Thursday, May 30, 2013

Interview with Brantley Dunaway, Kentucky Shakespeare

 Brantley Dunaway, Executive Director, Kentucky Shakespeare.

Interview by Scott Dowd

Entire contents copyright ©2013 Fearless Designs, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival opens its 54th season this month with executive director Brantley Dunaway’s conception of Twelfth Night. Over the past two seasons, Dunaway’s brilliance has been evident on stage. But in the years to come, Louisville will benefit from his vision and hard work out of the limelight. Last year he and the Kentucky Shakespeare Board of Directors proposed a comprehensive five-year plan for the company that will do much to move ahead the city’s plans for a revitalized downtown arts district.

SD:  Kentucky Shakespeare Festival is the oldest free Shakespeare Festival in the country. Is keeping it free your highest priority?
BD:  Keeping a portion of it free is my priority. The solution to maintaining that free portion is a different model.
SD:  Can you give us some highlights from your five-year plan for the organization?
BD:  I spent my first year in Louisville looking at the organization as a whole – discovering its niche, its history and its culture. I wanted to understand the positives and identify those aspects that needed to be reimagined. It took us about a year to create the strategic plan.
SD:  Who was involved with developing that plan?
BD:  The committee was made up of staff, board members and members of the community whom we like to call “trustees” or “stakeholders.” That last group consisted of people from local governments as well as people from the neighborhoods. We met weekly for ten months and worked for two months to solidify the plan before presenting it to the board. The board approved it in March of last year and it went into effect September 1, 2012. Between March and September we worked to create the action items to give us quarterly benchmarks. Based on all of that information, we had to go back and write a new business plan.
SD:  You have referred to this as the “destination” model. Can you tell me what you mean by that?
BD:  If we look at the top twenty most successful theatre companies in North America, they are either Shakespeare companies or destination-based. The most successful Shakespeare companies are Oregon Shakespeare, the Stratford Festival, Colorado Shakespeare, Orlando, St. Louis and Tahoe. We started looking at that and then we focused on what’s happening here in Louisville. We did our research and found that between Labor Day and Memorial Day – September to May – the arts organizations in Louisville compete to sell an average of 51,000 tickets per month. From Memorial Day to Labor Day – May to September – that number dropped to 4,500 tickets. Looking at this year with one of the local companies not doing their program, that number drops to zero. Weigh that against Lonely Planet’s listing last December of Louisville as one of the top ten tourist destinations in the country. Of the ten cities listed, the only city not to have their arts included as a reason to visit was Louisville. Not a lot of people picked up on that, but it leapt out at me.
SD:  Louisville has such a strong arts scene. Why do you think it wasn’t included in that category?
BD:  There are, of course, some theatre companies performing in the summer. I’m talking about only the locally-produced Equity companies. Broadway Series is bringing things in. But we’re not creating an artistic flare within the city during the height of the peak time for arts tourism. There is a giant cavern, which fits right into the plan.
SD:  How so?
BD:  The business plan is based on three things:  economic stability and sustainability – which relates directly to maintaining the free show in Central Park; job creation; and collaboration. With the last, we ask, “What does it mean to truly collaborate and participate in the arts ecosystem?”
SD:  Give me your thoughts on economic sustainability.
BD:  We will basically move into doing ticketed shows with the idea that we are marketing primarily to tourists. Most of our marketing dollars will be spent outside the city on a regional basis. We want to encourage people to come to Louisville not only to see the Shakespeare Festival, but to do the Bourbon Trail, go to the Slugger Museum and see a baseball game. We want them to take in the Muhammad Ali Center and eat in our great restaurants. That’s what destination theatre is about.
SD:  More tourists means, presumably, more jobs.
BD:  The city of Louisville creates an average of 7,800 full-time equivalent jobs in the arts. More than 90 percent of those people are unemployed in the summertime, which means they are either leaving the city to work or going on unemployment insurance. Kentucky Shakespeare can’t solve this problem alone, but we will do our part. The past two seasons, we have hired people from most of the city’s major arts organizations. Art exhibits the human condition, and we have to consider that if the arts community is not providing a sustainable lifestyle for the people comprising its backbone – e.g., painters, carpenters, stagehands who need to support their families and provide health care – then our arts ecology in Louisville is stagnant. If we are unable to provide the foundation for family, we will not have arts from here.
SD:  How does your plan address those concerns?
BD:  This is where the collaborative aspect comes from. We need to work together to create full-time opportunities for people in the arts.
SD:  What kind of response have you gotten from the other arts organizations?
BD:  It has been good. Actors Theatre of Louisville has been tremendously supportive. We rent property from Actors, we rent their housing, hire some of their folks who are not generally contracted in the summertime. We have done that with the Louisville Ballet and the Kentucky Opera, too. Everybody is open to the idea, but collaboration is more than just a catch-phrase. Through that collaboration, we will create economic sustainability because we are sharing revenues.
SD:  Now I hear the abaci clicking.
BD:  When people participate in this destination model…say I’m spending money with Actors Theatre or another arts organization…it becomes a great symbiotic relationship.
SD:  For the sake of context, tell me what it costs to put forward the Kentucky Shakespeare season.
BD:  According to last year’s audit figures, the production in the park cost $315,000. We spent $250,000 on educational outreach. When you add in overhead like office space and fundraising, our total expenditures came out to $813,000.
SD:  What percentage of those costs are recovered passing the hat in the park?
BD:  A little less than two percent.
SD:  And so the impetus for a change in the business model.
BD:  That is really the reason for the change. Since 2004, the economy has made it tough on everybody. The traditional streams of government, corporate and individual support have become shallower. As free theatre, we have all the same expenses as a ticketed company. We pay competitive salaries for similar kinds of work, but we don’t charge our audience.
SD:  Do you think there is a perception that because you don’t charge, it isn’t worth as much?
BD:  Possibly. We’ll find out. That’s just the nature of business. The change of venue may help.
SD:  That’s news to me. What are you considering?
BD:  The current plan says that we would do three ticketed indoor shows and two ticket-less shows in Central Park. With that model comes an economy of scale.
SD:  What kind of savings will it bring?
BD:  The cost of the free productions are reduced by 40 to 60 percent. We would run the shows in repertory so that a visitor from Bowling Green or Lexington could spend four days and see three shows. At the same time, they could take in the Bourbon Trail and Frazier History Museum, shop in Nulu…that’s what it becomes about. The average arts traveler spends 5.2 days in a city, while the average non-arts traveler stays for 4.2 days. They will spend 96 waking hours in the community – 6 in the theatre. That extra day is when the magic happens.
SD:  Have you chosen the indoor venue yet?
BD:  We are exploring.
SD:  The first place that came to my mind was Iroquois Amphitheater, but it’s out of the way.
BD:  For the destination model to work, it has to be pedestrian-centric. People need to be able to walk from their hotels. There needs to be accessible restaurants that require minimal augmented transportation. The theatre needs to be in the proximity of those same amenities. There are really about three theatres in town that fill that card:  The Kentucky Center, Bunbury and Actors Theatre.
SD:  Can you give me an example of a city that successfully uses this model?
BD:  We are the example. We already do the Humana Festival, Thunder Over Louisville, Kentucky Derby, Forecastle Festival, Abbey Road on the River, The St. James Art Show…this is not a new thing for us. The question is, Can we get the city and its populace to invest in the art form in the summer months – the heightened tourism months? I have a letter from the mayor of Cedar City, Utah, written to our mayor in June of last year explaining how Utah Shakespeare Festival has transformed their economy.
SD:  That has been a huge festival for decades.
BD:  Kentucky Shakespeare Festival is actually a little older, and Cedar City has a population of 30,000. They are 200 miles from the nearest airport. This has been good for their entire community:  taxi drivers, restaurants, hotels, shops, everybody.
SD:  This season you are in Central Park again. What have you got planned?
BD:  We are presenting Twelfth Night June 20 to July 14.
SD:  You did a fundraiser based on that play last year, didn’t you?
BD:  That will be our annual fundraiser, the last week of January. The Twelfth Night Masquerade is an alternative to New Year’s Eve. I’m not going out on New Year’s anymore, so the next weekend – when it’s easier to get a babysitter – I can go out for an elegant, fun evening. Twelfth Night refers, of course, to Epiphany. It’s the last day of the holiday season and the first day of the carnival season.
SD:  Tell me about this summer’s production of the play.
BD:  We are using a Celtic theme because of the social dynamics of Celtic societies. One of the interesting aspects of their society is the equality of men and women on the battlefield. Combine that with a very interesting mysticism and it will really play well with the story. We’re also examining the idea of love. What is love? How do we embody and exhibit it? Because we’ve focused on the Irish Celts, the Consul General of Ireland will be attending opening night. Local government is working to create a sister city in Ireland, and this is one step in that process.
SD:  You are directing this production?
BD:  Yes. I’m very excited about the set design by Jeff Kmaec. He’s created an actual waterfall and working chimneys.
SD:  Where did you meet him?
BD:  I directed Romeo and Juliet in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he was creating his final project for grad school. I thought I had better get him while he’s available because he will be out of our reach pretty quickly. We’ll have costumes by Shon LeBlanc out of southern California. He does a lot of TV, film and theatre work. Nick Dent of Actors Theatre is designing the lighting; and Michael Raspberry, also from Charlottesville, will design our sound. A UofL student is doing props for us. So my design team ranges from seasoned professionals to up-and-comers and to those who are just starting out. Same thing with the cast.
SD:  The second production is Shakespeare’s ever-popular The Taming of the Shrew.
BD:  That is my Player’s show. It is part of the education program, a summer conservatory for high school students who train for seven weeks. At the same time, they will attend workshops by the actors and designers of the professional show. It is a pretty incredible experience for them to work with a national fight choreographer. Once the production is ready, they will perform it on the same set we’re using for Twelfth Night – with a few modifications. This is something we tried last year and it’s the economy of scale we were talking about earlier. Our audiences get two fantastic experiences and I’m able to contain the cost. I am confident that we will have another great season in Central Park this year, and I’m looking forward to introducing new audiences to The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival and the city of Louisville for years to come.

This summer’s performances of Twelfth Night (June 20-July 14) begin about dusk in the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheatre, located in Old Louisville’s Central Park near the intersection of Fourth Street and Magnolia. For more information about these ticket-less productions, call  502.574.9900, or go to

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

“The Gardeners” at Tim Faulkner Gallery Points to New Collaborations

Rachel White and Jeremy Sapp in The Gardeners. 
Photo:  Margaret Archambeault, Tim Faulkner Gallery.

The Gardeners

Written by Rachel White 
Directed by Brian Hinds

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

In a raw, aged, garage space off the courtyard of The Tim Faulkner Gallery complex, a small group of free-lance players produced a tidy staging of Rachel White’s one-act play The Gardeners. The rough textures of the unorthodox venue might seem off-putting, but the environment served to support the material and provide meaningful contrast to the poetical language featured in the text.

The spare narrative carries little plot, and is structured as a series of scenes involving a family – father, mother and teenage daughter – who are so self-absorbed and inextricably linked to electronic devices for any meaningful communication as to be tragic figures lacking in empathy. In their garden are two robots programmed to tend the living plants, in particular, thriving tomato vines vividly made manifest in Patrick White’s set design. The human characters are preoccupied with shallow, materialistic business and social interactions, while the robots are focused entirely on nurturing life. The point is not a subtle one, yet it is subtly dramatized in monologues from the robots that are beautifully articulated in language that is graceful and compassionate.

Director Brian Hinds leads his cast through smart, economical paces. Karina Strange, Joseph Hatfield and Jenni Cochran essay the humans with appropriate edge and selfishness; you will not like these people much, and the robots are sensitively measured for a lack of guile but a surprising degree of humanity by Jeremy Sapp and author Rachel White.

It seems an opportunity opening up to explore the merging of theatre and visual art. Of course, most theatre incorporates visual design in sets and costumes. But Patrick White’s work here is singular and expressive in offbeat and muscular ways that point to a potential for greater collaboration between writers, actors, painters and sculptors. Watch this space.

The Gardeners

May 18 & 25, 2013

Tim Faulkner Gallery
943 Franklin Street
Louisville, KY 40206

“Catfish Moon" Celebrates Straightforward, Old-Fashioned Storytelling


By Laddy Sartin
Directed by Michael J. Drury

Reviewed by Carlos Manuel           

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Carlos Manuel. All rights reserved.

Catfish Moon by Laddy Sartin is one of those simple, old-fashioned Southern stories written in a straightforward manner that if not acted with conviction can become a real bore. The story relates the "ups and downs" of three middle-aged men – Curley, Gordon and Frog – who visit the old fishing pier found at the end of Cypress Lake.

As the story goes, the pier used to be the men’s favorite hangout when they were kids; and now that the property is for sale, Curley buys the land because it holds a special place in his heart. It reminds him of the good old times he had with his two best friends. Gordon and Frog, however, have drifted apart, thanks to the reality and bitterness of life and because a woman has become between them. This woman, Betty, happens to be Curley’s sister and at some point was married to Frog; but now divorced, she is dating Gordon. This situation places Curley in the middle of them all; but because somehow he always has acted as “the big brother” of them all, he is, in a symbolic way, the glue that keeps this group together.

Under the direction of Michael Drury, with a set by Karl Anderson, lighting by Theresa Bagan and sound by Laura Ellis, this production by Actor’s Choice Theater, like the script, is a straightforward, simple presentation that most people will enjoy if looking to reminisce about the "good old times" and the friendships that once were part of our lives but perhaps ended because we all took different paths as we got older.

Tim Kitchen as Curley does a good job as the more matured and more responsible men of the group, although he looks very stiff onstage. Daniel Main in the role of Gordon also does a good job as the guy who is very much in love. Tony Prince as Frog is funny and angry and knows how to channel both emotions with precision, but at some times it was hard to understand what he was saying. And in the role of Betty, Teresa Willis is sweet and strong, navigating different emotions and attitudes while in the presence of a world filled with men.

If you like simple, straightforward, good old-fashioned storytelling, this play is for you. All the necessary elements to make this production a light and enjoyable “kitchen sink” drama are there. The introduction of the characters, their past and present situations, a love scene with funny moments, an altercation between friends, and foreshadow elements are all nicely put together in the first act. Then in the second act more character development, the obligatory “face to face” between those who don’t like each other at the present time, a surprising turn of events, an expected resolution, and an end to make you weep are also all there, nicely tight with a “feel good” ribbon that could potentially make you nauseated. But if you are a person who likes a little more than just a simple linear plot, with much stronger characters and not very obvious endings, this play isn’t for you.

Still, Catfish Moon has its good moments because it reminds us about the Aristotelian strength of a good old-fashioned linear story, good characters, clear situations, and simple resolutions. It is easy to find the symbolic elements in plays like this one. The characters were once young and innocent, with no complications in the world but trying to live a worry-free life. Now, they are older, dealing with bitterness, anger and loneliness – stuck in the same old Southern town that has not much to offer them, and where there is nothing else to do but to deal with each other whether they like it or not.

Each character has its own problems: Curley is sick and finds himself trying to fix the bickering between his friends. Gordon is in love but also dealing with alcoholic demons. Frog is lonely and now angry because his friend is dating his ex-wife. And Betty, well, she is trying to survive in the world of these three men. So yes, it is a plain and straightforward story, coming to life with grace and effortlessness by a cast of four actors who easily could find themselves in similar situation, for they are, in real life, about the same age of the characters. This is a good thing because it makes them understand what it means to be middle-aged; what it means to be happy and sad, angry and lonely; what it means to find love and then lose it. But mainly because the four actors can emotionally present themselves naked to their world as they all deal with grown-up situations and the harsh bitterness of life. And this is reason enough to appreciate a production like Catfish Moon.

Catfish Moon

May 23, 24, 25, 30, 31, & June 1 @ 7:30 p.m.
May 26 & June 2 @ 2:30 p.m.

Actors Choice
at the Henry Clay Theatre
604 S. Third St.
Louisville, KY 40202
(502) 495-8358

You’re Only Young Twice

Elizabeth Loos as Julia, J.R. Stuart as “Brooksie” and
Debbie King-Raque as Rose in You're Only Young Twice.
Photo – Derby Dinner Playhouse.

You're Only Young Twice

By Ron Aldridge
Directed by Bekki Jo Schneider

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Every parent has been through it: running with a gang, staying out all night drinking and partying, playing music way too loudly, and then sleeping until late afternoon. In Derby Dinner Playhouse’s latest production, Sue and Richard (Tina Jo Wallace and Cary Wiger) are going through it too. But the person driving them to their wits’ end in this case isn’t their teenage son. It's Sue’s father!

Gordon “Brooksie” Brooks (J. R. Stuart) is a recent widower; he spends his waking hours conversing with a photograph of his late wife (Janet Essenpreis) and his nights riding a motorcycle with his gang of other elderly juveniles: Tom (David Myers), Julia (Elizabeth Loos) and Rose (Debbie King-Raque).  He has moved in with Sue and Richard since Grace’s death and has been driving them crazy ever since.

Tom is about to marry Julia. Rose doesn’t approve because Tom is easily influenced and she believes he is taking Brooksie’s new motto “You’re only as young as you feel” too close to heart. As the wedding plans progress, a stag night gone wrong throws a wrench in the works.

Derby Dinner has brought this fun and “veddy British” play to life in a spritely production that never quite reaches falling-out-of-your-chair fits of laughter but kept me smiling nonetheless. No small share of that goes to the actors, who turn in uniformly strong performances.

Stuart and King-Racque are the standouts as the sparring Brooksie and Rose, opponents destined for a romantic reconciliation. Myers’ British accent falters some, but he is still quite convincing as the latter-day-groom having a midlife crisis. And Essenpreis has some lovely moments as the ethereal Grace, appearing to Brooksie in visions. (But I do wish she had been given a little more movement with the blocking; she almost constantly had her back to me and half the audience.)

Director Bekki Jo Schneider keeps the pace moving briskly, aided by Joshua Howe’s set, Ron Breedlove’s lighting and Sharon Murray Harrah’s costumes.

It’s not a production that breaks any new ground for the playhouse, but it’s well-mounted and entertaining. It certainly pleased the opening night crowd!

Starring Janet Essenpreis, Debbie King-Raque, Elizabeth Loos, David Myers, J. R. Stuart, Tina Jo Wallace and Cary Wiger.

You’re Only Young Twice

May 21 – June 30, 2013

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Tickets (812) 288-8281

2nd Instant Installation Event Proves To Be Energizing and Provocative

Instant Installation Invitational: iii Spring Meet

Text and photos by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Visual Art might often be seen as a static enterprise in Louisville galleries: objet d’art, however compelling, hangs on a wall or sits on a pedestal, awaiting inspection and appraisal from jaded viewers. This initiative, birthed by Ezra Kellerman, invites us into an active, kinetic gallery dynamic in which we witness creativity in action.

Each one of eight artists contributes an element into the mix, and then they are tasked with making an installation with those ingredients in sixty minutes with a crowd watching. The individual artist works on his or her own to create from scratch with materials presented only moments before. The materials in this instance included one potato, a length of hemp rope, a ball of rust-brown yarn, a 4' length of heavy cardboard tubing, a metal wheel rim, a section of tire, some 8" x 11" paper, and a small curio frame. At the end, viewers vote for their favorite work, and cash prizes are awarded.

This Spring Meet (a previous edition took place in November at the Kentucky School of Art) was hosted at Swanson Contemporary and included at least one competitor, David Metcalf, working in one of the window spaces that front onto Market Street. A crowd of several dozen people moved carefully through the space and watched from the street, observing the fast and sometimes fevered efforts, the tight circumstances enhancing the pace and the tension of the exercise. Some of the work took shape quickly, while others were slower to come to fruition; but all were insightful examinations of the creative process.

Mike Ratterman installation.
The results were striking, with sculptor Mike Ratterman winning the top prize and Shohei Katayama and Sarah Lyon picking up runners-up recognition. Ratterman’s piece was an inspired suspended construction that was clean and simple, ingeniously rigging a mobile-like structure with the generous amount of yarn provided. At one point, the artist seemed unsure of how to incorporate the cardboard tube (all ingredients must be used), and its placement in halved sections at the top of his design seemed superfluous except to satisfy the rules of the contest.

Sarah Lyon installation.
Sarah Lyon spent the better part of the hour forcefully deconstructing the materials past the point of recognition, so that it was only in the closing minutes that her design was fulfilled enough to understand. If one had not witnessed the process and known exactly what she had started with, it would have been a challenge to identify her source materials. The original configuration of the disparate elements were obliterated and a new identity imposed on them by the artist’s hand to create a unified purpose that no other artist involved matched.  

Shohei Katayama installation.

It was fascinating to witness interesting and dynamic work being willfully compromised by the demands of the exercise. To this viewer's eyes, Mr. Ratterman was not alone in the challenge of coping with one or more elements that simply had no place in the concept born from the artist’s imagination and constructed under intense pressure, so that the primary challenge might be seen as how to subvert the individual items into a unified physical presence. On these terms, Ms. Lyon’s work was the most successful.

At the end, most of the participants seemed energized and happy to have been a part of this event, and the emphasis on process and action over marketable object can be seen as a provocative commentary on the complacency of the contemporary art scene.
Artist David Metcalf at work.

Participating Artists:                                    
Mike Ratterman – Grand Prize Winner $800
Sarah Lyon – 1st Runner Up $200
Shohei Katayama – 2nd Runner Up $200

Valerie Sullivan Fuchs
Andy Cozzens
Craig Bayens
David Metcalf
Thaniel Ion Lee

May 25, 2013
7 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Swanson Contemporary
638 E. Market Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Monday, May 20, 2013

New Spoof at The Alley Is Entertaining Rendition of Classic Movie

Top Secret

Screenplay by Jim Abrahams, Martyn Burke, Jerry and David Zucker
Adapted for the stage by Joey Arena
Directed by Joey Arena and Todd Zeigler
A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

How many times have we seen a movie become a play? Broadway is currently obsessed with this concept, it seems. I myself performed in an obscure movie-turned-play in college. The idea is simple:  Take a movie and thrust it on to stage with fingers crossed that people will recognize the title and be curious and familiar enough to buy a ticket. Add some light cues, pay some copyrights, and before you know it, you’ve got yourself a production. The Alley Theater has played with this concept many times over the recent years, transforming movies like The Princess Bride, Evil Dead and, for some reason, Point Break into full-on stage productions. Currently, the folks at the Alley are taking on Top Secret, a parody of spy and espionage movies as well as teeny bopper flicks of the ’60s written and directed by the Zucker Brothers – you know, the guys who made Airplane! and Naked Gun, which formed a genre of comedy smeared in the utmost silly goofiness? Director Joey Arena took this spoof and transferred the gags, puns and parody onto the stage in what he calls in his director’s notes a “unique piece of entertainment”; and right he was!

For those unfortunate to have never seen the movie starring a very young blonde Val Kilmer, do not fret because almost all jokes remain true to the movie as do style of costumes, blocking and even choreography. Yes, there is singing and dancing and it is in fact Kilmer’s voice. For those who are true fans of the movie and can quote every line uttered by Nick Rivers, Hillary and Nigel, there will be a few moments that might make you cringe. Notable scenes from the film that were classic pieces of comedic genius miss the cut on the way to the stage. Where The Alley Theater could have dressed their actors in a cow costume and staged some hilarious blocking, instead the audience was left to watch the scene on a screen with lines dubbed by off-stage actors. Another choice that fell short in its transference involves a scene where dialogue and movement are backwards. Although we hear and see the dialogue on film, incorporating live actors mouthing the words from a recorded track and moving backwards fails in comparison to what was considered cutting-edge for 1984.

Throughout the entire play, a screen flashes images from scenes from the Zucker Brothers film. As mentioned above, this sometimes hinders the performance; other times it is fully embraced and works beautifully. One scene that stands out involves the pivotal plan for a rescue mission:  The cast circles around Todd Ziegler as Nigel the ringleader who uses a stick to point out the actions. This scene has crafted timing and movement that utilizes the scene it corresponds with on the screen. Other cleverly timed scenes include a musical number involving the ensemble in a song about surf shooting as well as an underwater saloon fight. What make these scenes successful are the details placed to make each joke work – hook, line and sinker. This amount of care and attention matches the Zucker Brothers’ outlandish and oftentimes over-the-top spectacle in every scene.

The Alley Theater serves up the laughs with this show. Each cast member holds his or her own with dialogue rich in puns and one-liners. Riker Hill as Nick Rivers was particularly strong in the rock-and-roll numbers as he moved his hips and swiveled around the stage, as was his dry delivery of dialogue. Jamie Shannon as Hillary was a standout as Nick’s love interest; here is a comedic actress who definitely has a knack for timing. Todd Zeigler was a key player as well. Regardless if he was a background dancer for Nick Rivers or standing center stage wearing tattered island garb as Nigel, this is one dedicated actor. As for the rest of the cast, I extend many kudos for the exhausting costume changes, energy and devotion it takes to keep the jokes fresh as if saying them for the first time, a standard rule for actors one and all.

So in conclusion, even if you have never heard of the film by the Zucker brothers or if you know every line and can sing every word of “How silly can you get,” The Alley Theater has put together an entertaining rendition of a comedic classic.

Top Secret

May 17-June 1, 2013

The Alley Theater
1210s Franklin Street
Louisville, KY 40206

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Naughty Fun of “Great American Sex Play” from Louisville Repertory Company Is Surprisingly Thought-Provoking

Casandre Elyse Medal, Felicia Corbett, Tamara Dearing, Corey Long,
Zachary Burrell and Richie Goff in Great American Sex Play.
Photo – Louisville Repertory Company.

Great American Sex Play

Written by Brian Walker 
Directed by Gil Reyes

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Brian Walker is a clever enough writer that I think it no accident that this play title forms the acronym GASP. Or perhaps it is, since the title is so bold and declarative of its intentions that I could easily imagine it popping into one’s imagination fully formed – that the delicious acronym would so easily follow only confirming the power of the inspiration.

The play itself, here being given a second mounting by Louisville Repertory Company some six years after its premiere, is every bit as bold as the title, taking on a Very Big Topic (the nature of inherent sexual identity) in a vastly entertaining and adult manner that will delight many and scandalize some, although anyone scandalized by something called Great American Sex Play clearly wasn’t paying attention. Still, it is bound to happen, and if it does, the cast and crew should accept it as a measure of their success. This production is provocative with a capital “P” and proud of it.

GASP pulls the idea of a sex study out of the mid-century image of white lab coats and deposits it into the trappings of a game show (think Who Wants To Be a Millionaire). While Kinsey or Masters and Johnson strove to establish a serious, scientific atmosphere for what the general public imagined was a smutty business, this play embraces a reimagining of the sex study as a randy and Machiavellian endeavor that that does not objectively observe sexual behavior but instead seeks to influence it. It would be a disservice to say more about the plot, which manages to surprise us with its spin on liberal sexual mores while staying true to its core values of freedom and tolerance.

The cast attacks the material with gusto, bringing subtlety and nuance to characters who threaten to be representative mouthpieces if not exactly stereotypes. It is a tight ensemble who are asked to do some daring things onstage and never shirk from the task. Richie Goff, Zachary Burrell and Corey Long are the male subjects in the study, while Casandre Elyse Medel, Tamara Dearing and Jessica May are the women. All have fine moments onstage, yet I must say that Mr. Long and Ms. Dearing seemed to discover some deeper, sadder truths in their characters that linger in my mind a bit more. It also should be noted that Ms. May, originally cast as one of the freaky attendants monitoring the subjects, was pressed into service for the larger role of one of the subjects after another cast member was taken suddenly ill the day of the opening performance. Forced to take the stage with script in hand, the actress acquitted herself admirably, never allowing the pages to distract from the action (indeed, I soon forgot she had them) and delivering a robust and vivid characterization. As to whether it will be Ms. May in other performances or the ailing Felicia Corbett remains to be seen. I would be interested to see Ms. Corbett’s work, but the company managed a difficult circumstance professionally and were lucky to have a cast that could roll with this punch.

The study attendants were a curious bunch of control freaks, with Jesse Barfield and Kelly Kapp delivering particularly funny and well-drawn eccentrics, and with Ms. Kapp’s subtly robotic movements around the stage a real lesson in physical comedy. Director Gil Reyes, stepping in for Ms. Mays, was also a sharp and disturbing comic presence. Their costumes (by Cynthia Coomes) were interesting in that the white lab coats were replaced by clear plastic gear that suggested fetishism and the necessity of protection against an onslaught of bodily fluids – an appropriate yet menacing touch.

The other design work was mostly spare and carefully selected, with a fascinating sound design by Scott Anthony that made good use of animal noises and lights by Angela Bell. I never saw the original production, also directed by Gil Reyes, but this version is staged with great economy; every element has a purpose and the action is pointed and focused.

Mr. Walker seems to be exploring the tension between traditional social custom and a permissive popular culture and how it shapes our sexual identity. The details of his scenario, in its increasingly foreboding totalitarianism, lean towards science fiction in its larger cultural perspective; and the final scenes are a heady, exhilarating journey of self-examination of American sexual identity that lift the material above sexual hijinks. You come to Great American Sex Play expecting naughty fun – frank dialogue, simulated sex acts, and full frontal nudity all tied together through humor – and you leave with your awareness raised and your intellect stimulated in unexpected ways.

Great American Sex Play

May 16, 17, 18, 20, 23, 24 and 25 at 8 p.m.
May 26 at 2 p.m.

$16; $11 on Industry Night (May 20). 502-584-7777. Or, save box-office fees by using The Kentucky Center's drive-through ticket service.

Louisville Repertory Company
The MeX Theatre, The Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202