Monday, September 9, 2019


Montgomery and River Region audiences have only a few opportunities to witness the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's excellent "World Premier" of playwright-actor Susan Ferrara's Buzz, a creative ensemble production staged in the ASF Scene Shop by award-winning director-actor Carrie Preston. -- "Remember me" is a challenge to Hamlet by his father's ghost, and acts as a reminder to us all to re-discover and celebrate the people who have been underserved by history.

In the 1970s, young theatre innovator Mary Ann "Buzz" Goodbody was the first female director at the Royal Shakespeare Company who transformed a tin-roofed costume storage building into an experimental studio theatre called "The Other Place" where she directed a young Ben Kingsley in an acclaimed ground-breaking production of Hamlet in 1975, and committed suicide at the age of 28 only a few days after it opened. -- And yet, she is not universally known.

Opinionated, troubled, candidly outspoken, ambitious, and passionate to bring theatre to ordinary people, Buzz's ability to help actors discover the emotional truth in Shakespeare's dialogue energized the Stratford company who enthusiastically delved into many Shakespeare texts with a new-found vigor within the Spartan confines of "The Other Place". -- And so at ASF, the Scene Shop mimics it's Stratford origin and rewards local audiences with a stunning production that makes us re-think how we might experience theatre.

Not a traditional biography, Ms. Ferrara's Buzz takes an impressionistic approach that skews time and place to tell Buzz's trajectory from recent university graduate to shattering the glass ceiling of the patriarchal RSC. Her characters play both their roles at the RSC and the roles they play in the Hamlet that Buzz directs. And she imbues Hamlet's gravediggers [Zack Calhoon and Sam McMurray] with archival history of the long-forgotten while they simultaneously dig Buzz's grave and narrate her story.

Ms. Preston has a gifted ensemble of actors and an all-female production team -- lighting: Cat Tate Starmer; scenic and costume: Leslie Taylor; sound: Melanie Chen Cole; stage manager: Victoria Broyles -- as her collaborators. Using the breadth of the Scene Shop using "found" items and with current materials intact, evocative lighting choices, some chilling sound effects that reflect Buzz's state of mind at strategic places in the narrative, and everyday costumes with subtle demonstrations of character, equip her acting ensemble to credibly tell their story in as unaffected a way as has been seen recently at ASF.

While the focus is arguably on Buzz herself [Elizabeth A. Davis] and her unwavering stance to assert her own worth as a director and as a person, she is challenged both by the hierarchy of the RSC [Robert Emmet Lunney, Christopher Gerson, and Spencer Davis Milford particularly] and the resistance of "Hamlet"/Ben Kingsley [Zuhdi Boueri] -- a short, darker skinned actor so completely opposite the tall blonde Hamlets of stage tradition heretofore. So, she has to prove herself to them as well as to herself. -- And while the costumer Ms. Cut [Greta Lambert] transitions from a practical traditionalist to a reluctant friend and advocate, and we witness Ms. Soft [Tarah Flanagan] respond to Buzz's unorthodox approach to directing, ASF audiences begin to see Buzz's startling impact that garners the respect she yearns for.

In 90-minutes mixing humor with seriousness, Ms. Preston's inventive staging and interpretation of Ms. Ferrara's script can't help but make us all think about the many unrecognized people in our own lives, especially women who in Ms. Preston's words: are "striving to be seen, to be heard, and to be remembered".