Reviews and Features

Almost, Maine ★★★

Chatham Community Players

Sweet Bee Theater, Pittsboro Center for the Arts


November 3 - 11

by Dustin K. Britt

November 8, 2018

RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)

The paint is still drying on Chatham Community Players, developed as a grown-up extension of Pittsboro Youth Theatre. After their inaugural Steel Magnolias, which boasts a cast of six, artistic director Tammy Matthews has more than doubled the size with a 15-member interpretation of John Cariani’s well-worn Almost, Maine. Intended for a cast of four, Matthews has taken the opportunity to find some hidden talent in the Chatham county area, though some of the company are finding their footing.

Technical director Craig Witter employs small set pieces that maximize the already limited playing space. The lighting available is almost nil, but he manages to effectively indicate northern lights, though time and setting are not--or cannot be--manipulated. Deborah Sparma keeps things moving well, considering the need for cast to hide hither and yon throughout the space--wing space at a premium in the miniscule theatre. Only a few hiccups interrupt the proceedings. Smartly, director Tammy Matthews exploits the center aisle as a playing space.

Hilary Hall kicks off the play with a funny, focused performance during the prologue. An enthusiastic Larry Hazelwood is still very green and hopefully this production will help him get out of his head, loosen up his body, and find value in stillness (more a directorial flaw than anything). Mary Laga is bursting with energy in “Her Heart,” but is forced to sit for much of the scene, stifling her obvious inclination to move. Her counterpart, Ron Coley, is sympathetic but overly timid. Paula Marinis sells Sandrine’s silent frustration in “Sad & Glad,” though Kevin Smith is more awkward than his character, Jimmy, should be.

The show, which improves over the course of the evening, hits its stride with “This Hurts.” A passionate, unselfconscious Arin Dickson contrasts perfectly with a nuanced and controlled Porter Humbert, while the duo do their damnedest to sell the awkwardly-choreographed “injuries.” A stormy Seema Kukreja stands out and--in duet with the subtle E.W. Quimbaya-Winship--ably manages the emotional dynamics of “Getting it Back.”

John Cariani’s somewhat updated text is still extremely problematic--male characters continuing to fling themselves at women for half the show--but the gender flip of “They Fell” proves beneficial and decreases the homophobia factor. Whereas the Straight Bros Fall in Love theme has always been played for laughs, a subtler Two Women Discover a New Bond plot is sincere and impacting thanks to Michelle Gagliano’s and Niki Lowrey’s honest and vulnerable rendering. 

In “Where it Went,” Mary Laga and Ron Coley connect with greater chemistry and ardor than in their earlier scene.  As usual, Cariani’s hokey, forced ending proves unsalvageable. Understated duo Kathi Parker and Sam White keep “Story of Hope” honest, but Parker lacks Hope’s requisite anxiety. White’s hat obscures his face from the audience throughout, making this one of the finest live radio performances I’ve heard. Kevin Smith improves notably, connecting better with “Seeing the Thing.” Stephanie Arndt’s infectious exuberance holds the repetitive scene aloft and helps to enliven Smith. Hers is a detailed and fearless interpretation of Cariani’s most perplexing Almost, Maine role.

As far as acting is concerned, the artistic soil in Pittsboro is richer than anticipated. The youth theatre should be used as a training ground, bringing well-nurtured artists into teen roles. Opportunities for adult acting training could make an impact, cultivating a new crop of useful local actors. But the Sweet Bee Theatre, home of the Pittsboro Youth Theatre, is a garden too restricting to allow growth. If Matthews can locate--and afford--a more suitable performance space, Chatham Community Players’ work could be of great value to Pittsboro’s theatrically barren soil. I am curious to see what they come up with next.


The Flick ★★★★★

Bartlett Theater

Northgate Stadium 10 at Northgate Mall


November 2 - 11

by Dustin K. Britt

November 5, 2018

RATING: 5 stars (out of 5)

Site-specific theatre is a term often misapplied to environmental, immersive, and promenade productions. It doesn’t just mean “outside of a theatre.” Venue and play must be hand-in-glove. Jonathan Bohun Brady’s gutsty staging of Annie Baker’s Pulitzer winner The Flick proves a model for what “site-specific” can and should mean. A play set in a cinema and staged in a cinema? Yes. This.

In Baker’s reversed universe, the audience sits with its back against the silver screen, watching the daily goings-on of a small theater's staff. You know those people with brooms that we all sprint past on our way to the car? They are people. With lives. Who knew?

Annie Baker’s characters are not here to present a story. The fourth wall is made of titanium.

Fans of Baker (Circle Mirror Transformation, The Aliens, John) value her naturalistic style: trademark pauses between lines (frequent and lengthy) that mimic the rhythms of common conversation. People talk intermittently, change thoughts midstream, and continue living through prolonged periods of silence. And we are there with them. 

Most are not accustomed these rhythms on stage. Most don’t have the attention span to simply sit and observe life. A three-hour play with little “plot” is quite the paradigm shift. And two or three of these moment bypass tedium and take us all the way to frustration, as Baker does not always earn her pauses. Sometimes we do need something to consider as we observe. But, of course, that is not the way life works. And, frankly, we could all learn a little patience. 

Director Brady has embraced Baker’s microscopic viewpoint which borders on voyeuristic. When you zoom in this far, everything is magnified. Every sideways glance is a punch to the face, every word is a soliloquy, and every emotional outburst could topple mountains.

Emerging artist Vincent Bland Jr., as anxious newbie Avery, settles into Baker’s rhythms and keeps things at an almost imperceptible simmer. It is easy to become self conscious with this naturalistic style, especially when alone on stage for such a long time, but Bland is fearless and proves himself a mature, controlled actor. 

Jim Roof mines every ounce of nuance he can find in testy employee trainer Sam. While his performance may be a tad exaggerated for the play’s style, his range and attention to emotional detail is impeccable, making him fascinating to watch. Chloe Oliver is comfortable in the skin of angsty projectionist Rose and--thanks to Brady’s astute staging--uses the distance between characters to inform each moment. 

Ford Nelson makes an impact in the play’s thankless dual roles of The Dreaming Man and new hire Skylar, who appears with a burst of energy that contrasts superbly with his co-workers. If only his Massachusetts accent were as consistent as his brusk physicality. 

Inventive designer Stevan Dupor makes striking use of the cinema’s existing lights, sound system, and projector--incorporating Jesse Presler’s enigmatic film segments. Stage manager Jessica Flemming keeps Baker’s oddly-placed cues on target, while Emily Rieder’s dramaturgical notes provide valuable background on the film-to-digital movement of the early 2010’s. 

Brady has put it all on the line. He is going to alienate some of his audience and he knows that. In the case of The Flick, the gamble pays off, and Baker could not have asked for a production of greater worth.

In Baker’s theatre, a buyout of one-screen cinema The Flick looms overhead. In Bartlett’s actual venue--The Northgate Stadium 10--foresees a similar fate.

In recent months there has been much excitement in the independent theatre community--particularly among smaller, itinerant companies that can no longer set up shop in the now-gone Common Ground or afford the costs of most rentable facilities--that Northgate Stadium 10 may become a rental space for rehearsals, storage, and performances.

But The Herald Sun reported in October that Northwood Investors swooped down from New York and scooped up Northgate Mall’s almost $62 million in debt. After four months, Northwood Investors cried Default on the mall and plans to foreclose on December 14. Northgate Mall--and its Cinema--will be sold off.  Luckily for Bartlett Theater, its occupation of Cinema #6 space was always scheduled to end on November 11 after a two-weekend run.

Unless there is a Thanksgiving gift from some generous patron or fund, or the new owners are willing to make a home for local theatre, Northgate’s future as a live theatre venue sits on shaky ground.


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Meet the Staff

Dustin K. Britt, Managing Editor

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

Rachel & Emory Kasten, Writers

Rachel Kasten, a North Carolina resident, believes that access to live theatre strengthens communities. She is happy to be back home in Raleigh after a whirlwind decade of living and performing in Ohio, Florida, and British Columbia. She was a professional background actor for 7 months in Vancouver and thinks it’s an experience everyone should have, but only once, and not in the snow. Although she has been frequently typecast as a witch or wicked stepmother (Cinderella, Macbeth, Into the Woods, Shrek...seriously, a lot of witches), she actually thinks she’s an okay mom. Most recently, Rachel discovered that she enjoys producing even more than being on stage, when she produced These Shining Lives for the Women’s Theatre Festival. Outside of theatre, she serves as a Graduate Program Coordinator at N.C. State and is an active participant in dismantling white supremacy. Rachel is looking forward to sharing something she loves with the person she loves the most.

Emory Kasten, Rachel's son, is 6 years old and in 1st grade. He loves musicals because they have singing and dancing, which are two of his favorite things. He takes jazz and tumbling at Triangle Academy of Dance so that he can perform in Newsies someday. Emory is also a proud Cub Scout. His favorite show is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat because it’s weird, colorful, and silly, like him. Emory wants to see more plays because sometimes they’re really funny.
P.S. He wants everyone to know that his favorite animal is the red fox.