Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Distinguished Louisville Actors Reunite in Jordan Harrison’s "Futura"

Review by Rachel White.

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Rachel White. All rights reserved.

Tad Chitwood and Laurene Scalf in rehearsal for
Jordan Harrison's Futura. Photo courtesy of Theatre [502].
When Amy Attaway moved back to Louisville from New York, she didn’t think she would stay. She wasn’t sure she could be a real artist in Louisville or that there were people she wanted to work with. Then she auditioned for the Necessary Theatre, a company dedicated to rarely performed plays, and her feelings changed. She met Necessary’s artistic director, Tad Chitwood; she met actress Laurene Scalf; she soon met young artists like herself – Gil Reyes and Mike Brooks – artists she would soon see as artistic collaborators, mentors and friends. Two years later, Amy found herself directing Tad and Laurene in Impossible Marriage. She began to see herself as a director. 

“It was the beginning of so many things,” Amy said. “Necessary gave me and Gil and Mike some of our first really important artistic experiences after we moved back to Louisville and helped us launch into the local theater scene in a really meaningful way.” 

Now, seven years after Impossible Marriage, Tad, Laurene and Amy are working together once again, this time for Amy’s company, Theatre [502]; and the relationship seems to have come full circle. They are working on Jordan Harrison’s Futura, a thriller about a dystopian future in which books and paper have been banned and two typographers are trying to save the world. It is a play that speaks deeply to the mission of [502] and to all of the artists involved because it is about passion and teaching.

“I love this play,” Amy says. “I think it’s brilliant, so timely, so smart and I think it addresses issues that I find personally really moving. It has a finger on the pulse of the whole zeitgeist right now.” That zeitgeist, according to Amy, is the advance of the digital age, the age of Nooks, Kindles and iPhones. When Amy read it, she immediately responded to its ideas and thought of Tad and Laurene.

“I thought, if I’m going to do the play, I have to have Laurene, and I have to have Tad. When I read this play, I heard their voices in my head.” 

Tad and Laurene were equally taken by the play, its courage at addressing the big ideas and the way that it directly engages the issues of the digital age that we are facing now.

“We’re moving into an age where books, actual physical books, are becoming quaint,” says Tad. “The transition from oral to written communication was traumatic and ultimately great. Are we creating super literacy or super illiteracy?”

I sensed when talking to Tad, Laurene and Amy that there is an anxiety about this kind of change, and it is an anxiety especially potent for theater artists, who depend on passion and love of language for their livelihood and for the future of their art.  However, they are happy to go through the process together. The play is not an easy one with its unusual form and subject matter, but they have developed a deep trust. This trust allows them to push new boundaries and keeps them honest.

“I know their tricks,” Amy says. And they know hers.

In many ways, Tad and Laurene are passing the theater torch on to the next generation of artists – artists like Amy. The mission of Necessary flows on in the company like Theatre [502]. Like the typographers in the play, they hold strong to their passion, a passion for an art form whose future always seems so precarious. 

As Amy says, “The play is about time and it’s what you pass along to the younger generation. To be working on that idea with Tad and Laurene is pretty exciting. Also, they really get to fight – really smart intellectual fight – which is really fun to watch.”


by Jordan Harrison
directed by Amy Attaway

June 1-9, 2012

Theatre [502]
Victor Jory Theatre at
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ten Years of Searching for Fertile Ground: An Interview with Looking for Lilith Artistic Director Shannon Wooley

Shannon Wooley (foreground) in Fabric, Flames, and Fervor: 
Girls of the Triangle. Photo by Michael Taggart.
By Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
This week Looking for Lilith celebrates their 10th Anniversary with two programs performing in repertory at The Bard’s Town:  10 Years: 7 Stories collects segments from the seven original productions that have been developed throughout the company’s history; while Becoming Mothers seeks to add to that number with a staged reading of a new play about motherhood.
The company’s mission draws inspiration from the rabbinical myth of Lilith, the first woman created by God and given equal importance to Adam. According to the myth, she was eventually replaced by Eve, a new partner created for Adam and intended to be deliberately subservient. As stated in the company’s mission statement: “Lilith's story represents to us an instance where a strong woman's voice was quieted, and her story lost.” In creating theatre that uncovers history largely forgotten, Looking for Lilith brings forward women’s stories that have been lost, just as Lilith was lost and rediscovered.
Recently we spoke with co-founder and current Artistic Director Shannon Wooley about the company’s origins, its commitment to education, and the creative process behind the unique Lilith vision.
Arts-Louisville: How was Looking for Lilith started? What was the original inspiration?
Shannon Wooley: A vision from God in the middle of the night – I know that makes me sound a little bit like a lunatic, but I’m telling you, that’s how it happened. I got my B.F..A from Southern Methodist University, which has a really cool theatre department, a conservatory program for two years – very intense work, a lot of freedom given to the students. While I was there I was a part of a project called 1968: Vietnam, which was interviews with women about their experiences with the Vietnam war: military women, Vietnamese women. Then we took the interviews and turned them into a performance piece. It was the most amazing piece of theatre I had ever worked on. Then I graduated and went out into the world and found that there really weren’t projects like that to get involved in. That had been “university,” but now I was out in the real world, with my resume and head shot – this was in Chicago. Then I was invited to join a repertory theatre in Denver called Horse Chart Theatre, which was all men. I was the only woman in the theatre, and we did a lot of David Mamet, and I was pretty unhappy. So I literally woke up in the middle of the night remembering the 1968: Vietnam project and voice saying to me, “Why aren’t you doing that? You could be doing that all the time!” So I called my dear friend Trina, who was living in Chile at the time on a Fulbright scholarship, and I told her I had this idea: I want to start this collective of women artists and we are going to create original theatre based on interviews with women. We are going to choose periods in history and interview from all perspectives and we are going to do devising and then we are going to make them into plays. We moved to New York, because I didn’t really know how to do this thing that I wanted to do. There was a great program at NYU – a master's in educational theatre which differs from theatre education – which is about teaching theatre in that it is about devising theatre that educates. While working on that master's I met Jennifer Thalman Kepler; and after graduating, Trina, Jennifer and I signed the incorporation papers for Looking for Lilith. We created our first play within a year.
A-L: The company was founded in New York City. When and why did you move to Louisville?
SW: I think it was important that we began in New York and learned to create and promote theatre where things are more…stringent. But New York is glutted with theatre. Not only were we one of thousands of theatre companies, but we were one of hundreds of women’s theatre companies. Every show we would create there we would tour to Louisville and play to packed houses and people were thrilled to see original work like this. Whereas in New York we were, just to be frank, spending thousands of dollars to produce plays that our friends would come and see. After five years of that, I remember the show was Class of ’70, we had a very successful run in Louisville first and then took it to New York and we said to ourselves, “Why aren’t we just doing this in Louisville all the time?” So I came back in 2005 and Trina came back the following fall and we have been using Louisville as our home base ever since. We still tour to other places, even returning to New York with Fabric, Flames & Fervor: Girls of the Triangle, but it has been much more profitable for us financially and artistically to be here. Louisville has a fantastic theatre community, and we certainly are not the only theatre company producing original work. But here we occupy a very specific niche that people get very excited about.
A-L: You have successfully produced scripts by other writers, but this commitment to developing original material has largely defined the company.
SW: That’s kind of our foundation. Usually once a season we produce an already published work, and we’ve even done some works by men, which has been fun. We did House of Bernardo Alba last fall; and Frederico Garcia Lorca’s viewpoint of the oppression that was going on in that family of women was profoundly touching, and it definitely fit within the Looking for Lilith mission. He knew women and he wrote pretty well for them.
A-L: The original pieces are designed to educate as well as entertain. How important is the educational mission and how do you continue to develop it?
SW: We have a Community Outreach Department that does educational outreach from kindergarten through post-graduate level. We have some projects at the adult level, particularly in Guatemala, so we try to have our outreach accessible to children of all ages. About three years ago our program really exploded when we were commissioned to create Choices: An Interactive Play on Cyberbullying and Suicide, which is a theatre of the oppressed piece about cyber-bullying. And in this piece the audience meets a 15-year-old girl named Hannah who is progressively and viciously cyber-bullied through the computer, through the phone, through IM (instant messaging), to the point where she withdraws from everything in her life and she decides that the only way out is to kill herself.... The play ends with her dumping a bottle of pills into her hand. But with theatre of the oppressed work, you see a play that ends with what Augusta Boal calls the “point of brutal rupture,” where things can’t get any worse. But then you stop and the audience begins to work. One of the actors begins to speak to the audience in the role of “The Joker” and asks the audience: "Did the play have to end this way? Were there times that you wanted to see the main character do or say something differently?" Usually they say “Yes,” and then we start again from the beginning except. This time they are invited to stop the protagonist at any point – they are only allowed to stop the protagonist; if they could change the bully’s behavior it becomes beside the point.
Jefferson County Public Schools got so excited after the first show that they asked us to do it in every school, so we’ve been performing Choices a lot and doing a lot of educational work on the high school level, which has been fun and is kind of new for us. We are also very active with the Kentucky Arts Council and they subsidize in-school residencies, so we do get invited into the schools fairly often on KAC grants. We love to work in social studies classes and have the students look at a particular event in history and develop a process drama about that event where the students are living out the roles of the people in that history.
A-L: Yet Choices doesn’t really draw from history…
SW: No, it is very of the moment, and while cyber-bullying certainly affects young women more than young men, it is definitely not just a young woman’s issue. We frequently have young men in the audience say, “No, she should be doing THIS…” and they are brought up onstage. We change the name and do it as a boy. What’s interesting is that I think the young men see different ways to deal with the conflict than the young women do, some positive and some negative. It’s often, "She needs to find out who that is and kick their ass after school!” – which allows us to make the point that Hannah does not necessarily know who is bullying her on the computer and she might (inadvertently) choose to brutalize the wrong person; and now she becomes the one who has committed a crime.
A-L: You put so much energy into the outreach. What are the challenges for LFL in maintaining its public profile in such an active theatre community?
SW: I feel like what we do is so unique – just as what Le Petomane or Pandora does is so unique – that we’re not going to lose audience for Lilith plays because they are seeing other great plays in Louisville. Because what we do is pretty different, so, no, I don’t really think it is a challenge. I think that Louisville is unique in the support that the independent theatre companies give to each other. I did not really have that experience in New York. It’s more competitive. Here we share more resources, and not just people and materials but resources of wisdom as well, which I think is kind of unusual.
A-L: This retrospective of scenes from past LFL productions is running in repertory with a staged reading of a new piece, Becoming Mothers. What can you tell us about that?
SW: I would say a lot of the energy goes into the outreach and a lot goes into the show creation. When we create something new, like Becoming Mothers, which we are unveiling as a reading this week, it is six months of research and interviews and another six months of transcribing and playing with the interviews and rehearsals and figuring out what’s theatrical and performative. It’s interesting because in the end you do have the two-week run with eight performances, and there is so much work that goes into it. But I enjoy the process of creating it as much as I do the sharing of it.
Looking for Lilith plays never die: they live on and on. Part of that has to do with the specificity of the plays. What My Hands Have Touched deals with the oral histories of women during World War II, and during Women’s History Month the Blue Star Mothers might bring us in to do that show because it is specific to their community. Same thing with Crossing Mountains, which is about the Hindman Settlement School. We’ve been invited to come to Big Sandy Community College, which is about an hour and a half from Hindman in the Cumberland Mountains. They keep being reborn, and we sometimes recreate them to a certain degree to fit the community that wants to see the work.
A-L: You spoke at the beginning about the creative freedom you experienced in the educational environment of college. Do you feel the educational foundation and collaborative process of Lilith capture any of that energy?
SW: I think so. The seven excerpts have been rehearsing separately, and last week we brought them together for the final rehearsals. Suddenly the room was filled with all of the actors, directors and designers who have worked on Lilith shows over the last 10 years. And people started talking about how working for LFL is so unique – the creative freedom and the nurturing and support that we have for one another – and that was so touching to me because that IS what I always wanted to create. I don’t just want to create exciting and dynamic plays; I want to create a community where female and male artists are excited about exploring a topic through theatre. Together we have created this fertile ground that is similar to what I felt at SMU. So maybe you don’t have to leave college.
Shannon Wooley (right) in What My Hands Have 
Touched – Women of WW II. Photograph by Michael Taggart.
10 Years:7 Stories- May 31, June 2, 7, 9 at 7:30 pm • June 10 at 2 pm
Tickets $15, $10 students/seniors
Becoming Mothers- June 1, 8, 10 at 7:30 pm • June 3 at 2 pm
Tickets $10, $7 students/seniors

Two-Show Pass: $23, $15 students/seniors

Birthday Party!!!
Come June 10 to see both shows and celebrate our 10 years with a reception at 4:30 pm.
    $30 (both shows & reception)
    $25 (10 Years: 7 Stories & reception)
    $20 (reception & Becoming Mothers)
    $15 (reception only)
For reservations, call 502-638-2559

Looking for Lilith
At The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205

The Alley Theatre Invites You to a “Tropic Island Nest” with Gilligan

Gilligan’s Island: The Musical
Book by Sherwood and Lloyd J. Schwartz, Music & Lyrics by Laurence and Hope Juber,
Directed by Tony Smith

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Craig Nolan Highley.  All rights reserved.

Love them or hate them, the Alley Theater keeps chugging along and earning its reputation as a venue for unusual and fringe productions you just don’t see performed by other theater groups in the Louisville area. Whether it’s their parodies such as Point Break Live! or Star Wars in 60 Minutes or Less, their off-the-wall originals like Inhuman:A Festival of Undead Theater, or their licensed plays like Evil Dead: The Musical and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, you can always count on something unusual, if not always top-quality.

So it’s a bit of a surprise that for their latest opening we get the very commercial and G-rated Gilligan’s Island: The Musical. I admit that based on the title alone, my expectations were not high. But I am pleased to say that this was a rewarding and fun little change of pace for the company, and this reviewer is hoping that it’s a sign of good things to come for the company.

Based on the TV sitcom that ran from 1964 to 1967 and forever since in reruns, Gilligan’s Island: The Musical was composed in the early nineties by the TV show’s creator Sherwood Schwartz, along with his son Lloyd J. Schwartz, daughter Hope Juber and son-in-law (and Wings musician) Laurence Juber. It never quite made it to Broadway, but it has been more and more popular with regional groups throughout the 2000s (although to my knowledge, this is the first time it’s been performed in the Louisville area).

It’s an oddly structured show; the elder and younger Schwartz’s libretto has only the scantest of plots, consisting mainly of brief skits that set up the musical numbers. There is some silliness involving an alien visitor that seems to be the only recurring theme throughout. But the best and most memorable scenes seem to be the ones that stand alone.

The Jubers’ songs are cute, if not particularly memorable; unfortunately, the program doesn’t list the musical numbers and I can’t recall the title of a single one. The best comes early in the show, a cute duet between Mr. and Mrs. Howell. Plus, the TV show’s theme song is performed as the opening number, which sets up the nostalgia of the piece quite nicely.

The performances are a mixed bag; the actors are all quite talented but I think in a few cases miscast. Of course, it’s up to the director and his performers to decide to what extent a show like this should try to mimic the TV show it’s based on. But it seems to me that at least some effort should be made to try to emulate the iconic characters that every single person in the audience remembers.

To that end, the most successful performance in this production would have to be Dana Hope as Mary Ann. She looks and sounds so much like Dawn Wells it’s kind of uncanny; and while she is not a singer, she does manage to pull off her musical numbers with a Rex Harrison style of speak-singing through the higher notes.

Mera Corlett is fun as Ginger, giving the spoiled movie star a sultriness that would never have been dared in a sixties sitcom. Kenn Parks and Jenni Cochran are adorable as Mr. and Mrs. Howell, although Parks’ Jim Backus impersonation tends to come and go. Scott Goodman is quite good as the Professor, basically playing the straight man to all the silliness going on around him; and Alan Canon’s brief appearances as the Alien reminded me of another bit of classic TV: the Martians in the seventies miniseries The Martian Chronicles.

Aside from his plus-sized appearance, balding, dark-haired, bearded Ray Robinson looks and sounds nothing like blonde and clean-shaven Alan Hale Jr. in the role of the Skipper.  And while I’ve seen Robinson give some great performances, he seems miscast here; he just doesn’t seem to have the larger-than-life persona and booming voice the role calls for.

Daniel Land at first seems a good fit for the lead role of Gilligan; he is funny, and a very talented physical actor and dancer. Unfortunately, the character voice he chooses for Gilligan’s speaking voice is an absolutely terrible choice in the musical numbers. Yes, it’s a comedy, and yes, it works when he’s not singing; but this is a musical and the audience shouldn’t be forced to wince like fingernails down a chalkboard every time the leading man sings! He may want to revert to his real voice for the songs, is what I’m saying.

Tony Smith’s directing and choreography is quite serviceable and the show moves along nicely without any noticeable gaps or lulls, and his set design (with Scott Davis and Kenn Parks) is a nicely detailed rendering of the island setting, complete with opening and closing huts and a cave.  All of this is nicely served by a warm lighting and sound design by Jillian Spencer.

Over all this is a fun show, and one not to be missed by fans nostalgic for those seven stranded castaways and their ill-fated three-hour tour.

Gilligan’s Island: The Musical

Starring Alan Canon, Jenni Cochran, Mera Corlett, Dana Hope, Daniel Land, Scott Goodman, Kenn Parks and Ray Robinson.

May 25, 26, 31, and June 1, 2, 8, & 9, 2012 – All shows at 8pm

Tickets, Advance: $18 • General Admission: Student, Senior, Military $16
Day of Show: $20 General Admission; Senior, Military: $18; Student: $10 with valid current student ID at the box office
Season ticket eligible * Group Rates available

The Alley Theater
1205 East Washington Street, Suite 120
Louisville, KY 40206
Box Office Phone: 502-713-6178 

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Louisville Improvisers

Live at The Louisville Improv
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Brian Hinds.
In improvisational comedy, anything, in theory, is possible: even such a contradiction as a clown with no sense of humor. He appears in public at all times in full clown regalia, constantly frustrated at the inevitable expectation that he will be inherently funny, when he is, in fact, one of the most dour characters you will ever encounter. As an image, it connects to the archetype of the sad and bitter clown; and as embodied by Brian Hinds in service to The Louisville Improvisers on May 9, it was a highly individual creation born entirely in the moment.
Of course that is not strictly true. Improv actors train and “rehearse” their skills, albeit in a slightly different manner than traditional scripted theatre. But still they work out. They have to think fast and have their imaginations at the ready and their instincts sharpened and in tune with their onstage partners. And despite the obviousness of the previous observations, it is still a treat to witness the fluid dynamic in action.

Chris Anger & Alec Volz.
Chris Anger and Alec Volz founded the company more than 13 years ago, making it the oldest working improv group in town. And when you see them onstage, there is no question of the easy shorthand that passes between them as naturally as breathing. There have been other members along the way, but the May show included recent additions Brian Hinds, who created the humorless clown, and Jenni Cochran. Mr. Hinds is a veteran of Kentucky Shakespeare, Stage One and, most recently, Walden Theatre, where Mr. Volz is Associate Artistic Director. Ms. Cochran comes to Louisville by way of St. Louis and, although relatively new to town, has already landed roles at The Alley Theatre, including the production of Gilligan’s island, The Musical that opened May 24.  Both more than held their own working with the well-worn duo of Anger and Volz.
Jenni Cochran.
Aside from the aforementioned clown, the “games” that evening included the quartet trading positions, tag-team style, whenever one performer got a laugh from the appreciative audience. It seemed something less of a challenge, since the laughs came frequently enough to require the actors be fleet of foot to avoid tripping over one another, so rapid were the exchanges. By the time they finished with a freewheeling depiction of a day in the life of an audience member (selected, of course, at random), they had worked up a good energy with the crowd and wisely left them wanting more.
The Louisville Improvisers will be performing at The Louisville Improv club at Fourth Street Live! the first Wednesday of each month through the summer. The next show is June 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $15 with a 2-drink minimum.

The Louisville Improv
441 South Fourth Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Discovering the Community of Art: Sharon Matisoff and “Rites of Passage” at Kaviar Gallery

By Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

“I cannot NOT paint!!!”
Sharon Matisoff makes this statement with such unabashed enthusiasm that one could not possibly doubt the earnestness of the claim. Having explored a range of subjects throughout her history as an artist, from participants in renaissance faires to young ballet students, and the inevitable recruiting of family members, sometimes when they don’t particularly feel like being a subject, now the driven painter turns her observant eye to other artists. In “Rites of Passage: A Celebration of Louisville Artists,” a new exhibit about to open at Kaviar Forge and Gallery, portraiture is the order of the day and the artist working in the studio is the theme.
Ms. Matisoff is an experienced portrait artist, and this particular adventure began after gallery owner Craig Kaviar saw his own portrait in pastels and suggested the artist use it as the jumping off point for a series. She set about pursuing subjects, often with one artist suggesting another until she had accumulated a host of local painters, sculptors, ceramicists and fibre artists. While the task at first seemed daunting, Matisoff was given a warm reception from all the artists she approached, a fact that underscores the communal thread that unites all artists in society and provides something of a subtext for her work.
That connectivity among creative individuals becomes an important aspect of the straightforward compositions of the paintings. If there is a certain stolid uniformity in the way the figures are placed, even when working, it seems by design rather than any lack of ingenuity on the part of the artist. It is not characteristic of her previous work, which charts a restless and perhaps even relentless journey of exploration. When discussing her past work, the artist has stories for every painting, one concerning the subject, and another that charts her growth and self-examination.   
Ed Hamilton, Pastel.
This duality of purpose is here manifested explicitly in the decision to create for each subject two separate images, one in oil and another in pastel: one straightforward set-up in which the subject gazes directly at the viewer, and one showing the craftsman at work. The latter are notable for the specificity of gesture, the painter’s eye capturing the most evocative angle of the wrist when Ed Hamilton grinds the surface of a small sculpture, or the concentration displayed by the tongue embedded in Lucas Nelson Marvell’s cheek while he fashions wood for a violin. 
John Michael Carter at His Easel, Oil.
Some of the compositions are more complex, such as when we see painter John Michael Carter at work on a canvas, the work table including tubes of oil paint in the foreground that usher us into the studio space and the depiction of other Carter canvases in the background. The idea of portrait encompassing the studio environment, including recreations of the subject’s work, reoccurs in the series but is most prominent in this example.
Al Nelson, Oil.
Many of the other paintings are more rooted to the physical human presence, and there are instances wherein the depiction of the artist manages to express something of the nature of their work. Sculptor Al Nelson seems to occupy space with a statuesque quality befitting a stone carver, his rough-hewn visage resting atop a monolithic torso:  the man as monument. 
Dennis Schaffner, Oil.
Each image makes for a satisfactory portrait on its own merits, but the series as a whole touches upon more expansive themes of community and connectedness among individuals with a shared passion for making art. In Dennis Shaffner’s oil portrait, the artist appears to simply be holding one of his woven-vine constructions between his two hands; yet the natural light striking the face and the orb shaped piece not-quite-in-his-grasp are captured by Ms. Matisoff so that the object of the artist’s attention takes on an otherworldly, almost preternatural presence:  the spark of creativity made manifest in how one artist sees another. It connotes a spiritual quality that, upon reflection, is present, if more subtly, in the other pieces. This same glow can be seen in each artist’s eyes:  the act of creation as one action combining the tangible and ephemeral in equal measure.
Still, the compositional formality is part and parcel of a classical approach to portraiture that emphasizes psychological insight over dynamic visual structures. In Matisoff’s previous series, the subjects afforded her the opportunity to construct group compositions that overtly conjured up the relationship between the members of a particular community:  participants in a renaissance faire socially bonded by an interest in a specific historical period; or the students who embrace the discipline of dance at an early age, either engaged in the practice of movement or at rest along the sidelines. Subtle relationships of human experience expressed through the relationships of color, light and composition.
In this new series, which the artist describes as “the most important group, because it (art) is the most important aspect of myself,” there are no collectives, no artists talking among themselves or working side by side, so that the relationships must leap from canvas to canvas, linking each individual into the community through repetitive composition and positioning; and the depiction of that sacred act of creation that is shown in the “action” portraits: paint-filled brush poised above a canvas, hands sunk into soft, slippery clay on the wheel, fingers manipulating tools that dig and grind into more recalcitrant materials. Ultimately, they work as pieces of the whole, the entire exhibit functioning as one singular and glorious expression of community.

"Rites of Passage: A Celebration of Louisville Artists"
A Portrait Exhibition by Sharon Matisoff
June 6 – September 6, 2012
Artists’ Receptions: F.A.T. Fridays 6-9pm
June 29, July 27, August 31

Kaviar Forge & Gallery
1718 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, KY 40206
Gallery Hours: Wed-Fri, 12-6pm, Sat 12-4pm

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

60 Minute Star Wars Is Back at The Alley Theater and Still Fun!

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy in 60 Minutes or Less!

Adapted by Scott Goodman
Directed by Chris Petty

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

This fast and loose enterprise has been playing off and on at The Alley Theater for several months now, always Fridays at 10 p.m. and always (almost) sold out. The fact that it plays in a tight, 49-seat house in the bowels of The Pointe on East Washington Street may account for that paucity of available seats, but it may also have something to do with the fact that it is, quite simply, funny as hell.

I once saw it observed that if Woody Allen “shot” his films, then you might describe the movies of Mel Brooks as having been “blown from a cannon,” and something like that might also apply to this rambunctious staging. There is a clever script from Scott Goodman that positions the material as homage to the original three films (do I need to name them?) before the seemingly endless series of updated editions that always include newly expurgated sections that tamper with the sacred texts. Mr. Goodman and his collaborators have included in their show satirical, yet assuredly disdainful, commentary on such changes as having Greedo shoot first, but they wisely do not belabor the point.

The game-for-anything cast brings a highly charged, go-for-broke improvisational energy to their work that seems open to anything, yet their timing was expert. Mr. Goodman himself leads the way, and he is matched beat-for-beat by Tony King, each playing a variety of roles with a forceful commitment to the broad and silly comedic style. In fact, one of the most enjoyable aspects is the fact that Luke, Chewbacca, C-3PO, Lando Calrissian and others are played by different people exchanging wigs and simple costume pieces as they rush between scenes. It seems random and unexpected enough to suggest anarchy or, at the very least, disorganization, but the truth is surely that the actors can only rush pell-mell through the action with such enviable ferocity because there is enough structure and foundation in the script and direction (by cast member Chris Petty) to allow for it.

The other members of the tight ensemble are Kenn Parks, playing Han Solo as another entry in his Alley Theater gallery of rogues known for their foolhardy courage and/or hubris. Mr. Parks has become this company’s go-to actor for parodying that all-too-familiar macho swagger that runs rampant through late-21st Century American action films. Valerie Hopkins juggles Luke and Leia with aplomb and sports a version of the infamous metal bikini (from The Return of the Jedi, but if I have to tell you that, then maybe this is not the show for you?) with enough va-voom to make the most of the moment.  Director Petty rounds out the group in yeoman fashion, with a particularly memorable rendition of Jabba the Hutt.

The tone and energy remind me of Midnight Movies at The Vogue in the days of my youth, and point to the young, ready-to-party audience that has developed with some loyalty to The Alley.  Shows like this one – along with the recent mountings of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio scripts, Point Break Live! and The Matrix, A Parody, not to mention the first Inhuman Festival of New American Undead Plays – have cultivated a following from patrons who may not otherwise be regular theatre-goers, yet have been known to make repeat visits to some of these offerings. It is a menu of often experimental forays into self-referential American popular-culture, sometimes ragged around the edges, but always feeding off the lack of uptown polish with a certain pride and a sure understanding of the counter-culture core of its base.

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy in 60 Minutes or Less!

May 18, 25, June 1 and 8th.  All shows begin at 10pm. Tickets are $10.00.  Season Subscribers may use improv tickets for this show!

The Alley Theater
1205 East Washington Street, Suite 120.
Louisville, KY 40206
Box Office Phone: 502-713-6178

Alley Theatre and The Speed Museum Offers Gentle, Whimsical "Pipe Dream" for Young Audiences

Megan Claire in This Is Not A Pipe Dream.
Photo courtesy of The Alley Theater.
This Is Not A Pipe Dream

By Barry Kornhauser
Directed by Dan Welch
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Over at The Speed Museum, The Alley Theater has mounted a neat little production of Barry Kornhauser’s This Is Not A Pipe Dream. It is a show intended for clever children of a certain age, but it offers pleasures with sufficient appeal for adults.

The subject is the early life of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte, a scenario colorfully illustrating the connection with childhood experience and the unfettered adult imagination that fueled the once controversial art movement.  Details of Magritte’s youth are sketchily explored, but the playwright seems less interested in traditional biography and more concerned with capturing some sense of how one comes to be an artist.

The script makes unexpectedly logical connections between surrealism and slapstick comedy, which director Dan Welch’s staging exploits for gentle comedic effect. The four actors – dressed in dark suits and bowler hats meant to call to mind “The Son of Man” – bound on to the stage like Keystone Kops and proceed through a dizzying run of brief scenes that run the gamut from knockabout farce to tender and introspective human moments. Chase Wolfe, George Bailey and Deanna Gillespie ably portray multiple characters as well as young Rene and his parents, while Megan Claire is the Interlocutor, a lively narrator in a ringmaster’s costume.

They are joined by a slightly imperious onstage “Stage Manager” embodied by Faith Hoover, and the five interact as an ensemble with good efficiency and just enough depth of feeling among the silliness to connect to the audience. There was also nice use of simple stage effects that mimic a magician’s tricks, as well as a set design that features some beautiful Magritte-like images painted by Bethan Kannapel. The whole thing could be folded up easily enough for a traveling show except for the inclusion of some slides featuring the great painters works that, in the Speed Museum auditorium, are amply projected.

Lighting in the auditorium is not ideal for such a production, but, besides the above-average projections, the choice of location lends obvious and welcome opportunities to enlarge the context of the show. The program highlights three surrealist works now on display in the Speed Galleries, and admission to This Is Not A Pipe Dream includes entry to the Museum, making this a unique and added value production.

It is a rare treat to have a piece of material that embraces the visual arts in a theatrical context and does so with gentle whimsy and intelligence. It is a brief run with performances scheduled at unusual times designed to accommodate families and school groups.

This Is Not A Pipe Dream

May 18, 7PM; May 19, 11AM & 1:30PM; May 20, 1PM & 3:30PM; June 1, 7PM; June 2, 11AM & 1:30PM, June 3, 1PM & 3:30PM

Tickets include FREE ADMISSION to the Speed Art Museum
Adults $15, Children 12 & Under $10 (Children's tickets may be purchased by clicking "Select Discount Policy" in the ticketing window.)

The Alley Theater for Young Audiences
Performing at The Speed Museum
2035 South Third Street
Louisville, KY

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dixie Swim Club Is Back by Popular Demand at Derby Dinner Playhouse

Pictured from left to right are Jill Kelly as Lexie and Tina Jo
Wallace as Vernadette in Dixie Swim Club. Photo courtesy of
Derby Dinner Playhouse.

The Dixie Swim Club

By Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten
Produced and Directed by Bekki Jo Jchneider

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Jones Hope Wooten (as the three playwrights who created The Dixie Swim Club are collectively known) has rapidly become one of the most successful writing teams ever. Known for their Futrelle Family Texas Trilogy (Dearly Beloved, Christmas Belles and Southern Hospitality), along with The Hallelujah Girls and Til Beth Do Us Part, among others, they have recently hit the eighteen hundred productions mark, with over twelve thousand performances of their various plays. Their scripts are peopled with characters of the southern persuasion and feature a down-home charm and humor that keeps audiences coming back for more.

That is certainly true of The Dixie Swim Club, presented here for a second run at Derby Dinner Playhouse. It is the Playhouse’s most requested revival ever, and with good reason: it is a simply wonderful play that is funny and poignant without becoming cloying. While there is no shortage of laughs in the piece, it is arguably the most serious-minded of all of Jones Hope Wooten’s plays, one that will put a lump in your throat by the end.

It tells the story of five women who have been friends since their days on their college swim team. They meet for a long weekend every August at a secluded beach cottage in North Carolina to catch up, reminisce, gossip and swim. All five women are distinct personalities, each one lovable in her own way, and the play follows them over the course of four such weekends, over a span of some thirty-three years. The show puts you through its paces of laughs and heartbreak, in a manner reminiscent of both Steel Magnolias and Driving Miss Daisy, but manages to adhere to a style all its own.

Great performances all around bring the show to vivid life, and that is no small feat considering some of these characters could have become shrewish and overbearing if overplayed. Rita Thomas, for example, makes you love her acid-tongued and hard-drinking lawyer Dinah despite the character’s built-in brashness, and she gets some of the shows biggest laughs. Jill Kelly similarly keeps you rooting for her snobbish, privileged and entitled serial divorcee Lexie, enough that you feel her pain in a heartbreaking second act reveal (although of all the actresses, hers is the only Southern accent that feels a bit forced).

Tina Jo Wallace is hysterically funny as the much-put-upon Vernadette, appearing in every scene with a new injury that emphasizes the constant parade of bad luck that permeates her life. Michelle Johnson is sweet as the naïve and slightly air-headed Jeri, a former nun who has had herself artificially inseminated. And Janet Essenpreis is all business as Sheree, the group’s health-conscious and obsessively organized de-facto leader.

The changing ages of the ladies over the course of the show is done in a nicely muted way; no age makeup that I could see, just changes of wigs and period-correct costumes (supplied by Jill Higginbotham and Sharon Murray Harrah, respectively). The effect is a believable progression of time that doesn’t detract from the performances and works beautifully.

Ron Breedlove’s lighting design nicely illuminates John Witzke’s set, which does evoke a cottage by the ocean. I would like to have seen a bit more variation from scene to scene in the design, to help indicate the passage of time, but that’s a minor quibble in an otherwise solid production.

I am only familiar with a few of the Jones Hope Wooten plays, but I think this one has become my favorite so far. It’s not hard to see why it’s been revived by popular demand; I strongly recommend you see it before it’s over.

But if you miss it this time, something tells me it will be back in a year or so!

The Dixie Swim Club

Starring Janet Essenpreis, Jill Kelly, Rita Thomas, Michelle Johnson, and Tina Jo Wallace.

May 15 – July 1, 2012
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Tickets (812) 288-8281

“100% Commitment to Silliness” Makes for an Entertaining Drowsy Chaperone

Jeff Ketterman as Aldolpho and Carrie Chastain as
The Drowsy Chaperone. Photo by Sandy Cohrs.

The Drowsy Chaperone

Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar

Directed by Sandy Richens Cohrs

Review by Carlos Manuel

Entire contents copyright © 2012 by Carlos Manuel. All rights reserved.

The Drowsy Chaperone, a musical within a comedy, received 13 Tony nominations in 2006, including one for Best Musical. The crown jewel went to Jersey Boys, but The Drowsy Chaperone collected five Tony awards for its book, musical score, costumes, set design and its feature actress. Needless to say, this show has pedigree.

We are fortunate to have The As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company bring this delightful and humorous musical to the stage. What’s even more fortunate is to see on stage a group of actors who commit themselves to their art with their hearts and souls, despite the company’s inability to provide a fully realized set, colorful costumes or live music.

Knowing the cost of producing a show and the challenges a company faces, I would normally overlook a production where suggested items are used to create the illusion of time and space. I might do the same for costumes and lights and even for pre-recorded music (although I confess that musicals without a live orchestra don’t sit well with me). But due to the fact that The Drowsy Chaperon is about witnessing how a fictional original cast recording comes “alive on stage” as we listen to the narration, motifs, explanations of each song and the musical itself, it makes it almost impossible to overlook the fact that in this particular production there isn’t really a majestic overture or a breathtaking world appearing on stage as “the curtain rises.” (There is no curtain in this theatre space, by the way.) In fact, these are the very elements wherein this production falls short.

Which is not to say that this production isn’t entertaining. For Gary Tipton as the Man in the Chair to carry the show and “invite" us into his personal habitat, and for an hour and thirty minutes makes us feel completely “at home,” is a task not every actor might be up to, but Mr. Tipton is up to the challenge. And then there is the array of good singing voices appearing on stage, from Rebecca Chaney as Janet Van De Graff and Aaron Davenport as Robert Martin to Carrie Chastain in the title role and Kim Perry as Trix, the Aviatrix. And let’s not forget the comedic timing of Kathy Todd Chaney as Mrs. Tottendale, Shawwna Ashley Speth as Kitty, and both Brad Lambert and Neil Brewer as Gangster #1 and Gangster #2, respectively.

But the evening truly belongs to two major players. As mentioned before, Gary Tipton as the Man in the Chair carries the big responsibility to deliver a history lesson about musical theatre, and he does it in a stupendous manner. Then there is the appearance of Jeff Ketterman as Aldolpho, the over-the-top, over-sexualized Latin lover, a character who has the potential to become offensive to some audience members (me, for example). Yet it is the most ridiculous and fun-to-watch stage personage I’ve seen in a long time. Watching Mr. Ketterman’s physical performance and facial reactions is priceless. It does, in fact, make you forget that some actors do not know how to tap dance but instead pound the floor so hard you’re afraid they’re going to dislocate their knees (yes, that’s how bad that tap duet is), and that some minor players couldn’t deliver lines quickly enough or missed their cues, causing a comedic timing issue in the process.

But even with all that, this production of The Drowsy Chaperone is a delight to watch and something I highly recommend to families and every theatre lover. And even as the Man in the Chair tells us that this show is silly and purely for entertainment, there is in fact something to learn about musical theatre: that it is a treat not easily accomplished through song and dance. Yet The Drowsy Chaperone makes it happen, and the As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company brings it to life. And all because of the willingness for the cast to commit 100% to the silliness, the over-the-top style of acting, and a desire to make the magic happen. From physical gags, laugh-out-loud jokes and dancing monkeys – yes, you need to see it to believe it, and then refrain yourself from hurting yourself from laughter – to ridiculous lyrics, endearing characters and unforgettable performances, the cast makes The Drowsy Chaperone the must-see musical of the month. Trust me; I’m a musical theatre addict…and someone who studies them for a living. 

The Drowsy Chaperone

May 18, 19, 25 & 26 @ 8 p.m.
May 19 & 26 @ 2 p.m.

The As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company
The MeX Theatre, Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202