10 x 10 # 14: The Annual Short Play Festival Goes Nova from the ArtsCenter

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I was late to the party on this year’s 10 x 10 in the Triangle–the 14th annual at the Carrboro ArtsCenter–but, WOW! These 10 plays, each 10 minutes long, by 10 authors, performed by 10 actors with 10 directors, add up to a major theatrical event. 10 x 10 has always been fun and intriguing, but this time, as well as comedy, there’s powerful drama from start to finish, much of it dealing with very inconvenient truths. The show repeats tonight and Sunday, and the 23-26.

The 10 plays were chosen from the 550 scripts that were submitted from around the world. They were winnowed out in a process led by ArtsCenter Stage Artistic Director Jeri Lynn Schulke, who produces this complicated festival. All the chosen plays are new to North Carolina, and two received their world premieres on July 10, when the show opened. Yes, more world premieres at the little theater that could, in the Paris of the Piedmont. The list of directors, actors and production designers includes many well-known names in local theatre, as well as some new talent. For more on all the participants, go here.

Racism, murder and corporate madness are the primary topics here, and, even though some of the stories are rich in dark humor, they as a group are only slightly leavened by tales of betrayals, break-ups and a charming meditation on free will and fate. Each of the scripts is so accomplished that none of the stories is uncomfortably fragmentary, and each feels as if time has stretched for it, to allow much more incident and detail than 10 minutes generally allows in life. If the production has a flaw, it is that the transition from play to play is so smooth and fast that there’s not quite time to catch one’s breath between the stories.

Barbette Hunter, Julie Oliver, and the

Barbette Hunter, Julie Oliver, and the “white chicken chili” of Alban’s Garden, in the ArtsCenter’s 14th 10 x 10 in the Triangle. Photo: Adam Graetz.

I was most affected by Alban’s Garden, by Rich Espey, with Barbette Hunter and Julie Oliver, directed by Brook North with cool lucidity;  Two Mothers at a Roadside Cafe, by Allan Bates, with Page Purgar, Barbette Hunter and Kala Hinnant, directed by Gregor McElvogue with powerful restraint; and the incendiary Stop/Frisk by Rich Rubin, with Alexander Jackson and John Allore, directed by Lormarev Jones with controlled rage. All of these plays involve murders, murders that have already occurred, or that will, or may, occur in the near future, or both. This is tough stuff. Although there’s a hint of possible reconciliation between injured parties in Two Mothers, none offers real hope of healing for our most desperate social malaises. The acting in all three is outstanding, but the delicacy with which Gregor McElvogue controls the timing in Two Mothers–making us wait and puzzle for long stretches–allows Hunter and Purgar to do particularly great work.

Page Purgar, Kala Hinnant and Barbette Hunter in Two Mothers at a Roadside Cafe, in the ArtsCenter's 10 x 10 in the Triangle #14. Photo: Adam Graetz.

Page Purgar, Kala Hinnant and Barbette Hunter in Two Mothers at a Roadside Cafe, in the ArtsCenter’s 10 x 10 in the Triangle #14. Photo: Adam Graetz.

Fred Corlett gives three wonderful performances–as a put-upon long-married husband in the comic Couples Therapy (Meredith Sause, director); as the dignified teller of his journey to death in a Holocaust gas chamber, in As We Knew It (the wrenching lyricism of which is calmly unspooled by director Hope Alexander); and as The Narrator, in the stylishly philosophical The Third Person, directed by Jules Odendahl-James with the same verve she showed in her recent work at Manbites Dog.

Leigha Vilen and Fred Corlett in The Third Person, at 10 x 10 in the Triangle #14. Photo: Adam Graetz.

Leigha Vilen and Fred Corlett in The Third Person, at 10 x 10 in the Triangle #14. Photo: Adam Graetz.

In the last, Corlett plays opposite Leigha Vilen, who also lights up the biggest surprise of the evening. Jack Karp’s Brother, Can You Spare a Dime (world premiere), cleanly directed, with wit and sass, by Monet Marshall, excoriates the banking business’ subprime slime with a series of set-ups and jokes modeled on silent film’s antic miming. From the first title card to the final “Cut!” this satire is all complete. Vilen plays the Title Card Girl, as well as versions of a young woman who’s got “it” and knows how to use it. Lazarus Simmons is quite wonderful as the poor beggar and the poor fool taken in by the slick banker (John Allure in fake mustache glory). The visual storytelling is fantastic–I don’t want to give away the gags.

See it for yourself, and if you can find it in your wallet, drop something in the cup for the ArtsCenter’s Summer Challenge fundraiser. There’s nothing subprime about the ArtsCenter, but it does need help keeping on keeping on providing a home for high-quality theatre, year after year. Go here for tickets or call 919-929-2787.

Lazurus Simmons and John Allore mime it in Brother, Can you Spare a Dime? at the ArtsCenter's 10 x 10 in the Triangle, 2015 edition. Photo: Adam Graetz.

Lazarus Simmons and John Allore mime it in Brother, Can you Spare a Dime? at the ArtsCenter’s 10 x 10 in the Triangle, 2015 edition. Photo: Adam Graetz.

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REDBIRD Festival, Part Two

Jade Arnold as Abraham Galloway, in Howard L. Craft's The Fire of Freedom at the REDBIRD new play festival. Photo courtesy the ArtsCenter.

Jade Arnold as Abraham Galloway, in Howard L. Craft’s The Fire of Freedom at the REDBIRD new play festival. Photo courtesy the ArtsCenter.

From my review published on http://www.cvnc.org with the title “Redbird’s Second Program Features Hot New Play By Howard Craft”

Part Two of the Carrboro ArtsCenter’s thrilling REDBIRD Festival of New One-Act Plays by North Carolina Playwrights had its first performance the evening of March 14, with the remaining two out of the five plays presented. The glory of the program came in the second play, a very new work by Howard L. Craft. Inspired by wonderful historian David S. Cecelski’s book, The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves Civil War (UNC Press), Craft’s one-actor play proves (again) that a monologue, in the right hands, can be supremely dramatic….

Jade Arnold is an extremely charismatic actor, with powerful vocal skills, explosive physicality and breathtaking timing, making his embodiment of Galloway as compelling as Craft’s words. In a hidden attic, in New Bern, in 1863, Galloway has come to speak from his own observations and experiences to a crowd of black men about whether to take up with the Union Army; about what and who can be trusted and why, distinguishing incisively between the cause of the Union and the cause of Freedom. A representative from President Lincoln is to follow him, and Galloway is making sure the men understand that they are in a position to bargain and require, before committing themselves to the army. “I am not asking you to trust his words, but there are things that you can and must trust. Trust in a thing to be true to its nature. The nature of a bullfrog is to leap. The nature of an Army is to kill. The slave will not be free without much killing.”

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE.

Souls on a Journey: ArtsCenter Stage’s GEM OF THE OCEAN

Pittsburgh Recollections, Romare Bearden's 1984 tile mural as reinstalled 2012 at Pittsburgh's Gateway Center T station. 13 x 60 feet.

Pittsburgh Recollections, Romare Bearden’s 1984 tile mural as reinstalled 2012 at Pittsburgh’s Gateway Center T station. 13 x 60 feet.

From my review published 5/12/2014 on cvnc.org:

It’s a daunting task to review a production as nearly perfect as the current ArtsCenter Stage presentation of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. The play, although not the first written (it premiered in 2003) in Wilson’s magnificent 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, begins the stories that cover African-American life in Pittsburgh’s Hill District through the 10 decades of the 20th century. Several of its characters, including the ancient Aunt Ester, were born in slavery, and the main concern of the play is freedom — what it is and is not; how to get it, how to keep it; and how to “live and die in truth.” As a piece of writing, it is beautiful almost beyond describing: robust, musical, rich in color and shading. Its cadences and repetitions build like those of the best jazz, spiraling around a motif with the hard glitter of change and the lush continuity of remembrance.

Juanda LaJoyce Holley as Aunt Ester, who can conjure the spirit world, and Sherida McMullan as Black Mary in The ArtsCenter Stage production of Gem of the Ocean. Photo:

Juanda LaJoyce Holley as Aunt Ester, who can conjure the spirit world, and Sherida McMullan as Black Mary in The ArtsCenter Stage production of Gem of the Ocean. Photo: Adam Graetz.

It’s a big play in every sense. Two full acts barely contain its life. Wilson (who received many awards for various parts of the full cycle, including two Pulitzers) is so successful at working with big ideas and concerns because they are the natural concerns of his large-scaled and magnificently detailed characters, who live in a world where metaphor and reality are not strangers, and where now includes all of the past. Their landscape is strewn with boulders; they are set about with ambushes, and rivers of blood. It’s a world in which a conjure woman can wash souls and cast out scoundrels from her house of peace and sanctuary at 1839 Wylie Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA. It’s 1904 — 110 years ago by the calendar, but not too distant from 2014.

The ArtsCenter production is directed by John Rogers Harris. His timing of the dialogue and action is faultless, but more importantly, he lets love and tragedy fill the room at their own pace. Harris has cast a powerful ensemble of actors as the seven characters, and Wilson’s words pour forth as if from their own minds. No one spouts speeches, or declaims, or breaks the fourth wall. We observe and empathize looking into a world of which we are not part. It is complete in itself.

READ THE REST HERE.

Romare Bearden was one of August Wilson's influences. Here is Bearden's 1964 Conjur Woman as reproduced on a USPS stamp.

Romare Bearden was one of August Wilson’s influences. Here is Bearden’s 1964 Conjur Woman as reproduced on a USPS stamp.

From Charles Isherwood’s extensive NYT article following Wilson’s death in 2005: 

“In a 1999 interview in The Paris Review, Mr. Wilson cited his major influences as being the “four B’s”: the blues was the “primary” influence, followed by Jorge Luis Borges, the playwright Amiri Baraka and the painter Romare Bearden. He analyzed the elements each contributed to his art: “From Borges, those wonderful gaucho stories from which I learned that you can be specific as to a time and place and culture and still have the work resonate with the universal themes of love, honor, duty, betrayal, etc. From Amiri Baraka, I learned that all art is political, although I don’t write political plays. From Romare Bearden I learned that the fullness and richness of everyday life can be rendered without compromise or sentimentality.” He added two more B’s, both African-American writers, to the list: the playwright Ed Bullins and James Baldwin.”

 Isherwood’s appreciation includes links to a great deal of Wilson material. This article discusses Bearden’s concept of the Conjur Woman, and includes excellent reproductions.

 

Detail, Pittsburgh Recollections, 1984 tile mural by Romare Bearden. Photo: J. Michael Krivyanski/examiner.com.

Detail, Pittsburgh Recollections, 1984 tile mural by Romare Bearden. Photo: J. Michael Krivyanski/examiner.com. Much of the same imagery–mill, workers, river, boats–appears in  August Wilson’s play, Gem of the Ocean, set in Pittsburgh, 1904.

 

 

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