Surviving with Loudon and other news as PlayMakers Opens 13/14 Season

Loudon Wainwright III and image of Loudon Wainwright Jr., in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s world premiere production of SURVIVING TWIN, written & performed by Loudon Wainwright III, and directed by PlayMakers Producing Artistic Director Joseph Haj. Sept. 4-8, 2013. Photo: Jon Gardiner.

Loudon Wainwright III and image of Loudon Wainwright Jr., in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s world premiere production of SURVIVING TWIN, written & performed by Loudon Wainwright III, and directed by PlayMakers Producing Artistic Director Joseph Haj. Playing in the Kenan Theatre of the UNC Center for Dramatic Art  Sept. 4-8, 2013. Photo: Andrea Akin.

“Storytelling lies at the heart of both theatre and song, and this basic human need fuels our appreciation for both art forms and their forms of artifice. PlayMakers Repertory Company  has opened its 2013/14 season with a PRC2 production of an interesting experiment including sung stories by singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright, III. In Surviving Twin, which is directed by Joseph Haj, Wainwright examines the relationship between fathers and sons, or, more precisely, his relationship with his father and, to a lesser degree, with his own son. The family lines branch to other generations, but this remains a very personal story. The audience must do its own work to raise its content to the universal plane. Some may find it heavy lifting.”

PUBLISHED ON WWW.CVNC.ORG, 9/5/2013. READ MY FULL REVIEW HERE.

Life with and without father: Loudon Wainwright III in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s world premiere production of his show SURVIVING TWIN. Sept. 4-8, 2013. Photo: Jon Gardiner.

Life with and without father: Loudon Wainwright III in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s world premiere production of his show SURVIVING TWIN. Sept. 4-8, 2013. Photo: Andrea Akin.

Like all of the PRC2 productions, SURVIVING TWIN runs for only a few days. But coming up soon after on the main stage in the Paul Green Theater is one not to miss if you can help it. September 18 PlayMakers will open THE MOUNTAINTOP, by Katori Hall (b. Memphis, TN, 1981). Set in Memphis’ Lorraine Motel on April 3, 1968, Hall’s play examines Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last night on earth. The play premiered in London in 2009, and won the Olivier Award for Best New Play. It had successful run on Broadway, and is now being produced around the country. For PlayMakers, it will be directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges, who gave us such a beautiful production of RAISIN IN THE SUN last season. Whether you can remember the stunning blow of April 4, 1968, or like Hall were not yet born, this is a play to help you, me and us with our own history. It will run in the Paul Green Theater through October 6.

To double its impact and share its costs, PlayMakers is co-producing THE MOUNTAINTOP with Triad Stage. The Greensboro performances will take place October 20-November 10 in The Pyrle Theater, 232 S. Elm Street–very near the site of the early lunch-counter sit-ins against segregation. This kind of artistic cooperation will allow more arts organizations to live long and prosper. Viva PRC! (and RIP North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, which bit the dust mid-season this summer, all alone in High Point).

If you need any more evidence that PlayMakers is our theatrical powerhouse, take a look at these new grants. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has just awarded PRC a cool quarter-million dollars to continue its incubation program, in which theatre ensembles from elsewhere develop works during annual residencies at UNC. Win-win-win.

The National Endowment for the Arts is chipping in $45,000 to support PRC’s season finale in April, 2014. The company will perform Stephen Sondheim’s musical ASSASSINS. You just gotta love the nerve of these folks, starting the season just before one assassination and wrapping it up–in this day and age!–with one with the tagline: “When You’ve Got a Gun Everybody Pays Attention.” All hats off for Joe Haj, please.

The NEA has also awarded PlayMakers yet another grant ($25,000) from its “Shakespeare for a New Generation” program, to support this season’s production of Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, which will run in rotating repertory with Mary Zimmerman’s modern version of the classical METAMORPHOSES by Ovid, November 2-December 8. Both will have water on the stage…but will this TEMPEST drown out memories of the extraordinary 2004  swan-song version by Shakespeare & Originals that featured powerful performances by Tom Marriott as Prospero and Jordan Smith as Caliban, along with beautiful work by Jay O’Berski, Cheryl Chamblee and a host of others? Only one way to find out.

3 plays–from hell to angels–continuing this weekend

Dorothy Lyman as Violet on the set of August, Osage County. HSN | TR

Dorothy Lyman as Violet on the set of August, Osage County. Photo: HSN | TR

In Raleigh, an impressive production of August, Osage County by Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh.

Under the intelligent, well-timed direction of Eric Woodall, August: Osage County examines three generations of an extended family at a time of particular crisis, even for them. Osage County stretches north and west from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the Kansas line, and is the kind of place on the plains where people find either contentment or the overwhelming urge to be somewhere else. The

Dorothy Lyman with cast of August, Osage County. HSN | TR.

Dorothy Lyman with cast of August, Osage County. Photo: HSN | TR.

family’s story is introduced by the patriarch, Beverly Weston (Phil Crone), as he interviews a young woman to live in and help around the house. He explains the situation: he drinks; his wife takes pills. One doesn’t cause the other, he says, it is just how it is, and they don’t interfere with each other’s habits. The habits, however, are detrimental to orderly housekeeping.

Read the my full review on CVNC. The show, in the lovely Fletcher Opera Theater, closes Dec. 9.

In Durham, at my hometown art house, troublesome weirdness acted with verve:

Candy Korn plays a role in Manbites Seventy Scenes of Halloween. Photo: MDT.

Candy Korn plays a role in Manbites’ Seventy Scenes of Halloween. Photo: MDT.

Seventy Scenes of Halloween, a mutable play by Jeffrey M. Jones, was the initial show presented by Manbites Dog Theater in the days of its bold youth, 1987, in its first awkward space at 343 West Main Street in Durham. It’s an unsettling series of short scenes that may be put together in any order the director desires, but no matter how it’s ordered, it’s not a play you can pigeonhole — making it an excellent introduction for the new, oddly named company. No one, of course, had any expectation that 25 years later Manbites would have its own building and be celebrating an unbroken quarter-century of weird and wonderful new plays. These have been years of huge change in Durham, but this funky little theater (that makes the eagle grin on every dollar it can get) has provided continuity, and community, along with the challenging art.

Read my full review on CVNC. Show closes Dec. 15.

And in Chapel Hill, a delightful, high production value version of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.  This review was first published Dec. 4 in The Indyweek, appearing in print with the headline “Season’s greetings and hellish holidays.”

Todd Lawson and Katja Hill in PlayMakers Repertory Company production of It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio PlayPhoto: Jon Gardiner

Todd Lawson and Katja Hill  at Radio Station WPRC, in the PlayMakers Repertory Company holiday  production of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Photo: Jon Gardiner

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Ray Dooley in PlayMakers Repertory Company production of It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Photo: Jon Gardiner

The onslaught of holiday plays and concerts is upon us, and the roster includes many regular favorites (or yawners, depending), but this year PlayMakers Repertory Company offers an old favorite in a charming new guise. It’s a Wonderful Life, the 1947 Frank Capra film with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, for all its many merits and despite its condemnation of capitalist greed, is awash in sentimentality. This adaptation by Joe Landry is not. Sure, there’s some, but just a dusting atop a layer cake of real feeling. I went in expecting to be entertained and came away nourished.

Directed by Nelson T. Eusebio III, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play segues smoothly from the introductory “radio play” section with the five actors “reading” the many parts behind microphones, into a very active stage play in which the actors convert the few chairs and props into whatever’s needed. Along with composer/ musician Mark Lewis on piano, the cast also provides sound effects. Seeing how they make them in no way lessens their impact, even while the sight reminds us of the artfulness of what we experience. The play and this particular staging are unusually effective at exposing the artifice underpinning the theatrical experience without diminishing its magic.

Brandon Garegnani as the Angel Clarence, and Todd Lawson as George Bailey, in PlayMakers Repertory Company production of It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Photo: Jon Gardiner

Brandon Garegnani as the Angel Clarence, and Todd Lawson as George Bailey, in PRC’s It’s A Wonderful Life. Photo: Jon Gardiner

McKay Coble’s wonderful set for WPRC/ Bedford Falls is as much a character as any other, and Burke Brown’s lighting brings its many aspects to life. Todd Lawson, making his first PlayMakers appearance, is very moving as George Bailey, while MFA students Brandon Garegnani and Maren Searle give delightful performances as the angel Clarence and the lovely Mary Bailey, respectively. Durham actress Katja Hill shows her impressive range in several parts, from the child ZuZu to the vamping Violet. Ray Dooley also takes on many roles, including the mean old Mr. Potter, but as the radio announcer, he’s bright as brilliantine. This show’s highly recommended if you need to recharge your belief that yes, in spite of everything, it is a wonderful life.

The show runs through Dec. 16.

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