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 Change that Changed Durham: THE BEST OF ENEMIES at Manbites Dog

Derrick Ivey and Lakeisha Coffey in THE BEST OF ENEMIES at MDT. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Derrick Ivey and Lakeisha Coffey in THE BEST OF ENEMIES at MDT. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

From my review in CVNC:

2013 has already been an extraordinary year in theatre for the Triangle, but one of the most powerful productions of the year has come near the end. Through December 21, Manbites Dog Theater is presenting The Best of Enemies, by Mark St. Germain, who based his excellent play on Osha Gray Davidson’s book of the same title, which laid out the amazing story of the confrontation and eventual friendship between Ann Atwater, a black civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis, a white Ku Klux Klansman, during Durham’s struggles with school desegregation in the early 1970s. An American story of truth and reconciliation, it is beautifully directed by Joseph Megel, who has previously demonstrated unusual skill at dramatizing the humanity behind the ideas of race and class struggle.

READ FULL REVIEW HERE.

Thaddaeus Edwards and Lakeisha Coffey as Bill Riddick and Ann Atwater. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Thaddaeus Edwards as Bill Riddick and Coffey as Ann Atwater. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Elisabeth Lewis Corley as Mary Ellis, and Thaddaeus Edwards as Bill Riddick. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Elisabeth Lewis Corley as Mary Ellis, and Thaddaeus Edwards as Bill Riddick. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

See this show if you can. It ranks very high among the many great accomplishments of Durham’s finest, feistiest theatre. Manbites Dog reports that tickets are going very fast. They have added two shows, but don’t wait to order tickets.

http://manbitesdogtheater.org   919-682-3343.

At the moment of transformative change: Coffey, Ivey and Edwards in Manbites Dog's THE BEST OF ENEMIES. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

At the moment of transformative change: Coffey, Ivey and Edwards, directed by Joseph Megel in Manbites Dog’s THE BEST OF ENEMIES. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Big in Every Way: THE BROTHERS SIZE at Manbites Dog Theater through September 29

Alphonse Nicholson, Thaddaeus Edwards, and Kashif Powell (background)
in THE BROTHERS SIZE. Photo: Michael McCullough.

Leaving the theater on opening night of The Brothers Size, I had the oddest sensation of entering an imaginary world as I stepped into the cozy bright lobby. Inside the dark theater, we’d been immersed in a rough reality, overwashed with waves of a mystic reality. Subsumed as a group in the rhythmic drumming, our hearts beat together with those of the characters before us, locked with them into the sustained intensity of their struggles. Outside, there were cakes and wine, smart chat, separate parties. Life seemed pale beside this art.

The Brothers Size (which runs about 100 minutes without intermission) is part of a trilogy by Tarell Alvin McCraney. It debuted in 2007, when the author was only 27 years old. It’s an amazing script, in terms of character, story, intensity, clarity and inventiveness. Some may find elements of the language distasteful, but it all seemed appropriate to the people and situation. A white person could not have written this, though, and there is no fashionable cross-race casting. These three characters are black men, as well as representing three of the Yoruba orisa, and they need to be played by black men.

Ogun Size is a hard man, like his namesake, and has built himself a car repair business. His main concerns are survival and protection, and he comes on singing, like a work chant, “this road is rough.” Kashif Powell, in a coverall, plays Ogun with almost unbearable rigid force. His younger brother, Oshoosi Size, has recently gotten out of prison and is living with Ogun. Oshoosi is concerned with freedom—with being and feeling free—and J. Alphonse Nicholson gives him a fluid, willowy physicality. (Jeremy V. Morris will portray this role in the second half of the play’s run.) Elegba—deity of the crossroads, and a trickster—is Oshoosi’s friend from prison. Thaddaeus Edwards, all in black, with a black sequined belt, gives the seductive Elegba a sly, knowing look as he glides in and out the scenes, instigating.

Working with director Joseph Megel, and with the aid of drummer Teli S. Shabu, the brothers engage in a dance of thought and feeling, with outbursts of song. They dance all around the idea of freedom. Do you live hard or live easy? Prison is not the only lockup. You can be stuck like a stone, unfree in other ways. Some you can escape, but you can never escape your brother. He will always be your brother: You will call for him; you will let him go; you will not leave him behind—and his inescapability is another kind of freedom.

Near the show’s end, the two brothers Size sum up the method for reconciling their differing characters, which Elegba has set at odds. In Derrick Ivey’s bleak set made of rope and old tires, they put on Otis Redding, and “Try a Little Tenderness” blossoms from their throats. Young girls are not the only ones who get weary on the rough road. Even a man hard as iron needs that balm.

This article was first published in The Independent Weekly, appearing in print with the headline “Tall tales and karaoke nights.” It is available on www.indyweek.com. The original contained an author error, corrected on the Indy site and above. Correction: Running time is about 100 minutes (not 140 minutes).

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