The PopCulteer
March 11, 2011

Your PopCulteer is writing this right after seeing the Contemporary Youth Arts play, “A Service For Jeremy Wong.” It was a powerful night of drama, with the young cast deftly handling Dan Kehde’s script about a rural West Virginia town dealing with a fatal gay-bashing incident.

After Jeremy Wong, a gay ninth-grader, is murdered by two upperclassmen, their fellow students must deal with the national media descending at a time when they’re at their most vulnerable and introspective.

“A Service For Jeremy Wong” illustrates the real ramifications underneath the surface gloss of sensationalism. The surviving students have to look at their own attitudes and tolerances and intolerances. The murderers are shown to be more complex than simple thugs.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Standouts are Nick Foster and Nik Tidquist as the Butch and Clam, the murderers. Kym Waybright gives a very realistic performance as the conflicted Student Council President who’s assigned to organize a memorial service for a kid she barely knew.

Lauren Mallory provides a touching turn as the mother of the victim. Erin Martin does a great job as a state trooper who has to deal with a remorseless killer and a relentless press.

Every member of the cast is impressive in capturing this ensemble of confused and conflicted young people. Jeremy’s small circle of friends is brought to life by Michael Carbone, Suzanna Morris, and particularly Austin Susman and Kathryn Tweel.

Kids who seem transformed by the crisis are the Bible club president, played by Mandy Harper, the pastor’s son, played by Daniel Calwell, and the cheerleader, played by Amanda Mandirola, who brings some welcome comic relief to her role.

The girlfriends of the murderers are portrayed by Hannah Ayersman and and Taylor Henderson. Alex Medina tackles the role of Butch’s dad.

Steven Lucas and Kaylen Surface bring the rest of the fractuous student council to life.

I don’t often list the entire cast of a play, but the ensemble, directed by the playwright, Dan Kehde, does such an amazing job that they all deserve mention. Not only is this a night of very strong theater with a poignant message, but the performances are all very realistic.

You have five more chances to catch “A Service For Jeremy Wong.” Performances are all at 8 PM at The WVSU Capitol Center Theater, 123 Summer’s Street. March 11, 12 and 17-19. Tickets are ten dollars for adults, six for students.

The Luck Of The Irish

St. Patrick’s Day is next week, and amid all the green beer and pinching, it’s a good idea to stop and consider how lucky we are here in the Kanawha Valley. We have wonderful businesses in town that shape a special identity for the capital city. There’s Taylor Books, with their art gallery and coffee shop they are one of the classiest, most welcoming places in town. We have an emporium of cool in The Purple Moon (and soon with their new furniture store, Modern by Design).

There are great local eateries like BlueGrass Kitchen, Practically Delish, Tricky Fish, Fazio’s, Frutcake, Leonoro’s, Soho’s and so many others.

South Charleston offers up a veritable United Nations of ethnic restaurants and they also have the La Belle Theater.

St. Albans is jumping feet-first into the arts with The Alban Theater, and the Sassafrass Junction puppeteers among the most visible efforts being supported by city hall.

FestivAll continues to grow and make the summer heat well worth venturing into with art, music, theater and more.

ArtWalk creates a buzz around our local art galleries that puts to shame many major cities.

We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to live music venues. The Empty Glass remains the top of the heap when it comes to luring name touring bands. The Glass, along with The Blue Parrot, Sam’s Uptown Cafe, The Sound Factory and many other bars in outlying areas keep a wild variety of music flowing almost every night in the area.

Little India recently started hosting open mic nights that are generating a lot of excitement.

We don’t have a crazed Republican Governor who puts his uber-corporate party agenda above the best interests of his constituents like they have in Wisconsin. We sent ours to the Senate!

It’s easy to gripe about what we don’t have. Negativity has its rewards, I suppose, but, there are a lot of cities that would kill to have as much cool stuff as we have here in our happy little valley. So on St. Patty’s Day, hoist a glass of your favorite green-tinted beverage and appreciate what we have.

Kicking Myself Department

I just found out about John Lilly’s Friday concert at the La Belle Theater in South Charleston a couple of days ago. Had I known about it, I would have used a clip I have of John performing with Sasha Colette, instead of her solo clip on RFC 122. That way we could have plugged both his show, and Sasha’s Saturday show at Taylor books.

I’ve got a huge backlog of music that we’ve recorded for Radio Free Charleston, so expect us to be weekly for a month or two more, at least.

Next week in PopCult expect our regular features along with RFC 123, with music from Qiet and Andy Parks.