Eleven shows open this week in the region–without mentioning the one-day stands on tap for this weekend at downtown Durham’s CenterFest.
The blur includes a number of revivals, like Raleigh Ensemble Players’ memorable Hedwig, with a carnivorous Glen Mathews in the title role, for a three-night benefit at downtown Raleigh’s Legends. We’ll also catch the opening nights of N.C. Theater’s remount of
Good Ol’ Girls , Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle’s salute to Southern womanhood with an original score by Matraca Berg and Marshall Chapman, before it starts its tour of the South. And the list of revivals couldn’t be complete without this item: the professional touring version of
Thoroughly Modern Millie , which took six Tonys last year–including, somehow, the one for Best New Musical. See and believe, through Sunday at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Consult the rest in our listings, below.
But we couldn’t let the moment pass without noting the strength of Jodi Staub Obeid’s striking meditation on Alzheimer’s Disease, Pieces of Mind, which stole the show Sunday night at the
Enloe Dance Benefit Concert . A silenced crowd watched as 11 high school students enacted choreography based on gestures and movements Obeid witnessed firsthand while working several years ago at an Alzheimer’s care facility in Rockville, MD.
The eerie, breathy vocals and dissonant strings of the atmospheric music by Les Arts Sauts accompanied these intricate, erratic navigations of interior, psychological space. At one of the work’s peaks, two students enacted mirrored moves at the center of a vortex on-stage. At another, we held our breath as individual dancers walked into the audience, fingers extended, pointing, seeking contact.
Even given the strong work from Jan Van Dyke and Carol Kyles Finley which preceded it, Pieces of Mind nailed the night. How do we get this choreographer and these dancers back on a public stage in this region?
Regular patrons of Manbites Dog’s annual Don’t Ask Don’t Tell festival of Queer theater and performance will be relieved to know that
Tim Miller has finally decloseted.
(Readers shocked by this revelation may wish to avert their eyes from the remainder of this article.)
For, after more than 20 years of gay performance activism (including a stint as one of the NEA Four), Miller finally admits–on the pages of next month’s American Theater and on the stage at Manbites Dog this weekend–that the nudity in his autobiographical and social protest performances stems from a somewhat less radical source than you might have first imagined.
The sordid truth: it’s all from 1960s musical theater–Gypsy, to be precise.
In Miller’s new performance, Us, he revels in what he playfully calls “the ultimate shameful coming out for me” in our interview last week–his identity as “a big musical show queen.”
But typically, Miller finds considerably more substance–and subversion–going on beneath the glitz of Broadway confections of yesteryear. “Musicals informed my identity and politics,” he muses, “whether it was doing strip teases to Gypsyü or literally seeing my first gay people ever in the Applause cast album in 1970.”
“Only eight months after Stonewall,” Miller recalls, “we suddenly had a hit on Broadway which won the Tony that year, with an image of singing and dancing gay people at a hip gay bar with Lauren Bacall–the number they did on the Tony broadcast that year.”
“On one level, that was the first image of gay people that I ever saw that was clearly meant to be read as gay.”
Through his new autobiographical performance, Miller ponders the alternate lessons he learned from other major musicals of the period. “The Sound of Music teaches us to leave the Catholic Church, have sex and fight fascism,” he notes, while Man of La Mancha remains “a crucial developmental text” in his life: “You don’t become a queer performance artist if you don’t have a Don Quixote complex, I would suspect.”
Facing exile from ongoing immigration woes with his partner, Alistair McCrowley, Us began for Miller as an exploration of other moments, particularly in childhood, where he “felt exiled already” just growing up in America.
As a 10-year old, he was already planning his escape to Canada to avoid Vietnam. The irony is not lost on him that Canadian exile remains a distinct possibility, since the United States remains the only Western country that does not recognize gay unions for immigration.
Miller’s one-man show culminates, in fact, on the Rainbow Bridge going across Niagara Falls into Ontario. “Every May, on Victoria Day, there’s a tug-of-war at the border between the city police departments on both side of the border. It was a surreal moment: I was feeling these hopeless, tugged-in-two feelings and I watched it being literally performed,” Miller notes.
These and other taut metaphors inform the humor, insight and dissent that remain in Us. Recommended
Reviews & Openings
OTHER NOTABLE OPENINGS:
Ballet Festival (Night 2) , Carolina Ballet; Good Ol’ Girls, North Carolina Theater at Stewart Theater (NCSU); The Faraway Nearby, Theater in the Park; Thoroughly Modern Millie, Broadway Series South; Amelia Bedelia For Mayor, ArtsCenter; And Then They Came For Me: The Life and Times of Anne Frank, Meredith College; 24-Hour Play Festival, UNC; ‘Dentity Crisis, Lab! Theater , Center for Dramatic Arts 101, UNC.
Open Air Dance , Music Loft Stage, 11 a.m. Saturday; The Cypher spoken word, Music Loft Stage, 1 p.m. Saturday; Choreo Collective, Wellness Partners for the Arts, 319 W. Main St., 3 p.m. Saturday; Rags to Riches Children’s Theater, Music Loft Stage, 4 p.m.
**** Tintypes , Peace Theater–Take the Smokey Joe’s concept about one century Back Thataway. Improve on it considerably by using a cavalcade of ragtime and popular period songs to illustrate the social turmoil at the turn of the last century. Then don’t forget to cut the three or four (out of over 30) songs that make Tintypes overstay its welcome. High points: Kenny Gannon’s bombing vaudevillian, Christian Sineath’s songstress Anna Held, David Bartlet’s Teddy Roosevelt, Yolanda Batts’ inspired singing–and Judy Chang’s costumes, Thomas Mauney’s Americana set and Brett Wilson’s winsome orchestra.
***1/2 Dames at Sea , Raleigh Little Theatre–An assortment of Hollywood musical cliches from the 1940s and ’50s are slow roasted in this send-up, to snappy tap choreography by Freddie-Lee Heath. Amie Davidson doesn’t truly fulfill her stage vamp role until act two. Though Susan Durham-Lozan’s beyond the ingenue role of Ruby, her “Raining in My Heart” was stunning. But Blair Byrd’s a keeper as Joan, a Joisey Goil hoofer with a heart of gold. Now if we could only always hear Haimsohn and Miller’s lyrics over the orchestra…
*** Polish Joke , Deep Dish Theater– Satirist David Ives tries too hard to Solve a Problem in this work about the effects of cultural stereotyping on the stereotyped. Jack Prather’s fine in the lead, and we see career-topping work early on from Rod Rich and David Berberian, but the main thing we learn here is that jokes told from a soapbox lose a lot of their punch. Plus Ives’ extended Irish-bashing is just bizarre.
** Steel Magnolias , Durant Road Community Theater–This first all-adult show from a fledgling North Raleigh community theater features a largely novice cast, in the venerated pot-boiler about Southern living as seen from a window of a Mississippi beauty shop. But we look for further developments, particularly from Debbie Willmschen, Lyn Fairchild and Jennifer Absher, who displayed real potential as stoic mother M’Lynn, shrill beautician Annelle and beloved battle-axe Ouiser.