Alexis Nelson

Cabaret at PlayMakers

“In here, life is beautiful,” says our host, or “Emcee,” for the evening as he ushers us away from our troubles and into a glitzy, lascivious place where politics are a trifle—a bore—and the party, it seems, need never end. “Yes, it’s going to be that kind of show,” he adds. The crowd laughs, but it turns out it is that kind of show—in more ways than one. It’s a bawdy burlesque featuring sex, sequins, song, and intrigue. It’s also the kind of show where the message, the solemnity, and the nuance are never far from the surface. The party is, it turns out, constantly crashing in on us, whether we notice or not. “Cabaret” is the final show of Playmakers Repertory Company’s Mainstage Season. The musical opened April 3rd and will run through the 21st at the Center for Dramatic Art on the UNC campus. The show is directed by Joseph Haj, who directed Playmakers’ 2011 show “Big River.” Haj is also the theater’s producing artistic director. The play’s premise, plotline, and writing are daring and clever—challenging the audience to remain constantly engaged and critical. Playmakers’ version of the Tony-Award winning musical does not shy away from the play’s weightiness and intricacy. Haj and his team have created something that is deeply ambitious—something that asks quite a lot of the audience and is complexly rendered. There is not...

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'Of Two Minds' Tackles Mental Illness

The film shifts in and out of stories of pain, hope, connectivity, isolation, and struggle—following various adults who are afflicted with, but not defined by, bipolar disorder. “Of Two Minds” was directed by Lisa Klein and her husband Doug Blush. After premiering at the Cleveland International Film Festival last April, the documentary has been shown throughout the country—at various festivals. The film arrived in Chapel Hill last Wednesday for a one-time showing at the Varsity theater. A full house gathered for the free event, which was followed by a panel discussion and question-and-answer session. The film was created in memory of Klein’s older sister, Tina, who ended her own life eighteen years before the film’s creation, after a struggle with bipolar disorder. Klein and Blush’s documentary captures the day-to-day existences of different individuals as they manage and pursue rich and multi-faceted lives while coping with bipolar disorder. The majority of the film is narrated by four adults of different ages who have the disorder, with occasional explanations and ideas offered up by psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental illness advocacy leaders. The family members, lovers, and support networks of those who are profiled also add their voices to the fabric of the narratives—lending insight and perspective. Their accounts help speak to the variety of experiences and challenges that greet those whose loved ones are afflicted by a mental illness. The inclusion...

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Spring Breakers, Defined

The film opens to a montage of butts, boobs, beer funnels, and blissfully dreamy yet hard-edged debauchery. Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” overlays the revelry. The song swells like a techno lullaby, declaring, with a sweetness, “You don’t need to hide my friend/For I am just like you,” and then crashes cathartically onto a scratchily-screamed, urgently-felt “Yes, Oh my god!” One can’t really make out the lyrics—heard only is the desperate yet strangely joyous refrain. Spring Breakers’ director, Harmony Korine, has been described by many as unflaggingly—even indulgently bizarre. This film has been hyped as something potentially alienating—a strange stab at a work of art that will prove at best esoteric, at worst incoherent and aimlessly offensive. However, from the opening sequence on, Korine’s latest film belies this prediction—challenging viewers without holding them at arm’s length or refusing them entry. This is not a self-indulgent piece of cinema that works to trick the audience into a false sense of its artistic merit through impressively madcap yet hollow antics. Neither is the film pretentious—burying its worth and meaning within labyrinthine webs whose tangles may only be unbraided and decoded by the most sophisticated, cinematically-literate of viewers. Yes, like most truly, rewardingly lovely movies and works of art, Spring Breakers inspires discussion, dissection, analysis. The film is capacious. Its structure is marked by folds and pockets that the audience may...

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Light Sensitive at Nasher

Immediately upon entering the exhibit, one is greeted by images at once recognizable and disorienting. The photographs in “Light Sensitive” are not merely beautifully captured or distilled moments in time. Rather, they are hyper-consciously manufactured artistic works. In this exhibit the idea of photography as an unbiased portal into reality interacts powerfully with the more interesting notion that the photographer creates his or her own fiction from scraps and trappings of the real. The photography exhibit “Light Sensitive” opened at Duke’s Nasher museum February 14th and will run through May 12th. The show features over 100 works gathered from both public and private North Carolina collections. Patricia Leighten—guest curator and Professor of Art History and Visual Studies at Duke—co-organized “Light Sensitive” along with the Nasher’s Interim Director and Nancy Hanks Senior Curator Sarah Scroth. The exhibit is separated into five different sections—each featuring photographers who alter and construct their image in different ways in order to control or influence the experience of the viewer. The show seeks to examine these elements of control and technique—to explore photography not as an access point to a “real” moment or image but as a highly self-aware work of art. Obviously, the ways in which the featured photographers construct their images differ in a myriad of nuanced ways. However, organizing the exhibit around five different, broad manners through which these photographs were approached...

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Poppins Pops at DPAC

I may have sighed audibly (and grimaced a bit dramatically) when, early in the play, the curtain did not rise to reveal Mrs. Banks, sash across her body, recounting her exploits with the suffragettes or singing “we’re clearly soldiers in petticoats.” However, I was slowly pacified as the show’s undeniable freshness and charm, along with its ultimate loyalty to the overarching spirit of the original film, became evident. Some things are altered—some things are left out—but the play works. Mary Poppins, the Broadway musical now running at the Durham Performing Arts Center, is lovely, whimsical entertainment for adults and children alike. However, those interested should act fast as there is limited time to catch a performance of this anticipated show. Mary Poppins opened Tuesday, February 12th and will run only through Sunday the 17th with nightly performances as well as additional matinee showings on Saturday and Sunday. The play is co-directed by the Olivier Award winner Richard Eyre and Tony Award winner Matthew Bourne. The set and costume design is executed by the Tony Award winner Bob Crowley. Overall the play achieves something more than displays of slightly silly charisma or attempted re-hashing of the movie’s best moments. The theater production of Mary Poppins, for the most part, manages to extricate itself from under the looming shadow of the beloved film, becoming both moving and enchanting in its own...

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More Love at Ackland

Echoes of “I love you” resound, each with a different inflection, when anyone passes through the museum’s doorway. It is an appropriate way to introduce an exhibit that exchanges the safety blanket of irony or inaccessibility for an urge toward earnestness, participation, and connection that at times may feel uncomfortable. The Ackland’s new exhibit, “More Love: Art, Politics and Sharing Since the 1990s” is organized by the consulting curator Claire Schneider. The exhibit opened Friday, February 1st and will run through March 31st. Love is at once strategy, inspiration, and subject in the Ackland’s new contemporary art exhibit. The show is fairly expansive—featuring forty-eight artworks by thirty-two contemporary artists, and many of the works are interactive or participatory in some way. Moving through the exhibit, one is continually drawn into a dialogue about love as both a strategy and a destination. Schneider says she was interested in doing a serious, complex exhibit about love that would speak to the art world in a timely manner while also remaining overridingly populist and accessible. “Artists have been representing and using love in their works since the beginning of time,” Schneider said. “This show wants to investigate what contemporary artists are saying about it.” Considering that the conceptual theme of the show is so broad, Schneider has done an admirable job creating a cohesive, organized exhibit that is ambitious and eclectic yet...

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