After a tremendous response, the recent Guild Hall virtual benefit featuring a cast of incredible actors in three short films of comedy plays by Emmy-nominated and Drama Desk-winning playwright Eugene Pack is now available on demand for a limited time for $9.99 thru September 30. The benefit, The Pack – Short Comedies by Eugene Pack, was all recorded via Zoom and the actors that took part were Tony Award-winners Matthew Broderick & John Leguizamo, Blair Underwood, Cecily Strong, Rachel Dratch, Sherri Shepherd, Tony Award-winners Andrea Martin & Santino Fontana, Maulik Pancholy, and Dayle Reyfel.
People can rent/view the benefit at www.GuildHall.org/ThePack.
The plays featured in the benefit are “Lets Meet Up” with Matthew Broderick and John Leguizamo; “Hold” with Sherri Shepherd, Blair Underwood and Dayle Reyfel; and “Aunt Cora” with Rachel Dratch, Santino Fontana, Maulik Pancholy, Cecily Strong and Andrea Martin. This benefit follows Guild Hall’s recent virtual benefit reading of the play “Same Time Next Year” with Julianne Moore & Alec Baldwin.
The Pack Benefit is an extension of the hugely successful Pack Podcast, a new spoken word series featuring star-studded casts performing short comedy plays by Eugene Pack. Launched in May, the podcast benefits The Actors Fund (www.ActorsFund.org) and Feeding America (www.FeedingAmerica.org). The plays are available at www.ThePackPodcast.org and new plays are made available each week on Thursdays. The Guardian newspaper called the Pack Podcast one of the “Best Culture at Home” events for summer 2020.
Called a “prodigiously gifted storyteller” by The LA Times and “the next Neil Simon for these times” by Alec Baldwin, Eugene Pack is the creator of Celebrity Autobiography which ran on Broadway & won the Drama Desk Award in the category of “Unique Theatrical Experience.” He has performed with the show on tour and internationally including the West End, Scotland and the Sydney Opera House. An Emmy-nominated writer, Pack is also the creator/exec. producer of the hit CMT series “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team.”
Guild Hall, one of the first multidisciplinary centers in the country to combine a museum, theater, and education space under one roof, was established in 1931 as a gathering place for community where an appreciation for the arts would serve to encourage greater civic participation. For nearly nine decades, Guild Hall has embraced this open-minded vision and provided a welcoming environment for the public to engage with art exhibitions, performances, and educational offerings. Art and artists have long been the engine of Guild Hall’s activities and the institution continues to find innovative ways to support creat
Theatre News: Wicked, Kimberly Akimbo, Alice in Neverland and Ballad of Dreams, The Night of the Iguana and Ode To The Wasp Woman
On Monday, October 30th, the blockbuster musical Wicked will celebrate its 20th Anniversary on Broadway, a milestone achieved by only three other Broadway productions in history. To commemorate this landmark, Wicked is partnering with several national organizations to celebrate all things Oz.
Additional Wicked celebrations, including cast appearances, New York City food and drink collaborations, and special events throughout the month of October, will be announced in the coming weeks.
A KIND OF RECIPE BOOK. FOR CHANGE…
In celebration of Wicked’s 20th Anniversary on Broadway, Moleskine has created a beautiful Wicked-inspired 20th Anniversary notebook that can be purchased in theatre, Moleskine Direct channels, and with several Moleskine wholesale partners, beginning October 23rd. This limited-edition notebook will inspire Wicked fans to put pen to paper (following in the footsteps of Wicked novelist Gregory Maguire and book writer Winnie Holzman) to bring their own stories to life.
PINK GOES GOOD WITH GREEN…
Hill House Home, a New York-based fashion brand founded by Nell Diamond, worked closely with Wicked’s Tony Award-winning costume designer, Susan Hilferty, to create a Wicked-inspired Nap Dress™ collection in honor of the show’s 20th anniversary. The collection will include two adult dresses and two children’s dresses inspired by the characters Glinda and Elphaba. The styles will be available for purchase online and in Hill House’s store at Rockefeller Center toward the end of the year.
LIKE A HANDPRINT ON MY HEART…
Little Words Project, which started in 2013 in founder Adriana Carrig’s parents’ basement, creates handcrafted word bracelets with messages of kindness and love that aim to support women and to remind us to be kind to one another. In the past ten years, the company has become a worldwide brand with an extremely engaged and loyal community of fans. This fall, Little Words Project is partnering with Wicked to create four exclusive bracelets inspired by the unique friendship between Elphaba and Glinda. The collection will be featured in all nine Little Words retail stores across the country. To honor 20 years on Broadway, Little Words Project has designed Wicked-inspired bracelets. Little Words Project creates handcrafted bracelets, each with an inspirational word displayed on the beads. The bracelets – in the spirit of the “pay it forward” movement – are meant to uplift the wearer, and then be passed on to someone else who needs them more. The Wicked bracelets are inspired by Glinda and Elphaba, who helped uplift one another through their friendship; they will feature the words “Wicked,” “Unlimited,” “Defy Gravity,” and “For Good.”
WHAT’S THE MOST SWANKIFIED PLACE IN TOWN?
Beginning October 6th, WICKED fans can indulge in the elegance of The Plaza Hotel’s Wicked–themed Afternoon Tea at The Plaza’s famed Palm Court Restaurant. The “Defying Gravi-tea” will feature special sweet and savory delights, like the “Look To The Brest’ern Sky” pate a choux, or the “Flying Monkey” Macaron. Under the Palm Court’s iconic dome, which will be lit Emerald Green, guests can also enjoy The Palm Court’s mixologists’ most Wicked cocktails in high Plaza fashion. The venue will be adorned with emerald-green accents, glittering with hints of emerald and black, paying homage to Wicked’s beloved story.
The Plaza is also offering “The Emerald City Experience,” which includes a stay at The Plaza, as well as tickets to the special 20th anniversary “Green Performance” of Wicked on October 29th, the Wicked-themed Afternoon Tea, a Playbill signed by the full company, and house car transportation to the Gershwin Theatre. For details, pls visit The Emerald City Experience | The Plaza (theplazany.com)
ONE SHORT DAY, FULL OF SO MUCH TO DO…
Capital One became Wicked’s official Credit Card Partner in May of this year, marking the first time the company has partnered with a Broadway musical. Eligible Capital One cardholders had pre-sale access to tickets for the anniversary performances on October 29th and 30th. Cardholders were also able to gain entry to exclusive events taking place at the Museum of Broadway during Wicked’s Anniversary weekend, featuring alumnae Brittney Johnson and Kara Lindsay, available only on Capital One Entertainment.
TWO BEST FRIENDS…
American Girl, known for helping girls grow up with courage, confidence, and strength of character, has teamed up with Wicked to celebrate their 2023 Girl of the Year™, Kavi Sharma™. Kavi is an Indian American girl growing up in New Jersey who loves singing, dancing, and performing with her friends. Her favorite Broadway show is Wicked and American Girl has designed special Wicked costumes for Kavi to celebrate her love of the musical.
Hear Your Song – a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young people with serious illnesses and complex health needs through collaborative songwriting – continues its partnership with Broadway’s Tony-award winning show Kimberly Akimbo with a special concert at Green Room 42 on November 12th at 7 pm. You can find tickets to the in-person concert and livestream alongside more details here.
In this evening of songs and performances from both Kimberly Akimbo and Hear Your Song, Broadway company members sing alongside youth songwriters to showcase the score of Kimberly Akimbo and a treasure trove of songs written by kids who, in a lot of ways, have a lot in common with Kimberly. There will be performances by Kimberly Akimbo company members, such as Tony nominee Justin Cooley, Alli Mauzey, Betsy Morgan, Miguel Gil and Alex Vinh, as well as children and teens from Hear Your Song.
Within this partnership, Hear Your Song participants had the opportunity to develop their own songs and gain a deeper understanding of the songwriting process through a songwriting masterclass led by Kimberly Akimbo’s creators, composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist David Lindsay-Abaire. 16-year-old Hannah, who will be performing at the concert, is an accomplished youth songwriter living with Crohn’s Disease. She shared her songs with Tesori and Lindsay-Abaire in a virtual masterclass in March.
Hear Your Song’s mission is to provide a platform for youth to share their experiences and perspectives through the art of songwriting. By partnering with members of the Kimberly Akimbo team, Hear Your Song is able to offer a unique opportunity for young people living with serious illnesses to be heard by a wide audience as they learn from professionals in the industry and gain valuable skills and experience.
All of Hear Your Song’s programming is free of charge for youth and families. Please visit www.hearyoursong.org to learn more about how to get involved and donate to support hundreds of youth songwriters like Hannah.
A sequel to one of the most beloved stories of all time, Lewis Carrol’s “Alice in Wonderland,” and a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” the new musical Alice in Neverland took place. The cast was led by Allie Seibold, Heath Saunders (Company), Kyle Selig (Mean Girls), Grace McLean (Bad Cinderella), Courtnee Carter (Parade) and Rob Colletti (Almost Famous).
Growing older and obsessed with her memories of Wonderland, Alice embarks on the daring journey to recapture youth – including the sacrifices that might be required to never grow up.
Alice in Neverland features book, music and lyrics by Phil Kenny and Reston Williams, director Catie Davis (Beetlejuice, Moulin Rouge), music director Kris Kukul(Beetlejuice), and general manager Joey Monda (Sing Out, Louise! Productions). The reading is being presented by six-time Tony Award® winning production team 42nd.club (& Juliet, Hadestown, Moulin Rouge).
Rounding out the reading cast are Travis Artz, Bobby Daye (Moulin Rouge), LaVon Fisher-Wilson (Chicago), Mia Gerachis, Stephanie Gibson (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Donnie Hammond, Benjamin Henderson, Eddie Korbich (The Music Man), Garth Kravits (Gettin’ the Band Back Together), Elliott Mattox (Beetlejuice), Tiffany Mann (Be More Chill), Adelina Mitchell, Chase Petersen, Honor Blue Savage, and Emmet Smith.
Inspired by a true story, a love letter to New York City, Ballad of Dreams illuminates the struggle of two resilient women fighting for their place in the glittering world of 1940’s theater, chasing the dream of being a performer and being a mother. Against insurmountable odds they must confront the universal question faced by women of every era: can we truly have it all?
Audrey McKenna, a vibrant grandmother and mother of thirteen, is confronted with the unfulfilled dreams of her youth to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City, circa WW2. With the help of her best friend Rose, they each journey in discovering love, their own identities, and independence as women in a time when society tried to define that for them.
The cast includes Hunter Parrish (Broadway: To Kill a Mockingbird, Showtime’s “Weeds”), Erin Davie (Broadway: Diana, The Musical, Sunday in the Park with George), Nicholas Rodriguez (Broadway: Company), Allyson Hernandez (Off-Broadway: If This Hat Could Talk), Robb Sapp (Broadway: The Lion King, Wicked), Alan H. Green (Broadway: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Sharon Wheatley (Broadway: Come From Away), Neal Mayer (Broadway: Les Misérables), Emily Walton (Broadway: Come From Away), Elizabeth Bedley (Regional: A Chorus Line), Noah Wolfe (Regional: A Little Night Music), Laura Sky Herman (National Tour: Hello, Dolly!), Emily Jewel Hoder (Broadway: The Music Man) and Charlie Carroccio (Film:The 12 Days of Christmas Eve), with Harmony Harris (Associate Director), Jamibeth Margolis, CSA (Casting) LDK Productions (General Manager).
For more information on Ballad of Dreams, please visit www.BalladofDreams.comLa Femme Theatre Productions (Jean Lichty, Executive Director), renowned for its dedication to showcasing the diverse female experience, is set to illuminate the Off-Broadway stage this season with an evocative 21st century production of Tennessee Williams’s timeless masterpiece, The Night of the Iguana. Under the direction of Tony Award nominee, Emily Mann , this production will star Emmy Nominee Tim Daly (Broadway: The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. TV: “The Sopranos,” “Madam Secretary,” “Wings’), Tony Award – Winner Daphne Rubin-Vega (Broadway: Rent, Anna in the Tropics), Drama Desk nominee Lea DeLaria(Netflix “Orange Is the New Black.” Broadway: POTUS) , Tony nominee Austin Pendleton (Broadway: Between Riverside and Crazy, The Minutes) , and Jean Lichty(Off-Broadway: La Femme’s A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, The Traveling Lady ). It will begin performances on December 6 in advance of its opening on December 17. It will run through February 25, 2024 at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street, Jim Houghton Way) . The Night of the Iguana is not a production of Signature Theatre.
Sean Young (Blade Runner, Fatal Instinct) in Ode To The Wasp Woman, a new play by Rider McDowell (The Mercy Man, Wimbledon). The limited 13-week Off-Broadway engagement will play October 30, 2023 through January 31, 2023, at The Actors Temple Theatre (339 W. 47th St, NYC). Opening night is Thursday, November 9 at 7:30PM. Tickets are now on sale at Telecharge.com.
Ode To The Wasp Woman chronicles the last 48 hours in the lives of four 1950’s B movie stars; Susan Cabot, leading lady of the Roger Corman’s cult classic The Wasp Woman; George Reeves, the man who brought Superman to life on TV screens across America; Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer of the beloved “Our Gang” comedies; B-movie queen Barbara Payton. The desperate and sensational events that lead to the demise of these four fallen stars are told in four one acts with music, a veritable homage to film noir and true crime.
Rider McDowell directs Sean Young as Susan Cabot, leading a company of actors, To be announced, portraying George ‘Superman’ Reeves, Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, and B-movie queen Barbara Payton.
Totally “Appropriate” (for our time) and Phenomenally Brilliant, Housed and Unpacked by Coal Mine Theatre Toronto
Every season, to my amazement, there is always that one moment when you feel like you are witnessing something incredible. A theatrical alignment of the stars, when a great play reveals itself, coming to life and to your light before your very eyes. Even when, in this case, we are greeted with such dark vibrating intensity right from the beginning. And that moment is always courtesy of a mass of talented folks doing what they do best, creaking and screeching in an arena that just works. Just like the time I first saw The Lehman Trilogy, The Inheritance, or the epic Angels in America (all of which are going to grace a Toronto stage this coming season). They are moments to remember for a lifetime.
This season, Coal Mine Theatre just might be the one to take that highest of honors with the captivatingly revealing production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ brilliant play, Appropriate. A play that is both hilariously morbid and disturbing, while being gravely fascinating and meaningful. Using gothic horror as its framework, Appropriate delivers a spectacularly distinct unraveling; intense and threatening in the darkness that initially takes over the space, destined to ensnare anyone who enters, with or without a flashlight. The play feels like a ghost story wrapped in the haunted memories of its vast connection to enslavement, and it plays with that notion that soon gets lodged in our heads, forcing us to squirm in the overpowering static darkness, waiting for what feels like forever before we can start making out the bones of the beginning. In a way the play is actually about ghosts, but not one where the undead will rise up out of the floorboards or appear at the window looking in – even though it always feels like the haunted past is there, floating around or peering in, having its way with us by mystically keeping us perched on the edge of our seats.
But the haunting demons come from within, scattered about the space, seen and unseen, known and ignored, just waiting to be discovered. Not floating down the stairs or up from the basement, but they are as determined as ever to unsettle most, but not all, who open up that one particular chapter of Southern history, and really see what is there. It’s all right there in black and white; jarred and jarring, cataloged and presenting a disturbing time and formulation, even if we are determined to swim in the murky waters of denial. Appropriate is that moment. And what a moment it is, engaging every fiber of my being, and fueling an overwhelming excitement and interest to a higher degree in anticipation of seeing this spectacular play make its Broadway/Second Stage debut starring Sarah Paulson on December 18th at the Hayes Theater in New York City.
Written with direction and purpose, most intensely, by Jacobs-Jenkins (An Octoroon; Everybody), Appropriate soars on that tiny theatrical stage at Coal Mine, designed with a tight purpose by Rebecca Morris (Lighthouse Festival’s Prairie Nurse) and Steve Lucas (CS’s Heisenberg), who also did the determined lighting design. The play overtakes the limitations with an expert eye for what is at the core of this compelling piece of theatre, shifting its brittle focus as easily as a wandering flashlight. The play won the 2014 Obie Award for Best New American Play, and as directed with clarity by Ted Dykstra (Coal Mine’s The Antipodes), the piece finds its delicious and angry dysfunction in the very bones and hidden remnants of this Lafayette family clan returning. They have all come together, much to the surprise and mistrust of most, to a decaying Arkansas plantation that is “more Gone With the Wind, and less hoarder” to deal with the familial history and their combustive alliances, but, on the more observerable surface, to untangle their recently deceased father’s complicated inheritance and somehow find closure.
That inheritance Is not all there in property and banknotes, laid out in their father’s will, but seared with more force in a bound relic that shines a sharp beam of light on their family’s possible problematic past. Casually found and revealed in distraction, it burns a bright hot light on their parental heritage, pushing to the surface decades of resentment and distrust, that has been ready and waiting for years to be unleashed on one another in a camera’s flash. Historical sin is what lies waiting on the shelf, biting in and drawing forth decades of unsaid venom into the family’s tight dysfunction. Bitterness and a punitive punishment have slowly burned itself steadfastly into their souls. Especially the oldest daughter, Toni, intensely and magnificently played by Raquel Duffy (Soulpepper’s Of Human Bondage). This desperate mother of one carries so much complicated embittered rage that one can’t help but lean in as you simultaneously want to back away out of fear and the instinctual need to protect. Duffy’s performance is a captivatingly stellar and tense unleashing, one that will register and be carried out of the theatre like a bruise on an arm, still stinging from all that hurt and pain that was thrown hard with such vengeance at almost every person in that room.
It’s a searingly difficult comedic drama, crawling in through the window from one of America’s most gifted young playwrights, to deliver the dynamic goods. The three adult children, rotting away from the insides, have come together, unwillingly and with a ton of baggage and resentment. They stand, un-unified, in a protective stance, wanting, in a way, to sort themselves out as they go through the hoarded mementos that their father had gathered around him before his death. But it’s more a collision course over debt and contention, with each carrying secrets from the other and themselves, ultimately determined to be the one who gets out less bruised than when they walked or climbed in. And if this non-typical haunted house has any say in the matter – and boy, does this house have a lot to say and unveil – this explosive reunion is a brawl just waiting to happen. Not the big familial hug that at least some of them are hoping for.
Beyond the recently divorced and rancorous Toni, and her troubled son, Rhys, assertively portrayed by Mackenzie Wojcik (RMTC’s A Christmas Story), her two younger brothers drag out more complications and skeletons than an old house could ever give, even one with both a familial graveyard and an unmarked slave graveyard out back. The older brother to Toni is Bo, the one who, at first, seems to have his business and life in some sort of order, even though he can’t seem to get off his cell phone and find a way to be present. But Toni doesn’t let that get in the way of flinging vile, foul-mouthed anger at Bo, played with detailed determination by Gray Powell (Crow’s Middletown), as his wife, the multi-layered Rachael, played strong by Amy Lee (RMTC’s Pride and Prejudice) orders and yells at their two children; the young fireball, Ainsley, played frantically by Ruari Hamman, and the older “almost an adult” daughter, Cassidy, sweetly and slyly portrayed by Hannah Levinson (TMSC’s Grey Gardens), in a frazzled frenzy of troubled form and function.
But it’s Toni’s younger brother, Franz, tightly portrayed by Andy Trithardt (Station Arts’ Prairie Nurse) whose unexplained arrival, with his newly formed flower-child fiancé, River, played to perfection by Alison Beckwith (Driftwood’s Trafalgar 24), that really brings the trauma and the history of this family, drenched in addiction and pedophilia to the surface. Unearthed and dirty, Toni’s unhinged anger rises up quickly, ready to be flung with such hate and fury that it takes work to stay in the room with them. No one trusts anyone in that room, as the secrets and the shame keep rising up from the floorboards ready to sharply splinter and spear the skin with a bloody vengeance. Apologies find no weight in the bitter waters of Toni’s existence as the jarred evidential mementos are ignored and secreted away, much like that flag that just leans in the backroom, begging to be noticed by anyone, but unseen by all, from start to almost finish.
Secrets are thrown about, quickly and with intention, mostly hitting the targets, even when the target is hiding in the darkness. But oddly the longing for love and care, and the undercurrent need for familial attachment sneaks in, even when misdirected. Somewhere, underneath all that anger, bitterness, jealousy, and betrayal, some form of needed connection hangs in the balance, finding relief in an absence or from asked-for hugs. They all just seem scared by all that history and the mistrust that comes with it; terrified and haunted by the idea that it will consume them all. Costumed with skill by Des’ree Gray (Buddies’ The First Stone), with a solid static-intense sound design by Deanna Choi (Stratford’s A Wrinkle in Time) and Michael Wanless (“The Rest is Electric“), Appropriate never lets up, haunting the walls and the rooms with hate and racial disturbances, gobbling up the lives of sweet girls and sugar, as we watch it all crumble to the ground.
Trapped in the intense disturbing sound of screaming cicadas and burned by all those shitty historic memories that have been buried deep for more than just seven years, these “misfit disaster people” swing hard, trying to bring as much damage to the other as they feel inside. Duffy’s Toni delivers the damaged goods with a rage that is wildly and magnificently mesmerizing. Her inner destructive power, unleashed from her pain and longing, is frighteningly clear, and never more apparent, and Appropriate, than inside that final disappearing act delivered on the stairs. It’s a performance that will live on inside me for a long long time, stinging and hurting like the wounds that were inflicted upon her so many years ago, from abandonment and love’s disappointment. Duffy is breathtakingly brilliant in the role, as powerful as the whole decrepit destruction that soon follows. Something I’m still thinking about to this very day.
There was an article in the New York Times this morning as I sat down to work on my review of Coal Mine Theatre‘s Appropriate. And it couldn’t have been more, well, Appropriate. It was entitled, “What Kind of Person Has a Closet Full of Nazi Memorabilia?” And at the edge of all these mismatched crazy memories, laced with blindness, anger, and denial, is the thing that makes Appropriate so fascinatingly magnificent. I’m still trying to unpack the chaotic, complex, and disturbing ending that destructively decays the formula before our very eyes, and the wordless wonder that fills those observing eyes as he takes in and sees what everyone else didn’t want to. Willful blindness is a crazy unhinged power, and also a defense, used to not see the ugly truth that is displayed before us. It’s not an Appropriate response, but in this play, it couldn’t be more Appropriate, especially for the times we live in.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
VideoCabaret in assoc. with Crow’s Theatre presents the World Premiere of “(EVERYONE I LOVE HAS) A TERRIBLE FATE (BEFALL THEM)”
VideoCabaret in association with Crow’s Theatre presents
(EVERYONE I LOVE HAS) A TERRIBLE FATE (BEFALL THEM)
Written & performed by Cliff Cardinal. Dramaturged & directed by Karin Randoja
Produced by Aaron Rothermund & Layne Coleman
VideoCabaret in association with Crow’s Theatre presents the World Premiere of (EVERYONE I LOVE HAS) A TERRIBLE FATE (BEFALL THEM) by Cliff Cardinal from October 10-29, 2023 at the Deanne Taylor Theatre (10 Busy Street, Toronto).
Deep in the bowels of a church basement, Robert and his support group must come to terms with their mortality before the impending apocalypse. If only they had just one more day…. Like an asteroid hurtling towards Earth, (EVERYONE I LOVE HAS) A TERRIBLE FATE (BEFALL THEM) is a haunting and humorous portrayal of humankind on the brink of extinction written and performed by Cliff Cardinal, dramaturged and directed by Karin Randoja.
Cliff Cardinal is a polarizing writer and performer known for black humour and compassionate poeticism. His solo theatre productions Stitch, Huff, and Cliff Cardinal’s CBC Special have toured extensively and won numerous awards. Cliff is an associate artist at VideoCabaret, where he premiered his multi-character play Too Good to Be True, “a captivating tale that solidifies Cardinal as one of the most talented and intriguing writers in the country” (NOW Magazine). He was named a “Canadian Cultural Icon ” in 2022 (The Globe and Mail) for William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, A Radical Retelling produced by Crow’s Theatre. The show has since toured across Canada, and was recently presented by Mirvish Productions in Toronto as The Land Acknowledgement, or As You Like It.
Tarragon Theatre’s “The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time” Stitches a Journey for the Ages
“It’s [all in] the stitchin’, not the patches, that completes your handiwork.” And that, in essence, is what The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time, Tarragon Theatre’s season opener, is all about… in a general sort of way. He’s “sick and tired of being sick and tired“, he will tell you that, but pay attention to the patches themselves is the framework we are being served up by the very game Walter Borden (Theatre Aquarius’ A Few Good Men). The playwright and performer of this epic quilt-unfurling has a lot to say about life as a gay black person as his voice resonates with deep personal tones of heartache and love; mischief and meandering attachment. Crouching to the unfolded quilt that is laid out before us, eventually, bit by bit over the 90min one-person show, the artist of a certain age majestically finds fervor in the fabric unfolded. He is a witness and a messenger; nature’s love child, using that incredibly seductive voice of his to wrap us up in his multi-faceted tale, trying his best to keep us in his memory-infused projected lane. And for the most part, he does. Even when we wander off here and there, taking in the view, feeling the rhythm, but getting sometimes lost in the rhyme.
“Speak your speak,” Borden, the Dora-nominated, Order of Canada-honoured legend of Canadian theatre, says, sauntering into the space as if arriving for a shift at a parking kiosk or maybe, and more likely, a toll booth. We pay our fare, “playing on frazzled wits” so we can drive alongside, following him on this ten-character highway that he so dutifully created, deep and heavy, out of an intense historical and cultural dreamscape. It’s a “circus of the damned” where we find ourselves, guided by an expert hand across decades of perspective and precise personalities. It transcends time and place with intersectional poetry and observations, and in the age-old tradition, like Lily Tomlin’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe and even the latest one-person exploration by Daniel Jelani Ellis in Buddies’speaking of sneaking, Borden winds and drives his own vehicle, The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time, with the ease of an expert witness, showing us all he knows and has learned about himself and the world around him.
Aligned and derived from his famous, 1986 semi-autobiographical solo play, Tightrope Time Ain’t Nuthin’ More Than Some Itty Bitty Madness Between Your Twilight & Your Dawn, this newly engaged manifest is etched and merged together from his past. The characters flip forth, merging into newly paved lanes with a clarity of thought and form. At first, it is hard to see the oncoming traffic, those dredged-up iconic memories from a time both past and present. But those images and ideas consistently surprise us when they race into our rearview mirror with urgency, sometimes confusingly, and sometimes enlightening the air around us. A voice, dripping and projecting mystical light, thanks to set, costume, lighting, and projection design by Andy Moro (Citadel/Tarragon’s The Herd), speaks of a destiny and a purpose that is carved in simple grounded poetry and grand beautiful lyricisms, and we gladly join in for the journey. I can’t say I stayed totally tuned in to all the layers and dream-like landscapes we passed during our ride through, but the humor and the humanity always pulled me back in from the haziness I might have slipped into.
“Your life is like this patchwork quilt where them pieces don’t mean nuthin’ when they scattered all about, but if you take the time to lay them side by side, they got a tale to tell.”
The voice, courtesy of the fine work done by sound designer and composer Adrienne Danrich O’Neill (LCT’s Intimate Apparel), speaks of a destination that many might not comprehend or even want to, but as directed with clarity and a forward motion by Peter Hinton-Davis (Tarragon’s The Hooves Belonged to the Deer), Borden drives on from one complexity to another, nudging us to look deeper within ourself, and the other. The view out the window isn’t always exacting, nor is it always easy to understand coherently, but the landscape that he wants to show us, intentionally incomplete and complex, gives way to a greater connection and understanding of humanity and beyond. Memories and vantage points are presented, bumping and grinding up against one another, delivering the contours of content with an easy wave of an arm.
To the “children of the diaspora, that is–the family,” this play carries four nations on his back, bringing forth memories that live on in his well-formed Last Epistle that unearths this landmark piece of Canadian theatre. It was created and embodied with a sharp determination to not only explore male homosexuality from a Black perspective but simultaneously and fearlessly unpack a life lived in poverty. And in love. Esoteric and enlightening, The Last Epistle of Tightrope Time has grown through time and years into something profound. Blessed and blurry with age, it will live on in abundance, opening our eyes and hearts to a world that continues to be seen and heard most wantedly, so we may understand and embrace.
Ossie Davis’s Purlie Victorious Is A Satire On Fire
The cast of Ossie Davis’s 961 satire Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch, is helmed by Leslie Odom Jr. as a conniving preacher with a conscience and made into comic genius by Kara Young. This revival brings humor against a prejudice South whose injustices were a crime against humanity. They say that all good comedy is bore out of pain and this show aims to fight historic injustice with laughter.
The play tells the fictional story of Reverend Purlie Victorious Judson (Leslie Odom, Jr.), a dynamic traveling preacher who has returned to his hometown in rural Georgia, to save his small hometown church Big Bethel. He left due to a brutal whipping by the land owner Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee (Jay O. Sanders) twenty years, but has come back to save his church, and emancipate the cotton pickers who work on oppressive Ol’ Cap’n Cotchipee’s plantation. He has brought with him Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins (the adorable Kara Young), to impersonate his long-lost cousin, Bee, and trick Ol’ Cap’n into handing over a five-hundred-dollar inheritance that he owes the family.
To pull off this scheme he needs the help of his sister-in-law Missy (Heather Alicia Simms) and his brother, Gitlow (Billy Eugene Jones) who is the Cap’n’s main singing and shuffling work hand.
However thanks to another Black member of Ol’ Cap’n’s household Idella (Vanessa Bell Calloway), who raised Ol’ Cap’n’s son, Charlie (Noah Robbins), as if he were her own, does the church and Purlie get saved with a brave act of defiance.
Davis wrote and performed this play at the height of the Civil Rights Era, when Martin Luther King, Jr. words were having an impact. He even attended the show.
Kenny Leon keeps this show at a fast pace, with wit and sarcastic humor abounding. He brings his exceptional cast to peak performances. Odom, Jr. (Hamilton’s original Aaron Burr), inhabits this preacher with conviction, fighting for justice and the rights of his people. Jones (Fat Ham and On Sugarland), brings a charm to Gitlow as he embodies those who had to bow low just to survive. Simms and Calloway ground the show with warmth and maternal longing. O. Sanders plays the Cap’n looking like a Tall Colonel Sanders, but sounding like Foghorn Leghorn. He is as amusing, as frightening as it is to look at the past. Playing his son, Robbins offers the hope of seeing and righting the wrongs. But it is Young (Cost of Living, Clyde’s) who walks away with her remarkable performance. Completely and utterly in love with Purlie, Young is a whirlwind of emotions and physical comedy. She is big and broad, all in one petite compact body. When she comes to tell of the misjustice done to her by the Cap’n she has us in the palms of her hands.
Purlie in a word is victorious.
Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch, Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street, until January 7th.
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