I didn't go to church much when I was a child. My house was more of a spiritual place than a religious one. My father tended to always be in search of the "right fit" but never seemed to have found it. So when watching the musical Godspell, I had to lean on my husband, whose biblical indoctrination and church-filled childhood was just the opposite of mine. He knew exactly what was happening as soon as the first player ran onto the stage with a cell phone. After all, there were no cell phones to speak of during that time. Others soon followed with their phones in hand, babbling into them non-stop until the sounds became a noisy mess. That, explained hubby, was a gang of historic philosophers giving their interpretation of life. As they argued, the philosophers eventually turned into participants at the ancient Tower of Babel. Get it? Babbling...Babel?
In between scripture lessons taught by Jesus the cast frequently breaks out into song and dance and adds several modern-day references for good measure. For example, the story of Lazarus and the rich man was cranked out by the talented Stacey Kay, who played the always-entertaining, master of the comb-over, Donald Trump. With curled pouty lips and slicked hair, the Canadian squinted her eyes and mouthed words like the best New Yorker I've heard in quite some time.
Every single cast member owns an unbelievable set of pipes and the audience certainly appreciated the talent. Even a guitarist offered his lungs, not just his fingers, to a few numbers. During most of the performance, however, I felt as though I had walked into a Sunday school class complete with toddlers and elementary-aged children whose parents quickly dropped them off after pumping them with sugar.
The set, though minimal, was effective. A replica of a stained-glass window overlooked the stage as well as a small pool for catching rainwater and baptisms.
One of the most memorable moments of the show was when Janelle Murray scampered down the stairs, ran into the aisle and attempted to pull me onstage to play a Bible-inspired Pictionary. Being the shy introverted person that I am, I nudged my husband instead, and like a good husband, he obliged. Unfortunately after his 10 seconds of fame, we were both confused about the purpose of the game since the hint he was given to illustrate was not the right answer the cast guessed. A day later, I'm still perplexed.
To fully enjoy this production one would have had to learned their lessons well and completely understand all scriptures, references, and parables from the good book. If you haven't done your homework, turn back, o man and prepare ye. Review by Dawn Cauthen
Dawn Cauthen is a freelance writer in the Charlotte area currently working on a screenplay, a novel, and many freelance articles. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Writing for Stage and Screen from Queens University of Charlotte. Her work has appeared in Uptown Magazine. Dawn enjoys reviewing theater productions, movies, and loves most things artistic.
The Aliens is a delicate and sometimes beautiful little play. Jasper and KJ are two disillusioned losers that have established a beach head of sorts in the back alley of a Vermont coffeehouse. There, they shore each other up with desultory talk about poetry, music, lost love, and unwritten masterpieces. Their hangdog reverie is interrupted by Evan, the newly hired busboy/barista who half-heartedly tries to get them to move along. Jasper and KJ don't feature that as a possibility, and Evan, through his loneliness, becomes the underachievers' protégé.
PaperHouse Theatre departs from its usual fare with this production. The company, which has been around for a little more than a year, has produced broad comedies heretofore, and this is not that. The Aliens has been compared to works by Beckett and Chekov, and those comparisons are not misplaced. Long silences are dictated by the author, and that puts pressure on the actors and director to decide just how long the quiet can be maintained and the audience remain engaged. The script walks a very fine line: like the characters in the play, will the potential that is there be realized?
Director Nicia Carla has done a fine job in casting her show. Matt Cosper and Grant Watkins, as Jasper and KJ, are a perfect pair of poseurs. Cosper plays Jasper with an air of quiet exasperation, and Watkins is convincing as a slightly psycho KJ. Michael Julliard's Evan is their foil; the only character whose promise has not yet been squandered.
Charles Bukowski's poem "The Aliens" is both the source of the play's title and one of the possible names of the once and future band that Jasper and KJ will never quite form. Bukowski writes, "... there are people who go through life...and often feel very good...I am not even near to being one of them but they are there and I am here." Jasper and KJ may be stuck, but Evan might just make it out.
Caroline Bower's costuming denotes a thrift store style that's spot on, and Patrick Hayes' set is just enough to define the trashy dead-end locale. Lighting by Barbara Berry.
For more information about this production and the company, please visit PaperHouse Theatre .....here Review by Lydia Arnold
Lydia Arnold is pleased to be a contributor to ARTS à la Mode. Her heart has always been with the arts, particularly theatre and the artists that make it happen. Writing about theatre, any particular production, is always in service to the art form, and she hopes her "take" encourages more people to take a deeper look, put an emphasis on the performing arts.
Only at CAST would you see a yoga class in a side room on the way to a lecture about not going to yoga classand after a lobby experience of Christmas ornaments mixed with Hindu-Buddhist sculpture and Islamic geometric designs. This new play also offers jarring juxtapositions of monologues, ashram music and meditations, shadow puppetry, and movie set chit chat.
There is not much direct conflict between the characters. But in lecturing to the audience, Lila (Cody Harding, a former student of mine at UNC Charlotte, who sat through some of my lectures) does share her inner conflicts about growing up on an ashram with her mom, from age 8 to 20. It was the best time of her life, but now she's afraid to show the few photo slides from her memories because of copyright issues. She eventually came to doubt the truth of her spiritual experiences, so she's seeking it now from the theatre audience by lecturing about yogaor why she doesn't want to go "with you."
The "you" here might be her deceased mother or another part of Lila herself. But then she does go back in time, or in a dream, to the ashram, where Savita (Lillie Oden) lectures and invites the theatre audience to join her pupils on the pillows onstage. Still, there's not much dramatic conflict, but great friendliness and some humor. The best part of the show comes with shadow puppetry and an ancient Hindu story of how Ganesh, son of Siva and Parvati, got his elephant head. For some reason, this inspires the ashram women to "keep fighting" like a boy or an elephantor maybe this is a joke, or a sad reflection of Lila's mother's belief that her cancer was just an attitude problem.
There are also wonderful saris on the women, with beautiful music from an Indian accordion, drum, tambourine, and chanting. And the final scene becomes even more dreamlike, yet disruptively ironic, with Julia Roberts (Rachel Stroud) on the set of the 2010 movie, Eat, Pray, Love, becoming a guru to Lila.
But if you're not a fan of the movie, or its original book, or of yoga, or of lectures critiquing yoga, then this play may be tough to engage withunless you are willing to wait for mythic shadows and a famous actress, or you go with someone you love who loves female monologues about trying to find yourself in fragile memories and peaceful chants. Review by Mark Pizzato
Mark Pizzato is Professor of Theatre at UNC Charlotte and author of Ghosts of Theatre and Cinema in the Brain, Theatres of Human Sacrifice, and Inner Theatres of Good and Evil. His plays have been published by Aran Press and his screenplays, produced as short films, have won New York Film Festival and Minnesota Community Television awards. He blogs at mpizzato.wordpress.com .....here
Ah, for the innocence of childhood. This charming production at Children's Theatre of Charlotte evokes memories of a simple guileless past, and the hope and faith children have for the future as a welcoming place. It's also a reminder that the holidays still engender our fondest (often desperate) wish that it brings out our best behavior that we sort of, kind of, forget to remember during the rest of the year.
There is no more powerful metaphor of the holiday spirit than Santa Claus, Kris Kringle here, played to perfection by Dennis Delamar. Having been a teacher for many years, it seems genuine and natural when child actors in the cast hug him. The main premise of the play is that no one believes Kris is the real Santa, including a girl named Susan (Emily Bowers, a young actress to watch), whose mother Doris Walker (an appealing Susan Sanford) works at the flagship Macy's on 34th Street in New York City. Dr. Pierce (the always reliable Sidney Horton), is his doctor and a friend to Kris, but also becomes his ally in providing proof later in the show.
The ensemble of actors, both adults and students, are top notch including Steven Ivey, Ron McClelland, Darlene Parker, Mark Sutton, and Susan Roberts Knowlson adding her lovely voice to the a cappella Christmas songs. One of the little elves even provides some ballet dancing and gymnastic moves.
Director Adam Burke gathers a fine cast, and nifty technical featuresa decided strength of Children's Theatre. Other stars of the show include an inventive set with movable parts by Dee Blackburn; bright, coordinated 1940's style costumes by Connie Furr; clever props by Peter Smeal; lively scenic art by Tim Parati; sound by Michael Smith (neither too loud nor soft); lighting by Timothy Hart (nicely balancing light/shadows); choreography by Jenny Male; and of course, the musical direction of Drina Keen.
Miracle on 34th Street is a cheery show the whole family will find delightful. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Ann Marie Oliva is co-founder and film/theatre review editor of ARTS à la Mode. Vive les arts.