31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 2017’s SISTER ACT

Based on the 1990s film of the same name, Sister Act marked Cliff Fannin Baker’s final directing assignment at Arkansas Rep.

No one knew it at the time, which is just as well. It was a joyous uplifting experience which was what Cliff would have wanted people to have for his final Rep show.

The show was selected by Bob Hupp to be part of the transition season after his departure. Baker had previously indicated interest in directing the show if Hupp ever programmed it for the Rep.

So from January 24, 2017 through March 5, 2017, Baker’s production filled the Rep.  It had originally been set to end on February 26 but was extended a week.

The cast was led by Soara-Joye Ross with Tracy Bidleman, Erica Lutstig, Susan J. Jacks, Jennie Boone, Patrick Clanton, Monte J. Howell, Cornelius Davis, Ton Castellanos, and Darryl Winslow. Little Rock favorites in the cast included Vivian Norman, Kathryn Pryor, Jay Clark, Monica Robinson, Kelley Ponder, Erin Martinez Warner, Zachary Meyers, and Taylor Quick. KATV’s Alyson Courtney made a cameo as a 1970s TV reporter.

Pulitzers play Little Rock – DRIVING MISS DAISY

TWT DMDWith minimal set needs and only three actors, Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy has been popular with theatres of all levels since it premiered in 1987.  There have been numerous Little Rock productions over the past thirty years.

Actress and director Judy Trice starred in the Weekend Theater’s production in 2016.  Her costars were Jermaine McClure and Jay Clark.  The play was directed by Andy Hall (who is currently directing Assassins for the Weekend Theater).  The three actors obviously relished the chance to age several decades over the course of the play and mine Uhry’s script for its humor and humanity.

While many plays may fall out of favor over time, it is likely that Driving Miss Daisy will continue to be performed repeatedly.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

Creative Class 2016: Karen Q. Clark

cc16-clarkKaren Q. Clark has played a sympathetic nun on film and an exceedingly unsympathetic nun on stage.   In between she has been a singing nun (in The Sound of Music).  Outside of the habit, she has appeared in New York, many regional theatres, and most (if not all) Little Rock stages.  A native of Wisconsin, she came to Little Rock with her husband (and fellow thespian) Jay Clark.  During the day, she is Lower School choral and drama teacher at Episcopal Collegiate School.

In addition to being a fixture in the Little Rock theatre scene, she also has numerous credits in many Arkansas-made films.  Favorite stage roles include: Mrs. Banks, Mary Poppins (Arkansas Rep); Betty in The It Girl (IRNE nomination, Worcester Foothills); Princess Rhyme in the world premiere of The Phantom Tollbooth and Rachel in Inherit the Wind (Wheelock Family Theatre); Irene in Hello Dolly! (Jekyll Island); Maria in The Sound of Music; and Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre). Another favorite role is being Quin’s mom.

Drive (or walk or bike) to MISS DAISY

TWT DMDBecause of the success and awards of the movie version, and the way some of the lines have entered the vernacular especially as comic punch lines, it is easy to forget that Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy is a quiet, unassuming play. He did not set out to write a “great” play or a social screed, in fact it was quite a surprise when it won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The Weekend Theater brings Uhry’s episodic drive through the decades to life in its current offering. Under Andy Hall’s deft direction, it avoids the treacly trap that can often befall productions of this three-hander.

It is not that Hall’s production is without sentiment, but the emotions on stage are grounded in the moment. There is no mawkish lingering when the characters make an emotional connection. Considering that the script calls for cyclical closeness and distance among the trio, keeping emotions in check and in the moment serves the story and the playwright.

The plot, as if anyone needs a précis, involves a well-off (but don’t call her rich) Jewish widow, her businessman son, and the African American chauffer engaged by said son to transport said mother. Even if the audience was unfamiliar with the plot, it is pretty obvious that the titular matron and her driver will move from adversaries to unlikely friends. While the destination may be a formulaic and foregone conclusion, just like taking a trip, joy can be found in the journey.

Jermaine McClure plays the driver, Hoke. He avoids the stereotype of being the long-suffering, noble, simple-but-wise, African American. Though the part is not written that way, it has often been acted that way. His Hoke is kind, respectful, joyous, and a bit mischievous. McClure is obviously enjoying his part as much as Hoke enjoys interacting with both Daisy and her son. As he ages in the play, he doesn’t try to take on too much affectation—his character may move a bit slower—but he adds little touches such as prolonged squinting to show failing eyesight.

The role of the son, Boolie, is part instigator, part comic relief, and part time-filler so that the other two actors can be made to look older backstage. But Jay Clark imbues him with depth and pathos. He clearly enjoys the more comic moments (including wearing the most ridiculous Christmas outfit this side of Christmas Vacation), while also bringing heart and humanity to his quieter moments as well. Clark has a strong connection with each of his co-stars.

As good as the two gentlemen are, the evening clearly belongs to Judy Trice as Daisy Werthen. Her Daisy is a woman who has always been in control and is now grappling with the loss of that power. Her fussiness comes from frustration rather than from malice. Daisy is a complex woman who can see the biases in others without recognizing her own. Trice is not trying to be the lovable “little old lady” of heartwarming literature nor the stern battle-axe with a heart that needs to be awakened. Instead she presents a multi-faceted woman who is set in her ways but still has a desire to live a fulfilling life. With a sly smile and a drawn out word, she can be dangerous as she drops a veiled insult or commit theatrical larceny by stealing a scene through uttering a simple witticism.

Trice seems to get physically frailer as the play progresses, but that is not the most remarkable part of her transformation. Throughout the play her eyes sparkle with a vivacity that substantiates the sharp tongue and sharper mind of the heroine. Those eyes glimmer, that is, until the final scene. As she sits in near silence with a vacant, unfocused stare, it is hard to believe this is the same actress who has been so full of life throughout the rest of the play. Yet moments later the twinkle returns as she steps out to take her well-earned bow at the curtain call.

This production serves as a reminder that an enjoyable experience at the theatre does not need bells and whistles. It merely needs a strong story, adept actors, and a director who is able to meld the two.

Driving Miss Daisy continues at the Weekend Theater through April 17. Performances are at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and Sunday matinees at 2:30.

Monday Musings – Jay Clark

Jay ClarkWhen Jay Clark is not on stage at the Arkansas Rep or other local theatres, you will might find him in a pulpit or leading a youth outing at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church.  His “day job” is Pastor with Youth and Their Families at PHUMC.  He is currently an understudy for Vice-Principal Panch in the Arkansas Rep production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. He is set to perform on the 22nd and 23rd this week (Thursday and Friday).  If you saw him in multiple roles in the Rep’s production of Hairspray, you know you’re in for a good show!
After graduating from the American Musical and Dramaitc Academy in New York, Jay worked behind the scenes on Broadway/Off-Broadway productions of The Sunshine Boys(with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman), The Gin Game (with Julie Harris and Charles Durning), Jekyll and Hyde, The Life, and An Evening with Jerry Herman.  He has worked with United Methodist youth in New England, New York City, Arkansas, North Carolina and Nashville.
-My earliest memory was (age and incident)

Maybe watching Aloha from Hawaii. I was only a few years old, but I remember sitting in front of the tv on the bean-bag and watching. It was either this or dancing with a stuffed animal fox.

-When I was in high school and imagined my adulthood, I thought I would be…

An actor, no doubt. Plus I wanted a fulfilling life.

-Star Wars, Star Trek, Battle of the Network Stars, or Dancing with the Stars?

Battle of the Network Stars.

-I most identify with the Winnie the Pooh character of…

Tigger…although I have my Christopher Robin moments.

-The performer I’d drop everything to see is…

Dead or alive? George Burns, Jack Benny, Don Rickles, The Rat Pack – I tend to be old school.

-My first paying job was…
digging ditches and house footings for my grandpa. Then as a radio dj for KRLW in Walnut Ridge
-A book I think everyone should read is….
anything by Dostoevsky
-My favorite season is…
-We are all geeks (or experts) about something. My field is….