Sunday, September 30, 2018

Theatre AUM: "Female Voices"

A tradition at Theatre AUM is its annual showcase of theatre students' talents in the form of selected monologues and scenes. -- This year's theme is Female Voices featuring 21 student actors in almost 40 selections that highlight the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, as well as the Christine Blasey Ford/Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and show that the concerns of women [and men] today have been unresolved for centuries.

Performed on an open stage with minimal furniture and props, each of the pieces is announced by the actors, all of whom are dressed mostly in black that varies from concert attire to cocktail party outfits and more casual dress to achieve neutrality or social commentary to punctuate the pieces' intentions and words.

Female playwrights range from 17th Century Englishwoman Aphra Behn to contemporaries that include among others Sarah Ruhl, Caryl Churchill, Lorraine Hansberry, Pearl Cleage, Wendy Wasserstein, and Paula Vogel, all of whom confront issues that need attention. -- The mistreatment of women based on gender, social position, race, and sexuality are brought to the fore with selections that address such topics as violence, guns in schools, the Holocaust, abortion, locker room talk, fear, and the consequences of past actions -- the still unresolved issues that are covered everyday in both mainstream and social media.

Whether in a serious or humorous mode, the performances in this 1 hour 40 minute program focus on the historical perception of women as submissive to men's demands, and to women's resistance to being ignored, underrated, and abused.

Often delivered as in-yer-face address to the audience, we are made to reflect on their rage, accept our own discomfort in their condition, and resolve to make things better.

The varied strengths of the AUM actors are given attention, and audience members might remember or connect with any one piece. -- The thing that ties it all together by the end is an affirmation of the value of women in a society that still relegates them too often to second-class status, and the hope that in future there will be greater equity.

Monday, September 24, 2018

ASF: "Sometimes...Patsy Cline"

Sometimes...Patsy Cline had an all-too-short three-performance run last weekend at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Showcasing the impressive vocal talents of Jacqueline Petroccia [seen previously at ASF in Because of Winn Dixie, A Christmas Carol, and Always...Patsy Cline], this intermissionless songfest entertained its appreciative audiences.

Ms. Petroccia traced her journey from New Jersey girl to Country Western star, abetted by a few photo projections and bits of narrative linking songs to her story.

Some 24 cover-songs by Patsy Cline and others who influenced her [Bette Midler, Rosemary Clooney, Karen Carpenter, Hank Williams, among them] highlighted both her vocal range from alto to operatic soprano, as well as her command of Country Western, Blues, Broadway, Gospel, and novelty numbers that accented her refusal to be pigeonholed into one style.

Ms. Petroccia's versions of songs from Broadway's Gypsy, Clooney's "Mambo Italiano", excursions into operatic heights, as well as renditions of Cline's "Crazy", "I Fall to Pieces", and "Sweet Dreams of You" highlighted the entertainment.

Backed by a fabulous five-member on-stage band led by her husband, Ms. Petroccia instantly connected with her audience and kept them engaged for the entire 75-minute program.

Her powerful and expressive voice didn't need the excessive amplification provided her, but her vocal precision, clear diction, and sensitive interpretation of lyrics made for a delightful afternoon in her presence.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Wetumpka Depot: "Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean"

When the 'Disciples of James Dean' meet in a small Texas emporium in 1975 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their film idol's tragic death, their reunion takes several unexpected turns. -- They reminisce about their teenage years, often romanticizing the past as people are wont to do, and along the way are confronted by truths they would prefer to be kept secret.

Ed Graczyk's 1976 play Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean opened on Thursday for a three-week run at the Wetumpka Depot. There are roles for both the "then" and "now" of some of the characters, with a number of scenes when they are on stage at the same time; not as confusing as it may seem. Director Tom Salter emphasizes its "you can't go home again" theme in a series of scenes set in 1955 and 1975, seamlessly suggesting the time changes with lighting shifts; Costume designer Carol Heier dresses them in complimentary costumes that suit their characters; and Kristy Meanor's detailed period set shows how time has not changed the Kressmont Five and Dime, much like the characters haven't changed much in the intervening years.

Juanita [Janie Allred] still runs the Five and Dime with an autocratic hand that doesn't tolerate crude language or alcohol; Sissy [Leslie Blackwell] still flaunts her bosoms; now wealthy Stella May [Cindy Smith] continues to ridicule the shy and ever-pregnant Edna Louise [Venna Everett], who it turns out is the most normal and happiest member of the bunch; and Mona [Chantel Oakley] continues her fantasy that James Dean fathered her illegitimate child during the film-shoot at "Reata", now just a shell-in-ruin of a film set for "Giant", Dean's last movie on which she was an "extra".

The "Jimmy Dean" of the title is Mona's son, named for his alleged father; though he never appears in stage, Mona is obsessed with protecting him at all costs -- from the instant celebrity status she foisted on him in his infancy, to the current time when she claims he is retarded and needs her to look after him.

When we meet these characters in the past, it becomes clear how the past informs their present natures, especially as Sissy "Then" [Lauren Norris] and Mona "Then" [Skylar Frye] exhibit so many of the mannerisms and attitudes of their "present" selves depicted by Ms. Blackwell and Ms. Oakley.

The plot hinges on an assault on Joe [Reese Lynch], the only boy admitted to the "Disciples" fan-club, whose sexual identity causes a crisis in all their lives. -- And the arrival of the enigmatic Joanne [Marcella Willis] only adds fuel to the fire that the women are facing. Each has at least one secret that time and faulty memory complicate, and which will be revealed by the end of the play.

Much of the success of Mr. Salter's production is in the fine ensemble work of his actors. Their combined efforts make the plot contrivances more palatable as they in habit their roles with such sensitivity that we feel comfortable with them on their individual and group journeys to discovery and acceptance.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Millbrook: "The Bad Seed"

Maxwell Anderson"s 1954 stage version of The Bad Seed, a novel by William March, is perhaps best famous for the 1956 screen version starring a young Patty McCormack as a murderous child named Rhoda Penmark.

On opening night at the Millbrook Community Players' production, Charlotte Brown took on the role of the seemingly perfect Rhoda, all polite manners and a sweetness that belies a sinister underside. [The role is being played alternately by Lucy Wilson].

The drowning of a classmate at a school picnic, a boy who had won a penmanship medal that Rhoda thought she deserved and for whose death she shows no emotion, makes the girl's mother Christine [Nicole Allen] suspect that her daughter knows more than she divulges. -- Beset by recurring nightmares, Christine wonders if her dreams might be something more: a repressed memory of her own childhood that might impact her daughter's behavior.

Very much a reflection of the 1950s obsession with Freudian psychology and the debate between "nature vs. nurture" as the determining factor of one's behavior, The Bad Seed feels dated in both dialogue and character development, but is redeemed [in part at least] by old-fashioned plotting that keeps audiences guessing from moment to moment.

Rhoda's outward demeanor that manipulates others to give in to her politeness has fooled almost everyone: her father [Corey Jackson], neighbor/landlady [Vicki Moses], school mistress [Karla McGhee], crime novelist [John Chain], all succumb to her manipulations. -- The only one who sees through Rhoda's guise is handyman Leroy [Michael Snead], who taunts her privately.

The drowned boy's parents [Craig Greer and Rae Ann Collier] show their grief in quiet demeanor and drunken outspokenness respectively. -- And Christine's father [John Collier] clears up some of his daughter's past regarding the truth behind her nightmares.

There are several plot twists and revelations about both Rhoda and Christine that drive The Bad Seed to its tragic and unexpected conclusion and keep the audience's attention in director Joe Nolin, Jr.'s production, but some hesitant dialogue, static staging, and over-long scene changes allow audiences to disengage from the important action and themes.