Next Year in the Theater

Aaron Davidman will perform his WRESTLING JERUSALEM at PRC2, Jan 7-11. Photo: Ken Friedman.

Aaron Davidman will perform his WRESTLING JERUSALEM at PRC2, Jan 7-11. Photo: Ken Friedman.

Whew. 2014 was another amazing year in Triangle theatre, but there’s little time off for the avid audience. 2015’s season starts right up on Jan. 2 with South Stream Productions presentation of Pinter’s The Caretaker at Common Ground. If Pinter’s not tough enough for you, try Wrestling Jerusalem, at PlayMakers PRC2 Jan. 7-11.

A one-man show, written and performed by Aaron Davidman, the work follows Davidman’s travels in Israel and Palestine as he attempts to unravel this knot of troubles, “to try,” in his words,”to understand the nuance and complexity that lives in the hearts of the human beings at the center of the conflict. Part personal memoir, part transformational theatre, in addition to myself, I play 17 different characters whom I meet along the way, each with his own story and perspective to share.”

As I’ve mentioned before, the PRC2 series is not just about watching a show–it’s about having a discussion afterwards, since civil discussion of intractable matters is one of the key roles of theater in society. I am deeply grateful to live in a place with real theatre that does just that, and deeply admiring of theatre leaders who bring tough work and defend it against all the forces of dilution and silence. You may have read of the recent firing of the artistic director of Washington, DC’s Theater J, Ari Roth, by the board of the Jewish Community Center, of which the theater is a part. In an unheard-of show of support, 60 or so artistic directors from theaters around the country sent an open letter of protest. I am proud to say that our own Joseph Haj, producing artistic director of PlayMakers–who keeps bringing us work like Rodney King and Wrestling Jerusalem–was one of the signatories. You can read an interview with Roth on Howlround here.

Hard on the heels of that show will come the eagerly awaited new work by Howard L. Craft, Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green. Directed by Joseph Megel and performed by the talented Alphonse Nicholson, the presentation by the StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance will play in UNC’s Swain Hall Jan. 8-24.

Also opening Jan. 8, at Manbites Dog Theater, VECTOR‘s Habitus, an installation/performance by dancer/choreographer Leah Wilks and video/virtuality wizard Jon Haas. All this and more before the month’s half over. Rest now, ye merry ladies and gents–no rest in the new year.

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A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS sings at the Carrboro ArtsCenter

(L to R) Justin Smith, Gil Faison, Lora Deneen Tatum, Alphonse Nicholson, Bonnie Roe. Photo: Adam Graetz.

(L to R) Justin Smith, Gil Faison, Lora Deneen Tatum, Alphonse Nicholson, Bonnie Roe. Photo: Adam Graetz.

The Carrboro ArtsCenter Stage has just opened a Christmas production to culminate its 2013 explorations in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The play, by Paula Vogel, is narration-heavy, but intriguing. The acting is good, the singing strong, and the whole production heartfelt and heart-warming.

From my review on CVNC.org, published today with the title, Christmas Eve Time Machine at the Carrboro ArtsCenter:

The most touching of Vogel’s observations here is that Christmas is the time when every child is celebrated like the Christ child; her most astringent is that “the hope of peace is sweeter than peace itself.” The play, in a digressive way, is a retelling of the Christmas story, but here the mother and child are Hannah and Jessa (Terra Hodge and Alyssa Coleman), who, escaping from the south over the wide Potomac, find no shelter in the crowded city. Hannah and Jessa follow the star, the clear North Star in “the drinking gourd,” but are separated and the child is lost, to be sought by an assortment of wise men and shepherds before being found asleep in the hay.

Read the full review here. The production runs through Dec. 22. Tickets at http://www.artscenterlive.org or 919-929-2787.

(L to R) Gus Allen, Mark Phialas, Bonnie Roe, Mary Forester, Alyssa Coleman, Lora Deneen Tatum, Terra Hodge, Gil Faison. Photo: Adam Graetz.

(L to R) Gus Allen, Mark Phialas, Bonnie Roe, Mary Forester, Alyssa Coleman, Lora Deneen Tatum, Terra Hodge, Gil Faison. Photo: Adam Graetz.

Go Down, Moses

This article was originally published by INDYWEEK, 10/23/2013, and appeared in print with the headline “A night different from other nights.” I gave the production 5 out of 5 stars.

A powerful post-Civil War encounter in ArtsCenter Stage’s The Whipping Man

Through Sunday at The ArtsCenter

by 

Art necessarily takes on the issues of its own time, but it is in its processing of history that art often excels in feeding civilization. 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Carrboro ArtsCenter Stage has focused its season on that event and its long aftermath, beginning with a stunning production of The Whipping Man, a 2006 play by Matthew Lopez.

ArtsCenter Stage has always been the little theater that could, and this production proves once again that a tiny stage, nonexistent back-of-house and minimal staff cannot weaken the transformative power of drama. The Whipping Man is two hours long, and for many of those 120 minutes, you will be on the edge of your seat. The script’s intricate folds open slowly; but during the second act, the intermittent popping of secrets becomes a fusillade leading to cannon-fire of explosive knowledge, which exposes both characters and audience in the fiery wreckage.

Victor Rivera as Caleb and Phillip B. Smith as Simon in Matthew Lopez' THE WHIPPING MAN. Photo: Adam Dodds.

Victor Rivera as Caleb and Phillip B. Smith as Simon in Matthew Lopez’ THE WHIPPING MAN. Photo: Adam Dodds.

The story takes place over three days in April 1865, less than a week after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. As the play begins, we see Caleb DeLeon (Victor Rivera, moving effectively from callow and commanding to chastened awareness), dragging himself, grievously wounded, into the remains of his father’s once-grand Richmond house (all the production design work is very strong). Caleb is a Jew and a Confederate soldier, and his parents have fled the city, which is now under Federal control. But two former slaves have remained in the house for their own reasons: Having been part of the household all their lives, they too are Jews. John is a young man, about Caleb’s age; Simon is of a solid middle age, and the man without whom the household cannot run.

It is a season of mud and blood, of despair and rejoicing. And it is Passover.

Incisively directed by Mark Filiaci, with a restraint that makes late revelations all the more forceful, the three actors obliterate this time in a modern town and replace it with desperate days in ruined Richmond. This is not a play where you are forced to always keep in mind that it is a play. It is not art about art. The actors do not speak directly to the audience. They speak to us through the power of the dramatic story, and with their fearless acting.

L to R: Alphonse Nicholson, Phillip B. Smith, Victor Rivera. All excel in THE WHIPPING MAN, but the show belongs to Smith. Photo: Adam Dodds.

L to R: Alphonse Nicholson, Phillip B. Smith, Victor Rivera. All excel in THE WHIPPING MAN, but the show belongs to Smith. Photo: Adam Dodds.

Led by Phillip B. Smith as Simon, they make us know some essential things about that past and the way it has shaped our present. Without spelling them out, playwright Lopez has Simon engage us with a range of moral quandaries—what is good, what is right, what is necessary, what can be forgiven, what cannot be allowed to pass without counteraction? Simon holds the most knowledge of the three men, though he doesn’t know everything he thinks he knows. He chivvies the feckless John (Alphonse Nicholson, again leaping ahead of himself in nuanced understanding), who’s frittering his freedom liberating whisky, fancy clothes and piles of books; he saves Caleb’s life; he feeds all three of them. And he insists on holding a Seder at Caleb’s bedside, even though Caleb lost his faith in the trenches of Petersburg.

That Seder scene, with its celebrations and revelations, is one of the most powerful scenes I’ve ever witnessed on stage. Do not miss it.

L to R: Alphonse Nicholson, Victor Rivera, Phillip B. Smith in Seder scene of THE WHIPPING MAN, at the ArtsCenter through Oct. 26. Photo: Adam Dodds.

L to R: Alphonse Nicholson, Victor Rivera, Phillip B. Smith in the Seder scene of THE WHIPPING MAN, at the ArtsCenter through Oct. 26. Photo: Adam Dodds.

The ArtsCenter will also present a free screening of the documentary film “Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray,” followed by a discussion led by scholars Robert Marcus and Leonard Rogoff, on Sunday, Oct. 26 at 4 pm. For more information or tickets call the box office at 919-929-2787.

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