3 plays–from hell to angels–continuing this weekend

Dorothy Lyman as Violet on the set of August, Osage County. HSN | TR

Dorothy Lyman as Violet on the set of August, Osage County. Photo: HSN | TR

In Raleigh, an impressive production of August, Osage County by Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh.

Under the intelligent, well-timed direction of Eric Woodall, August: Osage County examines three generations of an extended family at a time of particular crisis, even for them. Osage County stretches north and west from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the Kansas line, and is the kind of place on the plains where people find either contentment or the overwhelming urge to be somewhere else. The

Dorothy Lyman with cast of August, Osage County. HSN | TR.

Dorothy Lyman with cast of August, Osage County. Photo: HSN | TR.

family’s story is introduced by the patriarch, Beverly Weston (Phil Crone), as he interviews a young woman to live in and help around the house. He explains the situation: he drinks; his wife takes pills. One doesn’t cause the other, he says, it is just how it is, and they don’t interfere with each other’s habits. The habits, however, are detrimental to orderly housekeeping.

Read the my full review on CVNC. The show, in the lovely Fletcher Opera Theater, closes Dec. 9.

In Durham, at my hometown art house, troublesome weirdness acted with verve:

Candy Korn plays a role in Manbites Seventy Scenes of Halloween. Photo: MDT.

Candy Korn plays a role in Manbites’ Seventy Scenes of Halloween. Photo: MDT.

Seventy Scenes of Halloween, a mutable play by Jeffrey M. Jones, was the initial show presented by Manbites Dog Theater in the days of its bold youth, 1987, in its first awkward space at 343 West Main Street in Durham. It’s an unsettling series of short scenes that may be put together in any order the director desires, but no matter how it’s ordered, it’s not a play you can pigeonhole — making it an excellent introduction for the new, oddly named company. No one, of course, had any expectation that 25 years later Manbites would have its own building and be celebrating an unbroken quarter-century of weird and wonderful new plays. These have been years of huge change in Durham, but this funky little theater (that makes the eagle grin on every dollar it can get) has provided continuity, and community, along with the challenging art.

Read my full review on CVNC. Show closes Dec. 15.

And in Chapel Hill, a delightful, high production value version of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.  This review was first published Dec. 4 in The Indyweek, appearing in print with the headline “Season’s greetings and hellish holidays.”

Todd Lawson and Katja Hill in PlayMakers Repertory Company production of It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio PlayPhoto: Jon Gardiner

Todd Lawson and Katja Hill  at Radio Station WPRC, in the PlayMakers Repertory Company holiday  production of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Photo: Jon Gardiner

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Ray Dooley in PlayMakers Repertory Company production of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Photo: Jon Gardiner

The onslaught of holiday plays and concerts is upon us, and the roster includes many regular favorites (or yawners, depending), but this year PlayMakers Repertory Company offers an old favorite in a charming new guise. It’s a Wonderful Life, the 1947 Frank Capra film with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, for all its many merits and despite its condemnation of capitalist greed, is awash in sentimentality. This adaptation by Joe Landry is not. Sure, there’s some, but just a dusting atop a layer cake of real feeling. I went in expecting to be entertained and came away nourished.

Directed by Nelson T. Eusebio III, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play segues smoothly from the introductory “radio play” section with the five actors “reading” the many parts behind microphones, into a very active stage play in which the actors convert the few chairs and props into whatever’s needed. Along with composer/ musician Mark Lewis on piano, the cast also provides sound effects. Seeing how they make them in no way lessens their impact, even while the sight reminds us of the artfulness of what we experience. The play and this particular staging are unusually effective at exposing the artifice underpinning the theatrical experience without diminishing its magic.

Brandon Garegnani as the Angel Clarence, and Todd Lawson as George Bailey, in PlayMakers Repertory Company production of It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Photo: Jon Gardiner

Brandon Garegnani as the Angel Clarence, and Todd Lawson as George Bailey, in PRC’s It’s A Wonderful Life. Photo: Jon Gardiner

McKay Coble’s wonderful set for WPRC/ Bedford Falls is as much a character as any other, and Burke Brown’s lighting brings its many aspects to life. Todd Lawson, making his first PlayMakers appearance, is very moving as George Bailey, while MFA students Brandon Garegnani and Maren Searle give delightful performances as the angel Clarence and the lovely Mary Bailey, respectively. Durham actress Katja Hill shows her impressive range in several parts, from the child ZuZu to the vamping Violet. Ray Dooley also takes on many roles, including the mean old Mr. Potter, but as the radio announcer, he’s bright as brilliantine. This show’s highly recommended if you need to recharge your belief that yes, in spite of everything, it is a wonderful life.

The show runs through Dec. 16.

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