A Common Wealth Endeavor at Common Ground

Small and Tired. The title had me from the get-go. Turns out to be a fascinating 2013 play by Australian Kit Brookman–based loosely on a big and fierce source, the Oresteia. “Loosely” is a key word here. It will not help you to follow the pains and struggles of this contemporary family if you try to directly tie them to the happenings in Aeschylus’ House of Atreus. For the clear lines between action and consequence quiver and blur without the gods and their rules, and this modern family founders in a mess of its own making. Or is it of their own making? Brookman has his Pylades point out, early in his first encounter with Orestes, that even generals are following orders, implying that the gods of war, at least, persist in our time. (Cue the Bob Dylan, 1963. “Masters of War.”)

SmallTired.P-1221

The ensemble in the Common Wealth Endeavors production of SMALL AND TIRED, at Common Ground Theatre through Jan. 23. Photo: Alex Maness.

What the two stories really have in common is war. Long, stupid war, in which men slaughter not just each other but women and children, and their slaughter wounds and kills the women and children they left at home. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to pacify the goddess Artemis; in Small and Tired, Iphigenia kills herself after seeing photographs from her (never named) father’s war–bloody Afghanistan. Nobody in the family was right after that. Young Orestes was sent far away to boarding school; now, upon his father’s death (the how of which is never told) he’s come “home” to organize the funeral, since his crazy sister Electra and his puzzling mother Clytemnestra can’t seem to manage, even with the help of Electra’s nice husband Jim.

This Common Wealth Endeavors presentation, currently at Common Ground Theatre (through Jan. 23) is the first US production of Small and Tired. Directed by Common Wealth Endeavors’ founder, Gregor McElvogue, it is the latest show in his ongoing effort to introduce us to English language plays from the rest of the English-speaking world. McElvogue, who is British, trained at the London Central School of Speech and Drama, and he has added hugely to the Triangle theatre scene for years, first as an emotionally powerful actor and clear-eyed director and now as the leader of these Common Wealth Endeavors. His directorial senses of timing and tone have resulted in some very fine performances of demanding plays.

Those senses seemed slightly out of kilter in the Jan. 9 performance that I saw. Although various scenes came vibrantly to life, in others, the actors’ delivery was wooden, their words sounding recited, rather than spoken. By rights, I should have been wrung out by the play’s end, but the erratic intensity levels precluded that. And generally, the pace was a bit languid–it did not contrast enough with the slow-moving scene changes, which in themselves were interesting–dim, cooly-lit, they allowed for tableaux as well as for moving the furniture, and were a marvelous way to indicate the passage of time.

SmallTired.P-1386

Jane Holding as Clytemnestra, and Justin Brent Johnson as her son Orestes, shortly before their final parting in SMALL AND TIRED. Photo: Alex Maness.

Although all of the men–Justin Brent Johnson as Orestes; Justin Peoples as Pylades; and Lihn Schladweiler as Jim–had some powerful speeches, the woman were more consistent. Laurel Ullman was pretty scary as Electra, but her force could have been greater with a few beats more of silence–she seemed a bit rushed. Jane Holding as Clytemnestra, however, cannot be rushed. Holding spun out her pauses; her unexpected comments burst forth as if from an opened pressure valve. Using stillness and slight shadings of voice and facial expression she communicated implacable will and vast suffering. She knows her line is ending. Iphigenia dead all these years; Orestes gay; Electra childless. All that is left is the long dwindling. Holding distills all that into the poignant moment when she says goodbye to Orestes. That moment, along with many others studded throughout the play’s 100 minutes, make the production’s shortcomings easily dismissible.

For tickets go here .

 

Advertisements

Vacation’s Over, Theatre’s in Full Swing

Area theaters are kicking the new year off right. PlayMakers Repertory Company’s PRC2 series has a very interesting one-woman show through Jan. 10, KJ Sanchez’ Highway 47.

One of the play’s purposes, of course, is for the artist to come to terms with being her father’s daughter. But unlike many personal history-centered performances, Sanchez uses those personal meditations to bolster the tragic story, rather than making herself and her trials the point of the production. Certainly she reveals a good deal of herself, but (so happy to report) her play is not screaming “me, me, me.” Instead, she allows this story to reveal a little-known aspect of the history of this continent, and cannily places it in the long theatrical tradition of exploring human frailty and venality, and the ties and taints of blood.

Go here to read my full review on cvnc.org.

PlayMakers-Highway47-Print

At PlayMakers’ PRC2 through Sunday, Jan. 10.

 

Elsewhere: take your pick, or gorge on theater day and night.

Friday brings the first night (also Jan. 9 and 14) of a developmental reading of a new work by Mike Wiley, Downrange: Voices from the Homefront, in Swain Hall at UNC-CH. Presented by the UNC Dept. of Communication Studies and Street Signs, this is the first in this Process Series, Veterans and Their Families: A Festival of New Works.  (919) 929-2787. http://www.streetsignscenter.org/

In Durham, the Delta Boys reprise their production of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information at Manbites Dog through Jan. 10. Shows are selling out. Contact Manbites for tickets. www.manbitesdogtheater.org or 919.682.3343.

Common Wealth Endeavors previewed Small and Tired, a new play by Australian author Kit Brookman, last night at Common Ground Theatre. The official opening is tonight, and the run extends through Jan. 23.  Directed by Gregor McElvogue and starring Jane Holding, Justin Brent Johnson, Justin Peoples, Linh Schladweiler and Laurel Ullman, the play reworks the Ancient Greek myths surrounding the house of Atreus, setting them in a very recognizable landscape: the suburban back yard. tickets@fromcommonwealth.com  919 410 8631. Review coming here next week.

There’s lots more! Check your local calendars.

Common Wealth at Common Ground: MANY MOONS

This review was originally published in IndyWeek on Nov. 13, 2013, and on indyweek.com.

Common Wealth on the rise with Many Moons

by 

J Evarts as Meg in MANY MOONS. Photo: Alex Maness.

J Evarts as Meg in MANY MOONS. Photo: Alex Maness.

Not content to be one of the Triangle’s more formidable actors in addition to his IBM career job, Gregor McElvogue founded a theater cooperative. Common Wealth Endeavors grew from the idea that the true common wealth generated by the former British Empire can be measured in language, the English now in use around the globe by people in very different cultures. McElvogue is a British national, born in Singapore and trained at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. He formed Common Wealth Endeavors to bring plays—stories—from the countries of the British Commonwealth to the stages of North Carolina’s Triangle.

Many Moons, playing at Durham’s Common Ground Theatre (no relation), is Common Wealth’s second full production, and it’s a stunner. The first work by young British playwright Alice Birch, it was originally produced in 2011; this production is its U.S. premiere. McElvogue directs the beautifully crafted script with great delicacy and a finely calibrated sense of timing. We are coaxed into such sympathy with the four characters that, even when their grievous shortcomings are revealed, we are inclined to accept that such shortcomings are part of the spectrum of human behavior. We cannot merely revile the characters as one-dimensional monsters—we know them as complex people, full of longing for love.

Some very tough stuff comes out in this unbroken 110-minute play, and anyone who has lost a child to pedophilia or death will want to be prepared, just as a rape survivor must be mentally fortified for portrayals of rape. Birch does not condone what her characters do; she gives their actions context that allows us to feel pity as well as righteous rage. And if we can take it, that makes us better humans.

The action is described in turn by the very pregnant 30-something Meg (J Evarts); the 24-year-old, always smiling, semi-ingénue Juniper (Mary Guthrie); the 30-ish Ollie (G. Scott Heath), brilliant but not socially adept; and the remorseful 60-something Robert (David Sweeney). It takes place on a single hot day, July 18, in Stoke Newington, a village in the vast London metropolis.

All of them are present on Cory Livengood’s simple, effective set; each is put in motion by changes in Hillary Rosen’s active lighting. They shift places as they tell their converging stories, and the language is such that we see their homes and yards and streets and cafes overlaid on the set’s plain geometries. The four are neighbors; they’ve seen one another and know of one another, though they’re acquainted only in the most minimal way. But July 18 is the day of the local fête, or neighborhood fair, and on that day their paths cross with devastating effect. The playwright is not ambiguous, but she leaves it to us to infer the results of the stories’ culminating actions.

The level of self-control achieved by the playwright and director is matched by the actors, all of whom are fully in character and leave indelible impressions on the viewer. Evarts’ portrayal of Meg is the best work I’ve seen from her. Sweeney excelled at showing his character’s simultaneous strength and weakness. Guthrie kept Juniper’s frothy belief in the good in everyone right up to the top of the glass—until the very moment of its complete deflation. And Heath, as the sympathetic young Ollie whose crime you must despise, breaks your heart while twisting your gut.

This article appeared in print with the headline “The bard, the gods and a modern tragedy.”

The production continues Nov. 14-16.

David Cecelski

New writing, collected essays, latest discoveries

Piedmont Trails

Genealogy and History in North Carolina and Beyond

Piedmont Laureate

Promoting awareness and heightened appreciation for excellence in the literary arts throughout the Piedmont Region

Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado" -- Director's Blog

a countdown to the next performance, March 28-31, 2019

North Carolina Preservation Consortium

Preserving tangible and intangible heritage of enduring value

The Orange County Citizen

• Proudly Serving Orange County North Carolina Since 2018 •

Bamboo Wind

Video Poems, Dance, Sculpture & Photography

mhdekm

A topnotch WordPress.com site

peter harris, tapestryweaver

TAPestry And DESIgn

Backstrap Weaving

My weaving , my indigenous teachers, my inspiration, tutorials and more........

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

Not At Home In It

collections/connections

inkled pink

warp, weave, be happy!

Peggy Osterkamp's Weaving Blog

"Weaving should be fun!"

SHUTTLE WORKS STUDIO

Studio Life of a Weaver, Spinner, Dyer

This Day in North Carolina History

The people and places of the Tar Heel state day by day.

Linda Frye Burnham

Writer and poet

The Upstager

All the world's an upstage.

Literary Life in Italy

Looking at Italy through literature

%d bloggers like this: