“Uncle Ho To Uncle Sam” Kicks Off PlayMakers Season

This week, PlayMakers Repertory Company kicks off its 2015-16 PRC2 season with an autobiographical one-man play, “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam,” about one man’s journey from Vietnam to America.

Trieu Tran in "Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam." Courtesy of Center Theatre Group. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Trieu Tran in “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam.” Courtesy of Center Theatre Group. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

The man is Trieu Tran. Born in Vietnam just days before the fall of Saigon, he and his family eventually made their way to the U.S. by way of Thailand and Canada. “Uncle Ho” is his story, co-written with Robert Egan; Tran has performed the show (with Egan as director) for several years at theaters across the country.

Trieu Tran joined Aaron Keck on WCHL Tuesday.

 

“Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam” opens on Wednesday, August 26 and runs through Sunday, August 30, with shows at 7:30 pm nightly and 2:00 pm on Sunday. Visit PlayMakersRep.org for more details and to purchase tickets.

http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/uncle-ho-to-uncle-sam-kicks-off-playmakers-season/

“Guys And Dolls” Rolls Into PlayMakers

Sit down, you’re rocking the boat!

PlayMakers Repertory Company hit the stage this week with their Summer Youth Conservatory show, “Guys and Dolls.”

Featuring a cast and crew of middle and high school students from 14 different Triangle-area schools, “Guys and Dolls” is one of Broadway’s most iconic shows, with songs like the classic “Luck Be A Lady” and some of the most memorable characters in theater history.

It’s the annual show of PlayMakers’ Summer Youth Conservatory – which offers students a chance to learn the craft with some of the most accomplished theater stars in the Triangle. This year’s show is directed by Jeffrey Meanza, PRC’s associate artistic director and a veteran of numerous PlayMakers shows.

Meanza spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

 

“Guys and Dolls” opened on Wednesday and runs through Saturday, July 25. Get tickets and more info online at PlayMakersRep.org.

http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/guys-and-dolls-rolls-into-playmakers/

PlayMakers, Deep Dish Wrap Up Chapel Hill Theater Season

Chapel Hill’s 2014-15 theater season comes to an end this week as PlayMakers Repertory Company and Deep Dish Theater Company open their last shows.

At Deep Dish in University Mall, the last show of 2014-15 is “The Liar,” a classic French farce by Pierre Corneille translaptated by David Ives. (“Translaptated”? Master-of-wordplay Ives uses that word to describe his process – halfway between “translation” and “adaptation.”) Directed by Deep Dish artistic director Paul Frellick, “Liar” is about a French nobleman who’s a pathological liar, his pathologically honest servant, and the trouble they inevitably land themselves into. Deep Dish theatergoers will be familiar with Ives’ work: he’s the author (or translaptator) of two other plays previously staged by Deep Dish, “Polish Joke” and “Is He Dead?”.

Paul Frellick and actress Maryanne Henderson discuss “The Liar” with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

 

For Deep Dish, “The Liar” marks not just the end of the season, but also the beginning of a transition: the theater company has been located at University Mall since its creation, but with changes ongoing at the mall, Frellick and the rest of the company are planning a move sometime around the end of 2015 (to a still-undetermined location). Frellick says the company will begin its 2015-16 season at its usual spot, though.

Meanwhile at PlayMakers Repertory Company, visiting director Cody Nickell brings “Mary’s Wedding” to the stage as part of the theater’s PRC2 series. “Mary’s Wedding” is an intimate play (two actors, three characters) by Stephen Massicotte – a “dream play” about young love in the midst of World War I. (This run of “Wedding” is part of UNC’s year-long commemoration of the 100th anniversary of WWI.) Nickell, a Chapel Hill native, has a close connection to the material: he played the male character Charlie in San Jose more than a decade ago, and he says the production brought him closer to his father – who flew from North Carolina all the way to San Jose, not once but twice, just to see it.

Cody Nickell spoke with Aaron Keck about “Mary’s Wedding.”

 

“The Liar” runs at Deep Dish from May 1-23; “Mary’s Wedding” runs at PlayMakers’ Kenan Theater from April 29-May 3.

Click here for tickets and other information about “The Liar.”

Click here for tickets and other information about “Mary’s Wedding.”

Pictured: Carey Cox. Photo by Andrea Akin.

Pictured: Carey Cox. Photo by Andrea Akin.

http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/playmakers-deep-dish-wrap-up-chapel-hill-theater-season/

PlayMakers 15/16 Season Features “Sisters,” “Sweeney”

PlayMakers Repertory Company has announced its 2015/16 season, highlighted by a Sondheim favorite, a Chekhov classic, and a round-the-world theatrical journey.

The season will open in September with Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced,” about a Pakistani-American lawyer who’s abandoned his Muslim roots. From there, highlights include Stephen Sondheim’s diabolical (and beloved) musical “Sweeney Todd” and the world premiere of a new translation of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” – a play that PlayMakers skewered just this year in Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike.” Associate artistic director Jeffrey Meanza describes the season as a journey around the world – from London to Russia to Africa and beyond.

Jeffrey Meanza spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

For the full season lineup, visit PlayMakersRep.org/1516.

http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/playmakers-1516-season-features-sisters-sweeney/

PlayMakers Travels “4000 Miles”

It’s one of the most acclaimed plays of the last three years – and it’s coming to Chapel Hill this weekend.

PlayMakers Repertory Company wraps up its 2014/15 mainstage season with the regional premiere of Amy Herzog’s “4000 Miles,” an Obie Award-winning play about an elderly woman who makes an unexpected connection with her grandson after he comes for (what turns out to be) an extended stay. Herzog’s play has won many honors: on top of the Obie Award for Best New American Play, Time Magazine named it the best new play of 2012 (musicals included) and it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Dee Maaske plays the grandmother in PlayMakers’ production. A longtime theater veteran, Maaske has spent 21 years with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and acted on three different continents. The director too is a special guest: Desdemona Chiang, a Seattle/San Francisco-based director whose work has appeared on stages nationwide. (Including PlayMakers: Chiang directed last year’s summer repertory production of “Hairspray.”)

Chiang spoke about the show with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

 

“4000 Miles” opened for previews on Wednesday. Opening night proper is this Saturday, April 4, and the show runs through Sunday, April 19 with shows at 7:30 Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2:00 matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available online at PlayMakersRep.org/4000Miles.

http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/playmakers-travels-4000-miles/

Heroism, Quiet And Loud, At Deep Dish And PlayMakers

There are many kinds of heroes. There are the ones who make the news, who emerge in a crisis and do something extraordinary; there are the ones who stand up and cry out against injustice, even at the risk of their livelihoods and lives…and then there are the quiet heroes, the ones who go about their business, the ones you never really see. They face their adversities, sometimes with courage, sometimes with resignation, sometimes with anguish and bitterness and rage – but they face them, always, and the world turns on, just a little easier, just a little better.

I’m thinking about heroes this week. On Sunday WCHL hosted our big annual luncheon for all the folks we’ve recognized as Hometown Heroes throughout the year; outgoing fire chief Dan Jones delivered a terrific speech about the heroism he sees every day and the value of “paying it forward.” We recognize all kinds of heroes – sometimes the special ones who come through in a crisis, but more often than not the everyday heroes, the quiet heroes, the firefighters and police officers and community builders and teachers and volunteers.

Down in Alabama, it’s not so quiet. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches, and there are thousands of people there now – including many from our own community – remembering the stand those marchers took in 1965, the risks they assumed, the sacrifices they made, the lives they gave, calling for justice even as the blows rained down around them. Heroism.

So it’s fitting that both of our local theater companies, PlayMakers at UNC and Deep Dish at University Mall, are running plays about heroism this month: the World War I classic “Journey’s End” at Deep Dish and the Henrik Ibsen/Arthur Miller collab “An Enemy of the People” at PlayMakers. Both shows are essential: challenging, troubling, disturbing, and difficult, but essential nonetheless. Check them out.

“Enemy of the People” is about a loud hero, albeit one who maybe didn’t intend to be. Thomas Stockmann (Broadway vet Michael Bryan French) is the official physician of a small town whose economy hinges on a single tourist attraction – a public health spa with water from a local spring. But the water is contaminated, Stockmann discovers, with germs from a tannery upstream. The town must know! But the mayor (fellow Broadway vet Anthony Newfield) cares more about the economy – the local muckraking newspaperman (Benjamin Curns) is a sellout – the business leader (Jeffrey Blair Cornell) refuses to upset the established order – and the nameless rabble of townsfolk are easily convinced that Stockmann’s just a malicious agitator. He’ll stand alone – the sole voice for justice and truth in a vicious and misguided world. Henrik Ibsen wrote the play as a critique of mob rule in a democracy; Arthur Miller adapted it into English as an allegory of those heroes who stood up to Joe McCarthy in the 1940s and 50s. (And its cultural reach extends even further: the struggle between the corrupt mayor and the sole-voice-of-reason scientist reminded me of “Jaws,” and indeed “Jaws” was reportedly inspired by this play.)

Anthony Newfield as Peter Stockmann and Michael Bryan French as Thomas Stockmann in "Enemy of the People." (Photo by Jon Gardiner via PlayMakersRep.org.)

Anthony Newfield as Peter Stockmann and Michael Bryan French as Thomas Stockmann in “Enemy of the People.” (Photo by Jon Gardiner via PlayMakersRep.org.)

Meanwhile across town, “Journey’s End” takes us to the trenches of World War I, where six British officers are barracked just before a major German assault. Osborne (Eric Carl) is the “uncle” of the group, who keeps the rest sane – especially Stanhope (Gus Allen), a brilliant officer who’s having trouble keeping it together. Osborne and Stanhope are quiet heroes, caring for others before themselves, doing their best to soldier through, put on brave faces, and not let on that they too are afraid, anxious, bitter. In contrast to Stockmann of “Enemy,” who stands alone, Osborne and Stanhope and their fellow officers stand together – knowing that if one falters, the rest will fall. (Like “Enemy,” “Journey’s End” is historically significant: along with “All Quiet on the Western Front,” it’s one of the first pieces of literature to depict war realistically, without all the glorious/patriotic overtones you so often see. Playwright R.C. Sherriff was himself a WWI vet; he said he simply wanted to show the war as it was.)

Eric Carl as Osborne and Gus Allen as Stanhope in "Journey's End." Photo via DeepDishTheater.org.

Eric Carl as Osborne and Gus Allen as Stanhope in “Journey’s End.” Photo via DeepDishTheater.org.

You’ll want to see both before their runs are up. At Deep Dish, scenic designer Michael Allen has created a stunning recreation of a WWI barracks; you can smell the wood as you enter the theater. Carl’s stellar performance as the kindly Osborne holds the show together, bolstered by terrific supporting turns from Carl Martin as the unflappable Trotter and David Hudson (also great in DD’s “Life Is A Dream”) as Mason the cook. At PlayMakers, director Tom Quaintance makes full use of the versatile stage (the dark ending is particularly spectacular) and French and Newfield anchor the show as the main antagonists. (Did I mention their characters are also brothers?)

But it’s the celebration of heroism that stands out. It’s easier to cheer for Stockmann, the loud hero of “Enemy” who stands up to injustice – on opening night, the woman sitting next to me kept nodding her head and saying “Yes!” when the character was delivering his choicest lines. He’s a whistleblower, a crusader for truth, and we all like unfairly maligned whistleblowers and crusaders for truth. Then again, Stockmann is also a deeply flawed character in a way that “Journey’s” heroes are not: he’s prideful, stubborn, a blowhard, a hard-head, willing to throw his family into the line of fire even when offered an easy way to withdraw quietly and let the truth come out on its own. We sympathize with him, we might pity him, but we probably don’t like him. The heroes of “Journey” are more pristine: Osborne is fiercely other-regarding and quietly self-sacrificing; Stanhope is less sympathetic – given to drinking and angry outbursts – but we know it’s only the strain of war that’s made him that way. They’re not the sort of rah-rah heroes you stand up and shout for, like Stockmann is – but their quiet bravery is every bit as heroic as Stockmann’s brash stand. Maybe more so.

In the end, though, it’s not the fictional heroes on stage that matter so much as the real ones in the audience. “Journey” and “Enemy” both hold up a mirror to us as spectators and force us to examine ourselves: how heroic are we? In “Journey’s End” we see all kinds of soldiers, from the gung-ho and brave to the cowardly. (“Coward” here is a relative term: all the soldiers are terrified of war; it’s merely a question of how they handle it.) Where on the spectrum would we fall? In “Enemy” the mirror rises in an even more dramatic way: partway through the second act, the actors very purposefully look the audience in the eyes and give them the chance to speak out against the injustices they’re seeing on stage. (You’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a palpable moment.) In that moment, the fate of the characters is in our hands: we could stand up, we could raise our fists, we could shout. It would alter the rest of the show, of course, but we could do it! But of course we don’t. We’re angered by the injustice, but we don’t speak. We’re just the audience. We’re there to observe. It’s not our place. It would upset the order of things. And we’d never upset the order of things. It’s a nice, respectable theater, after all. This isn’t Rocky Horror

And so the moment passes, and the injustice proceeds.

And when the lights go up we stand and give a rousing, rah-rah ovation to the cast.

“Journey’s End” runs at Deep Dish from now through March 21; visit DeepDishTheater.org for showtimes and ticket info. “Enemy of the People” runs at PlayMakers through March 15; visit PlayMakersRep.org for showtimes and ticket info.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/heroism-quiet-and-loud-at-deep-dish-and-playmakers/

Strong Chapel Hill Theater Season Continues

It’s already been a strong theater season in Chapel Hill – and it gets even stronger this weekend, as an innovative new musical makes its Southeastern debut at Deep Dish and two stage classics open at Playmakers.

At Deep Dish Theater Company, Halloween is opening night for “The Landing,” a new musical – or trio of musicals, to be precise – from John Kander, the composer of “Chicago” and “Cabaret.” Kander and playwright Greg Pierce have created three mini-musicals, each with a four-person cast (the same four actors appear in all three) and a bit of a Twilight Zone flair. Deep Dish Artistic Director Paul Frellick directs the musical, which stars John Allore, Mark Ridenour, Erin Tito, and Neil Bullard (who’s only 13). Frellick says he’s particularly excited about this show, because Deep Dish’s production is the first time “The Landing” has been staged anywhere in the world outside New York.

Paul Frellick and Neil Bullard joined WCHL’s Aaron Keck on the air last week to discuss “The Landing.”

 

Meanwhile,  previews begin on Saturday for two shows at Playmakers Repertory Company: Shakespeare’s classic “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the acclaimed Sondheim musical “Into the Woods.” Playmakers is staging the two in rotating repertory: previews run throughout the week, then both shows officially open on Saturday, November 8, and run through December 6. In addition to the Playmakers team, the shows feature a number of guest performers and directors – including Lisa Brescia, who’s playing the Witch in “Into the Woods.” (Brescia has some experience playing musical witches: she’s also played Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway.)

“Midsummer” director Shana Cooper joined Aaron on the air this week…

 

…as did Playmakers associate artistic director Jeff Meanza, who’s playing the Baker in “Into the Woods.”

 

“The Landing” runs through November 22 at Deep Dish Theater Company, located in University Mall. Visit this link for ticket information, as well as a schedule of related events and discussions.

“Midsummer” and “Into the Woods” run in rotation through December 6 at Playmakers on UNC campus. Visit this link for tickets to “Into the Woods,” or this link for tickets to “Midsummer.”

http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/strong-chapel-hill-theater-season-continues/

PlayMakers Opens Season: Chekov, With A Twist

Head to PlayMakers Repertory Company this month and catch the opening play of its 2014-15 mainstage season: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a Tony-winning comedy by Christopher Durang.

Inspired by the Russian playwright Anton Chekov, “Vanya” won the Tony for best play in 2013. PlayMakers’ production is directed by Libby Appel – who has not only directed all of Chekov’s plays in the past, but also translated five of his plays into English.

Julie Fishell – last seen at PlayMakers as Sara Jane Moore in “Assassins” – plays Masha. Fishell spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck earlier this week.

Previews began Wednesday. Opening night is Saturday, September 20, and the play runs through October 5. For showtimes and tickets, visit PlayMakersRep.org.

http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/playmakers-opens-season-chekov-twist/

Last Chance: “A Kid Like Jake” At Deep Dish

Theater season is in full swing in Chapel Hill – this weekend, PlayMakers Repertory Company opens its 2014-15 season with “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” – and as things kick into high gear, you still have one more chance to catch the season’s first big don’t-miss-it production, the terrific “A Kid Like Jake” at Deep Dish. It closes this weekend after a successful run, with shows in the University Mall theater on Thursday at 7:30 and Friday and Saturday at 8:00.

For tickets, visit this link.

Making its first appearance here after a successful run in New York last year, “Jake” is the story of Alex (Meredith Sause) and Greg (Jim Moscater), two parents trying to place their four-year-old son Jake in an elite private preschool. It’s harder than it sounds: there are dozens of applicants for every open spot, and the schools are looking for any excuse to rule candidates out. They even subject the kids to high-stakes placement exams. (It’d be farcical if it weren’t true.) Alex and Greg seek advice from Judy (Rasool Jahan), the renowned expert who runs Jake’s current school, and she suggests they emphasize Jake’s most distinguishing characteristic – namely his “gender-variant play,” the fact that he likes playing with dolls and dressing up as Disney princesses. Alex balks: she doesn’t want to force him into a label prematurely. (Her own parents, it’s hinted, had done a similar thing to her when she was young, and she’s still a bit resentful.) But is Alex right to be worried – or is her fear just masking her own insecurities?

Before the show began its run, I spoke on the air with Meredith Sause and Deep Dish artistic director Paul Frellick.

I got to see “A Kid Like Jake” twice, once with some friends at a preview and again on opening night. “Intense” was the word I heard the most, from audiences on both nights. “Jake” takes a little time to develop – there are many different sources of conflict at play, and the early scenes are there primarily just to set them up – but then tensions quickly simmer, build, bubble over, and finally explode in a pair of breathtaking back-to-back scenes.

In the process, we get an insightful look at a couple in crisis – two generally decent people who are just trying to do right by their son, but who are also very human, and very flawed. The play’s best feature is its naturalism, the degree to which Alex and Greg and Judy all talk like real people. To the extent that that’s the case, the fact that Sause and Moscater and Jahan are all Trained Actors actually works against them at first – the actors are well-rehearsed, but the characters are clearly making it up as they go, and that creates a bit of a disconnect. Once the play begins building to its climax, though, the emotion takes over, the actors let loose, and it’s a roller coaster from there on out. You’ll remember the two confrontation scenes near the end, but they’re bookended by a pair of quieter but equally powerful moments: Alex having a panic attack in a doctor’s office (wonderfully played by Sause) and a dream sequence where – well, I won’t give anything away. (Both scenes feature Jess Jones, effective in a smaller role.)

a kid like jake meredith sause jim moscater

Jim Moscater and Meredith Sause. Photo via DeepDishTheater.org.

Extremely well-written by first-time playwright Daniel Pearle, “A Kid Like Jake” raises and explores a lot of difficult issues without pretending there are any easy answers. Liberal as she claims to be, Alex is squeamish when it comes to violating gender and sexuality norms, and that squeamishness clouds her judgment: she’ll gladly indulge Jake’s Cinderella fix behind closed doors, but she gets uptight whenever it’s mentioned in public. But is she wrong to want to avoid fixing labels on kids before they’re ready? “There is such a thing as a phase,” she says; we doubt her motives, but is she incorrect? Is Greg’s judgment any more trustworthy, any less biased? Is Judy’s? It’s telling that Jake himself is never seen and never heard: the play doesn’t revolve around him so much as his parents’ perception of him; and the heart of the conflict is in the fact that neither Alex, nor Greg, nor Judy, nor we in the audience, will ever know how closely the perception matches the reality. All we can do is guess.

Writing those last two sentences reminds me of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who also wrote about that gap between perception and reality: we can never know what’s really there, he argued; we can only know what our senses tell us is there. Kant, as it happened, is also the philosopher who developed this succinct rule for how to act morally: “Act in such a way that you treat (others) never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”

“A Kid Like Jake” is about raising a child, it is about family, it is about gender, it is about education, it is about a lot of things – but above all this it is about people who try to reach that moral standard, without ever quite getting there. We’re all in the same boat.

“A Kid Like Jake” runs through Saturday at Deep Dish Theater in University Mall.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/aaron-keck/last-chance-kid-like-jake-deep-dish/

“Hairspray” Arrives At PlayMakers

Good morning, Baltimore!

PlayMakers Repertory Company’s Summer Youth Conservatory is staging the hit musical “Hairspray” this weekend at the Paul Green Theare in the Center for Dramatic Art on Country Club Road.

A story of inclusivity set in 1962 Baltimore, “Hairspray” is the story of plus-size teen Tracy Turnblad and her push to get recognized as a dancer on the “Corny Collins Show” – while joining the fight for racial integration.

Watch a trailer for the show.

The Summer Youth Conservatory brings area high schoolers together each year for an intensive five-week training program. “Hairspray” marks the culmination of this year’s conservatory.

Director Desdemona Chiang, choreographer Matt Steffens, and actors Sadie Frank and Daniel Johnson (both rising high school seniors) joined Aaron Keck on WCHL to discuss the show.

“Hairspray” opened on Wednesday and runs through Sunday, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $10-15; you can purchase them either by calling 919-962-PLAY, by visiting the PlayMakers box office, or online at PlayMakersRep.org.

http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/hairspray-arrives-playmakers/