Review: Pamela Z

Review of ‘Music In Time I’ by Pamela Z at the Memminger Auditorium.

The crackle of popped bubble-wrap and the dainty ding of two metal rods, carefully sampled live onstage at the Memminger Auditorium, have become two more looped elements added to Pamela Z’s cauldron of sound. The multilayered, droning mix contains samples of lyrics and the occasional soaring operatic vocal, elements that the abstract shapes in the projected video behind Z respond to in every instance. It is a hypnotic experience, with multimedia singer and performer Pamela Z serving as both musical alchemist and gatekeeper for the audience into her signature soundscapes.

The ensuing chaos can sometimes be overwhelming, with all of the aural stimuli building to a cacophonous, overpowering crescendo that threatens to spin out of control. But then, with a wave of her hand or the subtle press of a pedal, Pamela Z reins in her noisy creation, proving once again that every sound was indeed in its intended place.

Her technique of building abstract collages of sound—sometimes rhythmic, sometimes atonal—makes the process and the performance and integral part of her compositions (I don’t imagine a Pamela Z CD would be nearly as enthralling.) In that regard, her show is almost geeky. I found myself at certain points straining to see when she was starting to capture specific vocals and sounds, and trying to identify the pace of specific loops of songs. Her performance dares you to decode it, to dig down into the bed of music as it occurs to discover her secrets. In that regard, she is not only a performer, but a shepherd, controlling what direction we move within the soundscape and inviting a strong analysis of her process rather than relishing in the performance of the final product.

However, it was when she didn’t provide an entry point—whether it be a consistent beat, a new vocal or an overarching theme—that her work began to falter. One particular piece, in which she used a laptop camera to record a short video series of brief motions and sounds that she then controlled using waves of her hands, never seemed to come together as a composition itself, and played more like a technological demonstration than an artistic work using a compelling audio-visual tool.

The audibly shuffling feet of exiting patrons punctuating the end of each of her first five works made it abundantly clear that Pamela Z isn’t for everyone. Her approach can be hypnotic, cacophonous, atonal, and even comical at times. However, it isn’t entirely accessible. Even “Broom,” her final performance that she quasi-jokingly declared her “pop song,” had a hint of soul and verse/chorus/verse song structure, but it still leaned heavily toward her signature piecework aesthetic.

With the very nature of her work being predicated on live sampling, I can’t imagine two Pamela Z performances ever being exactly alike, even if the blueprints are generally the same. It’s with this in mind that the process itself becomes more enthralling than the end results. I have to admit, it sure was fun watching her hands pluck, pry and stretch the noises she’s created using a small, mysterious custom made theremin-esque box. It’s her most fascinating onstage piece of equipment, but it’s the ingenuity of Pamela Z itself that proves to be her most valuable instrument.

Playing with Puppets

Director Tom Morris likes playing with puppets. After winning a Tony Award for best director of play in 2011, Morris decided to implement the use of puppetry in his imaginative rendition of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” currently running at the Dock Street Theater as part of Spoleto Festival USA. For Morris, puppetry and Shakespeare came hand in hand as the bard tends to lay out imagery right in his text. After leaving Spoleto, the show (which made its United States debut here in Charleston) will head to New Haven, Conn. and continue its tour from there.

What is your favorite Shakespeare play?
Morris: That’s a good question. Well, it depends really. It’s like saying, “what’s your favorite outfit?” I have to say, I haven’t directed many Shakespeare plays, but I do use Shakespeare as a kind of medicine. Reading Shakespeare is like a fantastic, imaginative workout. This morning, I think my favorite Shakespeare play is “Twelfth Night.” That’s probably to do with being someone from Bristol who’s turned up in this beautiful, strange city, having a really exciting adventure. Though on other days, “Winter’s Tale” and I love, obviously “Midsummers Night’s Dream.” When you work on a play, you can get in the middle of it. I think the big tragedies are amazing—“King Lear,” that’ll do, that’s about five.

An article stated that you always base yourself in Shakespeare when working.
Is that true?
Morris: That’s sort of true. The kind of theater that I like watching and I try to make is theater that makes an appeal to the imagination. It’s a kind of theater that understands,

Tom Morris, director of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Spoleto Festival USA

Tom Morris, director of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Spoleto Festival USA.
Photo: Sam Frost/The Guardian

at first, principles are the foundation for everything. The meaning of the thing is created by the audience. It is by coincidence or not, the case, that in Shakespeare’s theater, they didn’t have very much scenery and the invitation to the imagination of the audience was explicit in the text…The kind of theater that I make, whether there are puppets in it or not, makes a rather similar invitation to the imagination of the audience. A puppet clearly requires the audience to give it life, otherwise there’s no story.

What was the inspiration behind using puppets in “Midsummer”?
Morris: I guess there were two inspirations. One was having made “War Horse” with Marianne Elliot and with Handspring Puppets. It seemed like a very exciting idea to try to do something else with something completely different. This particular play appealed because thematically it is engaged with changes of shape, metamorphosis, how the imagination operates. We know that in the dark you can see something and imagine it to be something else. All of those kinds of transformations, internal and external, connect in an interesting way with how a puppet works, because a puppet asks an audience to transform it. And also, the play is dreamlike in structure. We all know that our dreams are visually bizarre.

Your ideas of using puppets before, with “War Horse,” landed you a Tony Award. What was it like winning the coveted award?
Morris: It was very, very strange. I didn’t grow up in the culture of Tony’s. Tony’s are sort of a mythical object for me, so distant and far away and not anything I’d come anywhere near. The experience of that was a mark of joy for unpredictability and collaborative theater making…Witnessing the emotional impact that show has had on audiences, not only in Britain, but obviously in New York and now in Australia and soon in Germany and Canada, witnessing that emotional response is really the thing. A Tony is the label on top of that, which is fantastic because it’s a thing you put on your shelf. It’s a badge on the heart of the audience, and I think that’s why it got so many prizes because people felt the audience was profoundly moved by it.

Is there a difference between audiences in Britain and audiences in the United States?
Morris: For sure. We’ve done three performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and they’re coming off the end of a run in Bristol. The audiences were very different… very different ages of audience, very different city they’ve grown up in. We had a talk after the first performance here because the audiences here—two shows yesterday—are really excited about the show, and they were excited in very different ways. So the company has to allow the audience here to make it their own in a way that’s true for them. They respond to different things, find different things funny, different things moving. The timing shifts, the audience here has changed the timing of the show. It’s fascinating.

How did “Midsummer” fall into your hands?
Morris: I always loved it as a play because I am fascinated by how you go to sleep loving one person and wake up loving another person, which sometimes happens, and how we live our lives around that. So, that’s the underlying thing…We [Morris and Adrian Kohler, “War Horse” puppet creator] started talking about “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and I started to understand and see the images that that text inspired for him. We decided that if we were going to work together that we were going to do something very different from “War Horse.” There would be no point in repeating that experiment. That would be of no interest of us. We knew it was going to be different, and we decided that we would try to do something that would combine lots and lots of different kinds of puppetry, and obviously dialogue. He [Kohler] was creating a visual text that would go along with Shakespeare’s text.

Shrimp and Grits Showdown Round 2: SWAMP FOX

(Photo illustration by Nick DeSantis / Photos by Eesha Patkar)

As Georgia (Nic Bell) and New Orleans (Briana Prevost) natives, we know authentic Southern food. Naturally, coming to Charleston as Spoleto festival reporters meant finding the best food in the low country. Our mission started with one simple goal in mind: finding (and eating) the best bowl of shrimp and grits in the city. Our next stop in our bi-weekly Shrimp and Grits Showdown: Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar.  

Swamp Fox Restaurant & Bar, located inside the historic Francis Marion hotel, is the epitome of Southern charm. White tablecloths, ornate settings and beautiful china, rich mahogany and Southern gentility abounds in the dining room. Nestled in the corner of the restaurant was a grand piano pumping out contemporary songs and setting the mood for a wonderfully relaxing brunch. On to Round Two!

Nick’s picks: First and foremost, as a restaurant in Charleston, shrimp and grits should be on your menu all day everyday, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and nightcap. Am I right? Well, the Swamp Fox doesn’t disappoint. When B and I ordered, we each were presented with a steaming, delicious bowl of Southern gritty goodness.

Creamy, smooth grits were topped with plump, perfectly opaque shrimp. Throughout the velvetiness, red and yellow bell peppers provided a subtle sweetness and texture. Pepper jack cheese was sprinkled over the top and provided just enough depth of flavor, but it wasn’t overpowering for the delicate shrimp or grits.

Shrimp and grits in Charleston seems to come served with a signature gravy pooled over the top of the dish, and while the grits at Husk was overpowered by the smoked tomato gravy, the grits at the Swamp Fox were elevated with its lobster and Tasso ham gravy. Rich and decadent, it provided a deliciously briny seafood flavor that only heightened the flavor of the shrimp. Morsels of Tasso ham definitely didn’t hurt the dish. It may have provided too much richness for an otherwise deftly executed dish, but the flavors melded together beautifully and left me completely satisfied.

B’s business: After trying the first batch of shrimp and grits from Husk, I must admit, I was a bit skeptical when this batch came out as I scoped the contents of its bowl. Automatically, the gravy reminded me of popular New Orleans bases for remoulade or etouffee, which was exciting – until I saw the red and green bell peppers and my skepticism was amplified.

But upon first bite of the smooth, soft grits with just Swamp Fox’s Lobster and Tasso Ham Gravy, I thought, “now this is what grits should taste like!” The savory grits were cooked just so that the pepperjack cheese blended into the grits without stringing and separating from its parent ingredient. Not too salty, yet not at all bland thanks to the rich flavors from the gravy, the grits were the main delight in this dish – as they should be.

Although originally doubtful, the other contents within the grits were surprisingly agreeable to the palette. The onions were sautéed just right as to taste a hint of carmelization while the sautéed bell peppers supplemented the slightly sweet flavor in contrast to the savory taste of the thick grits they sat atop.

The shrimp, however, was not worth adding to the rest of the medley of flavors in the bowl. Tastlessly too fishy, the shrimp was also translucent and tough. By the end of my meal, each piece of seafood had been pushed to the side of my bowl, leaving me to enjoy the tasso ham as the meaty counterpoint for my grits consumption.

Expect the unexpected:

Nic’s pick: The bread pudding was all kinds of decadent, but it wasn’t nearly as heavy or dense as some that I’ve had before. Inundated with raisins, the vanilla custard was subtly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. Delicious and unctuous, the bread pudding is definitely not something to be missed.

B’s business: The bread pudding was not terribly drenched in a cream based finishing sauce, this warm dessert-for-breakfast had just enough cinnamon and dryness to the dough to be considered a mushier version of French toast. It included a New Orleans favorite ingredient – raisins – dispersed perfectly throughout the pudding as to not overpower any of its simple tasting pleasures.

Laughing at Shakespeare

Review of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” at Theatre 99.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” elevates comedy’s ability to communicate intellectual ideas. But it also challenges the audience to obtain a prerequisite knowledge before enjoying nearly two hours of cross-dressing, slapstick humor.

This production of “Complete Works,” which different companies play across the United States, will not disappoint. The play sails through Shakespeare’s 37 plays while maintaining respect for the playwright’s significance to Anglo-American culture.

Greg Tavares, Steven Shields and Timmy Finch star and direct this production, which plays at Theatre 99 as part of the 2013 Piccolo Fringe series. The actors display an impressive multi-faceted talent for acting, singing and choreography. But their simultaneous mastery of comedic timing and enunciation worthy of the Bard are regrettably underappreciated – sidelined by cheers for their falling down and theatrical screams.

The overwhelming majority of the audience has had at least one interaction with Shakespeare, according to a show of hands at the start of the performance. Yet the intensity of their laughter spiked at moments when one of the male performers feigned discomfort over kissing another playing a woman. For an audience that cheered at a reference condemning South Carolina’s homophobic marriage laws, such behavior was inadvertently reactionary. Knowledge of Shakespeare evidently does not contribute enough to cultural enlightenment.

This was not the lone instance of questionable audience reaction.

Disconcertingly, a mention about Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway produced an outburst of chuckles. Some in the audience may have been under the impression that this factual statement was an anachronistic joke about the Academy Award winning actress. But to be fair, Adolf Hitler found his way into a monologue, and moments of confusion were bound to occur.

Kevin Williamson, theater critic for The New Criterion, found similarly ill-timed laughter troubling at this year’s Broadway production of “Macbeth.” This is hardly a new phenomenon, but it should make us question humor’s relationship to drama.

To borrow from the design of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London: our culture is certainly not in the pits of Hell, but we are not soaring in Heaven’s skies either.

Behind “Ain’t Misbehavin’”

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” is a classic, jazz standard in the annals of American music history. The song is penned by Fats Waller and Harry Brooks and lyrics written by Andy Razaf in 1929. It’s been performed for nearly a 100 years by some of the greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Art Tatum and Ray Charles. The song even received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1984.

In the same year, the song became the title of a musical. 

Fats Waller
Photo: Last.fm

The musical is a tribute to artists from the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920’s and ’30s, when jazz was a popular form of music. Historic music venues like the Cotton Club and Savoy Ballroom, which serve as the setting for the musical, gave many jazz greats their first gigs.

Fats Waller, born Thomas Wright Waller (1904-1943), was a pianist, singer, composer, comedian and organist. He was a talented stride pianist and played Dixieland, swing and ragtime jazz. He gained international success and spent time in Europe touring and performing. He wrote many jazz songs like “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” and “After You’ve Gone,” but is most noted for the cherished classic, “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

The song is a mid-tempo jazz ballad that features New Orleans style stride piano and brass interludes.The fluidity of the song enables musicians to interpret the classic as their own and mixed within other genres. Here are some classic, fun, and creative interpretations of “Ain’t Misbehavin.’”

1. Fats Waller and band 

2. Louie Armstrong and his orchestra
3. Billie Holiday

4. The Muppets

5. Hank Williams, Jr.
6. This u
kulele Solo
7. Barbershop Quartet
8. Swedish Boys Choir

9. Mandola and Fiddle Duo

10. 10-year old guitar player and vocalist

If you go: Produced by Art Forms & Theatre Concepts. May 24-25 at 5pm; May 31 at 8pm; June 1 at 2pm. Tickets: $26 Adults; $21 Seniors; $16 Students. Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen St.

A Celebration of Clothes and All That Comes With It

Review of “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” at the Woolfe Street Playhouse.

If there was one person who knew exactly what to say about today’s American women, it had to be Nora Ephron.

Most people know about Nora from her famous “I feel bad about my neck” piece in Vogue. In “Love, Loss, and What I Wore,”  a play written by Nora and Delia Ephron based on a book of the same name by Ilene Beckerman, the siblings make jokes not only about necks, but also bras, purses and Eileen Fisher.

Presented by the Village Repertory Co. at the Woolfe Street Playhouse, (a perfect venue for a “ladies’ night” accompanied with wine and besties) “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” is a story about women’s anonymous everyday relationships—mothers, step-mothers, husbands, ex-husbands, etc., and how they are always, somehow, associated with clothes.

As a series of monologues, the play is delivered by a rotating cast of five women. If Nora and Delia’s sharp but lighthearted lines are the cornerstones, it is the performances of the five actresses that really trigger the audience.

“Oh My God—I look like my mother!”
“Who did I think I was when I bought this?”
“Who did the salesgirl think I was when she talked me into buying this?”
“I can’t zip this up only because I’m having my period.”

When one actress was speaking, the other four would watch and react. There are a lot of collective memories, laughs and a bit of tears among the cast and the audience.

It’s a night to honor Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dresses, gay marriage, classic black, Madonna, but most importantly—women.

When the play premiered off Broadway in 2009, it was described as “the Vagina Monologues without the vagina.” Apparently, the “monologues with clothes” work just as well and intimately. Maybe it’s because every woman knows that at the end of the day she always has her clothes.

Robot Candy Co. store closing

One of the first places that caught my attention on King Street was the Robot Candy Co., with its large T-Rex in the window, and eponymous machines on display. It was exactly the kind of place I’d like to shop for candy, inviting me to explore that kid-centered part of my brain that wishes to really just make things and eat sugar.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I learned they were closing.
However, as reported in March by the Post and Courier, the store will be closing as the owners search for a new location in the downtown area. Until then, if you want to get their quirky and tasty candy, you’ll have to stock up before June 1st, or make the trip out to their Mt. Pleasant location.

Check out this panorama of the current store’s setup before it disappears.

Robot Candy Co.
Mount Pleasant
Belle Hall Shopping Center
Mt. Pleasant SC 29464
robotcandy.net

Gallery: Charleston Farmer’s Market and Outdoor Art Exhibition

Locals and visitors crowded into Marion Square Sunday to purchase goods from local artists, farmers, cooks and craftsmen at Piccolo Spoleto’s Charleston Farmer’s Market and Outdoor Arts Exhibition.

Check out our gallery of photos from the event:
Photos by Melanie Deziel

Charleston Farmer’s Market:
June 1, 8 from 8am-2pm; June 2, 9 from 9am-3pm.

Outdoor Art Exhibition:
May 27-June 8; Mon.-Thurs. from 10am-5pm, Fri.-Sun.: 10am-6pm.

Both events are free and open to the public.

Getting to Know a Couple of “Reformed Whores”

 “Reformed Whores” will be running at Theatre 99 in Charleston as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival from May 24-28. The musical comedy duo, Katy Frame and Marie Cecile Anderson, perform songs about love and life in what they describe as a “raunchy country-western hoedown.”

Listen to an audio clip of the two “Reformed Whores” talking and singing about their show. (Audio by Christina Riley)

Who are the “Reformed Whores”?
Frame: We are a musical comedy duo, singing in a country western style. We have an hour long show we do. It’s full of raunchy fun, which incorporates music into a raunchy hoedown.

How did the duo come to be? 

The two ladies of "Reformed Whores"

The two ladies of “Reformed Whores.”
Photo: Christina Riley


Frame: Marie Anderson and I met at a mutual friend’s birthday party about three years ago. We started talking about music, and she found out I play the accordion and she plays the ukulele. And we thought we should start a band and it really started organically from there.

Are there any other “Reformed Whores” in your band?
Frame: No, it’s just us. We play the accordion and the ukulele. But on our CD, we do have a full band.

Where does the inspiration for your songs come from?
Frame: Definitely from real life experiences—break ups, relationships, things that have been bugging us that we think should be talked about more… things that I think are relatable to both men and women, but we are girls so it’s things that are from a female perspective.

How would you describe the genre of music you play?
Frame: I would say country-western comedy.

How would you describe your performance?
Frame: It’s kind of a concert but it’s also very theatrical depending on the performance.

How did the name “Reformed Whores” come about?
Frame: Actually, my roommate had a playlist on her computer and it was titled Reformed Whores and I loved it. I loved the concept. I brought it into Marie when we were looking for names and it just really made a lot of sense for what we were talking about.

The body beautifully decoded in Compagnie Kafig dance

Something beautiful lives in the expression of athletic skill. Compagnie Kafig, a troupe of 11 dancers performing at TD Arena as part of Spoleto Festival USA, shows just what a body can do. In its hip-hop heavy version of Brazilian fight dancing, Kafig’s capoeira takes advantage of isolations common to pop lock dancers.

Toward the end of “Correria,” the first presentation, one dancer comes out for a solo with his torso bare. He torques his abdomen until it takes on the flow of a pencil wobbled between two fingers in the rubber pencil optical illusion.

Later, Kafig kicks around the stage with an extra set of wooden legs in hand. Dancers use their arms to drive the fake legs into the same steps as their real ones, to dramatic effect. Each episode demands, “Pay attention, this is what legs can do, this is what muscles are for, this is what torsion, contraction and relaxation can produce.”

Kafig explores the body’s history. As “Correria” opens, a primordial orange glow—designed by Yoann Tivoli—lights three dancers on their backs, with their legs up in the air pedaling an invisible bicycle. We see them first as machines in the body’s present or future.

“Agwa,” the second presentation, is much more organic. During “Agwa,” a grid of clear plastic cups fills the stage. Only after a dancer backflips through the maze do we see that some of the cups are filled with water. The dancers dazzlingly dash it from one cup to another, visibly delighted with Mourad Merzouki’s choreography. You can’t help but be reminded of the fact that up to 60% of the human adult body is water. Kafig earns its finale, and you’ll want to stick around for the encore.