Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Comedies, Dramas and Musicals mark the 2017-18 season at Arkansas Rep

ark repA Southern story that is a favorite, a modern take on a classic comedy, a new musical based on a timeless Christmas tale, a contemporary drama of familial relationships, a joyous romp of a musical, a darkly comic tale of manners (without the manners), and a biting look at the madness of the holidays compose the 42nd season of the Arkansas Rep!

Under the leadership of new Producing Artistic Director John Miller-Stephany, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, the state’s largest nonprofit professional theatre, announced its 2017-18 Season.

Beginning in August, the new season exemplifies The Rep’s mission of producing diverse work of the highest artistic standards for its Arkansas audience.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Aug. 23 – Sept. 10, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017
By Rebecca Gilman | Based on the novel by Carson McCullers
Directed by John Miller-Stephany

Based on Carson McCullers’ celebrated debut novel, this haunting Southern drama tells the story of a handful of misfits in a 1930s Georgia mill town. Deaf-mute John Singer becomes confidant and confessor to four of the town’s most colorful eccentrics, forever changing their lives by his sympathetic and gentle presence. Rebecca Gilman’s poignant adaptation for the stage captures all of the loss and longing of the original novel and combines it with a graceful theatricality.

 

The School for Lies
Oct. 11 – 29, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017
By David Ives | Adapted from The Misanthrope by Molière

Based upon Molière’s classic 17th Century comedy, The Misanthrope, The School for Lies feels surprisingly relevant as it exposes the hypocrisies of polite high society with a sharp wit and even sharper observations about human nature. Comic master David Ives (All in the Timing, Venus in Fur, Is He Dead?) adapts this wicked farce for contemporary audiences, contrasting the high-brow characters with low-brow humor and employing present-day language that breathes fresh air into this rollicking satire.

 

The Gift of the Magi
Nov. 29 – Dec. 24, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017
A new musical by Jeffrey Hatcher, Maggie-Kate Coleman and Andrew Cooke
Directed by John Miller-Stephany

The Arkansas Repertory Theatre is proud to present the world premiere of a new chamber musical based upon O. Henry’s beloved holiday story. Unwrap a new tradition in this tender tale of love and sacrifice, told with fresh intimacy on The Rep stage. Acclaimed playwright Jeffrey Hatcher (Compleat Female Stage Beauty, Tuesdays with Morrie, Three Viewings) is joined by composer Andrew Cooke and 2017 Jonathan Larson Grant recipient Maggie-Kate Coleman (lyricist).

 

The Call
Jan. 24 – Feb. 11, 2018; Opening Night on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018
By Tanya Barfield

Annie and Peter are a childless couple in their late 30s who have decided to adopt a baby from Africa. But when they receive some surprising news about their potential bundle of joy, anxiety and doubt threaten to tear their world apart. Middle-class cultural sensibilities and global divisions come crashing in on their comfortable existence as they are forced to confront their own preconceived notions about what makes a family a family. As they reach out to friends and neighbors for advice, Annie and Peter become mired in indecision and second thoughts.

 

Mamma Mia!
March 14 – April 8, 2018; Opening Night on Friday, March 16, 2018
Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus
Some songs with Stif Anderson | Additional material by Martin Koch
Book by Catherine Johnson
Directed by John Miller-Stephany

Young bride-to-be Sophie desperately wants her father to walk her down the aisle. But there’s a catch – she’s not sure which of her mother’s old flames is “the one.” So, she invites all three, hoping she’ll learn the truth, which unleashes an out-of-control flood of memories – and irresistible pop music – into all of their lives.

 

God of Carnage
June 6 – 24, 2018; Opening Night on Friday, June 8, 2018
By Yasmina Reza | Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker

A simple playground scuffle between their young sons thrusts two sets of affluent parents into an uproarious maelstrom of epic proportions. As they meet to provide a positive example of conflict resolution, what begins as a civil conversation over cocktails and canapés soon devolves into a juvenile war of words and unexpected ferocity.   Winner of three Tony Awards, including Best Play, God of Carnage is a contemporary comedy of manners – minus the manners. From the fertile imagination of playwright Yasmina Reza (Art) comes this hilarious and terrifying descent into the heart of darkness – a searingly dark comedy for uncertain times.

 

PRODUCTION AT THE BLACK BOX THEATRE, The Rep Annex, 518 Main Street
New this Season, The Rep will run concurrent productions throughout the Christmas holiday. With the productions running on different stages and at staggered curtain times, patrons are encouraged to see both productions back-to-back.

 

The Santaland Diaries
Dec. 6 – 24, 2017; Opening Night on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017
By David Sedaris

Crumpet is just your average department store Christmas Elf. He’s your average, every day, chain-smoking, martini-swilling, foul-mouthed, Santa-denying department store Christmas Elf. What starts out as a mundane seasonal job to pay the bills becomes a darkly absurd quest through the grey and slush-filled streets of New York City at Christmastime. If the holidays make you feel more like Scrooge than Cratchit, more Grinch than Cindy Lou Who, more Abominable Snow Monster than Rudolph, then The Santaland Diaries is the perfect show for you!

 

Season Subscriptions are on sale now and start at $132, making subscribing to The Rep the most economical way to see all of the productions included in the 2017-18 Season.

 

For more information on Season Subscriptions, call The Rep’s Box Office at (501) 378-0405, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., or visit http://www.TheRep.org.


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Black History Month – Maya Angelou and Robinson Center

1414mayaOn February 23, 1998, Maya Angelou appeared with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in a concert at Robinson Center.  The evening featured Dr. Angelou narrating Joseph Schwantner’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “New Morning for the World.”

Dr. Angelou, a former resident of Stamps, Arkansas, was not a stranger to Little Rock. She had appeared before at Wildwood Park and would later appear at the Clinton Presidential Center.

A former Poet Laureate of the United States and Tony nominated actor, she won a Grammy Award for her reading of “On the Pulse of the Morning” which had been written for the first inauguration of Bill Clinton as President of the United States.

A poet, author, educator, dancer, singer, actor, and activist, she wrote seven autobiographies. The most notable was arguably I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  Born in St. Louis, she spent part of her childhood in Arkansas before moving to California.  She led a peripatetic life both geographically and career-wise ending as a professor at Wake Forest and residing in North Carolina.  It was there that she died in May 2014.


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Black History Month – Danny Glover and Robinson Center

danny-glover-new-headshot-2010On Saturday, February 3, 2001, actor Danny Glover narrated Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra at Robinson Center.

The Culture Vulture had the privilege of spending part of the day with Mr. Glover while he was here in Little Rock. (At Mr. Glover’s request for good Soul Food, they went to Kitchen Express. When the parking lot was still full at 2:45 on a Saturday afternoon, Mr. Glover remarked “That’s a good sign.”  He enjoyed the food so much, he apparently went back the next day before leaving town.) They also discussed college and NBA basketball and went by the UA Little Rock campus where then-Lakers star Derek Fisher had played his college ball.

While Danny Glover may well be best-known for his role in the Lethal Weapon movies, his distinguished acting career has taken him to Broadway and Off-Broadway, motion picture screens and TV.  He is also well-known for his political and social activism. He is not afraid to speak his mind, and to make donations to causes in which he is a believer.

As he concludes his fourth decade of acting, Glover shows no signs of slowing down – nor does he appear to be softening his stance on social issues.


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Little Rock Look Back: The Public Library Opens

carnegieOn February 2, 1910, the Little Rock Public Library officially opened its doors.  There had been an open house the night before, but this was the first day of acquiring a library card and checking out books.

Various private libraries had existed sporadically in Little Rock throughout the 19th Century.  In November 1900, a Little Rock School District committee made the first inquiry into the the creation of a Carnegie Library in Little Rock.  Over the next several years, numerous entreaties were made, but funding for the City’s portion was an obstacle.  On December 17, 1906, the Little Rock City Council passed an ordinance to move forward with building, furnishing and equipping a library.  Finally, in February 1908, the City approved acceptance of $88,100 from Andrew Carnegie.  The building would be designed by Edward Tilton, who designed Carnegie libraries, working with local architect Charles Thompson.

Mary Maud Pugsley was hired as the first librarian for Little Rock in May 1909. She began her duties on September 15, 1909, in order to get ready for the opening of the library at the southwest corner of 7th and Louisiana Streets.

On February 2, 1910, formal circulation of books began.  J. N. Heiskell was issued library card number 1.  He was secretary of the Library’s Board of Trustees and had long been an advocate for a public library in Little Rock.  He had often used his bully pulpit as editor of the Arkansas Gazette to advocate for a public library since arriving in Little Rock in 1902.  (Years later — he lived until 1972 — he received a replica of the library card made out of gold.)

That first day of operation, 500 people had applied for library cards. The application process required one to be a Little Rock property owner or to have a property owner sign the application.

Within the first year of operation, 2.5% of Little Rock’s population of 45,951 had applied for a library card.

For more on the history of the transformation of the Little Rock Public Library into the Central Arkansas Library System, read Shirley Schuette and Nathania Sawyer’s From Carnegie to Cyberspace — 100 Years at the Central Arkansas Library System, published by Butler Center Books.


2017 National Magazine Award nominations include Oxford American

2e6b4_1320267846-oxa_logoThe Oxford American has been nominated for a 2017 National Magazine Award: Zandria F. Robinson’s “Listening for the Country” is a finalist in the Essays and Criticism category.
In her feature essay from the 2016 Southern Music Issue, Robinson writes of her experience planning her father’s funeral in Memphis and wrestling with her complicated memories of their relationship—all while listening to the music her father loved. Written with precise compassion and vivid insight, “Listening for the Country” is an unsparing portrait of a family caught between city and country, love and loss.
This is the Oxford American’s fourteenth National Magazine Award nomination since the magazine’s founding in 1992. The Oxford American has been awarded four National Magazine Awards in its 25 years, most notably for General Excellence in 2016.
Zandria F. Robinson and the Oxford American are nominated alongside four other esteemed writers and publications in the Essays and Criticism category: Michael Chabon for GQ, Andrew Sullivan for New York, Sam Anderson for The New York Times Magazine, and Becca Rothfeld for The Hedgehog Review.

The winners of the 2017 National Magazine Awards will be announced on Tuesday, February 7, in New York City.


The OXFORD AMERICAN received $25,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

2e6b4_1320267846-oxa_logoLittle Rock-based Oxford American magazine was announced as a recipients of funding by the National Endowment for the Arts.

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $30 million in grants as part of the NEA’s first major funding announcement for fiscal year 2017. Included in
this announcement is an Art Works grant of $25,000 to the Oxford American to support the publication and promotion of the magazine in 2017.

“We are honored to receive National Endowment for the Arts funding through their Art Works program,” said Oxford American executive director Ryan Harris. “Art Works excels at providing democratized support opportunities for organizations like the Oxford American to continue their work. We are humbled to be amongst a select group of grant recipients.”

The Art Works category focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts. “The arts are for all of us, and by supporting organizations such as the Oxford American, the National Endowment for the Arts is providing more opportunities for the public to engage with the arts,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Whether in a theater, a town square, a museum, or a hospital, the arts are everywhere and make our lives richer.”

The award granted to the Oxford American—a national magazine dedicated to featuring the best in Southern writing—will fund the publication of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by both emerging and established authors.

“An investment in nonprofit publications like the Oxford American is an investment in the future of American letters,” said editor Eliza Borné. “We are grateful to receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts for the second year in a row.”

Oxford American is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts organization and national magazine dedicated to featuring the very best in Southern writing, while documenting the complexity and vitality of the American South. The Oxford American is committed to the development of young individuals aspiring to work in the publishing industry and to the production and presentation of multidisciplinary arts events in and around Little Rock.

Billed as “A Magazine of the South,” it has won four National Magazine Awards—including the 2016 Award for General Excellence in the category of Literature, Science and Politics—and other high honors since it began publication in 1992. The magazine has featured the original work of such literary powerhouses as Charles Portis, Roy Blount, Jr., ZZ Packer, Donald Harington, Donna Tartt, Ernest J. Gaines, and many other distinguished authors, while also discovering and launching the most promising writers in the region. The magazine has also published previously unseen work by such Southern masters as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, James Agee, Zora Neale Hurston, James Dickey, and Carson McCullers. In 2007, the New York Times stated that the Oxford American “may be the liveliest literary magazine in America.” The Oxford American is published from the University of Central Arkansas.


RobinsoNovember: Ben Piazza

benpiazza book coverAnother of the spaces in Robinson Center is named in memory of actor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza.  He was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock, and graduated from Little Rock High School in 1951 as valedictorian. He also had starred in the senior play that year (The Man Who Came to Dinner) and edited the literary magazine.

After graduating from Princeton, he moved to New York City to become an actor.  He made his Broadway debut in 1958 in Winesburg, Ohio.  In April 1959, he starred in Kataki and received a Theatre World Award for his performance.

As the 1960s dawned, Piazza joined a small cadre of actors who had achieved status on Broadway who then also returned to acting Off Broadway.  Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott, and James Earl Jones were others in this select group who helped establish Off Broadway as an entity in itself, instead of being just a farm team for Broadway.

In February 1963, he took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway.  During the run of this show, Piazza’s novel The Exact and Very Strange Truth was published.  It is a fictionalized account of his growing up in Little Rock during the 1930s and 1940s.  The book is filled with references to Centennial Elementary, Westside Junior High, Central High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and various stores and shops in Little Rock during that era.

In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.  In March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. He also appeared in major regional theatres as an actor and a director.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

Piazza’s film debut had been in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper in The Hanging Tree.  Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows including Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, The Naked City and Dick Powell Theatre.

In the 1970s and 1980s, his appearances included I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Bad News Bears, The Blues Brothers, and Mask.  On TV, he appeared in Dallas, Dynasty, Saint Elsewhere, Barnaby Miller, Moonlighting and Family Ties. 

Piazza’s final big screen appearance was in the 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion.  He played studio head Darryl Zanuck in this Robert DeNiro-Annette Bening tale of Hollywood during the Red scare.

Ben Piazza died on September 7, 1991.