Archive

October 2018

The Shining: Live Synth Soundtrack ★★★★★

Micah Moses at Local 506

CHAPEL HILL, NC

October 28, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

October 31, 2018


RATING: 5 stars (out of 5)


North Carolina-based industrial and ambient musician Micah Moses knows The Shining. He has to if he’s going to rescore the film and perform it live, synced perfectly with the glorious and gory images on the screen. But why?


“I read [Stephen King’s] The Shining when I was about 9 years old,” Moses recalls. “I've always loved the [1980] Kubrick film but I do have to view the novel and film as separate since they are so different.” 


The composer, a regular performer at Chapel Hill’s Local 506, presented another Stephen King mainstay last month: Pet Sematary. Elliot Goldenthal’s original 1989 score was synthy and departed little from many 1970s horror scores (see: “Tubular Bells”). Some reexploration couldn’t hurt. Moses is already planning to revamp Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score and Morricone’s music for John Carpenter’s The Thing.


But what about a film mostly independent of synth sounds? Moreover, a film with surprisingly little score at all. Unlike John Carpenter's uber-synthy Halloween and The Fog, Stanley Kubrick relied predominantly on orchestral and choral pieces for The Shining. He had a fondness for Found Music and his surprising application made for memorable cinema (see: opening credits of 2001: A Space Odyssey).


Kubrick commissioned an original synthesizer-based score from Moog developer and A Clockwork Orange scorer Wendy Carlos and producer Rachel Elkind. After the finicky director scrapped most of Carlos’s material during editing, what notably remains is the opening credit theme--an adaptation of Berlioz’s “Dies Irae.” Because of this, the opening title sequence of The Shining is as inextricably linked to its music as any cinematic score in history. Moses’s live performance of his revision pays tribute to Carlos through the use of predominantly modular synthesizers--favorite weapon of the Switched-On Bach composer.


Some of Carlos’s original score is still M.I.A. and even the existing material has never enjoyed a major public unification with the film. It feels appropriate, then, to gather what’s left of her work and fill in the film’s many musicless gaps. Moses has adapted some of that unused material and either reinstated or riffed on it. 


Some of Moses’s themes are entirely original. The beauty is that one can hardly tell the difference between his work and Carlos’s. This is decidedly not improvisation. It is precisely planned, down to the very frame, and took many hours of work to pull off. “Getting rid of the original score is a little difficult, but there are some encoding tricks and EQ magic,” Moses explains. “I have the dialogue track playing through my equipment and have set cue points so it matches with the screen.”


He also manipulates the film’s official, final score--the discordant, unsettling sonic haunts of Penderecki, Ligeti, and Bartok. Moses weaves together samples of effects and cues from the soundtrack and stitches them back into the fabric of the film. I shall not soon forget his cloning of Penderecki’s chilling Polymorphia (see: army of spiders chasing you up a staircase) which he samples from one scene and drops into tense moments elsewhere; the evolution of a single cue into a fleshed-out motif.


Creating a new score is one thing, but the success of this endeavor is hinged entirely on its effect on the viewing experience. Moses punctuates previously musicless scenes with subtle and not-so-subtle crashes that foreshadow the horrors to come. As timid wife Wendy recounts an “accidental” child abuse incident, Moses inserts aural crashes between her statements. They echo as if dropped far away and undermine her seeming indifference toward her husband’s violent tendencies. Moses causes one to sit up and say “oh, this is going to be a thing.” I envy those seeing this scene for the first time.


Jack, who has not quite lost his shit yet, makes an unnerving attempt to assuage his son’s fears with Totally Not Creepy Fatherly Statements like “I'd never do anything to hurt you, never…” Jack Nicholson’s menacing look and sinister tone are creepy as hell, but Moses throws gasoline on the fire with a growing aural atmosphere of impending doom, foreshadowing Jack’s inevitable psychotic break and, perhaps, clueing us into Danny’s feelings about this conversation.


All of this while keeping the film’s original dialogue and sound effects in tact and making most of the magic happen live and in real-time. Moses explains: “I have assistance from my computer to automatically trigger certain sequences and themes during the film since I can only control so much at once.” He throws in a few startling smoke machine bursts which actually amplify the mood rather than distract from it. 


Moses’s ingenuous work possesses the film and gives it a new stride: harder, faster, better, and stronger--a reanimation of sorts--and I’ll be much happier during my annual viewing if I have a recording of Moses’s score. More than once, after he made a particularly daring choice, I leaned over to a neighbor and said "did he really just do that? He's insane." And that, my friends, is how I like my art.


Other film fans may cry sacrilege. But I sure as hell have not been this entranced and terrified by The Shining since the first time I saw it.

More info

Next to Normal ★★★★1/2

North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre

RALEIGH, NC

October 26 - November 11, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

October 30, 2018


RATING: 4.5 stars (out of 5)


As far as art goes, mental illness is a tricky subject. There’s the stereotype-propagating One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the sensationalistic Sybil, the horrifying The Tell-Tale Heart, and the absurd masterpiece Marat/Sade.

 

All have an important place in the literary canon, but they do little more than scratch the surface. These are not your go-to’s for How Crazy Works. The 2008 rock musical Next to Normal digs much, much deeper than anything before or since.


Bipolar disorder is a complicated and highly misunderstood disease. This I know from experience, having earned the 296.89 diagnostic code from The Manual some years ago. With one parent already far into treatment, our double-bipolar household could be an emotional minefield. 


Fifteen minutes into Timothy E. Locklear’s intense production of Next to Normal, Brian Yorkey’s lyrics and Tom Kitt’s score had me eyeing the exit. This story did not hit close to home, it moved right into my house, laying bare the psychiatric symptoms that make one seem and feel insane, the hypomanic behaviors that confuse and frighten friends and family, the depressive states that trap you in your pajamas and confine you to your bed, and the medical circus required to keep you alive and even somewhat functional. Brian Yorkey writes a case that is severe, but by no means surprising to an experienced viewer. 


Aubrey Comperatore gives a career-defining performance as bipolar matriarch Diana. She has clearly done her research, capturing subtly each physical and verbal indicator of the disease, no matter how imperceptible. The clenching hands, the forced “I’m fine” smile, the darting eyes that accompany racing thoughts. Moreover, Comperatore carries a powerful vocal belt that brings forth Diana’s deep-rooted pain and guilt. Her sincerity--her rawness--is at once invigorating and terrifying.


Beau Clark slowly reveals the deep-seeded trauma of Dan, Diana’s loyal husband. Clark creates an empathetic, conflicted partner that is at once charming and infuriating. Like Comperatore, Clark’s voice is robust and sincere. His work here is fearless and fraught with vulnerability. 


Newcomer Joshua Altman shows promise as enigmatic son Gabe, a challenging role d to his complicated relationship with the other characters. Greg Toft deftly plays two of the iconic types of psychiatrist: the impersonal and technical Dr. Fine and the attentive, determined Dr. Madden.


Averi Zimmerman’s Natalie has all the trappings of an American teenager. She is pissed off, reckless, vulnerable, and perfectly understandable. After her demure performance in Raleigh Little Theatre’s Sister Act this fall, Zimmerman convinces us that she can master both sweet and salty with skill. Bryan Bunch is an adorable and nuanced Henry, though he was still mastering the score on opening weekend. 


Under musical director Michael Santangelo, the cast maneuver the challenging score, nailing the complex harmonies with specificity. The audio team of Santangelo and Jaydon Shockley keep the background score low, allowing the vocals to shine, but this sextet of belters avoid some of the score’s softer dynamics and often overwhelm the room. 


Aaron Alderman reaffirms his status as a painter of light following his work last season with Honest Pint/Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s King Lear. Astonishing waves of color seem to dye Scott Winton Wray’s white, gauzy background curtains. The paint-splatter on the floor and staircases, undoubtedly meant to suggest Diana’s scattered mind, proves incongruous and unnecessary, distracting from the curtains’ dreamlike simplicity. A variety of staircases--both static and moving--and fractured window frames suggest a home in emotional disarray. Stage manager David Wilk moves the show ever-forward, minimizing transitional distractions.  


Locklear’s staging is vibrant, clear, and tightly-paced, rushing through Diana’s life alongside her--in both body and mind. His casting is where this production derives most of its strength, particularly with its two leads. As long as Next to Normal is running at NRACT, Comperatore and Clark are in charge of Raleigh theatre and all should come paying tribute.


Photo by Areon Mobasher Photography.

Info & Tickets

The Rocky Horror Show ★★★★

Theatre Raleigh

Koka Booth Amphitheater

CARY, NC

October 27-28, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

October 29, 2018


RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)


Honoring the variety show antics of the 1973 West End production, the kick-in-the-teeth vocals of the 1974 Los Angeles show, the B movie campiness of the 1975 film, and the glam rock stylings of the 2000 Broadway revival, Theatre Raleigh has presented the ultimate Rocky Horror Show.


The 1975 film adaptation has, nearly from its inception, included object-throwing and vocal call-and-response from its audience--something composer-lyricist Richard O’Brien could never have predicted. 


Cary’s Koka Booth amphitheater seems the ideal location for a full-fledged rock-and-roll rendition of the cult musical. Lighting designer Ken Wills fills the stage with a combination of lusty crimson, industrial white LEDs, and smoky blues to create a spectacular visual palate.  Josh Smith’s effective scenic design incorporates sky-high scaffolding and a rolling platform that feels more vaudevillian than rock-and-roll: an intriguing contrast with Wills’s contemporary lighting. 


In collaboration, the two designers framed the stage with different versions of the Narrator’s study--from a variety of eras. Visually engaging, if not entirely purposeful. Costume designer Rebecca Gossage dazzlingly blends 1950s protestant innocence with contemporary--and often futuristic--kink while Christal Schanes’s wigs invoke the spirits of Bowie, Chaka Kahn, and Joan Jett. 


Eric Alexander Collins reaches a nearly perfect mic-band mix--a seemingly impossible task in such an open venue with complex musical arrangements, delivered by Ethan Andersen and his four fierce rock bandmates--worthy of their own concert.


A kick-ass collection of sexy beasts makes the production what it is: a rejuvenation of an old classic. Jesse Gephart is an audacious and amusing Frank-n-Furter, A.C. Donohue is delightfully skeezy as the malevolent Magenta, and a manic L.E. Barone--in the production’s boldest performance--plays Columbia. 


With a pleasing rock tenor, Josh Canfield is more than just eye-candy; he makes Rocky sympathetic. Carlos Alcala is a surprisingly confident and sexy Brad Majors, pairing well with Taylor Kraft’s brazen Janet Weiss. Both play against the couple’s squeaky-clean image and it works.


David Henderson is a perfect choice for the Narrator. Energetic director Abbey O’Brien does not hide him in his professorial study--he has free rein of the story he tells, popping up in the audience, on the scaffolding, and even in bed with Janet and Frank. Penn Holderness is a respectable Riff Raff, mastering most of the high tenor part with ease. 


Like the 2000 Broadway revival cast, Theatre Raleigh has cast an indomitable woman as horny greaser Eddie (played by Meatloaf in the film and Lea Delaria in the revival). The unstoppable Lydia Kinton shook, rattled, and rolled as the butch, wailing rocker--just as she did in Raleigh Little Theatre’s 2015 mounting of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. But her splendidly indignant, wheelchair-bound German scientist Dr. Scott is where Kinton really makes her mark on this show.


Besides some gyrations and the famous “Time Warp,” Rocky Horror isn’t typically thought of as a Dance Show. But Abbey O’Brien constantly fills the stage with her able-bodied ensemble of Phantoms--making expert dancing an integral feature. My eye was particularly drawn to Shayla LaGrange and Melvin Gray, who sold O’Brien’s work with particular flair. 


Some climactic scenes were disorganized, leaving the eye to investigate precisely what was going on. A similar problem arose when cast members entered the audience--invisible to the front half of the crowd. A cheap Trump gag was more distraction than commentary, but some gags--like Dorothy Gale bicycling E.T. into outer space--were bonkers enough to work.


Brian Yandle presented some pre-show shenanigans alongside the Low Down Cheap Little Punks, the resident shadow cast for screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Raleigh’s Rialto Theatre. The energizing, noisy pre-show resulted in a primed audience who, once provided with bags of props to throw, pumped full of alcohol, provided with instructions on shout-outs of “slut” and “asshole,” and encouraged by Theatre Raleigh to get crazy and play long, forgot where they were. Rocky Horror is a party, yes. A raucous concert. But for many queer folks it is also a church service-- a place of communal catharsis. But there are parameters. 


One drunken Bro, who fancied himself a Rocky Horror aficionado, took it upon himself to scream every line of the audience participation script. By himself. Of course, he added some newly-developed material about women’s genitals that did not sit well with some of the female patrons around me.


Uber-focused stage manager Mette Schladweiler kept the show on track and the cast, more patient than I, plowed nobly through, or--in David Henderson’s case--bantered with the Bro. It was the drunk fight behind me, complete with screaming, cursing, and the jumping of chairs, that nearly derailed my experience. Preventing a drunk, grown man from tackling a drunk, college-age girl was a more participatory theatrical experience than I had expected. Somehow Koka Booth security were either unaware or uninterested in the devolving of seating section two in the show’s final quarter.

 

One could argue that this comes with the territory. In an outside venue, the audience forgets that they’re still at a play. And Rocky Horror regulars are not commonly known for our discretion. But the company and its presenter set the tone. Ultimately, a production is not responsible for policing its audience, but Theatre Raleigh would have better served its patrons by anticipating the drunken antics and discouraging vocal participation, rather than building the fire and having Koka Booth douse it with booze. 


But one joyful, accidental moment stays with me. As droplets fell from the sky during the tragic "I'm Going Home," Frank stands--strong as Sally Bowles--on the downstage runway, singing the lyric "like I'm outside in the rain." The goddess of rain smiled at the serendipity  and promptly backed off.


Overall, this version exceeded expectations, using the Booth stage to much greater effect than with last season’s Rock of Ages. With stellar casting and many unexpected twists on staging, Abbey O’Brien has created a funnier, fresher, more glam, and more insane Rocky Horror than ever before.


Photo by Jennifer Robertson

More Info

Strange City of Edgar Allan Poe ★★★★1/2

Sonorous Road Theatre

Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio

RALEIGH, NC

October 19 - 31, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

October 25, 2018


RATING: 4.5 stars (out of 5)


SPOILER LEVEL: Low-Moderate


We are visitors entreating at Poe’s chamber door. We stand here wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming. Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore. Just in time for Halloween.


The blacked-out entryway windows outside Sonorous Road Theatre obscure God knows what. Our small group, fewer than a dozen, is antsy--prepared to enter a haunted house. Skeletons will pop out, sounds of ghouls and ghosts will emanate from corner speakers. Blood and brains and pumpkins, oh my!


Oh, what fools we mortals be.


This is a creeping journey through the halls, rooms, nooks, and crannies of Sonorous Road Theatre, dressed masterfully as the disturbed mind of American horror author Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849).


Imaginative writer-directors Michelle Murray Wells and Christian O’Neal have done their research. Every inch of the space is filled with details from Poe’s works. The usual suspects, of course, are here: The Tell-Tale Heart, et al. Poe’s own disturbed words--both spoken and unspoken--blend seamlessly with original material--all of which does tremendous honor to the macabre master’s shiver-inducing catalog of poetic ravings. This skeptical English teacher is relieved and ready to explore.


We creep silently, self-paced, and without a mandated path through the synapses of Poe’s grieving, suicidal mind--visiting characters, stories, and even his famous family.. But they never stay put in their story. They cross-pollinate and invade. It’s the ultimate mash-up, eliminating the space between Poe’s works--both famous and obscure.

 

A rotating cast of fourteen actors--citizens of this strange city, with storytelling as their priority--take their characters through the halls, rooms and, metaphorically, through the roof. These performances are not subtle nor should they be. Mikki Stith amplifies these severe characterizations with a cortege of extraordinary, period-specific, and character-driven costumes. 


We were treated to particularly bold and daring characterizations from a crazed Michael Bacigalupo, a nefarious Seema Kukreja, paranoid Thom Haynes, and Sharon Galluzzo.

Stage Manager Kathryn Turk miraculously enforces Wells’s and O’Neal’s twisted, intricate plan, maintaining a steady pace without traffic buildup. Technical Director Anthony Buckner has created a series of eerie, specific environments--each with its own lighting scheme and unsettling soundscape, yet somehow they are all unified.


There are no stabbings, torture, or beheadings here. No sex, foul language, or really any physical violence at all. Everything is in the mind. When taken to heart, this can be the most terrifying experience of all. 


Only Poe aficionados will catch all of the references, so a little pre-reading--though not necessary--makes for a stimulating literary scavenger hunt.


My advice: take your time. Don’t stay with your party. Stop in rooms and look, listen. Value stillness and silence. Explore every prop and word you see. Examine, analyze. Successful theatrical immersion requires participation and focus from its audience. Walk through the space multiple times, taking different paths through this strange city--alive and ever-changing. You never know what you might come upon. Imagine an escape room that you would never want to leave. Keep your lips closed, your eyes peeled, and your ears open. 


While you could easily spend a few hours in here, a solid, focused hour is enough to really get this thing into your bones. Leave the littles at home. Or send them on a one-hour journey with a family member (there’s a Ben & Jerry’s within walking distance) and trade-off. It’s worth the planning.


The Strange City is wheelchair-accessible, and you can explore almost everything. Sensory-sensitive friends beware. This is a doozy. You have freedom to leave at any time; this is not an escape room.


If this spooky is not your speed, you can come back for a Sonorous Road’s immersive Christmas experience, The Gift of the Magi (December 6-17).


CONTENT WARNING (SPOILERS)


A lightly sprayed mist, thick fog, loud effects, moaning and wailing, knocking and banging. Small spaces with characters in close proximity to you. Extreme variations in light and sound levels. Fake corpses--some hanging--representations of trauma, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, and abusive/murderous intent. All are adults. All genders.


Photo courtesy of Sonorous Road Theatre.

Info & Tickets

Stuff Happens ★★★

Burning Coal Theatre Company

Murphey School Auditorium

RALEIGH, NC

October 11-28, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

October 24, 2018


RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)


Unless you’re younger than twenty, or live in a cave, you know (and likely recall) the events of September 11, 2001. You likely recall the Bush administration’s response: on March 20, 2003, the U.S. invaded and began to occupy the nation of Iraq based on baseless “intelligence” that they were manufacturing Weapons of Mass Destruction (which of course they were not).


Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responded to a reporter’s question about widespread looting in Iraq--a response to economic hardship and socio-political upheaval--saying "Stuff happens and it’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy.” He would have said “shit happens” if he were not live on CNN. This oh-so-Democratic “liberation” officially lasted 8 years.

 

Playwright David Hare calls Stuff Happens a “history play,” stretching from the towers’ collapse through the battle with the United Nations and deep into the occupation. An interesting canvas on which to work; the possibilities are endless. Burning Coal proved they know what to do with his dialogue-driven work in 2016, with their exemplary production of Hare’s Skylight.


Directed by the imaginative Lillian White and unified by technical director Greg Osbeck, this docudrama incorporates interesting-- though sometimes distracting--video designs by Kirk Pearson, working under the name Dogbotic. His music and sound design are as explosive and disruptive as any missile, often helping to spice up the tiresome play. E.D. Intemann’s lighting design commands attention with harsh and ever-changing brilliance.  


We have an inventive director, an accomplished leading cast, and a crackerjack design team all working overtime to compensate for a script so predictable and repetitive that all I begged for Lillian White’s stunning scene transitions to bring me out of a classroom and back into the theatre. Kahei Shum McRae's costumes are well-suited and historically accurate. Stage Manager Andy Hayworth calls the hundreds of light, sound, and video cues with expert precision. 


If actors’ entrances and line deliveries were as precise as said cues, we’d shave some time off the nearly 3 hour play. But stellar performances do abound. Michael Babbitt is a believable George W. Bush while Matthew Baldiga impresses as Prime Minister Tony Blair. Brook North captures the smarmy intensity of Rumsfeld perfectly--the lack of physical similarity does not hinder believability.


Thomas Goldsmith is perfectly cast as the grunting Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defense Secretary. Jim O’Brien is one of the few cast members who successfully juggles multiple accents and Julie Oliver represents adroitly a bevy of characters from an indignant British citizen to stoic CIA Director George Tenet. 


Darius Shafa persuasively delivers Hare’s only sufficiently original moment: an unnamed Iraqi exile’s reflection on the occupation. There is something really powerful here and the perspective shift needs more stage time. The rest of the plot is mere regurgitation. Even Hare’s fictionalized conversations hold nothing new, just more of what we already know.  Such creative freedom gone to waste. 


If act one is dry docudrama, act two is a wonderfully engaging historical fiction. The tedium subsides when Hare hands the stage predominantly over to Secretary of State Colin Powell, played with remarkable control by Byron Jennings. Hare finally gives us some interpersonal conflict here in the second act, but his crush on Powell is simply ridiculous. He writes him like Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men: a heroic champion for the suffering. Powell was arguably less enthusiastic about the Iraqi occupation than some of the cabinet, but he was not Jesus flipping tables in the temple. Hare is making a revisionist attempt to keep Powell’s hands clean, and I am not buying it.


In one of her finest performances to date, a powerhouse Tyanna West portrays steady National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. West keeps her cool, never showing her cards-- in contrast to the impulsive warmongers surrounding her. But, like Powell, Hare spends most of her dialogue trying to wash blood from her hands.


Rob Jenkins gives the production’s the most impressive, most infuriating performance as Evil Incarnate himself, Vice President Dick Cheney. Jenkins looks and sounds like Cheney, yes. But he also feels like Cheney, reeking of self-congratulation and dominance, smirking often at pitiful Powell’s heartfelt pleadings.


Lillian White’s frenzied direction compensates--mostly--for Hare’s lack of creativity. The company swirls and scurries through Intemann’s simple set: the oval office desk, a collection of pink rolling chairs, and a bombed presidential seal--painted beautifully by scenic artist Meredith Riggan--which looks like a giant crushed aspirin. Entrances, exits, and transitions are high-speed, sharp and well-rehearsed. Scenes dissolve away and new ones are quickly drawn, as if White is shaking a giant Etch A Sketch.


We have an inventive director, an accomplished leading cast, and a crackerjack design team all working overtime to compensate for a script so predictable and repetitive that all I begged for Lillian White’s stunning scene transitions to bring me out of a classroom and back into the theatre.


Photo by Areon Mobasher.

Info & Tickets

Skeleton Crew ★★★★

Playmakers Repertory Company

CHAPEL HILL, NC

October 10 - 28, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

October 23, 2018


RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)


We know the broad strokes of the automotive industry crisis of 2008. Its effect on cities like Detroit--practically world headquarters of car manufacturing--led to the closing of factories, massive bailouts, and the destruction of many workers’ lives.


Playwright Dominique Morisseau brings us right into ground zero: the break room of an unnamed stamping plant in Detroit, just as the economy is imploding. Zoom in on veteran factory worker Faye: a cussing, smoking, gay, badass survivor. Kathryn Hunter-Williams’s performance in the role is breathtaking, a significant departure from some of her more demure or prim roles. Her strength is palpable as she digs deep into the darkest of emotional caves. 


She serves as de facto mentor to rebellious employee Dez. In this role, Alex Givens has broken down the wall between actor-in-training and full-blown rockstar performer. His performance is superbly well-balanced, never caught in the cliche traps Morisseau has laid out for this character at every turn. 


As pregnant employee Shanita, Shanelle Nicole Leonard continues to make unexpected acting choices, Shanita as a ditz would be easy, but Leonard makes a hard turn and gives the optimistic young woman a welcome sense of emerging maturity as she approaches motherhood.


Samuel Ray Gates has some convincing moments as supervisor Reggie, finding the requisite passion for Reggie’s cathartic final moments. But for much of the play, Gates seems to be holding back, keeping Reggie more emotionally distant than we need him to be.


Four characters in a confined space makes audience engagement a challenge, but director Valerie Curtis-Newton brings projections and sound effects into play to remind us of the world beyond the factory doors. Character interactions are dynamic and frequent movement prevents lengthy dialogue scenes from becoming tiresome.


Elizabeth Ray steps up to the plate as lead stage manager and hits a home run. A bombardment of ever-moving props are always at hand and scenic changes are mind-bogglingly quick and imperceptible--practically magical. The entire show runs like a well-oiled machine. 


Scenic designer Jan Chambers goes above and beyond, eliminating the boundaries of the break room with vast, imposing steel beams, rusty junkyard detritus, and a collection of enormous, partially smashed pane windows serving double-duty as a surface for Dominic Abbenante’s hyperkinetic, impressionistic video projections. Junghyun Georgia Lee’s costumes are responsible for revealing characters’ economic situations and she accomplishes the task with subtlety and attention to detail.


Porsche McGovern’s lighting design highlights characters’ private moments with hot magenta spots. Sometimes the moment is powerful. Other times, this device’s purpose is unclear. Gabriel Clausen does some of the finest sound designing I have heard in the Paul Green theatre. Subtle factory noises next door vary in intensity as doors open and close while brazen, room-shaking mechanical effects and music serve to obscure scenic changes.


Morisseau's compelling plotting and character revelations are undermined as the play’s ending is too abrupt for any catharsis to take hold. We are somewhat bewildered as the curtain call begins, as a final scene appears to be missing.


In Skeleton Crew--part of the Detroit Project trilogy--Dominique Morisseau avoids many of the predictable cliches of the earlier Detroit ‘67, staged here in 2016. I look forward to Playmakers Rep’s completion of the cycle with an eventual staging of Paradise Blue.

Government, economy, industry, poverty. All concepts easily explained by cold theorists and described impersonally in textbooks. Morisseau attaches names and faces to the greatest American financial catastrophe since the Great Depression. A story for the 99%. 


Photo by HuthPhoto.

More Info

It is Done ★★1/2

Theatre in the Park

RALEIGH, NC

October 5 - 21, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

October 22, 2018


RATING: 2.5 stars (out of 5)


An eerily secluded and empty bar. Blue collar joes. Denim and whiskey and deals with the devil and a jukebox full of Hank Williams. Dry. Gritty. No, it’s not a Stephen King short story. It’s the regional premiere of Alex Goldberg’s one-act thriller It Is Done. This regional production, directed by Ira David Wood III, is a slow-burner, much like King writes. The explosion of energy at the end is well-earned after a breadcrumb trail of hints are laid out.


On Nathaniel Conti’s detailed set, lit carefully and dramatically (albeit sometimes distractingly), Wood’s actors burst with energy. But this isn’t a “bursting” kind of play. Tony Pender shows tremendous commitment in the role of disgusting barkeep Hank. However, it’s hard to tell whether Pender is playing it so big by choice or under duress. It is an intriguing performance, but a notch too high. 


Olivia Fitts is a daring and capable actor--as evidenced in last season’s Assassins--but not yet mature enough to fully wrestle with the role of Ruby. Fitts enters with solid control, but as her character downs whiskey, Fitts loses turns goofy and turns everything up to eleven. This would work perfectly well, if she did not then have to reveal herself to be the Devil herself. Her hellish outbursts, marked by Ira David Wood III’s exceptionally detailed sound design, earn unintentional(?) laughs, as the booming voice effect does not match her loose, uncommitted physical actions.


Some of the demonic destruction is convincing, notably the by-the-neck levitation of Hank. Sound and lighting unite perfectly and Pender, a brilliant physical actor, helps sells the gag nicely. Other moments, such as a self-moving chair, lack precision and don’t pack their much-needed punch.


Jock Brocki, as the mysterious Jonas, finds the best balance of the acting trio. His character suffers the most and it would be quite easy to dip into melodrama. But he doesn’t. Brocki never shows all of his cards, keeping Jonas low-key and mysterious through the very end.


Alex Goldberg suffers two major flaws. And by association, we suffer them as well. The first: his play is old hat. We’ve read and seen this setup before. Such talent and resources could have been better spent on something far more alluring and unpredictable. The second: this play really hates women. The list of misogynist tropes is practically endless: the crazy girl, the nagging ex-wife shrew, hot chick as evil seductress, woman rolls eyes at sexual harassment, etc. etc.


The discomfort of watching Hank attempt to sexually assault Ruby--from the moment she enters the bar--hangs like a cloud above much of the play. I don’t think this is the kind of horror Goldberg was going for. Hank is a scumbag with no redeeming qualities. He’s either masturbating to Hustler, dealing with the “nagging wife” on the phone, or leaning over the fence into full blown date rape territory, liquoring up Ruby so that he can take her in the back and have his way. And Jonas is no help whatsoever. Yes, Ruby/Satan gets her revenge on Hank eventually, but his comeuppance is not cathartic enough to pay the audience--or Ruby--back.


The conflict is steered by characters’ reactions to the goings-on, but without relateable or sympathetic characters, we are left without any connection to the play, making the stakes essentially nonexistent. What we have here is a well-designed but flawed production of a phoned-in play.

More Info

Bellini's Norma (In Concert) ★★★★

North Carolina Opera

Meymandi Concert Hall

Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

RALEIGH, NC

October 21, 2018


by Dustin K. Britt

October 22, 2018


RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)


The tragic bel canto opera Norma has been called Vincenzo Bellini’s finest work; a prime example of his most noteworthy skill: pairing music with story. Unlike some operas, Norma’s musical colors are consistent with the emotional arc of its characters. Felice Romani’s exceptionally poetic libretto--sparkling with celestial imagery--is pure magic.


Norma, the Druid high-priestess, is often cited as one of the most difficult roles in the soprano repertoire and Leah Crocetto possesses the necessary vocal prowess. Though too bright in most of the first act--sometimes ringing like a church bell--she successfully navigates the roller coaster dynamics of Casta diva. She darkens appropriately during the tragic second half--her voice surging dramatically to the moon and back again, proving herself--for an hour at least--to be a strong Norma


This concert truly belongs to mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong. As the suffering priestess Adalgisa, her phrasing flows as naturally as human speech, doing tremendous honor to the Italian libretto. Her messa di voce waxes and wanes perfectly in tandem with Adalgisa’s outpouring of grief and I gripped my armrests in awe and delight as the first, perfect notes of prayer--controlled and fervent--escaped her lips. DeShong demonstrates the importance of acting--with both face and body--in a concert setting. Without design or choreography to enhance the storytelling, she helpfully communicates Adalgisa’s torment and elation. She is absolutely riveting, music emanating from her soul, never from her throat--a perfect conduit for the score. The lively act two “friendship” cabaletta with Crocetto is a fine moment for both women. 

 

Tenor Chad Shelton proves an equally effective actor, as the tempestuous Pollione, a Roman proconsul and befuddled lover. Shelton fills the hall with a crystal clear tone and dominates the concert stage, traversing the floor like a tiger on the prowl, music stand be damned. 


Bass Ao Li is an imposing Oroveso--Chief Druid and Norma’s father. His low-pitched opening victory prayer is somewhat lost beneath the swelling orchestra, but as we approach the rousing and catastrophic act two finale, Li displays power and an extensive range, leaving us awestruck. Rounding out the company are passionate tenor Wade Henderson as Pollione’s sidekick Flavio and bold soprano Kathleen Felty as Norma’s faithful friend Clotilde. 


Maestro Antony Walker’s bouncy gesticulations communicate the drama as much as any instrument, as the North Carolina Opera Orchestra presents magnificently Bellini’s many interludes--most notably the explosive and stormy Overture. The impassioned chorus (under chorus master Scott Macleod) achieves an admirable blend, but sometimes lack sufficient articulation and the ever-insistent orchestra can easily overwhelm them (as it did several times, for several singers, throughout the night).


This is a promising start to a season of strong women's stories that will continue with Bizet's Carmen (January 2019) and Puccini's Tosca (April 2019). I will certainly be there. You should be, too.


Photo credit: Michael Zirkle

(L-R Chad Shelton, Elizabeth DeShong and Leah Crocetto)



More Info

In the Heights ★★★★

North Carolina Theatre

Raleigh Memorial Auditorium

Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

RALEIGH, NC

October 16-21


by Dustin K. Britt

October 21, 2018


RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)


Given the increasingly genocidal tendencies of our xenophobic national leadership, the concepts of unity and liberty are starting to feel more like the naive dreams of some bygone era than America’s driving principals.


As the government silences latinx voices, amplification through the arts is more important than ever. It makes sense to stage a musical about the latinx American experience the same week that midterm early voting starts: when the future of non-white lives will be decided at the ballot box. 


It has been 13 years since Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes’s contemporary musical In the Heights exploded onto the American stage. Now North Carolina Theatre reminds us of its greatness. 


Capable director and inventive choreographer Michael Balderrama makes the show as fresh as ever, with strong support from set designer Adam Koch’s graffiti-laden, two-story Washington Heights barrio, LeGrande Smith’s vibrant costumes, Elisa Acevedo’s precise hair and makeup design, and Samuel Rushen’s blazing, invigorating lighting. Sound designer Eric Alexander Collins creates an acceptable orchestra-vocalist balance, but singers occasionally get lost in the mix. 


Aside from the sloppy execution of act one finale Blackout, Balderrama’s spirited group numbers fill Raleigh Memorial Auditorium with color and life, namely Carnaval Del Barrio and fan favorite 96,000.


Under conductor James Cunningham, the score’s synth-heavy arrangements erupt from the pit and blend with Cristina Sastre’s flawless, astonishing soprano. Combined with her vulnerable but plucky dramatic choices, Sastre’s work as Nina is this production’s strongest suit. Andres Quintero captures Usnavi’s charm and shines brightly during dramatic moments. But he lacked energy through much of Thursday night’s performance, and his voice had all but vanished by the curtain’s fall.


Our protagonist may be male, but the success of any production of In the Heights is dependent on the strength of its women. Standout Genny Lis Padilla plays businesswoman and hairdresser Daniela with the vigor and sass of Rita Moreno, while Elizabeth M. Quesada is delightful ditzy as the well-meaning Carla. Nicole Paloma Sarro ably harnesses Abuela Claudia’s strength and Melanie Sierra is surprisingly funny as the longsuffering Vanessa. A robust Carly Prentis Jones makes Nina’s loving mother Camila one of the play’s most impactful characters and Dance/Fight Captain Greer Gisy executes Balderrama’s daring, evocative choreography like none other.


Michael Schimmele’s angelic tenor makes the Piragua Guy shine while David Guzman and Travis Staton-Marrero are the ensemble’s most impressive dancers. Up-and-comer Reed Lorenzo Shannon continues to impress--giving us a rare glimpse at the heartbroken young man beneath neighborhood clown Sonny. Nick Sanchez and Danny Bolero share some sincere moments as sympathetic Benny and stern father figure Kevin.


Though In the Heights will always be linked with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the story could not be told without book writer Quiara Alegria Hudes. An older and more experienced writer than Miranda, Hudes came to In the Heights already a Pulitzer Prize finalist and quickly helped In the Heights earn the same honor. There would be no Hamilton without Hudes’s contribution to Miranda’s portfolio. I’m not saying that Miranda gets all the credit because he is a man. Wait, no. That is exactly what I’m saying.


Photo by Curtis Brown

Info & Tickets

Dracula ★★★★

Carolina Ballet

Fletcher Opera Theater

Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts

RALEIGH, NC

October 11 - 28


by Dustin K. Britt

October 19, 2018


RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)


Dracula is preceded by a performance of The Masque of the Red Death, choreographed by Robert Weiss. There is an intermission between the two ballets. 


Held aloft by J. Mark Scearce’s macabre, Romanian-inspired score, Carolina Ballet’s adaptation of Dracula has flown back into Fletcher Opera Theater, resurrecting Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s striking choreography just in time for Halloween. 


One would have trouble knowing that this production is a ballet at all. Taylor-Corbett’s theatrical staging--sparkling with impressive stage magic and visual trickery--is just as important as any moment of choreography. The definition of dance is put on trial as the company transitions imperceptibly between balletic moves and those no different than would be given to any stage actor. 


Lighting designer Ross Kolman splatters the stage with swirling pools of blood and employs an army of shadows to hide the comings and goings of the children of the night. Jeff A.R. Jones’s textured, flowing scenery flies in and out with batlike stealth while Eric Collins judiciously amplifies Alfred E. Sturgis’s orchestra, and supplies ominous sounds of another dimension. 


David Heuvel’s costumes juxtapose the regal gentility of 1897 London with the grungy sexiness of the ghouls that crawl beneath the house on the hill. Foggy apparitions of Nosferatu himself overwhelm the stage via Adam Larsen’s forbidding silhouette projections. 

 

As Duane Donders’s eerie vocals and Julia Thompson’s breakneck percussive acrobatics rise from the orchestra pit to the world above, a statuesque Kiefer Curtis dances the infamous Count Dracula with flair, lust, and a muscular wingspan. 


Ashley Hathaway is the quintessential Lucy: innocent and exquisite at first with a domestic kitten’s touch, before the count’s love bite transforms her into a rabid tiger, lusting for a few pints of the good stuff. Jan Burkhard is a sympathetic and sturdy Nina, moving with a dignified strength that suggests Dracula may just meet his match in her. Burkhard’s flawless execution of Taylor-Corbett’s aerial acrobatics is one of this ballet’s highlights. 


An awe-inspiring Sokvannara Sar contorts, scurries, and devours a spider or two as captive madman Renfield while a terrifying trio of seductresses--Taylor Ayotte, Saskia de Muinck Keizer, and Sara Roe--deliver the evening’s most grotesque, erotic, and harrowing dances as the man-eating, baby-snatching, hell-demons known as the Twisted Sisters.


Assigning a narrator (a monotonous Alan Campbell) is Taylor-Corbett's hamartia: the fatal flaw that hobbles the ballet, keeping it a safe distance from true greatness. We neither require nor desire a narrator. The composer, choreographer, dancers, and designers are more than capable of presenting this very straightforward story (one that we already know) without infuriatingly invasive exposition and a condescending tendency to describe what we are already looking at. “Garlic!” he cries. Yeah. Dude. We can see it. It’s Dracula. Moreover, this is a ballet. I need these interruptions like I need two holes in my neck.


Laughable narration aside, Dracula is a thrilling and surprisingly hair-raising evening at the ballet--infinitely more stimulating than the endless Netflix horror film queue. But whatever you do, wear a turtleneck. 


Photo courtesy of Carolina Ballet.

Info & Tickets

A Doll’s House, Remodeled ★★★★1/2

The Justice Theatre Project

Umstead Park United Church of Christ

RALEIGH, NC

October 12 - 28


by Dustin K. Britt

October 18, 2018


RATING: 4.5 stars (out of 5)


Black Ops Theater artistic director JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell just kicked open the door on The Justice Theatre Project’s “S/He Is: Becoming Whole” season. Co-written with Aurelia Belfield, A Doll’s House, Remodeled is the result of an intellectual wrestling match with Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 proto-feminist masterpiece, A Doll’s House (if you have not read it, you should take the time).


Ibsen’s Torvald Helmer holds his wife, Nora, figuratively captive, manipulating her in the most seemingly benign of fashions. She is a doll in her own home: dressed, admired, doted on, and controlled. She walks on eggshells until her famous door-slamming exit from the house--a bombshell of a statement for a late nineteenth century Norwegian audience. 


Holloway-Burrell and Belfield change lanes in their 2018 “remodeling” of the tale, placing Nora more confidently in the driver’s seat--though the car is unmistakably Ibsen’s. 


The artistic stakes are high. The theatrical concept of “modernize it and throw in technology” is becoming as worn as a faded, threadbare rug and you have about five pages to convince your audience that you have something new to say. Trimming Ibsen’s slow-burning, three act play down to 90 minutes requires a steady hand, lest the surgeon toss aside too much meat with the fat. If you dare to lift Nora and Torvald out of late nineteenth century sexual politics, you cannot just drop them any old place; you run the risk of losing the point entirely.


But this insightful adaptation, emboldened by audacious direction, accomplishes the task set before it. Almost-impossible, letting content drive form. Rather than “A Doll’s House as a reality show sounds fun,” our shrewd co-authors say “A Doll’s House is still relevant. What is Ibsen trying to say and what are the contemporary parallels?” A timely, provocative, and loyal reimagining is the answer to that question. And, against all odds, we now have one.


Our new Nora (a lusty, confident, and inspiring Lakeisha Coffey) is not simply a doll in a doll’s house. She built the damn thing herself. Now she just has to take ownership. This carefully-developed concept--unique to the “remodeling”--builds to an intense, rapturous, and 

A cast of magnificent women surround Nora: a cool, smooth Drina Dunlap as gal pal Christine, a brazen and unshakable Kyma Lassiter as pseudo-antagonist Niles Krogstad, and a charming Sarah Koop, who makes much of little stage time as assistant Helene. 


John Honeycutt is the unassuming Dr. Rank, who appears emotionally vacant for much of the play. This looks like a bad acting call, but an important revelation provides an adequate excuse for his lethargy near the play’s end. Our co-authors walk a razor’s edge with Torvald’s temperament. He is a loathsome, misogynistic techni-bro who deserves a comeuppance. But he is not a super-villain or a dragon to be slain (a common trope of lazier writers). He isn’t that powerful. He is a roach that must be squashed. With heels. Germain Choffart’s convincing, understated performance of said pathetic weasel makes this quite clear.


Stage manager Cory Arnold, assisted by Camron Graves, scales a mountainous task in any space, especially a non-theatrical one: calling sound and lighting cues in tandem with pre-recorded audio-video content. As we rapidly switch between the stage world and the reality TV broadcast, the absence of hiccups or glitches of any kind is something to behold.


Arthur Reese’s detailed and stylish set is a perfect runway for Brenda L. Hayes’s chic and well-suited costumes and Holloway-Burrell’s upmarket props. Reese’s well-planned lighting minimizes disruption when we switch to the TV feed, featuring talking-head interviews captured precisely by videographer Nick Karner. Sound designer Juan Isler achieves smooth transitions between screen and stage, while subtly mixing a range of tech-based sound effects.


Some of the talking-heads are insightful--helping to flesh out character and reveal hidden relationships--but others are unnecessary interruptions, jammed in to weakly hold up and already strong structure.


Surprisingly, Holloway-Burrell’s reality show framework is neither gimmick nor crutch. The story point does not simply throw glitter in your face and step aside, it is the story--embedded and vital. And reinforced by its relevance:


A jealous person becomes furious when their attractive partner earns millions of likes on Instagram...a startup engineer skyrockets to the top after designing a successful app...false feminism is used to sell products...women are excluded from executive positions...queer relationships are simply a fact of life...people use media to release their inner demons.


The not-so-subtly embedded “get out the vote” message definitely pulls one out of the story, and the involve-the-audience-in-social-media angle falls flat. But even with minor imperfections, the adaptation does a tremendous service to Ibsen’s work and is an important contribution to women’s theatre. These carefully-designed renovations to A Doll’s House add ample value to The Justice Theatre Project’s property value.


Photo courtesy of The Justice Theatre Project.

Info & Tickets

Lost My Head: Standup & Stories ★★★1/2

Eyes Up Here Comedy at Raleigh Little Theatre

Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre

RALEIGH, NC

October 6


by Dustin K. Britt

October 14, 2018


RATING: 3.5 stars (out of 5)


An 11:00 PM stand up show is not unheard of in the comedy world, particularly if you hang around for the headliner. But a the typical theatergoer is going to need a Coke and a few stretches before settling in. If the crowd just experienced something as epic as Raleigh Little Theatre’s 2.5-hour (but worth every second) play, The Revolutionists, and decide to hang around for the post-show laughs, it’s a marathon evening. 


And for the most part, this hour-or-so storytelling lineup of intriguing and brave women proved worth a small bedtime delay. And a paying, ticketed crowd will usually pull supportive, like-minded folks--lots of friends and family--so there are no noisy bar patrons or hecklers with whom to contend.


Eyes Up Here Comedy, founded by Erin Terry in 2015, is here to amplify (quite literally) the voices of North Carolina’s female-identifying comics and storytellers--an artistic space notoriously occupied by dudes, guys, and bros. With ubertools like Louis C.K. slithering back onto the stage after years of sexual harassment against women, it is imperative that women hold onto the microphone and never hand it over.


Like musicians, comics need a public platform to explore their craft. Opportunities to screw up, to bomb, to kill, to succeed, to play to 2 old drunks and 500-person crowds are necessary for the trial-and-error development of public performance.


Terry’s showcase title, “Lost My Head” is a nod to the guillotine-themed The Revolutionists, but such a wink is unnecessary and ineffective. The comics are forced to insert some detail about “losing their heads,” which is done randomly and without care, taking away from their doubtlessly careful planning. Lose the hokey title, keep the show.


This Eyes Up Here lineup, as usual, boasts a diverse array of women. Diversity in race, sexuality, background, age, body type, experience, and current level of skill. Such a varied characteristics are found in this troupe of only six women. If Erin Terry can form a diverse group with a common passion, interest, and evening availability, don’t tell me that diversity in the arts is unachievable. That's laziness.


The show took some time getting revved up--not entirely unusual for standup--but a supportive and willing audience encouraged and buoyed the artists with genuine guffaws, enthusiastic applause and woops, and--most importantly--rapt attention. It is the act of listening, something emphasized throughout The Revolutionists, that is the key to making women’s voices heard. Not just speaking into the voice, but to those willing (and yes, those unwilling) to listen. 


Whether an experienced headliner brought tears of laughter with ease (the always-delightful smartass Brett Williams, ukulele in hand) or a newcomer developed confidence as she shared her embarrassing Spanx story (a promising Elisse Thompson), the small group of spectators (about two dozen) was equally enthused. Brittany Spruill exploded with an assertive energy that brought to life even the most mundane of chicken nugget-related tales while Al-Nisa Lawson, a vibrant performer, is developing the subtle art of writing a smoother, more cohesive set of Motherhood Horror Stories. 


In the final slot, local theatre grande dame and cabaret performer Rose Higgins waxed nostalgic about her salad days at Raleigh Little Theatre--perfect subject-matter for an artist standing on the set of that evening’s very production. She reinforced many points made earlier in the evening, providing a unifying denouement for the stories of daughterhood, motherhood, and--above all else--womanhood. As she spoke, candidly and from the heart, she stripped down--both literally and figuratively--until she stood before us vulnerable, unafraid, and proud of her life, her craft, and her body. This ginger warrior, now clad only in a silky, black negligee, could be a billboard image for Strong Women. 


The next step is taking such a program out of the late night underground and into the light where the public can access it (after a matinee?). Raleigh Little Theatre should continue provide a space for women’s stories, whether the storytellers are bewigged and bejeweled beneath colored lights or simply mic-in-hand, ukulele in tow, baring all. 


Photo courtesy of Eyes Up Here Comedy.

(L to R): Al-Nisa Lawson, Brittany Spruill, Elisse Thompson, Brett Williams, Rose Higgins.

More info

In Rehearsal: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

RALEIGH LITTLE THEATRE

by Dustin K. Britt
October 13, 2018


In London, in the fall of 1939, Operation Pied Piper was put into effect. The evacuation plan endeavored to protect English citizens--primarily children--from continual air raids. Evacuations continued and millions were relocated from London to other parts of the United Kingdom, far from the German bombs. 


Meanwhile in a parallel universe--a fictional London--four young siblings, the Pevensies, were relocated to the countryside home of an old professor for safekeeping. To dull the mind-numbing boredom, adventure was sought and, dare I say, discovered. 


And in an even farther universe, a land called Narnia, a White Witch called Jadis continues her tyrannical, century-long reign of the land, marked by a ruinous deep winter. But Aslan the Lion, rightful King of Narnia, is on the move to save the mythical creatures of his kingdom.


It is at the junction of this multiverse that author and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis’s magnum opus The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe begins. The 1950 novel, the first in a series of seven, is arguably one of the great works of English literature; one that has enjoyed innumerable adaptations in every possible medium, one of which is a 1989 stage adaptation by Tony-nominated playwright Joseph Robinette. 


It is this text that Patrick Torres, artistic director of Raleigh Little Theatre, has chosen as the first presentation of their 2018-2019 Family Series. 


In a very real Raleigh, the curtain rises and the winter winds blow on Friday, October 19, so final rehearsals are in full swing. We spent some time with the creative team and performers--both young and young-at-heart--to see how this magical production is coming to life.


Patrick Torres, director

After my parents put my older brother and me to bed, he would read me books as we fell asleep: some of my most treasured memories of him. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of those books. I would ask him if he thought we could visit Narnia someday. 


Heather J. Strickland, actor (White Witch)

I can still visualize the old boxed set that my my brother and I read as kids. These stories were staples of my childhood--right up there with The Baby-Sitters Club and The NeverEnding Story.


Miles Wiedmann, actor (Edmund Pevensie) -- 8th Grader

When I auditioned, it had been a while since I’d read the book. When I got a callback I watched the movie (it was all I had time for). But when I got the part, I reread the book to get a better sense of the characters.


Tara Nicole Williams, fight choreographer

I was introduced to the books quite young, during a time when my family was experiencing a lot of changes. I read about children my age that held seats of power and were listened to and respected by adults. This made me feel stronger. Now it is even more important that young people find their inner strength and stand up for others and themselves.


Justin Scranton, actor (Aslan)

These books have been a wardrobe into fantasy and magic for both me and my kids. I read them as a child and then read them to my three children, two of whom are in this production with me.


Seamus Scranton, actor (Witch's Army, Wood Nymph) - 7th grader

This is a great opportunity--to be with family in my first show at Raleigh Little Theatre.


Maryjayne Scranton, actor (Witch's Army, Wood Nymph) - 4th grader

It’s nice having your family there to support you. You can get help when you are struggling. Because they know you, you don’t even have to ask. 


Miles Wiedmann

The relationship between the four Pevensie actors builds with each rehearsal and now we feel like family even outside the play. I also love hanging out with the wood nymphs---they always put in so much effort and really bring the show together.


Heather J. Strickland

The connection adults have with young actors on stage is raw, honest, and very in the moment. Christopher Jordan, who plays my Dwart assistant, has the Witch’s back no matter what. That is true--in both directions--of the real-life friendship we are developing offstage.


Christopher Jordan, actor (Dwarf) -- 3rd Grader

My job is to serve the Queen, protect her, and to be by her side. Heather [Strickland] is not scary in real life at all. She is very nice and kind.


Miles Wiedmann

Heather comes at me with everything she has. I try to meet that intensity and energy and we just build on each other, keeping the stakes high. Working with her, I’ve learned about putting energy into your voice to project and create stage presence. She always does that really well.


Heather J. Strickland

The White Witch enters every space with an energy that fills the entire room (and everyone in it) with a horrible chill. That physicality connects to her voice and breath: a powerful boom that takes over. The Standard British accent is very helpful because of the hard consonants. I am using the sharpness of the language to further harm my enemies. 


Jessica Jordan, actor (Witch’s Army, Wood Nymph) -- 5th Grader

The White Witch is in charge of our army. She’s commanding and powerful. We are under her spell, so we just do what she says.


Justin Scranton

My fight scene with Heather is my first stage battle and it is so much fun. She is really amazing to work with because of her experience and professionalism. Aslan and the White Witch have an epic conflict, but Justin and Heather work together really well.


Aura Pugeda, actor (Lucy Pevensie) - 5th Grader

In rehearsals with Tumnus [played by Gus Allen], we are working mostly on the relationship between the two and how we're supposed to feel. Mainly Lucy's fear and wonder and Tumnus's guilt and happiness.

 

Miles Wiedmann

Patrick [Torres] works with the young ones just like he does with everyone: very professional but still extremely kind and understanding.


Tara Nicole Williams

Heather [Strickland] is also an expert fight choreographer and director. I have trained under her in many productions and it certainly feels strange to have our roles reversed.


Heather J. Strickland

Tara and I have choreographed each other, co-created fights, and dismantled gender stereotypes in the combat world together. The mutual trust we have makes the work easy, no matter who is acting and who is choreographing.


Seamus Scranton

We were taught the exact fighting moves--like choreography. We are wearing masks, capes, chainmail and helmets. Tara is optimistic and great to work with.


Miles Wiedmann

I’ve never done anything like these fights before. The battle is intense but safe. I get to have a small brotherly fight with Jacob [Peter] which is really cool because it’s so different from the big battle: it’s real-time ‘hand to hand’ combat.


Christopher Jordan

I do some very violent moves!


Jacob Sen, actor (Peter Pevensie) -- 11th Grader

Working the fights has been a longer process than I anticipated. It takes a lot of work to produce even a few seconds of fight choreography. I think by the time opening night comes along, we are going to have something we are very proud of. 


Jessica Jordan

Learning how to hold our weapons with Tara was really cool. In the fight scene with Peter we learned how to fall backward without hurting ourselves.

 

Tara Nicole Williams

Young teens in particular are still finding that connection between brain and body so it is important to build safe, manageable and achievable choreography for them. 


Patrick Torres

The designers and I were interested the backdrop of World War II, since it’s where the children are coming from. That is why so much of our costuming looks militaristic and the set is is so sparse. Our Scenic Designer, Miyuki Su, alters the audience’s experience during the show, which is so important when creating a world that has lived in the imaginations of millions of readers around the world.


Tara Nicole Williams

For this story, we stay mainly within European weaponry: swords and shields, knives and daggers, bows and arrows. Patrick felt it was incredibly important that Aslan's followers and the Witch’s followers use different kinds of weapons, even down to the material used to make them.


Maryjayne Scranton

We use metal weapons--you have to be very careful with them, though. I have learned a lot about the proper way to fall and how to avoid making contact between two weapons.


Patrick Torres

Jenny Mitchell, the Costume Designer, and I wanted the costumes to suggest the creatures, but the actors must manipulate their bodies to become animals, contributing to the theatricality of the production.


Justin Scranton

I play Aslan as a man with a Lion's soul. But not a tame one; he is loving but ferocious. My portrayal is mainly human, but I am adding more Lion all the time. I watched a lot of videos of Lions roaring and pacing and try to mimic them. The voice is deep and powerful. I think of it like Jedi master Qui-Gin Jinn. With the accent, it has taken a lot of work to get the voice where I want it.


Tara Nicole Williams

It was important, especially for a character like Fenris Ulf, that the animal be part of the actors’ physicality. I pulled from the hunting style of wolves to inform how Fenris would attack. A lot of the actors came in with great ideas so much of it was building on top of their work.


Jacob Sen

There is definitely a change in Peter after his fight with Fenris Ulf [Devon Ingham], which is something I am trying to capture: this coming of age moment. I want the audience to be able to follow his transition from a boy teasing his little brother to leader of the forces of Aslan. Learning a British dialect has been a challenge and something quite different. 


Miles Wiedmann

Edmund is such an amazing role because it’s not immediately obvious to the audience whose side he’s going to be on. I have to make sure the audience can see everything thought and emotion, even when I’m not saying anything.


Maryjayne Scranton

Strong female characters are important in this story. When I read the book for the first time years ago it made me feel important. 


Aura Pugeda

Lucy is a very curious girl. She's always up for adventure. I hope girls who come to the play remember to always be brave, be adventurous and daring. Don't let anything or anyone at all stop you from whatever adventure or dream you want to pursue.


Seamus Scranton

Having girls in lead roles creates a balance. This story wouldn’t be the same without that. But our ensemble characters have no gender. It is whatever you make it out to be.


Tara Nicole Williams

Since the play heavily favors traditional gender roles for Susan and Lucy, I wanted to make sure that Taylor [Gantt] and Aura [Pugeda] had important moments in the battle.


Aura Pugeda

I'm not scripted for any fights, but I do heal the others. A challenge is how we're going to make it all look real.

 

Jacob Sen

C.S. Lewis tries to show everyone has an important role to play, whether male of female. While Lucy may not be the one slaying the enemy on the battlefield; her compassion and heart is the very reason that the four of them don’t immediately leave Narnia. Thanks to her, they end up saving it. 


Patrick Torres

I hope Narnia fans are reminded of the story’s power and reconnect to it. I hope those who have never read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe get excited by the story and pick the book up to spend more time in Lewis’s world. I hope this show is a reminder that there is a great need for courage, forgiveness, sacrifice, and community in any fight for justice.

About the Show

Raleigh Little Theatre

Cantey V. Sutton Theatre

301 Pogue St, Raleigh, NC 27607

October 18 - November 4, 2018*


*Performances Added: Nov 1- 4


75 minutes / No intermission.


SCHEDULE

  • Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30pm
  • Saturdays at 1:00pm & 5:00pm
  • Sundays at 1:00pm & 5:00pm

SPECIAL EVENTS

  • Post-Show Discussion on October 20th with Rev. Sharon Taylor.
  • Milk & Cookies night on October 25th.
  • The Sunday, October 28 performance at 5pm will be audio described.
  • Sensory-Friendly Encore Performance on November 3rd.*

TICKETS

  • Adults: $18
  • Children (12 and under): $12

THE AUTHORS

Dramatized by Joseph Robinette
Story by C.S. Lewis


THE CAST

ASLAN: Justin Scranton

WHITE WITCH: Heather J. Strickland

LUCY: Aura Pugeda

EDMUND: Miles Wiedmann

SUSAN: Taylor Gantt

PETER: Jacob Sen

MR. BEAVER: Matthew Hurley

MRS. BEAVER: Freya Helmer-Sindemark

UNICORN: Zoe Wright

CENTAUR: Christopher McBennett

TUMNUS: Gus Allen

FENRIS ULF: Devon Ingham

DWARF: Christopher Jordan

FATHER CHRISTMAS: Wayne Burtoft

ELF/WHITE STAG: Addison Wells

WITCH'S ARMY & WOOD NYMPHS: 

Sam Davis

Sara Frantz

Jessica Jordan 

Maryjayne Scranton

Seamus Scranton 

Noah Zimmermann


THE CREATIVE TEAM

Director: Patrick Torres

Scenic Designer: Miyuki Su

Costume Designer: Jenny Mitchell

Lighting Designer: Darby Madewell

Sound Designer: Jon Maruca


ACCESSIBILITY

  • All performances are wheelchair accessible.
  • Assistive listening devices are available for all performances.
  • Audio description for those with visual disabilities (October 25 at 5:00 PM)

*Sensory-friendly performances are designed especially for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, sensory sensitivities, or other disabilities.
Sensory-friendly seating is general admission allowing individuals extra space if needed.

Click here for more details and pre-visit materials.

To provide a supportive and welcoming environment for children and families, sensory-friendly performances include:

  • Reduction of loud or jarring sounds
  • Reductions in flashing or strobe lights
  • Modification of the house lights during the performance
  • Accommodated house rules: audience members are free to talk or move during the show
  • Extra staff and volunteer support.
  • Designated “Take a Break Space”


Purchase tickets

Coming Soon: Frankenstein from NT Live

Live Broadcast (Encore) from the London's National Theatre

by Dustin K. Britt

October 11, 2018


Monday, October 22 at 7:00 PM and

Monday, October 29 at 7:00 PM


Fifty-five years ago this month, Peter O’Toole stepped onto the stage of London’s National Theatre as Hamlet. The National stages more than twenty new productions every year, playing 1,000 performances to over 600,000 London theatregoers.


For most in North America, traversing the pond to the U.K. for theatre is not a realistic option--no matter how exciting a new National Theatre production might be. Luckily, inspired by the Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcast initiative, the National began broadcasting many of their shows live to cinemas across Europe and North America under the Fathom Events banner.


Most U.S./Canada broadcasts are almost live (time zone constraints make delays necessary), but shows are always taped live, and edited in real-time. Encore broadcasts can occur weeks to years later for popular productions. Since February 2017, NT Live had reached more than 6.5 million viewers around the globe. Between 8 and 12 of their annual productions will reach cinema audiences. 


In March 2011 NT Live broadcast Nick Dear’s daring adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein for the world, followed by years of encore screenings. A handful of triangle cinemas are broadcasting the 2018 encores later this October, just in time to add this to your Halloween viewing list.


Why a double showing? This production makes use of a growing trend in popular theatre casting for productions with two major leads: The Role Switch. 


Benedict Cumberbatch will play the Creature on October 22 and Dr. Victor Frankenstein on the 29th.


Jonny Lee Miller will play Dr. Victor Frankenstein on October 22 and the Creature on the 29th.


The two roles are so juicy that any actor would love to tackle both and this duo shared multiple awards for their performances. It also doesn’t hurt the National Theatre to sell you two tickets. Both actors are best known for performances of Sherlock Holmes: Cumberbatch on Sherlock and Miller on Elementary. In addition to those fanbases, lovers of Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange and The Hobbit are likely to line up for Frankenstein and Jonny Lee Miller will draw fans of Dexter, Emma, and Eli Stone


The play’s director is also noteworthy: this terrifying adaptation is directed by Academy Award-winner Danny Boyle, known for his fast-paced and frenetic style (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and 127 Hours). The industrial musical score--provided by Welsh electronic duo Underworld--has been praised as a thrilling and integral element, as has Bruno Poet’s award-winning filament light bulb installation.


The National Theatre still has no immediate plans to make tapings available for home viewing. While the embargo limits the audience reach, the exclusivity of the screenings mimics the communal, formal, and unpredictable experience of attending the theatre. 

The 2 hour, 20 minute play, supported by behind-the-scenes and interview footage (so get there early), is definitely recommended for an adult audience. The National says to treat this as you would an R-rated film.


Chatham Life and Style performing arts editor Dustin K. Britt will attend the October 22 screening at the Silverspot Cinema in Chapel Hill, NC to enjoy their in-seat dining and review the screening. Come join Dustin and say hi!! 


https://www.silverspot.net


http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/ntlin4-frankenstein


Triangle Showtimes:


Monday, October 22 at 7:00 PM

Cumberbatch as The Creature

Miller as Victor Frankenstein 


  • Silverspot Cinema - Chapel Hill, NC
  • Regal Crossroads Stadium 20 - Cary, NC
  • Regal Briar Creek Stadium 14 - Raleigh, NC
  • Regal North Hills Stadium 14 - Raleigh, NC


Monday, October 29 at 7:00 PM 

Miller as The Creature

Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein


  • Regal Crossroads Stadium 20 - Cary, NC
  • Regal Briar Creek Stadium 14 - Raleigh, NC
  • Regal North Hills Stadium 14 - Raleigh, NC

The Revolutionists ★★★★★

Raleigh Little Theatre

Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre

RALEIGH, NC

September 27 - October 14


by Dustin K. Britt

October 8, 2018


RATING: 5 stars (out of 5)


In The Revolutionists, playwright Lauren Gunderson has packed four sturdy muskets with red hot bullets of rage and handed them, one by one, to each of a quartet of revolutionaries. These rebels are French. These rebels are women. And these rebels are really fucking over it. Bang bang. 


A satirist, an assassin, a political prisoner, and a Haitian revolutionary stand before us, submitting to the historical record personal narratives of oppression, of triumph, and--most importantly--of how they pushed back.  With minds and wits as sharp as guillotine blades, these four combatants in period garb (designed with terrific flare by Vicki Olson), divulge and reenact their sacrifices while commenting on the play itself and worrying over how their history will be written. If at all. And by whom.


Gunderson’s 2015 tragicomic satire asks far more questions than it could ever answer, demanding that the audience lean forward and listen up. Joncie Sarratt’s surreal set, graced by Chelsey Winstead’s props, drops us into the warmth and comfort of an 18th century French estate while the revolution’s infamous instrument of execution stands menacingly nearby, watching and waiting. Kaitlin Gill Rider’s sharp lighting design transforms the static set into an ever-changing dreamscape while John Maruca’s precise and overwhelming sound design makes director Amy White’s perfectly jarring transitions all the more ghostly. 


Under White’s daring direction, an awe-inspiring ensemble of women pick up the sardonic, metatheatrical text and slap you right in the face with it. An audacious Lu Meeks ably channels both the mania and trepidation in the role of playwright and activist Olympe de Gouges.


A brutally honest Tiffany Lewis is the play’s most sympathetic rebel: fictional, ferocious Haitian femme de revolucion Marianne Angelle. Her bold interactions underline the manner in which modern feminism co-opts or excludes the voices of women of color. 


An uninhibited Liz Webb is the play’s darkest and most playful militant, the infamous radical Charlotte Corday, whose bathtime slaying of journalist Jean-Paul Marat is the stuff of legends. This is the most complex and shocking performance I have seen from Webb thus far.

 

A committed Melanie Simmons is a seemingly vacuous Marie Antoinette, who eventually reveals herself to be an indomitable mutineer, though Gunderson does not overlook the queen’s flaws. Much of Gunderson’s incisive observations come from this character’s mouth.


Amid the capitalist tyranny of 2018 America, the bits of anti-aristocracy satire are just too damn true to be funny, but the play’s discourse on gender and race pack a wallop. In turn, each traumatized, angry, determined woman stands before a guillotine and bears witness. Perhaps the words of her testimony will be carved into the marble columns that support our sacred political and educational institutions. 


But what if her truths are not so self-evident? Can a woman in the 18th century truly speak to a 21st century audience? Women have never controlled the narrative, much less women sentenced to death by their own government. These womens’ statements are not being broadcast live across the nation for all to see, hear, analyze, and judge. There is no senate committee to submit to. Each of these characters’ testimonies might fall from her lips and onto the dusty boards of the gallows; forgotten if not entirely unheard. And if somehow her words make it onto some small piece parchment? A man holds the pen that contains the ink of a woman’s life story.


Gunderson, via the character Olympe, says The Revolutionists is about grace and power in the face of terror. Considering the recent misogynistic political offenses against humanity, decency, and integrity, this play’s relevance cannot be understated. Its content is impossibly up-to-the-minute. One can imagine Gunderson backstage, frantically pounding out the play on a typewriter in real time, handing off each page to the actors as the world becomes ready to hear these long-awaited words. 


Photo by Gus Samarco.

Info & Tickets

Curve of Departure ★★★★1/2

Bulldog Ensemble Theater

Durham Fruit & Produce Company

DURHAM, NC

September 27 - October 14


by Dustin K. Britt

October 6, 2018


RATING: 4.5 stars (out of 5)


Two premieres are exploding at The Fruit right now: the brand-new Bulldog Ensemble Theatre and its inaugural production, the Triangle’s first view of Rachel Bonds' 2016 play Curve of Departure.


Departure in the sense of an exit, yes. A journey forward. But in the sciences, the departure curve measures how much environmental factors cause ideal behavior to veer off course. And in only 80 minutes, Bond’s quartet of damaged but determined travelers are pushed off course by any number of life’s disruptions. Each is soon departing for a destination unknown and has about 12 hours in a crowded hotel room to prepare their emotional baggage for the journey.


Director Thaddaeus Edwards does great honor to Bonds’s text, breathing tremendous life into a brief, compact, and seemingly straightforward play. He carefully navigates the emotional ebb and flow of the piece, never letting his audience off the rapidly sharpening hook. Obviously an actors’ director, Edwards has kindled some powerful flames from the small company. There are only a handful of moments when some “acting” is easily detectable.

 

An unwavering Phyllis Morrison holds the play--and its cast--together as the devoted Linda while John Murphy delivers one of the the year’s most explosive, nuanced, and penetrating performances in the Triangle as Linda’s rapidly declining father-in-law Rudy. Marcus Zollicoffer is sturdy but sensitive as Linda’s unsettled son Felix. As much as Felix has a hard shell with a soft underbelly, his boyfriend Jackson is the reverse. A delicate Luar Mercado Lopez shows an outwardly brittle young man whose inward courage gradually emerges. 


Michelle Gonzalez-Green’s hotel room set, built by Jonathan Varillas, is simple but believable, while Lakeisha Coffey’s carefully-considered costumes hint at characters’ personalities. Christa Giammattei presents a handful of subtle and intriguing sound effects, aided--as many shows at The Fruit are--by passing Durham trains. Coincidentally, this actually support the play’s theme of departing from what is expected.


Lighting designer Steve Tell provides a restorative and believable sunrise, but some unlit patches in the hotel room occasionally leave our actors in the dark. All production elements fuse together under Cheryl Edson’s stage management.


Bonds’s catharsis is not quite impacting enough, leaving a slightly frayed edge at the end of a taut rope, but the play leaves a satisfyingly bittersweet taste in the mouth.


Bulldog’s first production comes with high community interest and even higher theatrical expectations. With a stellar first showing and a varied and intriguing season selection, Bulldog Ensemble Theater has certainly proven itself highly worthy of our continued patronage.  


Photo by Tim Walter.

Info & Tickets

Looking for More?

Visit the Performing Arts Archives

click here

Meet the Editor

Dustin K. Britt

Photograph of editor Dustin K. Britt. Smiling at the camera with glasses and short blond hair.

Dustin K. Britt, a North Carolina native, is a performer, theatre instructor and freelance writer. He has worked in the theatre for more than 20 years and holds a Master of Arts in Education from East Carolina University. Dustin covers concerts, dance, comedy, and theatre in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Cary, Raleigh, Durham, Pittsboro, and Apex. His writing has appeared in IndyWeek, Carolina Parent Magazine, Pedal Fuzz, and Triangle Arts & Entertainment.  You can find him on Twitter or Instagram @dkbritt85

Visit Dustin on Facebook