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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Our Super-Heroes, Now Working Magic at Manbites Dog Theater

Marcia Edmundson, Lakeisha Coffey, Thaddaeus Edwards, and Mary Guthrie as The Fathom Town Enforcers of SPIRITS TO ENFORCE, at Manbites Dog Theater. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Marcia Edmundson, Lakeisha Coffey, Thaddaeus Edwards, and Mary Guthrie as The Fathom Town Enforcers, fundraising (or not) from their submarine lair, in SPIRITS TO ENFORCE,  now playing at Manbites Dog Theater. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

The play’s the thing in Mickle Maher’s smart, kind, complex investigation of The Tempest and theatre-making, which has just opened at Manbites Dog Theater, where it is marvelously directed by Jeff Storer.  Spirits To Enforce has levels beyond levels, but our super-heroes of the stage surmount all obstacles and overcome the dastardly evil-doers with the power their arts. It’s fine and funny and I suggest you see it while you may (through May 10). My proper review will run in next week’s Indy, but in the meantime, here are a few photos to consider. I’ll just add that this show offers the unusual opportunity to witness a second female interpretation this season of Prospero (following Julie Fishell’s intriguing version at PlayMakers). Marcia Edmundson doesn’t get to give all the lines, as she’s busy being a super-hero and a fundraiser, but she speaks enough of them to make one long to see her fully in the role. Spirits to Enforce is tantalizing that way, with all the characters.

 

Jon Haas as The Tune/Ferdinand and Jessica Flemming as Memory Lass/Miranda in the current Manbites Dog production of SPIRITS TO ENFORCE. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Jon Haas as The Tune/Ferdinand and Jessica Flemming as Memory Lass/Miranda in the current Manbites Dog production of SPIRITS TO ENFORCE. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

 

Mary Michelle Guthrie as The Silhouette has a beautiful scene at play's end in Mickle Maher's SPIRITS TO ENFORCE, directed by Jeff Storer. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Mary Michelle Guthrie as The Silhouette has a beautiful scene at play’s end in Mickle Maher’s enchanting SPIRITS TO ENFORCE, directed by Jeff Storer. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

 

J Evarts, The Bad Map, aka Trinculo, exercises her talents in comic confusion in SPIRITS TO ENFORCE. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

J Evarts, The Bad Map, aka Trinculo, exercises her considerable talent at comic confusion in Manbites’ SPIRITS TO ENFORCE. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Artists turn on the power at Manbites for THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM

It is always a special treat to see theater work made by talented, skilled artists who have generated their synergy not in just this production, but in many plays over years, even decades. In the current show at Manbites Dog Theater, director Jeff Storer leads a dream cast of well-known and much-admired area actors in Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s The New Electric Ballroom (2005). It’s an ideal play for Storer: It requires a tight ensemble of actors; it is built more on storytelling than action; it explores dark reaches of the heart, and is not in a hurry about it. It has a moral, but doesn’t beat you up with it—both writer and director seem content that it catch up with you later, maybe one day when you are about to shut the door on love.

Katja Hill, Marcia Edmundson, and Derrick Ivey in The New Electric Ballroom at MDT. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Katja Hill, Marcia Edmundson, and Derrick Ivey in The New Electric Ballroom at MDT. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Marcia Edmundson, Lenore Field, and Katja Hill, as three sisters endlessly replaying their old memory-tapes and trying to keep safe from love, are more than capable of working in Walsh’s terrain of amazing language that mixes naturalism and symbology. Derrick Ivey, as the fishmonger Patsy, makes his poetic lines tumble naturally from the shy man’s mouth, and easily carries the responsibility of offering warmth and life to the sisters’ cold house. Storer, in his usual deft manner, balances the bleak with the tender, and coaxes his actors into to opening the characters’ sad, barren hearts to reveal their self-made comic tragedies and blighted longings. In 85 minutes, they lay out the proofs that risk + courage may or may not = love, but love – (risk + courage) is a null set.

You may think at first that you will not connect with these characters—Ada, Breda, Clara, and Patsy—because they don’t connect well with each other, but you do. As Breda and Clara begin to repeat their interlocking stories of their fateful night years ago at The New Electric Ballroom, they seem repellent, purposefully self-destructive. Soon you perceive that they are mired, stuck in a deep scratch in life’s record, and you begin to care for them, though it is a big relief when sweet Patsy shows up with his day’s load of fish and gossip, to relieve the miasma of feminine bitterness.

Derrick Ivey and Lenore Field at Manbites Dog. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Derrick Ivey and Lenore Field. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Although the play is ultimately very sad, it is studded with comic moments. Katja Hill as Ada doesn’t get any of the flashier ones—hers is a very quiet and nuanced performance, depending a great deal on body language. But Edmundson as Breda and Field as Clara get to exercise their considerable talents for drollery throughout. Derrick Ivey is, as usual, entirely believable no matter what he is doing. He also had the audience hooting with laughter at several points, not least during the bathing scene. The multi-talented Mr. Ivey also designed the sets and costumes, which, also as usual, make the most out of very little. (How does he do it? He is also directing the forthcoming Durham Savoyards production of Pirates of Penzance, opening March 14 at the Carolina Theatre.)

The New Electric Ballroom runs through March 9. It’s a fine script, and a wonderful opportunity to see several of the Triangle’s best at play. Tickets through www.manbitesdogtheater.org. You may also want to pick up tickets for the next show there, Little Green Pig’s Derklöwnschpankeneffekt: Two Plays for Klöwn, directed by the Hon. Michael O’Foghludha (who was dramaturg and dialect coach for Ballroom) and starring our favorite bad boys, Jay O’Berski, Jeffrey Detwiler and Carl Martin, who also have that long-time synergy thing going on. It opens March 21.

Clara (Lenore Field) and the teacake, in The New Electric Ballroom at MDT. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

Clara (Lenore Field) and the teacake, in The New Electric Ballroom. Photo: Alan Dehmer.

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