The PopCulteer
June 4, 2010

Life On Stage

Charleston is blessed to have two incredible theatrical productions happening at the same time both this weekend and next. Both shows are remarkable examples of live theater, and there the similarities end, as one is an engrossing original drama, and the other a madcap comedy tour-de-force. This Week’s PopCulteer is devoted to both these shows, “The Moment Of Greatest Happiness,” produced by The Contempory Youth Arts Company, and “The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (abridged) presented by Kanawha Players in conjunction with The No Pants Players.

The Moment Of Greatest Happiness

Maria Fiorvante and Samantha Oxley

“The Moment Of Greatest Happiness” is the latest drama from Charleston’s most prolific playwright, Dan Kehde.  as with “Shadowman” last year, Kehde and his Contemporary Youth Arts Company have kicked off the Summer theater season with a challenging, complex work that puts a human face on what could, in lesser hands, be sensationalistic subject matter.  Along the way Kehde (who also directed both shows) addresses a universal theme.  Last year, with “Shadowman” it was redemption.

This year, with “The Moment Of Greatest Happiness,” it’s love.

The main story, told in flashback, is set in an all-girl prep school during the McCarthy era. Two of the girls fall in love, and all hell threatens to break loose. The historical context is important to the way the love story plays out, and the resolution extremely satisfying.

The two girls in question, Morrie (played by Maria Fiorvante) and Evie (Samantha Oxley) present extremes of the Lesbian experience of the time. Morrie is closeted, simply wanting to live in peace outside of what society deems to be “normal.”  Evie is loudly rebelling against society and her family, bragging about her sexual identity and far-left political ideals. It turns out that Morrie is the one who’s truly come to terms with her orientation, and makes the most mature life decisions. A subtext to the play is how shocking a lesbian relationship is, while an affair between a married faculty member and a student is quietly accepted as “natural.” The hypocrisy of the post-war world is on full display here.

Fiorvante and Kym Waybright

Fiorvante and Kym Waybright

Fiorvante and Oxley have already impressed the hell out of me when I’ve seen them in previous stage roles. Maria can always be counted on to make the most out of a character turn, and Sammie is one of the most naturally-gifted comic actresses I’ve seen. Both take their talents to new heights with this play, creating realistic, totally believable characters. The success of this play hinges on how well these two can carry the bulk of the emotional interplay, and they come through in spades.

Which is not to say they aren’t well-served by an amazing supporting cast.  Sheila Jarrett totally captures the spirit of Morrie, many years later, as the headmistress of the same girl’s school where the story is set. Suzanna Tucker is impressive in an all-too-brief turn as the older version of Evie.

Donnie Smith, who has been so lovable on stage in previous CYAC shows like “American Paradise” and the recent “Romeo and Juliet: A Rock Opera” stretches his acting wings here and plays a total bastard, a lecherous faculty member, with absolute credibility. So effective a villian is Smith as “Alvin Greathouse” that he got booed during the curtain call.  This is all the more notable since Donnie is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.

Meredith Overcash shines as Mrs. Greathouse, who has to preside over the school and over a miniature witch trial while dealing with her husband’s infidelity and abject bastardliness.  Overcash takes a character that could be seen as weak and unsympathetic, and makes her struggle to maintain a semblence of dignity seem admirable.

There are other standouts among the cast. Kym Waybright, recently seen in “Flaming Guns of The Purple Sage,” is heartbreaking as Ruthie, a victim of Mr. Greathouse’s lechery. Nik Tidquist and Phil Fisher are admirably subtle as a closeted gay couple from the Boy’s academy. The entire cast does a fantastic job of making the era and the people seem real.

Overcash, Oxley and the cast

It is a testament to the talents of Kehde and the cast that they have created such a compelling and real world and characters without resorting to cheap sensationalism. The idea of telling the story of Lesbians during the Red Scare of the early 1950s could have been a train wreck. I have seen some absolutely dreadful drama based on both of those themes. “The Moment Of Greatest Happiness” is not one of them. It is a mature, engrossing drama, filled with real characters and wonderful acting.

You have a few more chances to see “The Moment Of Greatest Happiness.” Tonight and tomorrow at 8 PM at The WVSU Capitol Center Theater, and next Thursday through Saturday, same time, same theater.  Tickets are $9.50/$5.50, which is a bargain for such a well-acted, original drama.

Kanawha Players Finally Makes Shakespeare Safe For The Stage

"What Ho, Ofelia?" "Oh, go feel yourself!"

This is the long version of my review, based on the Wednesday dress rehearsal of the Kanawha Players/No Pants Players production of “The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (abridged).” Some of my favorite jokes got chopped out due to space restrictions, now you can read for yourself and decide if the jokes were worth it or not.

“The Plays Is The Thing” as William Shakespeare may have scrawled on a Men’s Room wall at The Globe Theater on a bad night some four hundred years ago. The Plays (plural) in question would be The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, which are currently being skillfully presented, in abridged form, at The Kanawha Players Theater by three members of West Virginia’s premiere improv troupe, The No Pants Players.

Kevin Pauley, Brian Roller and Jeff Bukovinsky, with a little help from director Tara Phares-Pauley and assistant director Mandy Petry, distill the works of The Bard down to a brisk revue of concise highlights of the work of the greatest playwright of all time with a virtuoso display of ninja-like acting skills, and barely any gun play. All the boring stuff has fallen by the wayside, and we are left with a thrilling evening of action and laughs and cross-dressing.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” is a loving parody of the work of William Shakespeare, who has been taken way too seriously by the theatrical community over the past four centuries.  Originally written and performed by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, Jess Winfield, back in the 1980s, this take on the classics of the stage skewers The Bard, poking fun at the cliches and quirks of the material and ripping apart the sense of reverence that drains so much of his work of any entertainment value. Nobody seemed to appreciate the slapstick quality inherent in “Macbeth” until these guys came along.

See this play, or we're going to shoot this actor!

This production is hilarious and fresh, filling Shakespeare’s world with references to “Twilight,” “The Planet Of The Apes” and Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks.” Pauley, Roller and Bukovinsky deftly tap-dance their way through Shakespeare’s work with the grace and precision of a mosh pit full of stormtroopers.  “Titus Andronicus” is presented as a cooking show, “Othello” as a rap masterpiece, and all the comedies are reduced down to a single low-tech power point presentation.

The cast, all veteran improv performers, create a wonderfully absurd world where each can test and exceed their comfort zones.  Aided by goofy props, the occasional dummy and a variety of wigs, the three take on every role themselves.

Pauley, as an emo Romeo, is countered by Bukovinsky’s Juliet, who I swear works at Hot Topic in the mall.  Roller’s Hamlet is the focus of the entire second act of this play. I can safely say that I have never been more drawn into a live theatrical performance than I was during the dress rehearsal that I attended on Wednesday night.

Hamletting It Up

Hamletting it up.

You should be warned, there is audience participation, and if you don’t want in on the action, maybe you shouldn’t take an aisle seat.  It should also be noted that Kanawha Players has secured the use of air-conditioning for this performance, so that any audience member passing out during the show will be doing so only because of excessive laughing.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”  is a hilarious romp, bound to lighten the mood of the most dour theater-goer.

If You go: “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”  will be presented at The Kanawha Players Theater, 309 Beauregard Street in Charleston, June 4,5 11 and 12 at 8 p.m. And June 6 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults, $10 for students and children under 17. Call 304-343-PLAY for more information.

Arts Council Photo Essay.

The Arts Council of The Kanawha Valley held their big kickoff shindig Wednesday Evening at The Clay Center.  I’m very enthusiastic about this project, which will establish an interactive arts calendar and artist registry for the area. I still think they need to add “Film and Video” as an equal discipline to the other arts, but this is a work in progress and I’ll have plenty of oppurtunity to harrass them about that in the future. Check out the beginning of the website here, and then see how many local artsy-fartsy types you can identify in the following photos.

Weekend Highlights

There is a benefit for the beloved bartender, Miss Connie, tonight at The Blue Parrot. RFC guests Voices of Anatole and Whitechapel District will be serving up the metal, along with The Goods and Linework with all proceeds going to Miss Connie’s medical expenses.  $5 gets you in the door at 10 PM.

RFC guest Todd Burge will be performing at Bruno’s on Leon Sullivan Way beginning at 9 PM, with no cover charge.

RFC faves, WATT 4, with War Creek Mafia, will be rocking The Sound Factory tonight with an advertised start time of 8 PM.

Rudy with Josh Buskirk at Taylor Books

Saturday, Josh Buskirk, who will be seen playing and singing on RFC 101 next week, will be performing at Taylor Books from 7:30 to 9:30, with no cover.  Come out and get a preview of the next Radio Free Charleston.

Next Week in PopCult

Our usual features will return on Sunday and Monday, plus we’re going to try and deliver RFC 101.  The Cool Comic of The Week will return in next week’s PopCulteer. I didn’t have time to read any comics this week. Also, maybe by then the Spellcheck will be working here.