Not just toy action figures

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Review of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” at Pure Theatre.

Wrestlers can be so touchy, can’t they?

After all, millions watch them whine on TV every Monday night, lamenting over a championship loss or bitterly promising revenge.

Pure Theatre’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,”—a Piccolo Spoleto Festival presentation—gives a comically in-depth look at what lives behind the Lucha libres, groin-hugging tights and politically incorrect pseudonyms, like “The Fundamentalist.”

The Fundamentalist, mind you, is a radical Muslim. And when partnered with Che Chavez Castro, a Mexican border-jumper who leeches off the system (not my words) and also very anti-United States, the amoral marketing schemes of a Caucasian American pastime shine through.

At least, that’s what Everett K. Olson, the owner of THE Entertainment, thinks. “Wrestling fans don’t speak Spanish,” he says to Mace, one of the two wrestling personas adopted by the charming Michael Smallwood, when he suggests that can try to speak Spanish for one of his characters.

There’s a reason that this play, written by Kristoffer Diaz, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama in 2010. Diaz effectively and grippingly deconstructs a testosterone-laden sport and shows that these men—bulging muscles (though not always the case) and tattoos aside—are able to look past their own stereotypes. The only exception is Chad Deity, played by the rightfully holier-than-thou Christian Duboise, who embodies his character both inside and outside of the ring.

Still, it’s captivating to see what is behind the persona of wrestlers, moral pinings included. For Mace, wrestling is an art form, and he’s got a story to tell.

Director Sharon Graci’s steady hand throughout the production leaves just enough room for mystery to blossom throughout the performance. At times, Diaz’s text is completely predictable—diatribes on the less-than-sensitive racial ignorance in the biz give the piece little wiggle room, leaving us for hungering for a little more justice throughout—and Graci, along with the cast of six, presents a satisfying conversation.

The show is almost entirely done in what looks to be a 10-by-10 foot wrestling ring. By the time Act II comes round, body slamming and clotheslining are much appreciated. And, these guys throw each other around as savagely, and almost as believably, as the pros on TV.

The technical aspects of “Chad Deity” (designed by Charlie Thiel) are impressive. The gaudy music and self-glorifying videos that accompany a wrestler as he makes his entrance and the behind-the-ring trash talking are all documented on two screens.

It turns out that wrestlers have feelings too and they want to be seen as more than just plastic figurines.

Natalia Khoma Presents Bach’s Solo Cello Suites (1-3)

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After last year’s presentation of J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites, Natalia Khoma brought it to Piccolo Spoleto again, this time at First Presbyterian Church.
For the concert on May 29, she played the first three suites of the six. Her interpretation was rich and colorful. Her skills allowed her to add layers, change volumes and vary tempos while performing. All these, integrated with her graceful appearance, made her even more charming.

Khoma, a native Ukrainian, is a renowned cellist and a cello professor at College of Charleston. Among her competition wins is the Budapest Pablo Casals Competition, named after the Spanish cellist who played a crucial role in popularizing the Bach cello suites.

These suites were largely unknown until Casals recorded a full version of all six in 1939. They then became a peak that seemingly every cello maestro tries to reach at some point in their career.

Unlike Casals’ deep interpretation of the Prelude of Suite No. 1, Khoma’s playing is brisk and absorbing. Her first note in Menuet—bright, quick and forte—was a potent contrast to the mournful Sarabande. Her refreshing articulation of the beginning was joined by an elastic and elegant reinvention of it in terms of melody and sound intensity. It enriched the acoustics and added layers to the suite.

The second suite in D minor, in contrast to the first one, is darker. The lines lingered in her strings, her fingers, the hall and the church. The mournful notes were like endless sadness and gloom. However, the pace in the Allemande was unexpected. In her interpretation, the lines and notes plunged forward in an incredibly fast tempo that still captured every nuance.

Yet the Courante was somehow even speedier. With greater contrast in volume and pitch in phrases, the emotion became so fierce that when the final crescendo came, you felt the agony and drama falling on the audience. During this suite, Khoma kept wiping the sweat off her head and fixing her hair between movements. Her dress strap also fell off her shoulder, which seemed to distract her. (The strap fell from time to time throughout the concert.)

After going backstage for a while, Khoma came back and played the third suite in C major. Her melodic short notes leaped over the fluid bass. While the strong resonance in the First Presbyterian Church sometimes blurred the piece’s echoes, the emotions were amplified. Khoma’s seamless playing then integrated the layers, the volumes and the richness of sound in the Gigue. With successive fortes near the end, she ended this journey with an intensified and prolonged coda.

Costuming the Presidents

For the past 20 years, Julie Ziff has been behind the scenes of the Charleston theater community. More appropriately, behind the seams. For Ziff, costuming shows has become a passion since retiring from her day job in New York City years ago. Knowing that she was wanted to go into costuming, Ziff took theater classes at The New School in NYC and shipped down to Charleston to start her new career—one that keeps her incredibly busy. Currently, the designer is costuming two shows for the Piccolo Spoleto Festival at the Woolfe Street Playhouse, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Love, Loss and What I Wore.”  The good news, she may be busy, but it’s easy to find her: in the costume shop.

How did you get involved with this theatre?
Julie Ziff: I did a show for Keely Enright (founder and producing artistic director of The Woolfe Street Playhouse)  when we were downtown at the Midtown Theatre and then when they decided to start their own theater company, she asked me to come and work with them.

How did you get into costume design?
Ziff: Well I moved down here from New York City and I retired from my day job. And, right before I left I went to The New School and I took an acting class, a set design class and a directing class because I wanted to do costumes, but I thought I don’t even know the language. So, I took those classes right before I left and when I came down here, my younger daughter was in the theater so I started making costumes for the theater company she was with. I have done costumes for almost everyone in town and then I met Keely and Dave and started working for them full time.

What was the daily wear of the 19th century politician and their cohorts? What were people wearing back then?
Ziff: Suits. Well, you know, clothes haven’t changed too much over the years. So, it’d be a shirt and tie, and a vest and a jacket with maybe a hat.

What about the women?

Julie Ziff (right) and Keely Enright (left, producting artistic director of the Woolfe Street Playhouse).

Julie Ziff (right) and Keely Enright (left, producting artistic director of the Woolfe Street Playhouse).


Ziff: Well, a dress. I’m not sure if it was a bustle dress at that point or just a hoop skirt, but it was big clothes and a lot of layers, too.

Have you interpreted the costumes from the original Broadway show?
Ziff: We of course have that available as a resource and since it is such a recent show, it has more of an influence on us than if we were just creating it from scratch, but we always like to do our own thing.

So how did you do your own thing?
Ziff: Well, Keely, Josh [Wilhoit, Director of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson] and I met together and we talked about what the colors are, what is the feeling we want here? I meet all of the actors so I sort of know body sizes and what they look like, so it  springs from that. We think about what works in our theater because we’re not off Broadway, we’re not Broadway; we have a stage that isn’t deep.

What do you think is the biggest challenge when designing costumes?
Ziff: In this type of theater where you have maybe a four-to-six week run, you have to make the costume substantial enough so it will last the run but you can’t afford to make it substantial enough so that it’s really there forever.

Have you ever been inspired to veer away from a traditional costume and make it your own?
Ziff: Yes, they let me do that a lot. It’s very collaborative here.

What has been your craziest costume designing experience?
Ziff: Maybe “Urinetown” was one of our more creative from a costume standpoint because we just did all black, white and grey and we used red as the accent color. Everybody had something red.

What was the reasoning behind that?
Ziff: The set was a cinderblock outhouse that they were using and we just wanted to make it more dramatic. It was such a great musical and we wanted to be able to pull on the drama of it.

What is your favorite part about doing costume design?
Ziff: Every play is its own entity. You have about a month to research everything, decide what you’re going to do and then you have two weeks to make them and then they’re up for a month and you start all over. So, it’s very creative and very fun.

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.

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.

Natalie Daise Reveals What it Takes to Become Harriet Tubman

This is Harriet Tubman’s year, according to Natalie Daise, a storyteller out of Beaufort, S.C. Daise presents her one-woman show, “Becoming Harriet Tubman,” as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. She originally put on “Becoming Harriet Tubman” at last year’s Piccolo festival, but especially wanted to perform it again to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Tubman’s death. Daise portrays four people at turning points in Tubman’s life, including Harriet’s mother, her first slave owner, a field worker and Harriet herself. Daise chats with The Post and Courier about life as a professional storyteller, as well as what it took to get into the life of Harriet Tubman.

Listen to a sample of Daise playing each of the four characters (Audio by Paige Cooperstein).

A lot of people will remember you from your family’s Nick Jr. show Gullah Gullah Island. How has your storytelling evolved since then?
Daise: I was already a storyteller before the show. My husband had written a book about Gullah culture called “Reminiscences of Sea Island Heritage.” He interviewed a lot of the elders on St. Helena Island and I brought those stories to the stage. At one performance, we met an executive producer from Nick and she said, “We could do a show with you guys!” I was pregnant with my second baby at the time and we shot the show in Orlando until he was five.

Can you explain a little bit about the Gullah culture?
Daise: My husband is Gullah and for many years people misunderstood the culture and the language. The Gullah stories I told were to preserve African culture in the coastal islands of the Carolinas and Georgia. Gullah traditions come largely from West Africa and we talked about things like the dietary practices, part of which is eating rice every day.

Natalie Daise, playwright and actor in “Becoming Harriet Tubman.”
Photo: Josh Austin

Why did you decide to tell the life story of Harriet Tubman?
Daise: People tend to think of African American culture as starting in slavery, but really that was just a transitional period. While I was telling stories about the Gullah culture, I came across Charlotte Forten, who was the first black instructor to white students on St. Helena Island in 1862. In her journal, she mentions coming into Beaufort, South Carolina, and having lunch with Harriet Tubman. I thought, “What?! How did I not know about this? Actually Harriet Tubman spent quite a bit of time in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

Take me through your writing process for Becoming Harriet Tubman.
Daise: I originally wrote a 15-minute show on her. As I got going, people would say, “Why don’t you do that Harriet Tubman Show?” And I thought, “I don’t really have a Harriet Tubman show.” But I was interested in who she was as a person and how she became an icon. I always tell this story, and it is true. A friend of mine said she hated one-person shows because it felt like being trapped in a closet with someone who wouldn’t shut up. So I thought the more perspectives you have, the more you can flesh Harriet out.

You portray four characters at formative moments in Harriet Tubman’s life. How did you decide which people to include in Becoming Harriet Tubman?
Daise: The first voice that came to me was her mother’s because of the research that I’d done, but I also felt I could really identify with her as a mother. I also chose a field hand because one of the iconic stories they tell about Harriet is how she got her skull fractured. I thought it’d be interesting to hear it from the field hand’s point of view because he was really the catalyst of that moment for her. Harriet Tubman is also included, but she does not tell her story until the second half because she is created really by her circumstances.

You performed Becoming Harriet Tubman as a part of Piccolo Spoleto last year. What made you want to perform it again this year?
Daise: The first time I did the show was February 2012. Someone said I should do it for Piccolo and so I said okay. It was a fairly new show last year, but shows are always evolving. Right now, it feels complete. I have such a relationship with her at this point. When she became complete, I just really wanted to do her. I thought she needed more time on the stage. Plus this is Harriet Tubman’s year. This year is the 100th anniversary of her death, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement. I will probably do something else if I do Piccolo again. But this year just felt right to do Harriet Tubman again.

If you go

  • Where: Circular Congregational Church, 150 Meeting St.
  • When: May 24 at 8 p.m., May 31 at 6 p.m., June 7 at 8 p.m.
  • Tickets: $18 Adults, $16 Students/Seniors

Opening Ceremony Photo Gallery

A team of reporters and photographers attended the festivals’ opening ceremony, and we took some time to get to know some of the other attendees and ask what they were looking forward to most at this year’s festivals.

Click here to check out our photo gallery!

For more information, read The Post and Courier’s full story about the opening ceremony.

Slideshow photos by: Christina Riley and Eesha Patkar

One for the money, four for the show

With so much theatre at this year’s Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto festivals, it’s hard to choose. But since you have to, here are four recommendations from our Theatre Blog Editor, Josh Austin.

Oedipus
Based on the classic Greek tragedy by Sophocles, this Spoleto Festival USA production comes to us from the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company. The show runs June 4-8 at Memminger Auditorium. For ticketing information, click here.

Bullet Catch
Writer and performer Rob Drummond, as his alter ego William Wonder, explores the history of the famous finale magic trick. This Spoleto Festival USA show runs June 5-9 at the Emmet Robinson Theatre at College of Charleston. For ticketing information, click here.

Clybourne Park
Piccolo Spoleto brings us this show, the winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Set in Chicago in 2009, the show explores gentrification in Chicago in a modern-day take on Raisin in the Sun. The show runs May 24-26, 28 and 29 at PURE Theatre. For ticketing information, click here.

Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson
This rock musical from the Village Repertory Company brands the seventh president as a guitar-playing leader of the American Frontier. This Piccolo Spoleto show runs May 30-June 2 and June 6-8 at the Woolfe Street Playhouse. For ticketing information, click here.

 

Piccolo Spoleto 2013

This year’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival runs from May 24 to June 8, and the lineup includes film and literary events, musical performances, dance, theatre, visual arts, special events, and a whole host of family-friendly and children’s events scattered across the beautiful city of Charleston.

Piccolo Spoleto 2013

Check out the event schedule or download the entire program for event details.

 Pick up a copy of The Post and Courier each day for two recommendations under “Piccolo Picks” and two more suggestions for family-friendly events.

To get Piccolo Spoleto updates on your Twitter feed, follow @Piccolo_Spoleto.

For more information about Piccolo Spoleto Festival, check out their website.

Following the Festivals on Twitter

If you’re planning to follow along with the Spoleto USA and Piccolo Spoleto Festival on Twitter this year, be sure to check out our list of must-follow accounts so you get the most up-to-date festival news right in your Twitter feed.

Twitter Bird

For local coverage of the festival, follow the Post and Courier at @postandcourier, and its designated Spoleto account, @spoletochas.

A group of 15 arts journalism master’s students from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School are in town covering the festivals for the Post and Courier. Follow them here: Josh Austin, Nic Bell, Lucia Camargo, Paige Cooperstein, Greg CwikNick DeSantis, Melanie Deziel, Joseph DiDomizioXiaoran DingVinny Huang, Zach Marschall, Alyssa Nappa, Eesha PatkarBriana Prevost and Christina Riley.

You can also subscribe to this Twitter list containing all the arts journalists.

Festival announcements and information will come from the official accounts of Spoleto USA (@SpoletoFestival) and Piccolo Spoleto (@Piccolo_Spoleto).

If you’re looking for other information about the city while you’re in town, follow @CityCharleston@EventCharleston@ExploreCHS and @HistoricChas. To get the weather forecast for Charleston right on your Twitter feed, try CharlestonWeather at @chswx.

 Got another suggestion of a festival must-follow account?
Tweet your suggestions to @spoletochas!