“Peter And The Starcatcher” Opens At PlayMakers

It really is true: the Peter Pan story never gets old.

This month, the curtain goes up on “Peter and the Starcatcher” at PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill. Based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, “Peter” is a family-friendly “grownup’s prequel” to James Barrie’s classic story about a wondrous journey, a fantastic land, pirates, magic, and eternal youth.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” won five Tony Awards in 2012. PlayMakers’ production features a cast of a dozen actors portraying more than 100 characters. Broadway vet Mitchell Jarvis appears as the pirate Black Stache, and North Carolina native Evan Johnson will play Peter. (He also played the role Off-Broadway.)

PlayMakers vet Brendon Fox is directing the show. He spoke this week with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


“Peter and the Starcatcher” opens on Wednesday, November 18, and runs through Saturday, December 12.

Visit PlayMakersRep.org/PeterAndTheStarcatcher for more details, including showtimes, ticket information, and a schedule of related special events.


Master Class: “Seminar” At PlayMakers

It’s a play about four young writers who sign up for a master class taught by a legendary novelist, as performed by four young actors who are currently studying under the man playing the writer. Hold on to your hats.

PlayMakers Repertory Company‘s 2015-16 mainstage season continues with “Seminar,” an acclaimed 2011 comedy by Theresa Rebeck. (Rebeck is the creator of the NBC show “Smash” and a former writer/producer for “NYPD Blue” and “Law and Order,” among many other credits; her plays have been compared favorably with Neil Simon’s.) It stars PlayMakers vet Ray Dooley as the aforementioned legendary novelist; Dooley is also the head of UNC’s Professional Actor Training Program, so he’s very familiar with the mentor role. (Though he says he doesn’t perform it in quite the same way as his character.)

The show opens on Wednesday, October 14, and runs through November 1 in the Paul Green Theatre on Country Club Road. It’s directed by Michael Dove, a Helen Hayes Award winner who serves as artistic director at the Forum Theatre in Washington, DC.

Ray Dooley spoke about “Seminar” with WCHL’s Aaron Keck this week.


For ticket information and a schedule of related special events, visit this page on PlayMakersRep.org.


PlayMakers Opens Mainstage Season With “Disgraced”

Theater season has begun in Chapel Hill!

PlayMakers Repertory Company kicks off its mainstage season on Wednesday with “Disgraced,” a Pulitzer-winning comedy-drama by Ayad Akhtar about an upwardly mobile Pakistani-American lawyer who finds himself confronted with his Muslim heritage. “Disgraced” won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013; it’s also won an Obie Award and a Tony nomination.

Shishir Kurup is directing PlayMakers’ production at the invite of former artistic director Joseph Haj. A member of Los Angeles’ Cornerstone Theatre Company, Kurup is a veteran of numerous films and TV shows and he’s performed and directed at theaters across the country, from New York to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Describing the play as a “roller coaster,” Kurup says it’s particularly timely for Chapel Hill, in the wake of the recent murders of three Muslim students earlier this year. Theater, he says – and especially comedy – offers a way for people and communities to confront deep-seated and difficult issues they otherwise might not be willing to engage.

Shishir Kurup spoke on Monday with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


The show runs through Sunday, October 4, with special events scheduled throughout the run. Visit PlayMakersRep.org for more details and ticket info.


“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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”