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Morning Breaks

In Play Reviews on March 28, 2013 at 1:48 pm

A Review

Morning Breaks, recently produced as the graduate thesis project of actress Kristin Post and director/designer Heather Brown, bluntly asks some very hard questions. It left me thoughtful, thankful for the answers that were also presented in the play.

First, let’s cover a very important aspect of this play: it is metatheatrical, meaning it is a play within a play. Because of this, the process of theatre is referenced in the dialogue as we see actors rehearsing for a play.

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The metatheatricality aside, let’s talk about the location. Not vital to the discussion of every play, the location for Morning Breaks never changed. All of the action took place in the “rehearsal space” for the play being rehearsed throughout the story. It sounds confusing, I know, but it was easy to watch. Either the “actors” were “rehearsing” or the characters were interacting within their “rehearsal space.” Because of that constant, the metatheatricality worked well.

 Another reason the metatheatricality worked was because it gave the play the ability to go from a very tense situation in a scene “being rehearsed” to a lighthearted or even comic moment as the characters stopped “rehearsing.”

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director Heather Brown, actor Ben Ascher, and playwright Kristin Post

Because of this helpful technique, the play was able to discuss very serious subject matter without seeming overwhelming or unnecessarily heavy.

Now, a look at the story itself: A woman – or two women; the audience has to figure that out as the play progresses – has battled cancer in the past. During the play, it recurs, plunging her and her husband into an emotional battle to stay positive in the face of very uncertain circumstances.

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actor Sterling Street (right)

Kaye, the woman with cancer, is played by two actors. One is playing Kaye in the play within the play. The other is also Kaye, but she is a Kaye confined to the words of the script that the characters are rehearsing. This script-bound Kaye is longing to read ahead to find out what will happen to her and her family, whilst the acting-Kaye is confused that this woman with her character’s name seems to actually be the woman from their script.

Yes, at times this duplicity was a tad confusing, but it reinforced the idea that we, as real people, are confined to the script of our lives. We just don’t know what will come next. As the play concludes, Kaye and her husband fight to continue trusting that an all-powerful God really does have their best in mind. Although they are never “happy” about their circumstances, they do come to a place of trusting God for this day, and leaving all the coming days in His hand. A fitting reminder to all of us who are struggling with seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

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actress Janie Mayer (right)

Now, let’s quickly examine the work of the actors, designers, etc. The space was very simple, using black boxes as hospital beds, etc. Also in the performance space were chairs and a prop rack to the side, used for the “rehearsals.” The costumes were simple, fitting each character but not symbolic or a big deal in themselves. This allowed the audience to focus on the story, which was the most important element. A few performances were especially notable. First, the playwright, Kristin Post, played the script-bound Kaye, and did a remarkable job with both. Heather Brown, the director, also played a small part of a visiting friend. This performance stretched her as an actor and was very enjoyable. Janie Mayer, playing the other Kaye, did a great job of communicating a lot of stress and pain without going overboard or becoming cliché.

Overall, Morning Breaks was very enjoyable, and everyone in attendance received a great reminder about our fragile lives, and the challenges accompanying them. 

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By Katrina CaseBio_Shots-3

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Ruth, Meet Ruthie

In Play Reviews on March 21, 2013 at 12:34 pm

BJU’s performance hall has long been the venue for exploring new theatrical territory. Ruthie, a new play written by established playwright David Wright and directed by Anna Brown, is no exception to the rule. Ruthie is a retelling of the biblical story of Ruth, moving the story from its original setting in ancient Israel to 1940’s North Carolina.  The play answers questions the biblical account leaves unexplored. How hard was it for Ruth to move on after her husband’s death? Why did Ruth stay with Naomi when she could have gone home? David Wright takes these questions and weaves a clever and heartwarming retelling while preserving the original story’s themes of love and redemption.

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The play follows a thematic progression from death to life. As in the biblical account, we first meet Ruthie McInnes as a recently widowed young woman at the end of a long journey from her home. In Ruthie’s case, home is Charleston South Carolina. She comes from a family with “old money,” and married Naomi’s navy pilot son against her family’s will. Ruthie’s husband, Martin, died in the war, shattering Ruthie’s world. She decides to live with Naomi McInnes, shedding her life as an ignored daughter of a wealthy family in exchange for a new life. She finds a job working at Kingsford Laundry, a business run by a (very) distant cousin of Naomi, Julius Kingsford. There she meets one of his workers, a man named Beau Stroud, who will be the man to help her recover from the tragedy of her loss and learn to live fully again.

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The set is sparse, but functional and interesting. The backdrop is the wooden frame of a house, establishing the home as the center of the love story. Immediately before the backdrop is a raised platform with a worn couch, tables, and other accessories that form a shabby but comfortable living room. A shop counter downstage represents the cleaner’s. The play’s color palette is made up of browns and tans, lending an air of homely melancholy to the set. The cast’s costumes start in dull shades and progress to brighter colors and more uninhibited cuts as the characters progress from grief to joy. For example, when we first see Ruthie, she is wearing a grey tweed suit, but at the end she is in a free-flowing yellow dress.

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The modernized approach puts a different spin on the story than BJU audiences might be used to. Ruthie’s relationship with the “closer relative” of the Bible story is more representative than literal. Junior Kingsford fills this role, but instead of being the kinsman who will not take the responsibility of marrying Ruth, he is a wayward youth who won’t take responsibility for his own life. Beau, the play’s Boaz, is a positive foil to Junior’s character. While Junior is given responsibility he does not want and is not prepared for, Beau is offered an excellent job and turns it down so he can be near Ruthie. In this regard, Beau and Ruthie relationship is a little different from Boaz and Ruth’s. Beau is a more active pursuer than Boaz, but that is a change that came with the translation of the old story to a more modern setting. In addition, the “handfuls of purpose” (represented here as a little extra added to Ruthie’s paycheck) are not provided by Beau, but by Julius Kingsford, her employer. However, these minor changes in the story’s relational dynamics do not detract from the heart of the original tale.

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The play emphasized the necessity of growing through grief. All of the major characters, even the minor ones, faced some kind of grief before the story began. Naomi, Ruthie, and Julius had all lost spouses. Junior Kingsford lost his mother. Beau had faced the horrors of war, where he saw a friend die in a foxhole intended for him. But as the story unfolds, Ruthie learns through Beau that living life to the fullest is the best way to honor the dead, especially the dead who have given their lives for others. This is where the redemption element of the story shines: as Beau has learned to love the life that his friend’s death allowed him to have, so must Ruthie embrace the new life she’s been given in this small town in South Carolina.

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Though the play’s opening began with the memory of death, it closes with the promise of new life and a bright future. The final scene takes place after the christening of Ruthie and Beau’s little boy. All of the characters come onstage and lift glasses of sweet southern tea to toast to the promise of the future. Viewers familiar with the story of Ruth will be reminded of the conclusion to the book where Ruth and Boaz introduce their son, Obed, father of Jesse, father of David, a member of the line of Christ. On this hopeful note, the lights dim on a set of colorful characters who have grown through grief to become better people than they were at the beginning.  

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By Emma GallowayIMG_8607

The Tragedy of Medea

In Play Reviews on March 12, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Polygamous Infidelity and Vengeful Homicide showcased at Clemson University

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Polygamous infidelity and vengeful homicide were what awaited Clemson University theatre goers the night of March 2nd, and that was just what they received. Upon entering the auditorium of the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts, one was greeted by a steely cold set dominated by a stone-like structure and beautiful, stair-stepping platforms creating aesthetic angles of perspective and uniquely varied acting spaces. A large, barred gate positioned in the center of the back wall provided pleasing symmetry, and together with the high walls around it they created an ancient and pitiless atmosphere. Shannon Robert, director and designer of this production, combined grand proportion and simplicity in such a way that seemed to say, “This is a hard and unforgiving place.” The character Medea would agree.

Design by Shannon Robert

Design by Shannon Robert

Medea was written by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides and first produced in 431 B.C. at the Dionysian festival in Athens, Greece. It chronicles the mythical tale of the spurned wife Medea, and her bloody quest to avenge herself against her husband, Jason. These religious festivals, like the festival of Dionysius, held playwriting competitions each year, and when Medea made its dramatic premiere it was only awarded 3rd place. However, it is theorized that Euripides altered the legend by including that Medea herself killed her own children rather than the original notion that the Corinthians did so after Medea fled. This may explain why it was not as highly favored when playwrights Euphorion and Sophocles took 1st and 2nd places respectively over Euripides’ Medea. Regardless of its ancient Athenian reception nearly 2,500 years ago, Medea continues to be a timeless tragedy which powerfully strikes home.

Hunter Spangler as Jason

Hunter Spangler as Jason

It is a rare privilege to see so old a text recreated in such a vibrant and accessible form. The selection of the translation by Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael proved effective in order to justify the age of the text with the collegiate nature of the primary audience. At no point would the average theatre goer have ever felt lost or confused as to the plot or its tragic spiral down toward the inevitable. In addition to this, the actors all had a clear handle on the text and, as such, were able to communicate Medea’s themes with surprising clarity. The chorus deserves some special attention on this note. The rhythmic and stylized approach Shannon Robert brought to the chorus translated into a technically diverse and intricate process that would have proven challenging to unify for most directors. However, the result was a multi-person chorus that functioned very much as a unit. They crept and crawled and sighed and gasped together as they set the tone for the dramatic action. Individually and collectively they would declaim their opinion of the characters’ choices and positions throughout the play.

Lauren French as Medea

Lauren French as Medea

Technically speaking, the production was knit tight. Sound and light cues were nearly flawless as the play accelerated forward. The overall design was exciting, pleasing to the eye, and unified in its tone and nature. It served as the appropriate engine from which the characters could be launched. The characters were distinct and interesting in their portrayal, though there were incredible gaps between some of the performers in terms of acting experience. Historically, Greek theatre was not characterized by realism, and perhaps this served to aide in defining acting choices, but there were certain aspects of the acting that seemed slightly jarring. With Medea’s first lines, the audience was smacked with an off stage groan that seemed clavicular and forced rather than raw grief and jealousy spilling from a realistic character. Once again, perhaps this was intentional; as such a choice would have been more characteristic of an authentic Greek performance. This type of trademark perforated the production and was not only evident in the title character, but also the majority of the actors. With that minor criticism, one would be remiss not to point out how challenging these roles are, and with what incredible clarity they were executed.

Thematically, the production effectively preserved the Greek ideals of recognition and reversal. In a twisted sort of way, it was thrilling to be “purged” of emotion as one watched the character, Jason, recognize his error in the wake of so much death and loss. “Medea” as a title may be slightly deceptive as it implies that she is the play’s primary focus, and though she carries the brunt of the text and drives the plot with her thirst for vengeance, Jason is the character whose life is completely overhauled due to the violent suffering he endures before the end of this play. It is easy to see Medea as the antagonist in light of the evil atrocities she commits, but in the end, Jason believes strongly that it was entirely his fault for being unfaithful to begin with.

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The Clemson Players, in association with Greenville’s Warehouse Theatre, did a fantastic job of recreating this archaic legend. This was an incredibly cultural experience that I am glad to have attended. Perhaps we will see more Greek Tragedy from Clemson in the future. It would be a joy. At any rate, thanks to Shannon Robert and the cast and crew who worked so hard to bring us the 2013 production of Medea.

 

By Johnathan SchofieldDSC_0260-2

Dark Waltz

In Performance Reviews on March 5, 2013 at 3:08 pm

A Look into Kaitlin Chisholm’s Interpretation of               “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

The unsuspecting audience member might chuckle through the first half of Kaitlin Chisholm’s senior recital, lulled by its musical introduction (played liltingly on an onstage piano) and its good-natured humor. By the end of the hour, however, Miss Chisholm masterfully carried the audience to the brutal but powerful ending of what recital coach Mr. Radford called “not a feel-good story at all.”

Kaitlin Chisholm actress/performing artist

Kaitlin Chisholm actress/performing artist

“A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a short story written by Flannery O’Connor in the 1950’s, is a startling tale that delves into the depths of human depravity. The story recounts the events of a family vacation to Florida through the perspective of the grandmother. The grandmother, both a sympathetic and a despicable character, serves as a commentary on self-righteous people. Miss Chisholm’s portrayal made it clear that this character was not to be respected, even though what the grandmother wanted most was respect. It is her fixation on the supposed refinements of her past that lead to her family’s demise when she insists on going down an abandoned road to find an old house. It is this diversion that leads the family into the path of a disturbingly “normal” psychopathic killer, who systematically slaughters the whole family, even the grandmother—who is, in fact, his own mother.

a disturbingly “normal” psychopathic killer

a disturbingly “normal” psychopathic killer

Miss Chisholm’s stellar characterization defined each character precisely so that there was no confusion as to who was who. She gave every character, from the grandmother to the gasoline station owner, a distinct voice and posture. They were not characters made to be loved as much as they were made to be learned from. As far as characterization goes, Kaitlin Chisholm admits readily that the serial killer, The Misfit, was by far the hardest to portray. She wanted him to come across as a normal person; a very relatable everyman. The last thing she wanted to do was to play him up as the stereotypical villain. His scariest feature had to be his normalcy, because it “makes the evil more evil when it doesn’t seem evil.” The resulting portrayal? An empty-eyed, but unnervingly conversational and truly “normal” sort of villain.

They were not characters made to be loved

They were not characters made to be loved

Several audio and light cues added gravity and interest to the telling. The set consisted of five brightly colored folding chairs arranged in front of a well-worn piano, its front panel removed to leave the hammers exposed. The chairs were rearranged from mimicking car seating to seats at a restaurant and then back to car seating as the story progressed. It became clear that the chairs represented the characters in the story. Kaitlin Chisholm occupied the middle back seat, indicating the grandmother’s place in the car, and referred to the other characters as sitting in the other seats, one per character. She showed the family’s car crashing by knocking over the chairs under blood-red lighting, with only the father’s chair remaining upright as he was the only one not displaced during the crash. As each character died at the hands of The Misfit’s henchman, she placed their collapsed folding chairs into a square bracket of light on the floor. She accompanied the grandmother’s death with a mournful rendition of “The Tennessee Waltz,” exploring the effectiveness of “music not making sense with what happens.” The effect was every bit as chilling as she had hoped.

The effect was every bit as chilling as she had hoped.

The effect was every bit as chilling as she had hoped.

The question burning in the audience’s mind was this: “Why this story?” Miss Chisholm was struck by the story’s gruesome, but accurate portrayal of evil. She wanted her audience to leave Performance Hall with the message that Flannery O’Connor set out to communicate: that we all are innately evil, and without the grace of God, a good man would not just be hard, but impossible to find.  

By Emma GallowayIMG_8607