Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time there was a guy and a girl,  a broken Hoover vacuum and a broken heart.

Circumstances converge and the despairing Irish musician (Ken Allen Neely) and full-of-life Czech immigrant (Katherine Fried) form a special kind of alchemy. With nothing but their love of music in common, they share a five-day friendship cum impossible romance. The result of their whirlwind collaboration is a demo CD and memories of their rare, serendipitous encounter. Thank God for broken Hoovers.

This collaboration was brought to life by Virginia Rep with direction and choreography by Artistic Director Nathaniel Shaw. And it is nothing short of magical.

Once is a Tony Award winning musical based on the movie written and directed by John Carney. The score is based on music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.

Neely and Fried are exceptional in their roles. And so are the ensemble musicians. The choreography is terrific throughout and even the choreographed set changes are beautiful and moving.

Photo by Jay Paul

This "jukebox" musical is seamlessly told. The interplay between the ensemble and the score as they bring to life Hansard and Irglova's emotional, gut-wrenching melodies and lyrics is a joy to watch. With gorgeous costumes, and a creative set, VA Rep's Once is a home run on all counts, from beginning to end.

Photo by Jay Paul 

We are accustomed to, even long for our heroes and heroines to live happily ever after. But life is so much more complicated and nuanced. And though the guy and girl's fated meeting is a brief blip in time, the results of this one-in-a-million chance encounter remain in our hearts.

Once is a not-to-be missed crowd-pleasing show that will leave you breathless and reminiscing on our own once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Once continues at November Theatre's Arenstein Stage through March 3, 2019. Click on this link for tickets.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Keeping it Relevant

Plague stricken Thebes is in chaos. Citizens demand that king Oedipus (dl Hopkins) do something about it. Oedipus's brother-in-law Kreon (R.O. Crews) delivers a message from the oracle of Delphi- - - the plague will cease when the murder of Laius - former king of Thebes - is avenged. Oedipus vows to find the murderer. 

And we know the rest. Was it his fate to kill his father King Laius and wed his mother Jacosta (Patricia Alli)? Or was it self-fulfilling prophecy? Oedipus heard the prophecy, believed it, and fulfilled it. Could he have changed course?

Textbooks have been written about the answer to that question. And Oedipus Rex, considered by many to be Sophocles' masterpiece, has been dissected, analyzed, debated by high school and college students ad nauseum. 

So how do you keep Sophocles' masterpiece relevant? Director Vinnie Gonzales sets the drama in 1920s South with wisdom (the moral) imparted by a fire and brimstone preacher (Jeremy V. Morris) and a chorus of gospel singers (Shantell Dunnaville, Shalimar Hickman Fields, and Shalandis Wheeler Smith) providing inspiration.  

Gonzalez shows that it doesn't really matter that Oedipus was written more than two thousand years years.  Its themes - incest, betrayal, state power, fate v. self-determination, hubris are timeless and universal. 

In fact, the heart of the Oedipus narrative seems to be playing out in our own government. Think of the White House as the castle and Mr. Trump the tyrannical king. Not such a stretch.

Firehouse Theatre's Oedipus under Gonzalez's strong direction, offers across-the-board top-notch performances - particularly by Morris who is the embodiment of the Southern preacher; from intonation and cadence in his oratory, to the foot stomping, hand-waving nuances of the physicality of a charismatic preacher. Yes, Morris, I do believe!

Oedipus, a gospel myth offers one of the finest endings I've seen in quite some time. I still get chills thinking about it.

Niomi Kaiser's costumes are spot-on; a perfect blend of ancient and early 20th century Southern garb. 

The play is fodder for conversation. Why do we as human beings have this capacity for evil? Is it a deficit of human nature or a consequence of our social systems and power structures? These questions are just as relevant in 2019 as they were in Ancient Greece. 

Oedipus, a gospel myth continues at Firehouse Theatre through February 23, 2019 (my 49th birthday). For tickets visit:

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Care Out Loud

For how many of us is the act of stepping outside to the mailbox an act of courage?

I sometimes walk down to our front gate in my pajamas and hope the neighbors don't see me. But that is an act of privilege not bravery.

Not many.

I had the honor and privilege to attend Richmond Triangle Players' production of Trans Scripts, Part 1: The Women and even serve as a guest moderator for the talkback following the performance. I was nervous, sure, but brave . . . not really.

Courage is stepping out the door as your authentic self knowing much of the world fears, misunderstands, even hates you. For many trans women stepping out the door can literally be a matter of life and death. 

Playwright Paul Lucas spent five years conducting interviews with trans women and men. His interviews have been edited into this beautiful play which won several awards at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Lucas is currently working on transforming his interviews with the men into Trans Scripts, Part II: The Men.

Co-directors Melissa Rayford and Keri Wormald crafted the stories of Josephine (Mario Bernier), Luna (Vita Cleveland), Eden (Alex Davila), Tatiana (Eden Lane), Zakia (Zakia McKensey), Violet (Boomie Pedersen) and Sandra (Michael Stailey) with care and sensitivity. 

Bravo to the actors who held space for these women's stories with integrity and love. Bravo to the actors who step out in courage in their own daily lives as trans women. And Bravo to the creative team for making sure the show was performed by trans women. 

Representation matters.

Kudos to Richmond Triangle Players for producing this important piece of theatrical activism. Those of us in the audience are better for it. Provocative and moving, the play was also a call to action to put our "Ally" buttons where our mouth is. 

I was struck by the diversity of the audience. There were more people of color and colors of our rainbow represented than any show I can remember. 

Representation matters.

It is human nature to categorize and homogenize. One of the play's most important messages is that there is no single trans narrative. Trans women have rich, essential, personal stories uniquely their own. During the talkback Vita Cleveland, in response to a question asking what the commonalities were among trans women, answered "Death and oppression." Bam. 

Another audience member took the opportunity to commend the women, their bravery and remind them that they were beautiful. And to say essentially (and I'm paraphrasing) that she just wants people to get along. Something along the lines of "if you are nice to me and care about me and my family, I'm happy to care about you and the people you love." One of my favorite moments of the entire evening came in Cleveland's response . . . "THEN CARE OUT LOUD!"

It really isn't enough to forward a meme or two on Facebook showing your support. We need to care when it isn't convenient; when it might even cost us something. Care in the ballot box. Care when you see a trans sister being bullied or worse. Inaction in the moment, but condemning it later over social media is not caring.

Care out loud. 

Trans Scripts was presented with the support of Diversity Richmond with proceeds benefitting Nationz Foundation, a non-profit providing "education and information related to HIV prevention and overall health and wellness. Nationz Foundatin "inspires the community to take responsibility for their health; and works towards a more inclusive Central Virginia for LGBTQIA+ identified individuals."