asks "What's in it for me, Greg?" and scores herself a doggie treat. When a stranger approaches, Sylvia turns aggressive, rapidly shouting "Hey!  Hey hey hey HEY!" just as any tough city girl might. When Sylvia sees a stray cat, Miles lets loose with a blistering volley of hard-R-rated smack talk, branding the cat as a disgrace to the animal kingdom, and promising a future beat-down.  Gurney's dialogue for Sylvia, and the scenarios he places her in, is clever, or brilliant, depending on your perspective. At intermission, I observed that this was the greatest play ever written, but in retrospect, what I was feeling in the moment was that this was the most accurate depiction of a dog's emotions and interactions with humans that I can recall ever having seen - with the caveat that there aren't that many.  Ultimately, Sylvia saves Greg's life, although not as one might expect.

Samantha Elkins makes her local directorial debut with this show, and I'm inclined to give her shared credit with Miles and Dinsmore for their nuanced performances. She also co-designed the set with Dean McCaughan, and while neither is a professional designer, the resulting simplicity is perfect: realistic props and furniture for the interior of Greg's apartment, which later become a park bench, and a psychiatrist's desk. Barry Sparks contributes effective shadowy lighting representing leaves for outdoor scenes, while a nice representation of a city skyline and some framing foliage provides an appropriate backdrop. Gurney is one of the important playwrights of the late 20th century, although he's rarely given the credit he deserves.  Sylvia succeeds on each of the three levels above thanks to the proficiency of everyone involved, and is an extra-special and emotional treat for anyone who has ever loved an animal.

"Sylvia" runs through January 22. For ticket information call 799-6551.







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