Saturday I went to see Theater South Carolina’s production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, directed by Steve Pearson. I was familiar with the plot of this American classic, but interested to see what new life would be brought to it.
The set was, as described in the script, quite minimalist: just a few chairs and tables set up on a wooden floor. The floor had a rich color that worked well with the lighting, and several sliding wagons. When the sliding wagons were moved, I thought it was interesting, but I hoped that there would be more configurations. Perhaps different locations would have new stage configurations? This was not the case. The stage was arranged in two or three simple patterns. All of the detail missing in the set could have been supplied by the actors’ imaginations, but that did not exactly happen. To me, the acting felt flat and unemotional. This was further exasperated by the New Hampshire dialect that all of the actors, to varying degrees, used. While it did set the scene as a small town in the Northeast around 1900, it made some actors hard to understand and they sounded nasally. It distracted me as an audience member.
Some parts of the show were lovely. The costumes were very period appropriate, set the scene for the show well, and functioned wonderfully. The same goes for the lights. Without lighting designer Ashley Pittman’s gorgeous and expressive lighting, the show would have lacked significant dynamism. With such a minimalist set, the lighting was almost entirely responsible for creating environment and attractiveness. Pittman achieved this beautifully. And I am in no way biased because she is a personal friend. My favorite moments in the show were created by the lighting. Emily and George’s scene at their windowsills in the moonlight was captivating; just watching the moonlight on their faces made the atmosphere so romantic. I also gasped right along with everyone else as the graveyard floor light up with stars at the end of the show. It was the best effect all night.
Overall, I wished the show had a clearer picture of exactly what the audience was to take away, but there was some beautiful imagery layered in to make watching the show a pleasant experience.
My parents were in town this weekend. We had a lot of fun, and on Saturday night we decided to go see Oklahoma at Town Theater. I have been a huge Roger’s and Hammerstein fan for as long as I can remember. They originated the American musical, and they did it with this show. Town Theater opened their 96th season this September, so they brought plenty of experience to their production. They brought enough acting and singing talent to carry the script, as well as an earnest, wholesome approach that fit the show very well. My favorite character was Andrew Carnes, who was hilarious as played by Will Moreau. With his swagger and his shotgun, I laughed just watching him walk on stage. My favorite character in the script has always been Aunt Eller, the no holds barred matriarch. However, on this show she was a bit less loud and over the top than what I am used to. Overall, the whole ensemble did a great job. You could tell everyone was up there purely because they loved theater. The show as a whole exemplified what a great community theater show is all about. It didn’t try to be a professional show. They had sewn the costumes and built the sets. If a prop was dropped, they just bent over and picked it up. Like their characters, these were simple folk, but it was a lot of fun to watch.
I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the show:
“I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be damned if I aint just as good!” – Aunt Eller
This past Wednesday I dragged my parents out, packed our lawn chairs and a picnic and went to see Tartuffe at Shakespeare Dallas. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Shakespeare Dallas, they are a theater company who, every summer, puts on plays by Shakespeare and the playwrights he inspired outdoors at Samuel Grand Park.. The casts and crews are made up of professional actors and theatrical designers, and the shows are always top quality. Tartuffe was no exception. This translation of Moliere’s script maintained the rhyming couplet style of the original French play, so it worked well as an accompaniment to Shakespeare. By modernizing the sets and costumes, the design of the show helped to make it more relatable to the audience. My mother and I were especially fond of Elmire and Marianne’s colorful, flouncy dresses. Another favorite design element was the sound design. All of the music added to the bright, hurried atmosphere of the play, while still utilizing classical scores. In particular, the last scene not only had some excellent music that was perfectly comically timed, but also utilized, with the microphones, quite masterfully an echo effect. I was duly impressed. One more impressive aspect was, of course, the acting. All of the actors were hilarious and fully committed to the over-the-top style demanded by the show. From the very sweet, “bless her heart”, Marianne to the sassy, outspoken Dorine, there were a wealth of different characters to root for. For his part, Tartuffe played his role very well. While I loathed the character, I admired the acting. Every actor had created a unique character that was wonderful to watch. Overall, it was a hilarious and well-done show. Going to Shakespeare in the Park is always a highlight of my summer. I highly recommend their shows, which run Tuesday- Sunday nights through July 19, to anyone in the Dallas area. And if you can’t make it out to see the show, the script of Tartuffe is also a hilarious and quick read. I can’t wait to go back to Samuel Grand next week to see Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
When I showed up for the first rehearsal of Taming of the Shrew I didn’t even know what part I was. It turns out that I was playing Curtis, one of the servants in Pertrucio’s house. But there were a lot more surprises along the way. Set in an all-girls Catholic high school, our director, Mary Beth Gorman decided to keep the show-within-a-show format that the play was originally in, but add her own spin and introduction. We spent a whole week on “table work” where we read though our hour-long cutting of the script and talked about different issues within the play.
We were each tasked, also, with coming up with a high school version of our character who would watch the show as an ”onstage audience”. One night during our table work week we all participated in an extended improvisation of a talent show being hosted at the high school. Everyone had worked very hard to create a thorough high school character with a complete backstory, and it made for a fantastic talent show. Several singers amongst the cast performed, two girls played a duet on the ukulele and spoons; there was a Nitchze reading and a hilarious magic show. The actress playing Kate performed a dance to “Get Low”, effectively infuriating the administrators.
For my character, I decided to do a tap dance. It was a skill I already had and it seemed fitting for Patsy Curtis, my high school character, as she exemplified the ultimate in uncool, and was a huge musical theater nerd. Copying a video I found on YouTube, I choreographed a tap dance to the opening of Forget About the Boy from Thoroughly Modern Millie. I had planned for the routine to end abruptly with a staged fall. It would show what a klutz Patsy was and get a good laugh. I spent an hour or so practicing the routine before rehearsal, and made sure to run though it on the stage before our improv began. Everything went smoothly. When my name was called, I got up to perform. It was great. There I was, finally back in my tap shoes, feeling fantastic. My big moment was approaching. I could almost imagine everyone’s laughter. Ok, here it goes, forget about the booooy… Slip. Smack. My staged fall spiraled a little out of control and I ended up hitting my head against the concrete floor. Instead of laughing, everyone gasped in shock, and was asking if I was ok. I didn’t know how to explain what had happened without breaking the impov, so I just went and sat down. There was only one act after me, and then we broke to discuss how we felt the improv had gone. At that point I had to repeatedly reassure everyone that I had meant to fall, just not quite that much. Someone gave me an ibuprofen and I was fine, but it was quite the lesson in humility. Doing something just to show off isn’t going to turn out well.
Everyone is the cast and crew was so talented and it was an honor to get to work with these fabulous ladies. The show ran this weekend, and we had a great run. Our goal was to tell a story about Kate and Petruchio, but more so to tell the story of a bunch of girls discovering the joy of theater. Hopefully that joy reached our audience as well.
Despite a week filled with midterm preparations, I managed to fit in time to see two of the plays being presented at USC. I saw Swimming in the Shallows at the Center for Performance Experiment and The 39 Steps at Longstreet Theater. While technically very different plays, they were both full of mad-cap action and were side-splittingly funny.
Swimming in the Shallows, written by Adam Bock and guest directed by Scott Gigure, followed the lives of five friends through their crazy ups and downs in tiny, magical, Twig, Rhode Island, a place where sharks can talk. If that doesn’t sound like a good time, I don’t know what does. The script was funny, but the actors were definitely what brought it to life. With minimal set or costumes they managed to create a complex and interesting world of love and Buddhist monks. Described as “a delightful invitation into a theatrical world of magical realism”, it struck a great balance between emotional connection with the characters and crazy, magical elements. Plus plenty of laughs thrown into the mix.
Although The 39 Steps had a similar energy, the plot line was very different. Adapted for the stage by Patrick Barlow from the Alfred Hitchcock movie and John Buchan book, and co-directed by Jim Helsinger and Brad DePlanche, the show utilizes only four very talented and dedicated actors to bring to life a story of mystery and intrigue. Set just before World War II, spies, national secrets, and murder are given a huge comedic twist. I have nothing but admiration for all of the actors, directors, and designers involved, because the comedy in this show was flawless. One thing that I thought was brilliant was putting the entire set (door, armchair, table, etc.) on wheels. The opening involved the main character walking through a door and an open window as they rolled by, setting the stage for the rest of the show. I also would like to give a shout out to my friend, Ashley Pittman, who designed the lighting. She accomplished the difficult task of creating a lighting design that both practically and artistically facilitates the story. While more plot based than Swimming in the Shallows, I was constantly on the edge of my seat, either to see what would happen next, or overtaken with laughter. August Krickel of the Free Times has a more in-depth review here: http://www.free-times.com/arts/hitchcock-spoof-emthe-39-steps-em-takes-audiences-on-comic-adventure
In the end, I cannot congratulate the casts and crews of both of these shows enough. All of their hard work paid off in what were two of the best nights I have had at the theater in a while.
Yesterday I went to see A Woman’s Suffrage, a play that had been written by an undergraduate student right here at USC. The hard work put in by all of the students involved was impressive, and I quite enjoyed myself. But I almost missed out on seeing it at all. Several weeks ago I had gotten an email with show times and completely forgot about the show amidst all of the theater news buzzing around. I always want to try to see as many of the shows in Columbia as possible, but keeping track of what where and when they are showing, even just on the University of South Carolina campus, can be confusing. So, this weekend I decided to create a Google calendar with all of the upcoming productions from now until the beginning of April. I also thought that I am probably not the only one having trouble keeping up with shows around town, so here is the link if you are interested in checking out the calendar: Theater in Columbia SC
Pretty much every weekend in March has something exciting happening. I am personally looking forward to a busy week of theater next week, going to see all three of the shows at the University of South Carolina: Swimming in the Shallows, Status Update, and 39 Steps. Do you have plans to see any of the shows coming up next month? How do you keep track of what is premiering next?