Thursday, July 18, 2013

ASF: "Ring of Fire"

Few singers have as legendary a life and career as Johnny Cash, "the man in black" who bridged country music, rockabilly, and gospel, and whose songs told the several stories of his life and loves, his hard drinking and regrets, his rowdiness and his 'turn to Jesus, his concern for the poor and those who suffer indignities imposed by war and social injustice.

Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, is a tribute to this icon. Showing at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, over 35 signal pieces from the Johnny Cash songbook are performed by four principals -- Trenna Barnes, Allison Briner, Jason Edwards (who also directs), and Johnny Kinnaird -- whose impressive talents are joined by a band whose members -- John England, Walter Hartman, Scott Icenogle, Brantley Kearns, Jeff Lisenby, and Brent Moyer --play an assortment of instruments while doing double duty as characters who help tell the stories.

Their collected talents create a sometimes joyous, sometimes angry, sometimes contemplative, sometimes nostalgic, but consistently engaging and crowd-pleasing evening in the theatre. And because Cash appeals to almost all musical tastes, there is something in it for everyone.

Some time is spent with narrative links to Cash's upbringing and the major public events of his life, this is not an attempt to impersonate the man -- rather to celebrate him and his music. And while the featured actors/singers physically and vocally resemble Cash and June Carter, the focus is on the music and the story-messages in the songs.

So audiences eagerly clap their hands and stomp their feet to an energetic rendering of "Daddy Sang Bass", "Jackson", or the title song "Ring of Fire" that ends the first act, or laugh at the antics of novelty numbers like "Egg Suckin' Dog" or "A Boy Named Sue", or reflect on the import of "Folsom Prison Blues" or "Man in Black", or are touched by the simple declarations of faith in "The Far Side of Jordan", what is ultimately revealed is a man whose complex life is told with compassion and humor, and respect.

A welcome respite from the heat of Summer, Ring of Fire helps restore a sense of worth and allows us to reflect on our own values. Simple things are often the most redemptive; we succeed by struggling; and home and faith give a solid foundation to our lives...and music can make the journey worthwhile.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wetumpka Depot: "Noises Off"

The Wetumpka Depot Players have another hit on their hands. Director Kim Mason's tight acting ensemble brings the antics of Michael Frayn's farce Noises Off to a rousing laugh-fest in a show that has become an international staple in professional and community theatres since its 1982 debut in London.

As farces go, Noises Off is replete with fast action, slamming doors, sexual dalliances, trousers dropping, and silly props. Frayn complicates this by including a play-within-a-play as an inept theatre company rehearses and then presents an admittedly terrible play called Nothing On, and we view their frustrations with the demands of this convoluted script and their own personal lives reflected in the play they are performing.

Though not essential for general audience appreciation, theatre people might be especially tickled by the all-too-familiar challenges of rehearsing a farce: timing of entrances and exits, eccentricities of actors, timing, manipulation of props, timing, assorted responsibilities of stage managers, timing, the authority of the director, and -- oh, yes -- timing! -- All credit is due the Depot company for keeping the action moving and for excellence in timing the action both as it is rehearsed with mistakes that must be corrected and also in the corrected versions where we witness how it is supposed to be done.

The setting of Nothing On is an old English house that is available to rent while the owners are abroad in Spain; it is being looked after by the housekeeper, Mrs. Clackett, (played  by an actress named Dotty) [Kristy Meanor], whose phone conversations provide background while she attempts to handle the phone, newspapers, and ever-frustrating plates of sardines. When Roger (actor Garry) [Lee Bridges] brings Vicki (actress Brooke) [Sophia Priolo] to the house for an affair while pretending to be a client to rent the house, and is interrupted by the unexpected return of the owners Phillip (actor Frederick) and Flavia (actress Belinda), hilarity ensues. Add to this mix a Burglar (actor Selsdon) [Bill Nowell] an old absentminded actor who has a drinking problem, and a put-upon stage manager Poppy [Elizabeth Bowles] and harried stagehand Tim [Austin Thompson] -- and the fact that there are numerous secrets within the group -- and predictable mayhem soon dominates the scene.

Act One is a dress rehearsal of the first act of Nothing On that clearly demonstrates how ill-prepared they are to perform in front of an audience with the director Lloyd [Stephen Dubberley] rapidly losing patience with his cast and their constant questions and suggestions for improvement. And we see them both in their roles in Nothing On and the relationships of their off-stage lives.

Act Two brings the action backstage a month into the run of the play while the Act One of Nothing On we saw earlier is being performed onstage, and the relationships deteriorate as the actors attempt to settle their personal disputes while the performance must continue.

And Act Three, near the end of the run of Nothing On, becomes more and more outrageous as the actors sabotage and undermine the performances and try to save some semblance of order by having to ad lib their way through it.

Truly an ensemble piece played by veteran actors who bring all their skills to the fore, the Depot's production of Noises Off deserves the resounding responses it s receiving.