Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Theatre Droppings: Brits and Micks

I returned to the bosom of my family this weekend, after a longer absence than usual. I'm pretty lucky that I can spend as much time as I like Down South with the folks, and still return to DC whenever the need arises.
It's a great time to be in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are bursting into bright colors as the temps drop. That nip in the fall air always energizes me, and my step-mother's homemade soups are worth the trip.

My first weekend back coincided with the opening of the North Carolina Stage Company's new season. I knew only the barest outline of the story to Beauty Queen of Leenane, and I was glad not to know more, as the story springs some startling surprises. The show's four-member ensemble is superior, guided by Angie Flynn-McIver, who directed me in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead last season at the same theatre. I noticed back then that she has strong casting skills, and with the current project, she outdid herself. She has taken one novice actor (Casey Morris, still in school) and two pros at their peaks (Anne Thibault and Michael MacCauley), and pitted them against a true theatrical heavyweight, Carol Mayo Jenkins, playing the manipulative harridan at the center of the story. I've seen several other plays by Martin McDonagh, and they are all darkly comic stories which can suddenly turn horrific. And this one does.

Several miles east of NCStage, the Flat Rock Playhouse is running a tidy little thriller called The Woman in Black. I have a soft spot for "the Rock," as they produced the very first play I ever saw (I wrote a bit about their recent tragedy here), and they are doing a good job with this show, which has been running in London for decades. I would love to see this play in a small, claustrophobic theatre, where I think the chills would increase. Flat Rock's playhouse has an extremely wide playing space, perfect when those Seven Brothers go after their Seven Brides, but is more problematic with intimate stories. Director Scott Treadway (who's a terrif actor, as I've already seen) puts the big stage to good use, and swell lighting effects help keep the divergent locations straight. Peter Thomasson plays just about everyone involved in this ghost story, but Willie Repoley may have the harder task, playing the Actor who must reenact the haunting at the center of the story. And that dinosaur puppet is really spooky.

As I spend more time in the region, I look forward to these theaters' upcoming projects. Over at NCStage, they are doing a full season of shows with walls, which is a bit of a change for them. They'll have doors, too, I imagine. I had a drink or three with the crew after Beauty Queen, and we all agreed that, every once in a while, you just get a hankerin' for a box set.

As for Flat Rock, their new artistic director has announced his first season, and it looks like great fun. It seems like he's stepped back a bit from the traditional titles which usually anchor their summer, and I wonder if they will be getting any flack for producing The Producers. Last year, the Rock took some guff from local whiners who complained about the language in ART, though patrons received fair warning well ahead of time (that particular production was the funniest of any ARTs I've seen).
The Producers drops the F-Bomb at least once (in the first ten minutes!). My advice would be to change the word to "feck." They're getting away with that like gangbusters over at Beauty Queen. But back to Flat Rock. They have also announced something called For the Glory, the Civil War Musical, which I think must be the retooled Frank Wildhorn show I saw last season at Fords in DC (go here to see everything I learned from that production). And The 39 Steps will be a showcase for the four actors performing this stage version of Hitchcock's classic film; it's just finishing its second year on Broadway (and is closing, though it may pull an Avenue Q and return Off-). FRP is calling the show "Broadway's longest-running comedy thriller," which it actually is not; that distinction is held by Deathtrap, which ran over four years. But that's quibbling. Flat Rock would never get away with Deathtrap these days anyway: it has a single same-sex kiss, which might cause the audience to storm the stage and set fire to the theatre.

Never a dull moment when hiking the Appalachian trail!

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