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A + ETheater Notes

Bad Life Choices Make Good Theater


Fires in the Mirror From the national Black Lives Matter movement to local discussion of discrimination in downtown bars, no one can deny the relevance of a play about real-life racial tensions: the 1991 race riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It’s about what happened in a neighborhood with two groups living strictly separate lives: orthodox Hasidic Jews and African and Caribbean Americans. It was a tense coexistence until a rabbi’s motorcade ran over a couple of black children, killing one. A few hours later, a visiting Jewish scholar was stabbed to death in revenge by angry young men. Then the entire neighborhood erupted into rioting and violence for three days. 

Playwright Anna Deavere Smith took a fascinating docudrama approach: interviewing real people who had been there, weaving their stories as direct quotes in a play and performing them each as perfect literal representations… all by herself. Director David Saltz adds a twist to this production while remaining faithful to the original concept of seeing a person embody wildly different people onstage. He has an ensemble of 13 actors, each of whom portrays multiple diverse characters in the way that Smith originally performed them all. 

Saltz worked directly with Smith when the play was new and he was a PhD student at Stanford, and says the effect of her performance was “uncanny… Seeing a single performer fully embodying diverse identities and perspectives compelled audiences to embrace contradictory perspectives and expanded their ability to empathize.”

Saltz has one actor (Marianny Egurrola) portraying Smith herself as interviewer, who had previously been the invisible character in every scene. It’s a very strong cast of graduates (Marlon Burnley, Charlie Cromer, Brittney S. Harris, Mark McManus, Ami Sallee, Daniel Stock) and undergraduates (Cameron Anderson, Rebeca Ispas, Alanna Pierce, Mariama Reed, Brandy Sexton, Briana Young). Seeing this play could be one of your better choices in a winter of discontent. Plus, it’s a great way to start off Black History Month.

Fires in the Mirror is presented by University Theatre at Seney-Stovall Chapel Tuesday, Feb. 2–Sunday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m., with a 2:30 p.m. matinee Sunday, Feb. 7. Tickets are $12 ($7 for students) and available at drama.uga.edu/box-office, by phone at 706-542-4400 or in person at the PAC or Tate Center box office.

The Graduate It’s a perfect play for a college town: A recent college grad is faced with the enormity of the choices he is expected to make at his age. How much do we as a society ask of our college-bound young ones when we expect them to plan their lives before they even turn 18, much less 21? Will they do what their parents expect? Will they do something they will later regret? Will they find themselves on the brink of an unhappy marriage or an unsavory love affair? Will they take a turn in a direction no one expects, not even themselves?

Director Bryn Adamson savors these questions. She says this will always be a relevant story to tell because “there is a time in the lives of many young people when they find themselves at a crossroad. Perhaps the way has always been clear, and suddenly it isn’t, or maybe they simply realize suddenly how infinite the possibilities are. It’s an overwhelming time, a paralyzing moment.” In a stage when we’re learning who we are in the world, she says, perhaps we “make some rather bad decisions! Or perhaps it’s just the action of moving in any direction, if it seems a misstep later, [that] only brings you to the path you needed to be on.”

That’s where protagonist Ben (Patrick Dudley) is, fresh out of college at the beginning of the play. He meets family friend and quintessential cougar Mrs. Robinson (Terrell Austin) at a graduation party thrown by his parents, takes her up on her blatant offer of no-strings-attached sex and spends the summer avoiding the question of his future while meeting up with Mrs. Robinson in a hotel. Then he meets (and falls for) a nice girl his own age: Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Rachael Malstead). His aimless life is quickly becoming complicated.

Like the play, the cast is also a perfect blend for a college town: townies plus UGA students, employees and alumni—exactly what Town & Gown was named to reflect. It’s a promising cast with a director who appears to bring just the right touch to this stage adaptation of a classic film she has loved for most of her life. She’s even added live music, played by members of the band Feelin’ Groovy (led by Michael Wegner of Abbey Road Live) to play the Simon and Garfunkel songs that were an integral part of the original film. Here’s to you, Mrs. Adamson. 

Adapted by Terry Johnson from the film screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry from the novel by Charles Webb, The Graduate is presented by Town & Gown Players at the Athens Community Theatre Friday, Feb. 5, Saturday, Feb. 6 and Thursday, Feb. 11–Saturday, Feb. 13 at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Sunday, Feb. 7 and Sunday, Feb. 14. Tickets are $15, $12 for members/seniors/students, $10 on Thursdays for students and members and available at townandgownplayers.org or 706-206-8696. 

The Vagina Monologues Eve Ensler’s famous one-woman play comes again as Project Safe’s annual fundraiser for the 17th year. The monologues are performed by a group of women from all over the local map in terms of ages and backgrounds, and the proceeds go to support Project Safe’s mission of ending domestic violence and supporting its survivors. Remember what a good cause this is; we’ve had local women die at the hands of abusive partners, and abuse can cut across gender lines. If you’ve never seen Project Safe’s Vagina Monologues, you have missed something special as an Athenian. It’s at the UGA Chapel Thursday, Feb. 4–Saturday, Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. with a 3 p.m. matinee Sunday, Feb. 7. Tickets are $15 and available at the door or www.project-safe.org.

Burlesque Beta’s Lonely Hearts Club Secret City has put out a call for those who wish to burlesque. Here’s one of your chances! You don’t even have to do striptease; any talent is welcome as long as you give them a heads up ahead of time that you wish to perform. Or you could participate in the audience—it would be a memorable Valentine’s date, would it not? Peel off the layers of your inhibitions at Little Kings Shuffle Club Saturday, Feb. 13 at 10 p.m. Visit secretcityathens.com for more information.