The REDBIRD Flies Tonight from the ArtsCenter Stage

Redbird Postcard Revised_etix

Two years ago, Dorrie Casey, who’s done pretty much everything else in theatre, decided her next adventure would be a festival of new plays. Add producer to her credits, please, because starting tonight, five new plays by North Carolinians will debut at the Carrboro ArtsCenter. Heavily underwritten by Casey and produced by her and Jeri Lynn Schulke, the artistic director of ArtsCenter Stage, REDBIRD promises to be as showy as its name, with the five works premiering over two opening nights. It’s a significant milestone for non-university theatre here.

Tonight’s first first night will include Michael A. Smith’s adaptation of Nancy Peacock‘s first novel, Life Without Water. Peacock is my contemporary (Chapel Hill High School Class of 1972) and the world she imagined in her book resonated strongly with me–and with Tom Marriott, who directs. He too has lived without water. “The play is very, very moving for me,” he said, “and to have Marcia Edmundson and Jane Allen Wilson—!” Here he threw up his hands and grinned with the delight of working with these two splendid women. Marriott’s been making theatre in the Triangle area since 1969, “poor theatre,” as he says, and has been a crucial instigator in the birth and growth of the “not-PlayMakers theatre scene” currently thriving here. This is an ideal situation for the birth of a new play: everyone involved knows everyone else’s art and can also bring intensely local knowledge to this work. The newest member of the team is Joseph Amodei, who’s doing the multimedia. The photographer Catharine Carter is another longtime Chatham County person, and for the backdrop imagery she has photographed the house Nancy Peacock lived in back in the day.

Also on tonight’s bill is the ineffable Jane Holding, who has adapted a story from her friend Allan Gurganus’s recent Local Souls. Holding and Gurganus have been friends since 1969, and share similar eastern North Carolina backgrounds. Part of their friendship involves reading to each other, so Holding knew Gurganus’ characters and their stories long before the book was published, and knows their language and their rhythms deep in her soul (Holding collaborated with Gurganus on the stage adaptation of his Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All). Holding will embody Jean, mother of Caitlin, for whom Jean put herself in the background. But in Saints Have Mothers,  Jean’s back up front. Holding has told me that this story was important to her, as “more than anything, I wanted to be a good mother.” The insightful Tamara Kissane directs. Of course, Holding and Kissane have previous theatre connections, too–Kissane played Holding’s daughter in Little Green Pig’s fantastic all-female Richie.

Just to prove that ALL the excellent writers in the state do not live in the Triangle, Greensboro will be well-represented in the third piece on tonight’s bill, Linnaeus Forgets. The short story’s by my hero Fred Chappell; the adaptation by Marianne Gingher and Debby Seabrooke. Lenore Field, Greg Hohn, who also directs, and the indefatigueable Tom Marriott will act (and waltz), and Jimmy Magoo will handle the puppets.

On the 14th, the second opening night will feature another new work by Howard L. Craft, whose Freight was such a smashing success in January (it will receive a New York production this summer). Craft has adapted from historian David Cecelski’s book for The Fire of Freedom, and the character Abraham Galloway will be played by Jade Arnold. Chaunesti Webb directs.

The REDBIRD’S fifth work is Property, by Dana Coen, director of the UNC-CH Writing for the Stage and Screen program, and examines outsiders’ and locals’ relationships with the land and “sustainability.” Coen directs Alex Thompson, Melanie Rio and Brandon Rafalson.

REDBIRD has a design team, too, studded with well-known local names. The whole damn shebang is stage-managed by the amazing Emma Nadeau. “She’s the hub of the spinning wheel,” said Jeri Lynn Schulke. Maybe if we stomp our feet, she’ll come out at the end with her accordion.

REDBIRD runs two weekends only! with the shows in rolling repertory. Check http://www.artscenterlive.org for which is when, and get your tickets.

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10 x 10, #12: The ArtsCenter’s Festive Annual Short Play Extravaganza

For the 12th year running, the Carrboro ArtsCenter has produced and is presenting the high-energy theatrical event, 10 x 10 in the Triangle. Once again, it offers fast-paced fun well laced with clever observation and sharp insights. I look forward to this show all year, and so do many others: be early if you want tickets to the two remaining weekends (July 11-4 and 18-21). The Playwrights Gala will be held at 6:30 pm, before the show, on July 13.

10x10_in_the_triangle_logo_2.2The brainchild of Lynden Harris, 10 x 10 is currently led by Jeri Lynn Schulke, the artistic director of ArtsCenter Stage. Schulke puts together a team of readers, who spend January to May choosing among the new 10-minute scripts that pour in from around the world. This year there were 750 submissions for the 10 slots. Then 10 directors and 10 actors are chosen (sometimes, as Mark Filiaci does this year, one person fills both roles–in different plays). The team gets a complement of tech people, but sets and props are minimal, and are changed out by the actors in the very brief interludes between the plays. The presto-chango aspect is one of the things that makes 10 x 10 such a fun evening at the theatre.

I found this year’s first half very strong–full of surprises and believable strangeness. The 10-minute form lends itself to situations where something can occur completely in a brief series of actions and interactions, but playwrights are very clever about pushing the edges of time and space. In the opener, My Name is Yin, by Tom Swift, smoothly directed by Ian Bowater, Mark Filiaci gives a wonderful turn as a journalist whose big story, picked up by AP, is about an “installation” in which the artist filled dozens of pairs of shoes with butter. In the play, he and his typewriter sit off to the side, interjecting information and lament into the action, which involves an expat American Brown Bear, a hiker enlightened by the art; her bewildered husband and a raving right-wing government functionary. It’s a sizzling little skewer of commentary on making, seeing and being understood.

will/did/is, by Patrick Gabridge, directed by Josh Benjamin, comes next, and features Amanda Scherle and Alphonse Nicholson as time-travellers looking for their future on the Boston subway. Wearing conical aluminum foil hats. It’s a sad, smart, hopeful little play, and seeing Nicholson in that hat, above his little Malcolm X goatee, just made my night. Nicholson is extremely versatile: he’s at least as good as the peculiar super-hero of The 5564 to Toronto, very well directed by Lori Mahl, who gets such good interaction from the characters that you really care for them within the first moments. In Karen JP Howes’ story  that closes the first half of the evening, Nicholson’s character saves a young woman (Mary Forester) from certain death…but the moral seems to be, you can’t save everyone. [UPDATED 7/9/13]

And you can’t make everyone happy. The night’s most affecting work, directed by Jerry Sipp, is David MacGregor’s New Year’s Eve, featuring LaKeisha Coffey as a nursing home worker and Owen Daly as a very cranky old man. Both actors do lovely work here, in a story taken straight from life.

Another theme seems to be that kindness and aid come at unexpected times and ways. Amanda Scherle and Brett Stafford, scraping up roadkill for the highway department perform an almost accidental kindness in Durham writer Mora Harris’s What you Don’t Know, and director Gregor McElvogue gives us a very prickly kindness in Carol Mullen’s Zero Mile Mark. Actors Coffey, Forester and Scherle do fine work as two women attempting a strenuous wilderness hike, and their demanding guide.

Mark Filiaci appears again, with Bonnie Roe, in the acerbic A Gun on the Table, by Margy Ragsdale. Directed at just the right tempo, with just enough exaggeration, by Chris Chiron, it plays with the idea of potential in marriage and drama. Fortunately, this is a short play, without a third act, so the gun does not go off.

The three remaining plays struck me as heavy-handed.  Although the directors and actors did their best to infuse them with style and wit, the scripts seemed mired a TV mentality out of kilter with the super fresh theatricality of the rest of this year’s 10 x 10.

All eyes on 10 By 10, #11, at the Carrboro ArtsCenter

Eye of Lobster, by Paperhand Puppet Intervention, on exhibit at the Carrboro ArtsCenter, 7-6-12

For the 11th year running, the Carrboro ArtsCenter is presenting one of its most remarkable undertakings, the 10 By 10 in the Triangle action-packed extravaganza of ten recent plays, each ten minutes long, brought to life by ten directors and ten actors (who also move the furniture). Attending this ridiculously refreshing event is a lot like opening your throat and pouring down a cold Coca-Cola—a great thing to do in July.

Playwrights from around the country, and now the world, submit works to the competition, which is juried by committee. Once the list is semi-finalized, Jeri Lynn Schulke, artistic director of the ArtsCenter Stage, chooses the ten directors, and among them, they reduce the list to ten plays. Schulke then assembles a cast of ten versatile actors who can create all the parts in all ten plays—and the creative madness begins, with the help of some of the Triangle theater’s dedicated

Eye of Dragon, by Paperhand Puppet Intervention, on exhibit in the Carrboro ArtsCenter, 7-6-12

backstage production artists. Each director gets five rehearsals, then there’s the tech rehearsal and one complete run-through before opening night on the ArtsCenter’s tiny stage. There are no sets, and props are minimal. Costumes, however, can get more elaborate.

For instance, the food items in It’s What’s for Dinner, by Jonathan Graham, which opens the evening. Deftly directed by Sylvia Mallory, the play features kale, brie, beef, and leftover macaroni and cheese, enacted by Geraud Staton, Mary Rowland, Page Purgar and Fred Corlett. This hilarious send-up of the food foibles of well-to-do and politically correct locavores hits the bullseye around here. And you ain’t seen nothing til you’ve seen Geraud Staton as a bunch of kale—Tuscan black kale, one presumes.

Eye of the Director: Michael O’Foghludha led A SHORT HISTORY OF WEATHER in the 11th annual 10 By 10 in the Triangle, at the ArtsCenter through July 22, 2012.

Part of the fun of 10 By 10 is seeing the actors appear in such different roles in quick succession. Staton is well-paired with another large man, David Berberian, in the sharply drawn After You, by Libba Beaucham, directed by Jerry Sipp. Alone, either one of these actors can make the room look small; together, in three-piece suits, watch chains and hats, they make the room disappear.

Berberian is particularly effective, along with Leanne Heintz, in Jonathan Yukich’s A Short History of Weather. As directed by Michael O’Foghludha, Weather starts off fast and funny, but settles gently into a slow and tender conclusion. Heintz (recently seen at Deep Dish in Henceforward…) packs a lot of nuance into the ten minutes of this surprisingly endearing play.

Each of the plays is worthy of comment, but it would be so much more efficient to see them for yourself. Be sure to stay until the end. You don’t want to miss a future classic like Matt Fotis’ Oedipus: The Prequel. And don’t be late—you might not be able to get a ticket.

Opening night crowd waiting to enter the ArtsCenter theater, under the watchful eyes of Paperhand’s grand puppets. The line circled the lobby.

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