The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
For years, the theater in the Lexington Public Library downtown has been a venue for plays, films, talks, music and candidate debates.
This month, the renamed Will Stamps Farish Fund Theater at Central Library is reintroducing itself with numerous upgrades, from the dressing rooms backstage to the technology in the control room. The $537,288 renovation to the theater and its lobby, including a $100,000 endowment for maintenance of the 12-year-old Foucault Pendulum and Ceiling Clock, was funded primarily with grants from the W. Paul and Lucille Caudill Little Foundation Inc. and the William Stamps Farish Fund, and several other donors.
“In the 12 years I’ve been here, this is the biggest donation to the library that I have heard of,” said media relations coordinator Doug Tattershall. “This was a huge undertaking to do this not with public funds but with private donations.”
Folks will have ample opportunity to check out the facilities thanks to an April calendar full of presentations, from concerts to theater to film screenings and discussions. The list of performers includes local favorites such as self-proclaimed “honky-tonk soul” artists Coralee and the Townies and comedian Etta May, movies such as Coal Miner’s Daughter and several foreign films, and groups such as Accents Publishing.
Library director Ann Hammond says the renovation was done purposefully, with extensive consultations with the arts community about what their needs would be in a new performance venue.
“They wanted the equipment to be more comprehensive, more up-to-date,” Hammond says. “They had, basically, VHS technology. So now we’ve got Blu-ray, we’ve got all kinds of ability to project and to record.”
Jim Chandler, director of support services, points out that all the systems may be operated from iPads, so a technical director could sit in the theater and make adjustments rather than hoping what he or she is seeing or hearing in the booth is the same as what the audience is experiencing.
Hammond said groups also wanted the theater’s heating and air-conditioning systems addressed, both in terms of climate control and noise, and they wanted better backstage accommodations and more stage access from backstage. All of those things have been dealt with, Hammond says.
For the audience, seats have been staggered to allow better stage views, and there are cup holders. Food and drink will be allowed in the theater because a rubberized compound has replaced carpeting on the floor.
“We’re going to be a little friendlier to people who come in and use the theater,” Hammond says.
And in the changing world of libraries, an asset like a theater is very important, she says.
“A library’s greatest place in society is to be that leveling force, that place where you can come and you know you’re going to be welcome and you don’t have to pay an entry fee, and you get help with your information needs, you can attend a program, you can take class, you can come hang out and have a sense of community,” she says. “That’s what we’re hoping to create here. We want to be a welcoming space for the entire community, and with the theater, with the art gallery, with all the other provisions that the library offers, I think we’re doing that.”
- More to read: In God of Carnage, real couples play couples at war
- Photo gallery: God of Carnage
Veronica and Michael Novak have asked Annette and Alan Raleigh over to their house for a polite discussion about the playground squabble that ended with the Raleigh’s son knocking two teeth out of the Novak’s son’s mouth.
Yeah, like that’s going to happen.
As Veronica is reading a statement of the incident in faux legalize, it’s obvious slouching Alan, lightly chewing on his knuckle, is barely tolerating this high-minded handling of boys being boys.
But will he be the one to take the first swing, hurl the first bare-knuckle insult? Is Veronica’s sophisticated veneer thinner than fine stationery and are her condescending words as blunt an instrument as the bamboo chute that was used on her son?
Those are questions Yasmina Reza explores over 90-minutes in God of Carnage, which opened on Friday (Nov. 11, 2011) for a two-weekend run in a production by On The Verge at the Downtown Arts Center. The production is a first for the itinerant troupe that has specialized in presenting site-specific works such as Lillian Hellman’s Little Foxes plays in historic homes and Jeffrey Hatcher’s Three Viewings in a funeral home.
This time around, there is a set, a fairly convincing pristine New York City apartment where Michael and Veronica take refuge from the barbaric world.
The twists in this production are that each role except Alan is double cast with several real life couples involved. So people with the time, money and interest to see more than one performance will see different takes on these distinct characters. Of course, you have to see the show more than once to really cash in on the gimmick. Otherwise, you will get the cast you get, which, in the case of Friday night’s cast was really good. We should note the three performers we did not see, Allie Darden, Bob Singleton and Kim Dixon, are all distinguished Lexington stage actors in their own rights.
But no one could have faulted director Ave Lawyer if she had just booked seven performances with Friday night’s cast either. Adam Luckey as Alan and Lisa Thomas both perfectly filled their roles as polar opposites in the play, and Paul Thomas as Michael and Tiffiney Baker as Annette also delivered strong performances.
Paul Thomas’ Michael is a critical character in conveying Reza’s concept that underneath our masks of civility lurk selfish, barbaric louts who are only interested in ourselves. He starts the play agreeing with everyone in an effort to get along, but we get the odd story of how the night before this meeting he took a hamster out of the house because it was bothering him and abandoned the cold frightened critter on a Brooklyn sidewalk. We soon find this incident was probably the most honest representation of Michael’s character, and everyone else’s true colors come out too in spates of violence that are surprising in the play’s environment, but never quite of the bare-knuckle variety.
The cast is uniformly skilled at giving us hints of their true natures at the outset and then letting them shine as revealed by incidents of onstage illness, the maddening constant interruption of Alan’s cell phone and a quickly disappearing bottle of rum – Paul Thomas and Baker were particularly adept at portraying the journey from toasty to trashed. There was one moment late in Friday’s performance where an awareness of the the ridiculousness of the situation did come over some members of the cast.
Resa’s well-honored script doesn’t quite have the same intensity or dept of, say, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. But it is a quick, entertaining night at the theater that will send you out thinking about the illusions we create and the monsters that lurk beneath.
Here are the casts for the remaining performances:
■ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12: Lisa Thomas, Bob Singleton, Kim Dixon and Luckey.
■ 2 p.m. Nov. 13:: Lisa and Paul Thomas, Tiffiney Baker and Adam Luckey.
■ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17: Lisa and Paul Thomas, Dixon and Luckey.
■ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18: Allie Darden, Singleton, Baker and Luckey.
■ 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19: Darden, Singleton, Dixon and Luckey.
■ 2 p.m. Nov. 20: Darden, Paul Thomas, Baker and Luckey.
Feb24Filed under: Bluegrass Community and Technical College, comedy, Downtown Arts Center, slide shows, Theater; Tagged as: Allie Darden, Beth Kander, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Downtown Arts Center, Kathy Swango, Katie Jo Cox, Leah Dick, Philip Sharkey, See Jane Quit, Tim X. Davis, Zach Dearing
Beth Kander takes fellow playwright William Shakespeare’s quote that “all the world’s a stage” one step further.
“In the world of the stage, it’s a really small world,” Kander says.
And that helps explain why her play See Jane Quit, which won the 2008 Mississippi Theatre Association Playwriting Award, is having its world premiere in Central Kentucky.
Kander’s boyfriend is old pals with Tim X Davis, director of the theater program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Recently they were visiting, renewing an old acquaintance that started when they met directing theater in Biloxi, and Kander mentioned that she wrote plays.
Davis says, “Almost as an afterthought, I said, ‘Well I’m always looking for new scripts. Why don’t you send me something?’”
Kander sent two scripts, and one of them, See Jane Quit, immediately clicked with Davis.
BCTC’s production opens Feb. 25 and will continue through March 6.
It is the second world premiere for the young BCTC theater program, which presented the world premiere of Davis’ Dancing With Dani in 2008. It’s also the second world premiere by a Lexington college theater troupe in less than a month; University of Kentucky Theatre just presented the initial production of Aleks Merilo’s Blur in the Rear View.
BCTC student Leah Dick, who plays the title role in See Jane Quit, says, “I’m really excited being able to set a precedent for other people to follow.”
Veteran Lexington actor Allie Darden, who plays Jane’s best friend, says, “So many times, you go out to audition for that great play like Steel Magnolias, and then you get a role that was made famous by some great actress and you think, ‘I couldn’t possibly do as well as they did it.’
“In a world premiere, you birth it. It’s your part.”
Adding to the excitement of presenting a world premiere is that next weekend’s performances are during the Southeastern Theatre Conference, which will bring more than 4,000 theater professionals and serious amateurs to Lexington from Thursday to Saturday.
Usually Mariano Rivera is the one getting saves this time of year in New York City.
But Saturday night, with an American League East Championship already sewn up for the Yankees, it was Lady Ga Ga who was pulling out a last minute victory for Saturday Night Live.
And this was a screecher.
It was like one of those saves in a bad game where Mariano gets a few on base and has us Yankee faithful nibbling our nails before he gets the final out.
Now let’s be honest: two episodes into the season, Saturday Night Live has been terrible, like the Yankees starting a season 3-22. Three may be the most laughs I uttered last week, one being when I realized Jenny Slate uttered the F-word during a skit that set her up to do it.
This week started with an op-ed piece masquerading as an opener that had Fred Armisen’s doing his effortless — and I don’t mean that in a good way — Obama impression with the President saying he has not done anything since he got in office. Then, host Ryan Reynolds wasn’t as funny as expected, we got a pointless Family Feud sketch, another lame SNL Digital Short and even Ga Ga’s first appearance was a dud.
In a bit that’s already gotten a lot of bytes, she and Madonna staged a cat fight and nearly kissed during Kenan Thompson’s (inexplicably) recurring Deep House Dish sketch. Really, why did Madonna waste her time with this bit? There should be more to an SNL skit than showing up.
And Ga Ga’s first number, Paparazzi, was pretty routine, maybe most notable because she put the show on a two-week streak of airing words you’re not supposed to say on TV.
Really, it was not until the eighth inning, when Ga Ga came back, that she brought the episode into the win column. It was a shaky start as she appeared in a dress that looked like several conjoined silver hula hoops to sing Love Game. She went through a mechanical verse, then became human. She sat down, making no pretense that this was easy with the hoops. Taking off her sun glasses and popping her hands in the air, she greeted the audience, “Hello SNL” — somewhat unheard of from musical guests on SNL – and proceeded to get all Billy Joel playing a ballad/medley of Poker Face and Bad Romance injected with some personal reflections on New York, the Yankees, and simpler music than what we’ve been hearing from her all summer.
Then, she came back for the next and last skit mocking her outrageous outfits as both she and Andy Samberg showed up in bubble dresses — “I spent $20,000 on this dress,” she said, and he replied, “I made this out of garbage.” She also gamely attempted to kiss Samberg several times in their ridiculous outfits.
Ga Ga showed she has some chops beyond crazy fashion and naughty songs that make Madonna’s catalog sound like Amy Grant, and she had a sense of humor about herself.
Saturday Night Live showed it doesn’t have much going for itself this year without a suprisingly good guest performer. And unlike Mo Rivera with the Yankees, Ga Ga isn’t in the lineup for SNL every night.
Almost half-way through the first episode of The Jay Leno Show, Jerry Seinfeld sat down and cracked a joke about how in the 1990s, when Seinfeld went off the air, people actually retired. But now, in the Brett Favre ’00s, people retire, take a three-day weekend and come back.
It didn’t feel quite like a compliment.
After all, though Favre had a good first game as a Minnesota Viking yesterday, he hasn’t exactly come out of retirement and won Super Bowls.
And really, the initial episode of The Jay Leno Show felt more like the product of a three-day weekend than a three-month break. At half time of Sunday Night Football, Leno joked that NBC was throwing a big Hail Mary pass with his new prime time comedy/variety/talk show that will run at 10 p.m. five-nights a week.
Even if it fails to achieve, Law & Order- or ER-like ratings, the Leno show reportedly could be a success because a whole week of the show costs less than an hour of a scripted drama.
But the debut episode felt like a pass that went through the receiver’s hands and fell to the ground. And despite all the chatter about this being different from The Tonight Show, Leno’s gig until May, the only things that seemed to differentiate The Jay Leno Show were changing the order of some Tonight Show staples and taking away Leno’s desk.
The show opened with a title sequence that looked like something out of the first few years of Saturday Night Live. Then Leno emerged on a set that looked smaller than his old Tonight Show digs — or Conan O’Brien’s new Tonight Show digs, for that matter — though it is reportedly a bigger studio.
Leno came out and delivered a mildly amusing, topical monologue which led into two taped bits. In the big spotlight piece, Hangover actor Dan Finnerty sang to a car wash customer who seemed as uncomfortable experiencing this as it was to watch it.
Seinfeld finally sparked the show to life, including a short Oprah Winfrey interview in which he asked all the questions before a faux flummoxed Leno.
The most compelling moment of the show wasn’t humor, but actually Kanye West coming out to discuss his classless hijacking of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech on Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards. Leno clearly hit a nerve with West by asking what his late mother would have thought of his behavior. Then West joined Jay-Z and Rhianna for a solid performance of Run This Town.
But Leno’s first show was far from solid — a routine Tonight Show at best. Of course, Leno’s Tonight Show is proof you can’t count the man with the anvil chin out early. He struggled early, only to dominate his time slot for most of his 17-year late night run.
But there, he was facing news and other talk shows. At 10, he’ll contend with scripted dramas and other standard network fare. And it’s first night out, The Jay Leno Show was a not ready for prime time player.
Note: 35-minutes later, on The Tonight Show, O’Brien welcomed viewers to NBC’s “night of a thousand monologues,” and proceeded to deliver a much funnier one than Leno’s, covering many of the same topics.
Some other views:
- Newark Star-Ledger’s Alan Sepinwall.
- Atlanta Constitution’s Rodney Ho.
- Ed Bark of Uncle Barky’s Bytes.
- Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times.
- Time Magazine’s James Poniewozik. (Interesting here that several commenters seem to be people who never stayed awake for the musical guests on The Tonight Show.)
Here’s a little video preview of our story about Extra Crispy, the improv comedy group that is based in and performs around Central Kentucky, including a performance at 9 p.m. April 16 at Natasha’s Bistro. Read more about them in the Arts+Life section of Sunday’s Herald-Leader and at LexGo.com.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich