The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
If you are looking for area entertainment offerings this time of year that do not come with Jingle Bells and declarations of “God Bless us, Everyone,” some area college theaters might have what you’re looking for.
The University of Kentucky Theatre and Bluegrass Community and Technical College are opening end-of-semester shows this weekend that will have nary a stitch of red fur or mistletoe in evidence. In fact, UK appears geared to darken an already dark tale.
Romeo and Juliet by UK Theatre, Dec. 1-11 – Director Andrew Kimbrough aims to emphasize the tragedy in William Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers with an updated look and street fighting with fists and blunt objects instead of swords. ”Four people end up dead, and there is a lot of violence throughout Romeo and Juliet,” Kimbrough says in a news release. “Our production aims to avoid the popular misconceptions by staging the tragedy.”
Broadsword by BCTC Theatre, Dec. 1-3 – No, there aren’t any swords in Marco Rameriz’s play either, except for the title. This supernatural thriller about a heavy metal band that reunites to save one of its members from Hell. Knowing director Tim X Davis’ passion for rock ‘n’ roll, this should be a production with a lot of heart. In the Miami New Times, critic Brandon K. Thorp wrote, “Given a chance, Broadsword is the kind of show that could develop a cult following among young hipsters.”
See Friday’s Weekender section of the Herald-Leader for a rundown of Central Kentucky holiday music and theater offerings.
If ever there was a time for Actors Guild of Lexington to rock, now would be that time.
Looking at the landscape of theater, rock ‘n’ roll has taken over. Most of the shows up for best musical at Sunday night’s Tony Awards are rock pieces, including Green Day’s American Idiot.
On a local level, Actors Guild has been rattled to its core by financial and managerial upheaval the past year. It was rocker Janis Joplin that sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
So if you are a theater left with few expectations about what you can or should do, why not go to the music hall next door and put on a big rock show? It seems like a good way to blow off some steam after a truly lousy year.
And that is what Actors Guild is essentially doing this weekend with its production of Tommy – The Concert, a staged rendition of The Who’s classic rock opera that opened Thursday night at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom and has two more performances, Friday night and Sunday afternoon.
The production, in collaboration with the Johnson Brothers Band, is what the Rolling Stones might call “a gas” (gas, gas?) – a bundle of fun energy allowing some of Lexington’s leading actors to play rock star in front of a first rate combo.
Tom Phillips ignited the opening night performance, which got off to a tepid start, leaping on the stage as the Hawker, quickly followed by Luke Baldridge’s deliciously sadistic, star-making turn as Cousin Kevin. Looking all AC/DC in schoolboy shorts and a tie, Baldridge was the best combination of theater and rock of the night. He gave his torture tune a thoughtful performance while attacking it with the gusto of a power chord.
Leif Erickson Rigney had his moments too, making our skin crawl as abusive Uncle Ernie.
The most consistent performer among the primary cast was Tim X Davis as The Father. He was completely engaged with the lyrics and had the least trouble of anyone singing over the band. The sound mix was an issue all evening with singers – even singers in the Johnson Brothers – frequently overwhelmed.
That was a major impediment to Tommy being a truly satisfying night of theater – OK, maybe I do have some expectations. We’ve seen band renditions of Tommy and other rock classics by the Johnson Brothers. But when a theater takes it, you expect there will be an exploration and interpretation of the text.
But aside from a visual element, there wasn’t much more to get out of this story, about a boy literally frightened out of his senses by witnessing a horrific act who goes on to be a messianic figure, than there was listening to The Who’s album.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t some dramatically satisfying moments such as Adam Richard Fister’s performance of Tommy’s downfall, after he gets carried away with his iconic self, and the story’s resolution. And that doesn’t mean Tommy isn’t dramatic music. But overall, this production seemed to want to be more rock ‘n’ roll than theater.
Kudos to AGL interim artistic director Eric Seale for thinking outside of traditional theater parameters as the company tries to recover from the past year. But in order to bounce back as a theater, Actors Guild will need to pay attention to some of the fine craft of theater.
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.
Oct20Filed under: Actors Guild of Lexington, Central Kentucky Arts News, Television, Theater; Tagged as: Actors Guild of Lexington, Art, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Gravedigger, Hamlet, Jack Parrish, Kentucky State University, Merry Wives of Windsor, Polonius, Richard St. Peter, Richmomd Va., Shakespeare at Equus Run, Tim X. Davis, Yasmina Reza
Jack Parrish, a mostly Richmond, Va.-based actor and director who spent the last few years of his life enriching the Central Kentucky theater scene, died Thursday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 56.
Mr. Parrish was born in Richmond and got into theater while he was in high school. His theater and film career included the roles of Brad Garrick on Another World and Brian Collier on All My Children, as well as stage work in New York and regional stages around the country, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
In 2004, Actors Guild of Lexington’s then-new artistic director Richard St. Peter hired Mr. Parrish to direct the first production under his watch: Yasmina Reza’s play Art.
Mr. Parrish eventually moved to Central Kentucky, where he directed the drama department at Kentucky State University in Frankfort and continued to be active in area theater.
“Watching him act was like watching a master class in the craft,” said Tim X. Davis, Mr. Parrish’s predecessor at KSU and one of the actors in that 2004 production of Art. “I was proud to have Jack take my place at Kentucky State and continue to improve upon the program we had built there. His colleagues and students from KSU, many of whom I’m still in contact with, have nothing but the most positive things to say about him and his work. His work onstage here in Lexington, brief though it was, was simply stunning.”
Mr. Parrish’s roles in Lexington included Polonius and the Gravedigger in Actors Guild’s 2007 production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He was set to take center stage as Falstaff in Actors Guild’s summer 2008 production of The Merry Wives of Windsor for Shakespeare at Equus Run but had to bow out because of his cancer treatments.
“It breaks my heart that the community never got to see his Falstaff … as it would have blown people out of their seats,” said Davis, who now directs the theater and film program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
Mr. Parrish eventually returned to Richmond with his wife, Kathy Ann Parrish. He was in hospice care when he died.
“I feel like I have lost a family member and one of my best friends all rolled into one,” said St. Peter, who resigned his post at Actors Guild in August. “He was an extraordinary actor, a brilliant interpreter of Shakespeare, a terrific director and a true ‘man of the theater.’”
Click the play button to hear part of our interview with Zach Moseley and Jeremy Gillett.
After starting their acting careers in the theater program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Zach Moseley and Jeremy Gillett moved up to the University of Kentucky.
But don’t expect them to call being in a BCTC production a comedown.
“I love working with Tim,” Gillett says of BCTC theater director Tim X. Davis, who is directing UK and BCTC’s co-production of The Grapes of Wrath. “He introduced me to theater, and it’s good to be working with him again.”
Moseley, who plays Tom Joad in the production based on John Steinbeck’s novel, says he was “interested to see how my old friends from BCTC and new friends from UK would blend together. I was surprised how quickly they came together.”
That sentiment extends to the top of both theater programs.
Davis and UK theater department chairwoman Nancy Jones describe the decision to partner as a simple exchange of e-mail saying, “Hey, let’s work together.”
“I had always thought it would be great to bring Tim in as a guest artist,” Jones says. “We talked first about partnering in general and then Grapes of Wrath specifically.”
Grapes was a show that UK Theatre had wanted to produce for a while. Lighting-design professor John Holloway was a big proponent of it because of the design possibilities it presented. It just happens that the play — adapted by Frank Galati from the novel about a Depression-era family traveling across the country to find work in the fields of California — turned out to be really timely.
“It is certainly not a happy accident,” Davis says. “We wish we were not going through these tough economic times. But it has been interesting to look at the parallels between now and back then.”
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