Theatre

Articles written exclusively by one member of our staff are notated accordingly. Articles in which more than one person contributed are marked as The Real Story Staff Report, while ones taken from press releases provided to us are referred to as Special to the Real Story.
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Acting for a Cause

Q: How do you combine an evening enjoying a very interesting cultural event, with an opportunity to raise funds for a very worthwhile cause?

A: You attend a performance of The Vagina Monologues!

I had the pleasure of attending this event on Thursday, March 22, at Cochran Hall, on the campus of Mississippi University for Women.

In case you are not familiar with it, The Vagina Monologues is, as the name implies, a series of monologues that deal with issues surrounding the female genitalia.  Written by the Tony-winning playwright, performer, and activist Eve Ensler in 1996, the production has been staged countless times, around the world. In the past sixteen years, over $75 million has been raised, through performances of the Vagina Monologues and related events, with these funds being used to promote efforts to put an end to violence against women.

Arriving just before show time, I paid the suggested $5 donation ($3 for students), and took one of the few remaining seats.

 Unlike most plays that one would attend, where the house lights are at least dimmed during the performance, all of the lights were left on, this night. Though perhaps not the intent of the organizers, this fact seemed to highlight the attitude of shining a light on an issue that affects millions of people, around the globe.

With titles such as “Hair”, “The Flood”, “My Angry Vagina”, and “My Vagina Was My Village’, the content of the monologues ranges from humorous to poignant to gut-wrenching.

The cast, which consisted of seventeen women – a number of whom had not performed in front of an audience, before – did a commendable job of giving voice to a subject that some may find uncomfortable. My favorites were “My Angry Vagina”, dramatically performed, with much enthusiasm, by Katrina DuPont, and “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy”, by Nikki Jacobs, who put a great deal of energy into her performance.

The audience seemed to enjoy the portrayals, rewarding the actors with vigorous applause, after each monologue.

Megan Cannon, a Sophomore English major at MUW, did a fine job as both the production’s Director, and as one of the actors.  I had the opportunity to speak with her about her experience organizing the event.

I asked Megan how she came to be involved with the event. “Last year, as a Freshman, I participated as an actor.  As a result of that involvement, I became a member of MUW’s chapter of the National Organization for Women, which annually sponsors this event.  This year, I assumed the positions of NOW President and Director of The Vagina Monologues, when the woman that held both posts, had to step down, suddenly.”

When asked what the hardest part of being the Director was, Megan replied, “For me, it was the amount of organization that was required.  I had to make sure that everyone got the same information, that they rehearsed their part, and more.  I am not a very organized person, so I had to really work at it.”

I was also curious as to what Megan enjoyed the most about her experience. She said, “Seeing how both the monologues and the women presenting them evolved over the course of rehearsals and the performances. Seeing how the women gained confidence in talking about a personal, intimate subject. I also made a lot of new friends.”

Finally, I asked how much money the group had raised. “We don’t have the final figure, yet, because we don’t have all of the t-shirt money. But, so far we have raised $350-$400.” That’s not bad, considering that admission was $3-5 per person, and there were only two performances. In addition to admission receipts and t-shirt sales, funds were also raised through the sale of themed cookies, cupcakes, and lollipops. Proceeds will be divided between the national V-Day organization and Safe Haven, a local domestic violence shelter.

If you would like to learn more about or contribute to this incredibly worthwhile cause, you should visit www.vday.org.

The Real Story Staff Report

Originally Published in March 28, 2012 Print Edition                             

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Orpheus Descending

Orpheus Descending, a play by Tennessee Williams, was performed in Columbus on February 23rd, 24th, and 25th by The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival and the Infinite Theatre Company of New York, which arranged a grant to produce the plays here in Columbus, Oxford, and Jackson, before playing in New York City.  The opening here in Columbus, sponsored by the Tennessee Williams Tribute, is the play’s Mississippi premiere.  The TWT, Mississippi University for Women, and the Columbus Arts Council have a long-standing relationship with Provincetown, having produced other plays with them, in Columbus, over the past six years. Orpheus Descending has been part of the Provincetown September festival for the last two years, to standing- room audiences.

The play was held at the Artz Performance/Conference Center of the First United Methodist Church, and will be performed at churches in Jackson and Oxford.  David Kaplan, the Curator and Co-Founder of the Provincetown Theatre Festival, was the inspiration behind the decision to produce the play in venues with religious associations.   Kaplan conceived the production as a morality play – to be performed in a house of worship. The imagery in the text comes not only from the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, but from Willliams’ own upbringing as a Christian in Mississippi.

Orpheus Descending is a powerful story of characters who, like the other characters in Williams’ plays, want to be free from the social ties that bind them.   Val is a wanderer who wants to find his soul and settle down when he does.  Lady wants to be purified from the telltale grime of the past and find a new and more independent life.  Williams was a master at understanding the complex nature of people and their relationships, within the society in which they live.  Moreover, Williams was a lyric poet who considered himself a poet first and foremost; the language of his plays, like no other American playwright, is musical, painterly and, at times, operatic.  Orpheus Descending is no different.

After a successful run on Broadway in 1957, Orpheus Descending became the groundbreaking film, “The Fugitive Kind” starring two of Williams’ favorite actors, Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani. The timeless myth of a poet-musician who travels to the underworld (and returns to tell about it) inspired Williams for decades.

The play, as performed here in Columbus, was an innovative and powerful dramatic production in the hands of Director Nick Potenzieri.  Although the performance was staged in a traditional setting – a proscenium on which much of the action takes place – Potenzieri used the entire auditorium; and the effect of actors using aisles, wings, and audience chairs, often running, ‘whispering’ in corners, and confronting the on-stage scene gave a dynamism and energy to the entire production.

The principal actors – Thomas Beaudoin (Val), Irene Glezos (Lady Torrance), and Beth Bartley (Carol Cutrere) – all found the right level of intensity, passion, and reserve.   The central relationship, that of the wanderer Val and the abused, lonely, and desirous Lady, was played with subtlety and intensity.  Bartley, as Carol Cutrere, had all the wild, almost irrational intensity that Williams intended, modulating her performance from a shrill high intensity to a cajoling and sexy intimacy.  Brooke Tibbs was excellent in portraying Vee Talbot, leaving the audience to wonder – as Williams intended – about the nature of her visions.  Each of the supporting actors lent strength and dramatic context, and the large ensemble cast, in the hands of the Director, worked well together.

The deliberately cluttered set accurately but stylistically recreated a Delta country store.  The costumes were simple in design, but were evocative of the nature of each character.  All in all, it was an excellent performance by a highly-trained professional team, many of whom have extensive theatre, television, and film experience.

After the performances, representatives of the First United Methodist Church moderated informal discussions between audience and cast, offering a unique opportunity to hear community reactions and cast response.  Rev. Tony Proctor moderated on Thursday evening, and David Kaplan offered an insightful, historical, and theatrical commentary.

Nick Potenzieri’s (Director) credits include Williams’ Orpheus Descending and The Hotel Plays at Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival.  He also served as Artistic Director of The Infinite Theatre, in New York City, for productions of A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen; The Bear, The Swan Song and The Proposal By Anton Chekhov; and Talk to Me Like The Rain and Let Me Listen by Tennessee Williams.

The Infinite Theatre, a non-profit organization based in New York City, was created in 2006 as a place where artists could develop and produce their own projects and put the theatrical experience directly in the hands of the artists who created it. The Infinite Theater has interpreted the works of Chekhov, Ibsen and Tennessee Williams. The Infinite Theatre’s Orpheus Descending premiered as the centerpiece of the 2010 Provincetown Festival’s theme “Under the Influence,” along with Orpheus in the Galleries (responses by sculptors and painters to the Orpheus myth) and eight other productions

Jef Hall-Flavin (Producer/Company Manager) is the Executive Director of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, where he has directed three world-premiere Williams plays: The Parade, Green Eyes, and The Enemy: Time; as well as a production of Streetcar from New Zealand. As Associate Director of The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., he directed As You Like It at the Kennedy Center. The Provincetown Festival is a non-profit organization whose mission is to present performances that honor Williams as a playwright of enduring and international relevance and significance, and hundreds of artists in dozens of companies have come to Provincetown to perform works by and inspired by Williams.

The Tennessee Williams Tribute and Tour of Victorian Homes Volunteer Committee produces the annual Tennessee Williams Tribute (TWT) to celebrate the life and literary work of the playwright and poet. Brenda Caradine, the driving force behind bringing Orpheus to Columbus, is the Chair of the Committee.  She has provided the vision, dedication, and energy to turn the TWT into a world-class event, which attracts artists, scholars, and theatre-goers, earning it a national and international reputation and making Columbus an even more important and attractive destination.

The entire cast and production crew stayed with Columbus families, giving them the opportunity to learn more about our community and the place of Tennessee Williams’ birth.

A welcoming reception was held for the cast and production crew at the home of James B. Borsig, the new President of the Mississippi University for Women.

Ron Parlato is a writer living in Washington, DC. He has close ties with Columbus, which he visits frequently.  His writings on literature, politics and culture, travel, and cooking can be found on his own blog, http://www.uncleguidosfacts.com.

 Originally Published in February 29, 2012 Print Edition

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