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Joan of Arc

In Play Reviews on April 14, 2014 at 3:56 pm

A REVIEW

 

Joan of Arc. As a child, I was fascinated by the Wishbone version’s sparkly tree and the dynamic but distantly ethereal Joan.

 

In last night’s show produced by Johnathan Schofield and Diana Little, I was moved by a heroic yet accessible and real woman – no sparkly tree needed.

 

The 19th century script by Jane Alice Sargant is a challenging prospect. The text is iambic, yet sometimes more clunky and vague than that of our favorite William Shakespeare. Still, the actors handle their words well overall, with only a few falling prey to the rhythm of their lines or the sometimes overwhelming descriptive deluge. A story like that of Joan needs to be told in a different way than we tell our 21st century stories, and verse fits that bill.

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The play opens during the Hundred Years’ War, a bloody conflict between the French and the English for control of the French throne – a conflict that ironically lasted well over a hundred years before grinding slowly to a halt in 1453.

 

The French heir apparent, Charles, needs help. His position is extremely precarious, and he is willing to give up the chance of a crown rather than risk everything in a war he cannot win. But then Joan comes. And, in the scene many of you are familiar with, she seeks him out successfully in a crowded court, asking him to help her fulfill her divine mission.

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The rest is history, right? Dull, boring words on the pages of those dull, boring books you had to read for high school. Full of long speeches and dusty robes. Right? Wrong!

 

This play impacted me in a way I did not expect. The many characters who love, fight, betray, suffer and die in this story – they are real. Of course, they were based in historical fact, but they are real in an intimate, powerful way that any and all of you will notice if you attend. They really care about the fate of their countries. They really want to accomplish their goals, whether good or evil. They really feel the pain of losing loved ones. And as for Joan, she really wants to do the will of God.

 

There is so much I could say about each aspect of this show, but I can’t go on without giving a word to the crew. Brooke Waters, the lighting designer, had to be very creative because of the minimal electric capacity of the space. Yet, nothing seems lacking in her choices and the lighting creates some beautiful and powerful moments.

 

Austin Phillips’ costumes bring this story forward in time from the 15th century and yet retain some recognizable medieval elements. Visually striking, they added to my understanding of the story.

 

The set was designed by Johnathan Schofield, who also directed this show and played the French Charles. The playing space is a nice size, and the actors use it very well, making the audience feel a part of the action throughout the show. A pair of large gates upstage serve as the entrance to several locations, and the varying placement of a collection of benches really helps communicate where each scene takes place.

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Now to the actors. The cast is large, but some performances deserve special note.

 

Johnathan Schofield, playing the French prince (and eventually king) Charles, embodies the vulnerable yet emerging monarch with special skill.

 

Scott Hull’s Valancour, in love with Joan yet furious at his failure to win her, brings both pity and disgust from the viewer in a powerful performance.

 

The stern yet lovable Du Nois, a character with several significant changes, is played skillfully by John Cox.

 

Richemont, the French nobleman turned English sympathizer, is a villain to curdle your blood as played by Harrison Beckmann.

 

Kaitlyn Chisholm plays one of this play’s saddest characters, Camouse’s widow. Her inward hysteria escapes in several chilling outbursts, making her quiet, yet thoroughly insane, demeanor all the more terrifying.

 

The various soldiers on both the English and French sides carry out their roles with gusto. Their war cries and battle scenes, while a challenging task for any cast, never fall flat, and they maintain fantastic energy throughout.

 

Last but not least, Diana Little plays Joan with an accessible quality I honestly didn’t think could be achieved with this character. Not only is her Joan devout, bold and patriotic – as expected – she is also shy, self-deprecating and vulnerable to – spoiler! – feelings of love.

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Yes, Joan is burned at the stake for witchcraft in the end, but you all know that. In some of the most inspiring words spoken in this show, Joan expresses the desire to “To walk the earth as one who’s home is heaven.” This show will push you to do just that.

 

Bio_Shots-3 ~By Katrina Gass

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To Kill a Mocking Bird

In Play Reviews on February 24, 2014 at 7:51 pm

A Brief Review and Critical Analysis

Such a classic American tale as To Kill a Mocking Bird is undoubtedly going to be received with a variety of expectations. I know I had high expectations when I first saw this production staged in 2009 by the Judson Theatre Company from New York in Appleton, WI. That production was largely unsatisfying – primarily because such a powerfully character driven story requires a certain level of intimacy that the Fox Cities Center for the Performing Arts just could not provide. Though their adult cast were all from the Actor’s Equity Association, and their child actors were incredibly dynamic considering the challenges of such a large venue, and the nature of a traveling show, I never felt as though I truly cared for the characters.

On one hand, it is not fair to compare and contrast these two productions, as they were different scripts done by different organizations for different purposes – but on the other hand, I was so struck by how stark the contrast indeed was that I would be remiss not to mention it. Having a mixed experience with Performance Hall (BJU) productions, I did not know what to expect when I entered the theatre. My very critical eye immediately thought the set to be awkward and isolating. A small, picket fence sliced a whole section of the main playing area into a strange shape. I wondered if it may serve to alienate (in a bad way) those observing action on the other side of it. Similarly, a tire-swing hanging from the light grid upstage right hung loosely – seemingly for little purpose. Other than that, the attempts at non-realistic houses seemed somewhat forced and jarring. (more on this later)

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However, as is commonly thought, a play is only as good as its written material. Whether or not you subscribe to that notion, it must be observed that To Kill a Mockingbird is indeed a great place to start as far as dramatic literature is concerned. The play opens with the aged version of the character Scout narrating the given circumstances of the story. I was hesitant at first, as exposited narration has been met with varied success in the past, in my small experience. However, the actress narrating proved strong, enjoyable, and helped grease the overall dramatic action so that it ran nice and smooth.

During this opening bit we first saw the young Scout. The young actress took to the tire swing with such comfortable confidence that even without a word being spoken, we all believed her. It was in this moment when my mind was completely changed regarding the nature of the set. Perhaps it was due to my sitting so near the swing, but I could enjoy every small and innocent moment portrayed by all three child actors. They shared an obvious camaraderie and ease that many adult actors spend a life time searching for. And Stanislavski would likely have approved, because the swing seemed to serve as Scout’s first circle of attention, a physical and tangible connection to the world of the play – not that I believe the child was aware of this, but it certainly seemed to be the case. Similarly, in this vein, the set was incredibly versatile – giving you just enough to let your imagination artfully fill in the blanks. And the lighting guided your focus seamlessly to do so.

I never really noticed a “weakest link” as far as the acting was concerned, though there was an obviously diverse range of experience – but it never bothered me. Furthermore, the performance of Atticus by Ellis Schoolfield was exemplary. He brought the likeable “John Doe” qualities that make up who Atticus is to a very tangible light. His meek eccentricities made for an enriching experience, and helped to build to such a hard climax, as his virtuous zeal for equality and justice was ever reflected in the children’s innocence, and contrasted by the horrid state of the Caucasian majority.

On this note, it must be stated that the overall tone of the show was incredibly positive – even in the face of tragic defeat, and loss. There was a clear redemption that could be seen in the deep impact Atticus’ actions and choices had on Scout. Despite my initial criticisms of the set and layout, it was quickly made apparent to me that all the choices were intentional, and served the play very well. If I had one strong criticism that I firmly believe should have been changed, it was the audio levels of the music. Beautiful as it was, it did occasionally overpower the actor’s from where I was sitting.

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In conclusion, I congratulate Paul Jutras and Ellis Schoolfield, and the cast and crew of To Kill a Mockingbird on a job well done, and a powerful show as a result. Paul demonstrated his skill bringing all the collaborative aspects into a tight, cohesive whole. Working with children only complicates the directing process, and he was incredibly successful. Staging a beloved classic can be equally challenging in the face of expectations, and he was incredibly successful. Walking the fine line between didacticism, and powerfully lived out truth can indeed be challenging as well, and he was incredibly successful. It’s a show I should have liked to see again.

vp130821566358a-jpg By Johnathan Schofield

Centre Stage: A Christmas Carol

In Play Reviews on December 2, 2013 at 5:21 pm

A Review

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The art of story telling has evolved so much since the grunting cavemen around a fire, and I think it is because we all cling so desperately to them – to stories. Whether it is simply the relating of a personal experience to a friend, or the epic staging of some grand spectacle, we are moved by narrative, and we crave that movement. Around this time of year especially, very specific stories touch us in perhaps more endearing, nostalgic, and human ways than others. This is why I applaud our very own Upstate’s Centre Stage and their hard work in bringing to life this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ timeless classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

To begin with, Marley was dead. But Marley was by far the only thing “dead” about this reader’s theatre take on Ebeneezer Scrooge and his episodic path to human kindness and neighborly love. The label “reader’s theatre” perhaps conjures a plethora of ideas and images into people’s heads. There’s the traditional bare stage with stools, stands, and a monochromatic cast literally reading a play’s text aloud to an audience on one end of the spectrum, and then there’s the fully costumed  and cast, off-book staging of a play incorporating a full range of spectacle grade effects. This “Christmas Carol,” artfully directed by Kerrie Seymour, lands comfortably in the middle like a warm helping of figgy pudding.

The stage was mostly bare, but otherwise cluttered haphazardly with  barrels, crates, boxes, clothes racks, and a smattering of props. The atmosphere was unapologetically theatrical. This was a functional environment, giving the 5 actors the much needed versatility to perform 35 different characters. During the pre-show, the actors walk out and adjust the various pieces and props. One picks up some bells, climbs to the top of the seating and “tests” them with several chimes, while another stacks some crates and opens a ledger on top of them to create a sort of desk. Soon, Ebeneezer’s counting house imaginatively appears  before you. This type of fluid plasticity, if you will, permeated the show, allowing for scenes to seamlessly transition from one to the next, and encourage the power of the imagination to fill in the blanks. It was awesome. My imagination will create a much cooler Victorian London then a designer with a million dollar budget ever will.

The acting was top notch all around. Matt Reece played Ebeneezer Scrooge while David Bean, DeAna Earl, Phyllis Jackson, and Jason D. Johnson skillfully tackled the other 34 characters in this adaptation. Just like the space, the actors themselves were incredibly versatile. They skillfully made each character distinct and unique, so there was never any confusion as to who was who, or what was what. Matt Reece showed some remarkable range in his portrayal of Scrooge. From humbug to remorse, from remorse to reversal, Reece played a believable Ebeneezer. He had an endearing pessimism that drew you to him – which of course underwent some sincere transition before the end of the show.

The play itself, adapted by Patrick Barlow,  was an enjoyable adaptation, to be sure. The pacing was quick and engaging -especially in the first half of the show. I will say there were moments towards the end of the play where I felt some of the dramatic conventions were slightly contrived. This made the end seem unnecessarily drawn out, though only slightly. That is to say, I was brought out of the story some  by certain choices made. It was very clear, however, these choices were intentional, I merely found them to be a tad distracting. The language was simple and fluid, yet not too far removed from the imagery of Dickens. The story itself was perhaps abbreviated – to some extent, but not so much so as to detract. The characters were iconically endearing and enjoyable – even if several of them had much less time to develop. And the overall flow of the show built very nicely to a series of climactic points which drove the the show home.

In conclusion, Centre Stage’s “A Christmas Carol” is wrapped in warmth and holiday cheer, and serves as a festive reminder to think of others during this holiday season. The show runs through next Saturday, so be sure to get your tickets here, and watch Other Vision Studio’s short teaser here!

 

DSC_0260-2 ~by Johnathan Schofield

Coriolanus

In Play Reviews on November 25, 2013 at 10:08 pm

A Review

 

At the mention of “Shakespearean tragedy,” most people immediately think of Macbeth, Hamlet, or Romeo and Juliet. But perhaps more attention should fall on some of the Bard’s lesser-known works, such as Coriolanus. This play follows the story of a Roman general (Marcius, later named Coriolanus) whose quest for power and whose war-filled life leads to his destruction. (No, that’s not a spoiler alert. The word “tragedy” should be a clue, after all.)

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From the first time the audience meets Marcius, his prejudice against and disdain for the plebians—the common people—shows in his mockery of their opinions and disregard for their need of food. While his disdain for the common people is great, his hatred for Aufidius is even greater. Aufidius leads the nearby Volscian tribe, and is Marcius’ frequent enemy in battle. And yet, through their mutual hatred, Marcius and Aufidius hold a certain…respect, if you will, for each other’s abilities. Marcius says of Aufidius, “He is a lion I am proud to hunt.” They meet again in battle, but Aufidius’ men lead him away before either leader dies. Upon returning to Rome, Marcius obtains heroic status and the new name Coriolanus by the nobles of the city, while the plebians see only arrogance and a desire for power in him.

The people rise up against Coriolanus, and nearly kill him. Menenius, who acts as peace-maker throughout the play, intercedes on his behalf. The people banish Coriolanus, who must leave behind his wife, son, and mother. In exile, he meets with Aufidius so that he might join the Volscian tribe against his own Roman people. As Coriolanus soon takes more leadership in the army, Aufidius grows envious and resentful at this change of power. But unlike Coriolanus, Aufidius is willing to bide his time and wait for the right moment to regain his position. As the Romans learn that Coriolanus joined with the Volscians with the intent to attack, they send Menenius and Coriolanus’ family to plead with him to spare the city. Finally, Coriolanus’ mother breaks through to him, and Coriolanus agrees to abandon his attack, thus securing his own demise at Aufidius’ hands.

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This particular production, as performed by Gamut Theatre’s Harrisburg Shakespeare Company, set the action of the play in the 1800’s as the American western frontier expanded and wars with Indians were frequent. This setting worked very well with the text, providing a poignant context to the atrocities of battle. The language, though Shakespearean, did not seem to clash with the setting and the two worked together splendidly. The set itself was a blend of worlds, allowing for settings in Rome and in the Volscian capital, Antium. The platform and stairs provided ample space for the actors and an appropriate location for characters’ public addresses.

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The costumes suited the updated period, incorporating a “western frontier” look with some leftover Civil War pieces. The Volscian army wore more simplistic pants, but also war paint on the face and torso. The use of the stage blood was very effective and well “executed,” if I may be so bold as to use that term. While the play was not a complete blood-bath, Coriolanus appeared on stage with his fair share of stage-blood. The lighting, though not extravagant or particularly spectacular, was appropriate at setting the right look for each scene. I personally would have liked the final light to linger on the dead Coriolanus for a moment more after Aufidius’ exit, but that kind of timing may alter from night to night regardless.

The actors did a fantastic job with each of their roles individually, and in working together as a company. Each clearly understood the text and the purpose behind each line. Thomas Weaver portrayed the violent Coriolanus with clarity and gave room for the few moments that show a hint of heart. When his mother pleads before him, his entire being shook with the weight of his decision before he cried out in agony. Philip Wheeler was engaging as the peacemaking Menenius, at times teasing the Romans into laughter, and at other times caught between two opposing sides. Ian Potter gave a compelling performance as Aufidius, his confident presence counterbalancing Coriolanus’ raging fits. (The stage combat between Aufidius and Coriolanus was especially well-done and fascinating to watch.) Tara Herweg performed Coriolanus’ mother with power and gentle authority. The quality of acting was very good from all, and the work as a whole was strong.

Director J. Clark Nicholson did an excellent job of guiding the play, as the scenes built toward the climax. The pacing was quick, such that the play never seemed to drag or even have a lull, but neither did it race out of control. The company worked together very well under his direction, and all the elements wove together seamlessly to create a stunning performance of this gripping Shakespearean play.

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by Kristin PostDSC_0257

Freud’s Last Session

In Play Reviews on November 5, 2013 at 2:27 pm

by Mark St. Germain

A review by Katrina Gass

Yes, dear readers, I have changed my name because over the summer I got married. Since that confusion has now been cleared up, I hope you can enjoy today’s review, which carries with it some heavy but worthwhile thoughts.

 

Is there a God? Why is there evil and suffering in the world? Who was Jesus Christ – really? These questions, and many others, stop the audience member in his tracks and force him to really examine what he thinks about the struggle that is existence in this most recent production by Centre Stage in Greenville, SC.

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In Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain, the legendary psychoanalyst invites a guest over to his home for tea. This guest is the equally legendary Christian apologist and author, C.S. Lewis. The meeting of these two men is fictitious, but could have happened during the last years of Freud’s life, which were spent in London. The possibility is tantalizing, given their diametrically opposed worldviews and their contrasting, yet admittedly impressive accomplishments.

 

The aging, terminally ill Sigmund Freud is played by Ron Pyle, a theatre arts professor at Bob Jones University. Among other roles, Pyle has played Hamlet, Richard III, and Prospero in the university’s Shakespearean productions, and has many years of directing experience. Pyle brings a likeability to Freud, but also aptly shows us the physical and emotional pain that the dying man was experiencing.

 

C.S. Lewis, who at the start of the play is a new, “reluctant” convert to Christianity, is played by Trevor Furlong, an appropriately British actor who has played several roles at Centre Stage Theatre. Furlong brings a vulnerability and some hesitancy to Lewis, which is appropriate since at the time of the play’s events Lewis would not yet have written any of his major theological works.

 

Yet even as a baby Christian, Lewis is fairly well-matched against the cantankerous Freud in the events of this play. The action begins on September 3, 1939, as the world braces itself for what will develop into World War II. Freud, a Jew, has fled Vienna and started a practice in London. Although Freud is suffering from a particularly savage oral cancer, he still has enough energy to question why such an impressive intellect as Lewis would have succumbed to the delusion of God.

 

As you might expect, much of the play consists of verbal sparring and logical argument. If that were the only substance of this play I would advise an audience member to bring a cup of strong coffee to carry him through the ordeal. Thankfully, there is more to Freud’s Last Session than cerebral battle.

 

As Ron Pyle put it in the brief talkback afterward, it is important to look for what actually happens in a play, and to examine which characters change. This exercise will keep you from drowning in the witty sparring that makes up much of a play like this. While one might say that not much happens while two men converse in a sitting room, if you look closer you will discover more.

 

During the play’s events, an air raid siren goes off, followed a few minutes later by the loud sound of planes overhead. Lewis, having fought in World War I, is profoundly affected by these reminders of war, but stays with Freud during what both men think is an air attack. This act of selflessness is an important moment in the play and affects Freud’s view of his opponent.

 

Later on, Freud’s prosthetic mouthpiece causes him severe pain, and he asks Lewis to help him remove it. This difficult and gruesome act by Lewis does bring Freud some relief and makes him very grateful to his intellectual enemy.

 

Unsurprisingly, neither of these men changes his view of the world or of religion before curtain call. But that isn’t what this play is about. Furlong stated in the talkback that what is important is to question your belief system every day. If a person decides that they have all the answers, they will make no progress and might be living their entire life under false assumptions. But if one questions his beliefs every day, examining his conclusions honestly, he is more likely to discover the truth.

 

Lewis, in the final scene of the play, prepares to leave. He pauses to say that, far from being settled in his beliefs, his view of God changes almost daily, that God himself shatters it and that the divine “incognito” is extremely difficult to penetrate. In other words, he expresses that God is everywhere but hard to understand. So Lewis keeps trying.

 

Each of us, if we want to discover the truth, will keep trying, keep examining, and keep questioning what we believe. Not necessarily to change it, but to better understand its complexities and implications for our lives.

 

A modern audience member will learn from this play a little more about the lives of two famous men, will hopefully examine his own heart’s beliefs, and as Lewis states on his way out of the final scene, will hopefully “come awake, and stay awake.”

 

If you can, please try to make it the final showing of Freud’s Last Session, taking place at 7:00 pm on this Tuesday, November 5 at Centre Stage Theatre in downtown Greenville. Your soul will be better for it.

 

By Katrina GassBio_Shots-3

Disney’s The Lion King: The Musical

In Play Reviews on August 23, 2013 at 6:16 pm

A Review

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What happens when traditional African soul meets vibrant expressionistic dance midst a tale of power, deceit, love and a lot of Hakuna Matata? You get Disney’s The Lion King: The Broadway Musical. I recently saw this lively production on tour at the Belk Theater in Charlotte, NC where I was swept away to the pride lands and re-discovered a beloved childhood story in a bold, new light.

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The Lion King is masterfully staged with eye-popping puppetry that makes you double take. (Where does the puppet begin and become the actor?!) Original director (and costume, mask and puppet designer) Julie Taymor, truly delivers with this production. You won’t be able to take your eyes off the stage – that is unless you turn to witness giraffes and elephants along with the star characters travel down the aisles.

Each actor is perfectly blended with his animal so that you believe he is the character he claims. Well done to the actors as well as the designers for this feat. Being a five foot bird is a hard thing to sell to an audience, but I never doubted Zazu (played by Andrew Gorell) for a moment.

The character development is explored more in this production than in the film, which allows for strong, relatable performances. Most characters were delivered flawlessly; however, there were a few moments where I felt the character connection was lost. This happened most often with the child actors but did not heavily impact the overall production. The adult versions of Simba and Nala (Jelani Remy and Nia Holloway) deliver powerful performances. Nala’s moving vocals and stage presence in “Shadowland” and Simba’s character development in “He Lives in You”(reprise) are strong numbers.

Vocally, Rafiki (played by Tshidi Manye), is the most powerful and soulful. She has incredible control over her voice and fluidly rang out lyrics (that are often in Zulu) yet the audience understands what she is saying through her spot on acting.

Lion King Tour

Somewhat ironically, the winning performance of this production is by the “loser” in the storyline. Scar (played by Patrick R. Brown) is the most solid throughout the show and seemed the most seasoned of the cast. He won the audience over from his very first moment on stage, without even saying a word, and continued to comically and satirically captivate the audience.

Other memorable performances are by Timon and Pumba (Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz) and Mufasa (L. Steven Taylor).

The music and lyrics (by Elton John and Tim Rice) contain the favorites from the film and add new and adapted numbers to create the ambiance of Africa as well as tell the story in a way that connects to a modern audience. The only song that seemed like a piece of the wrong puzzle was “Chow Down”. The number was filled with heavy guitar and drums that did not resemble the rest of the production.

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With a touring production, the lighting often must be able to create the scene and mood without elaborate sets and The Lion King delivers. From sunrises to dark cavernous bone yards, the lighting is superb. It is amazing how each ray of light matches the costumes and set designs perfectly.

The overall feel of the production is tribal, moving and captivating as audiences journey into Africa and discover and rediscover the circle of life through The Lion King.

The production of Disney’s The Lion King: The Broadway Musical is on tour in the US through 2014. Get your tickets online for a theatre near you at http://www.lionking.com.

By Meagan Ingersoll DSC_0252

Dreams Of Sonya

In Play Reviews on May 7, 2013 at 1:09 pm

A Review

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Dreams of Sonya, an original work by the gifted writer Micah Thompson, was performed as a two-woman show by Lindsay Morgan and Katrina Case at the Kroc Center, April 19th and 20th. First, I would like give a plot summary as simply as possible and then expound further on some of the nuances of the text. Then I will evaluate the theatrical elements and acting techniques involved in the production.

This play immediately causes the audience to think, to ask questions about what they are seeing and hearing. The audience is quickly introduced to pieces of the puzzle and has yet to understand how they fit. The audience meets Sonya, played by Lindsay, who is in a place called “nowhere.” She cannot remember how she got there and why she is there. The next character to come on stage is Ophelia, played by Katrina, who is confused and distraught over having lost her name. She challenges Sonya as she leaves with a statement that Sonya may know the “word” that is her name, but she has yet to know the very parts that make up that name or what it means. The next character we meet is Smee from Peter Pan also played by Katrina. He tells Sonya of the importance of the story, the story of who we are. Next the audience is introduced to Katrina’s third character, Serena. She is here to help Sonya, to bring her back to who she was before, although neither of them have a full grasp on who she was. The audience can clearly see Sonya’s progression towards her own insanity. Sonya begins to tell Serena a story. Suddenly Serena finds herself in the midst of confusion by somehow being jolted into the mind of Sonya. She encounters three people played by Lindsay: an old woman from Tennessee, an insane woman who has no name, no feelings, and no direction, and Hamlet. It is through her conversation with Hamlet that she realizes what is actually going on. She is not a physical being as she previously thought, she is a fragment of the broken mind of Sonya. She also realizes that she is the only one who can talk with the small piece of Sonya that is still holding on to reality, the “soul” of Sonya. Hamlet admonishes Serena to not take existing for granted because there are thousands of things that never get the chance to exist. In the conclusion of the story, Serena finally reaches deep into the recesses of Sonya’s mind to find the answer to the major dramatic question of the play. What was that horrible and strong force that broke Sonya? A video segment made by Justin Snyder brings the story full circle when the audience realizes that Sonya is actually laying in a hospital bed. She was in the car with her husband and little boy, reading Peter Pan to him, when they were in a severe car accident. The father and boy did not survive. At the very end Sonya makes a choice. Does she chose reality even though it is painful or does she choose insanity? Although this puzzled the audience, the greater conclusion is that there is a choice. The question for the audience was simply, “What choice will you make?”

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The nuances within the script, the “breadcrumbs,” as one of BJU’s Theater Arts teachers so frequently words it, were so well-laid throughout the script. It was chaotic and comical and seemingly disjointed at first, but we as audience members just couldn’t see the whole picture until the end, and when we did see it, it was beautiful. For the first twenty minutes of the production it seemed so complex, and I questioned how it would be resolved in such a way that delivers a clear message. But my confidence in Micah had not been shaken! At the conclusion of the play I thought, “wow, it is such a complex story, yet such a simple message.” A question that arises at the end, after we learn what really happened to Sonya is, “Is ‘time’ a healer of our pain?” And Serena’s last statement is that sometimes “time” only makes things worse. It clearly left the audience with two options, either run from your problems or face them. This was a story that I thoroughly enjoyed and was provoked to further evaluate my own questions and answers.

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The space was beautiful. It was comfortable and spacious while maintaining a fairly intimate feel for a proscenium stage. The set was laid out in such a way that created levels and diversity; it wasn’t linear. It was simplistic but also visually stimulating. However, due to the lack of incline, from my vantage point anything below the knee was unable to be seen. There were two projector scenes on either side of the stage which made viewing the media very easy. Although there were a few small technical problems such as microphone noises as well as pixilation in the media, neither of these impeded my experience, nor did it remove me from the world that was being developed before me. I thought their set, use of space, and media enhanced their performance and was professionally done.

Having seven completely different characters to portray and only two people to do it is quite a challenge and Katrina and Lindsay rose to that challenge and were met with great success. As an actor myself, I watched for physical distinctions, listened to vocal quality and pitch variations, rhythm of speech, as well as personality. Both ladies did a wonderful job at masterfully differentiating between all seven characters. Never was I confused or questioned who was talking. The pacing was never slow. I remained fully engaged throughout the performance. Their cues weren’t dropped or their speech mumbly. They demonstrated excellent character work, and the result was quite an impressive accomplishment. 

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Overall, this production was so well-prepared and well-performed. I loved both the story and the message behind the story. I could appreciate it on a personal level as could essentially all audience members to some degree. I hope you will not only consider what choice to make in the face of pain or whether “time” truly does bring healing, but rather ask yourself who is the true Healer of my pain.

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If you were able to catch this spectacular performance then I hope this article has echoed some of the thoughts you had as you left. If you weren’t able to be a part of the audience then I hope you are wishing you had! Perhaps Dreams of Sonya will be performed again in the future. Be sure not to miss it!

 

Bio_Shots-5By Jessica Bowers

Photos by Matt JonesBio_Shots-7

Alice in Bedlam

In Play Reviews on April 30, 2013 at 7:52 pm

A Review

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Alice in Bedlam, written by The Green Room’s very own Katrina Case, and directed by Lauren Jacobs, was a unique and challenging show to produce for two main reasons. First, it was a “moveable feast” which means the audience physically moved from room to room depending on where each scene took place. Secondly, it was a found theater space. The production took place in an old mill in Taylors, SC. Both of these aspects presented unique challenges to the production crew, but they were used to enhance the story rather than distract you from it.

photo credit: Matt Jones

photo credit: Matt Jones

Let’s examine the story itself for just a moment. I found the adaptation from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” to be quite fascinating. Upon entering Bedlam, a hospital for the mentally ill, the audience is met with loud screams and noises from the Bedlam patients scattered throughout the hospital. The character Charles Dodgson, played by Johnathan Schofield, has been admitted to Bedlam due to his unpredictable epileptic seizures. He is visited regularly by his sister, Lorina, and his niece, Alice, played by Diana Little and Jessica MacQuarrie respectively. When Charles sees Alice, he recounts poems of the sea and sands which the Walrus and the Carpenter could not possibly sweep up. Back at home, the audience meets Alice’s older sister, Sarah, and her Aunt Hannah, as well as Edna, the house maid. After an upsetting and difficult argument with Lorina, Alice questions her mother’s motivation for placing her Uncle Charles in Bedlam, and what her world would be like if there were true examples of love around her. “Through the Looking Glass” is alluded to when Alice describes her desire to experience the world in the looking glass – that world in the mirror which seems to be identical, yet so very different. Alice decides to go back to Bedlam the next day and bring her uncle back home with the help of her Aunt Hannah. Upon her return home, she challenges her mother’s practice of “love” towards others. Alice questions her mother’s “love” for her brother and even for herself and Sarah. The play concludes in a small chapel. Lorina and Charles have their first encounter outside of Bedlam and it is still difficult for her to embrace her brother, but the slow process of change has begun. Charles then concludes his tale of the Walrus and the Carpenter, clasps Alice’s hand, and they exit the scene. The play was well written and beautifully painted a picture of both the need for and practice of self-sacrificial love.

photo credit: Matt Jones

photo credit: Matt Jones

The vast space was used quite well. As an audience member I only had one small quibble with the space. Because it was so vast, there was a pretty noticeable and somewhat distracting echo in the Bedlam scenes. However, the actors compensated for this quite well and really made a deliberate effort to be clear with their words. The fact that it was an old mill with rust stains, broken windows, creaky floors, and pale green walls only added to the atmosphere of an unwelcoming insane asylum. The furniture used in Alice’s home adequately suggested the period as well as created a unique and visually appealing juxtaposition with the background of the mill walls and floor. Lighting of course was steady flood lighting. I would have liked to see colder lighting for the scenes in Bedlam rather than the warmer yellow hues that were used. Also, perhaps a different angle in which the lights were hung to create more shadows would have been an interesting choice. It wasn’t spectacle, but it was appropriately simple for the style of the production.

photo credit: Matt Jones

photo credit: Matt Jones

I absolutely loved the costume design. It was such an interesting collage of period dress, hint of steampunk, and modern design. The designer, Meghan Reimers, showed resourcefulness by transforming pieces that seemingly didn’t fit into the production design to create a beautiful ensemble. I found that the costumes were not over the top or out of touch with the overall style of the play. They were visually appealing but not distracting. Well done!

photo credit: Matt Jones

photo credit: Matt Jones

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Bedlam as I watched Alice and Charles’ story unfold. I completely forgot that I was standing for the entire time. I didn’t find the movement from scene to scene to be detracting from the flow of the play. The director handled those tricky transitions beautifully. I found myself disappointed at the end. No, not disappointed in the production, but disappointed that the story had already ended. I wanted to see more! I wanted to linger in the story, see more of those vivid and fascinating characters I had met in Bedlam, eavesdrop on more of the private conversations Alice had with herself as she wrote in her small journal, and hear more of Charles’ stories. I was fully caught up in the story and enjoyed the experience of moveable feast! Job well done to all who were involved!

photo credit: Matt Jones

photo credit: Matt Jones

Bio_Shots-5By Jessica Bowers

Reflections from The Shadow of the Cross

In Play Reviews on April 3, 2013 at 1:04 pm

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Throughout the history of mankind, art has been a display of cultures, of traditions or famous tales and stories. But it has mostly portrayed lives, etched to remind those who gaze upon it of the difference made because of the scene they see.

But what if that art, those painted figures of people whose eyes stare lifeless upon their frame, could voice their thoughts?

This question is explored through this year’s production at Bob Jones University of Living Gallery where famous works of art such as Michelangelo’s Pieta and The Last Supper by da Vinci are suddenly life size. This year, however, they actually come to life and the audience was taken back two thousand years through eleven pieces of art to see and listen to witnesses of the single event that most changed the world. What if we could hear the words of those in The Shadow of the Cross?

Living Gallery Drama 2013

The artwork itself is meticulously preserved to ensure accuracy. Having seen some of the original paintings, these enlarged versions (containing sometimes up to fifteen live models) are mirror images in comparison. You would have to be looking very closely and know a great deal about the originals to ever spot a slight difference. The tableau artists did a tremendous job on replicating the artwork. The models are perfectly placed and blended into the work and at first, an audience member might not notice there are people in or on the paintings. To create this effect, each model must sit through hours of make-up to be transformed into their character from the painting or sculpture.

Living Gallery Drama 2013

The lighting is another element other than the make-up that creates the “living art” effect. Through side, over head and front lighting, we are able to see the shadows of 3-D actors amongst paintings and discover details in the work that are often lost in a smaller-scale 2-D original. In the Descent from the Cross, with the original work by Adam Lenckhardt, eight models take their stance as a carved statue with the same appearance as having been made of one piece of ivory. The effect is really remarkable.

But this production does not just display the art. It lives it. Over the years, different dramas have been incorporated into the showing of the life size art pieces. Each was compelling and a beautiful portrayal of God’s love and sacrifice for the redemption of man. But there is something provoking, dare I even say powerful, about seeing people step out from art that many of us have gazed upon before, and hear what might have been the words, the emotions, and the struggles of those who lived in the time of this Christ, this Jesus. The director, Paul Radford, expertly guided his cast to capture the audience in the first moments of the performance. With the entrance of the Centurion, we are immediately brought to the cascading darkness drawn upon by the death of Christ. The Centurion was grippingly played by Jason Houtz who pulled our thoughts to believe in his struggle to understand who this Jesus is and why would He die. The portrayal of Peter, by Ben Nicholas, in Peter’s Denial and then in The Storm on the Sea of Galilee was also very real and believable. The audience is able to identify with and understand each of these characters in some way and be able to say ‘part of that is me’. In a clever choice by Paul Radford, the angel Gabriel lights up the auditorium and calls out to the audience. Be watching for this moment. It really is thought provoking. At each piece of art, we are drawn to listen to the heartbeat, the core values, of those who lived through the death of Christ.

Living Gallery Drama 2013

But this story does not end with death. In perhaps one of the most captivating moments of all, each main character previously displayed in the art, returns to the stage with echoing words that ring throughout the auditorium crying out to God with whys, rebuke, desperation and belief. This culminates with a triumphant resurrection of the Savior in the work The Resurrected Christ. With soaring orchestration and voices raised, the living Christ Jesus is glorified and an audience member walks away with this probing question; am I in the shadow of the Cross?

Living Gallery Drama 2013

DSC_0252 By Meagan Ingersoll

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