Pulitzers Play Little Rock: Top Dog/Underdog at The Weekend Theater

TopDog-UnderDog-Poster-SmallWhile the Sondheim-Weidman musical Assassins is playing currently at The Weekend Theater, it is not the only title produced there with characters named Lincoln and Booth.

Suzan-Lori Parks’s Top Dog/Underdog is a two character play featuring brothers named Lincoln and Booth.  Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this is a darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity.

The play tells the story of Lincoln and Booth, two African American brothers whose names were given to them as a joke, foretelling a lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment.

In 2014, The Weekend Theater presented the play.  The brothers were played by Byron Thomas Jr. and Jermaine McClure.  The latter also directed the play.

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.

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.

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.

August Wilson’s TWO TRAINS RUNNING is running in August at the Weekend Theater

twt-Two-Trains-Running_smNext up at the Weekend Theater is August Wilson’s Two Trains Running.  It opens tonight and plays Fridays and Saturdays through September 5.

The play is a story about love, hate, and the struggles that ordinary African Americans faced in a Pittsburgh neighborhood in 1969. The gossip, debates, philosophizing, and storytelling that take place in Memphis’ restaurant reflect the oral tradition of African American culture. Wilson’s characters appear engaged in talk that seems detached from the racial riots, assassinations, and antiwar protest that marked this era and damaged black areas economically. The restaurant and the neighborhood are on the brink of economic development.

Wilson explores their social and psychological manifestations of changing attitudes toward race. Seeking to escape from poverty, racism, and “Jim Crow” laws, many black Americans migrated to northern industrial cities during the early and mid-20th century where Wilson reveals simple truths, hopes and dreams for a community on the brink of change.

The play is directed by Jamie Scott Blakey and Margaret Parker.  The cast features Jermaine McClure, Rodney Ford, Eric Tate, Keith Harper, Kearie Saine, Ronald Coleman and Cherisse Coleman.  

Performances begin at 7:30pm.  The box office opens at 6:30pm. Seating is general admission and begins at 7:00pm.

Pulitzer winning TOPDOG/UNDERDOG at The Weekend Theater

TopDog-UnderDog-Poster-SmallWinner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Topdog/Underdog, is a darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity.

In the play Suzan-Lori Parks explores the way people are defined by history. The play tells the story of Lincoln and Booth, two African American brothers whose names were given to them as a joke, foretelling a lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment. Haunted by the past, the brothers are forced to confront the shattering reality of their future. Vibrating with the clamor of big ideas, audaciously and exuberantly expressed, this play considers nothing less than the existential traps of being African-American and male in the United States, the masks that wear the men as well as vice versa.

The play is directed by Jermaine McClure, who also appears along with Byron Thomas Jr.

Tickets are $16 for adults and $12 for students and seniors.  The show opened last night and continues tonight. It also plays November 7 & 8 and 14 & 15 at 7:30pm.

 

The 2014-2015 season for the Weekend Theater

WeekendTheaterThe Weekend Theater has announced its 2014-2015 season.  It will kick off next month with the Tony-nominated musical Caroline, or Change.  The season includes classic plays and musicals as well as more recent shows.

Caroline, or Change

Book and Lyrics by Tony Kushner
Score by Jeanine Tesori
June 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 2014
Directed by Matthew Mentgen
Music Direction by Lori Isner

Winner of the Laurence Olivier Award and the Lucille Lortel Award for Best New Musical, Caroline, or Change centers its action on the Gellman family and their African-American maid, Caroline. It is 1963 in sleepy Lake Charles, Louisiana. Caroline is drifting through her life as a single mother of four working in a service job to a white family. A fragile, yet beautiful friendship develops between the young Gellman son, Noah (who has lost his mother), and Caroline. Noah’s stepmother Rose, unable to give Caroline a raise, tells Caroline that she may keep the money Noah leaves in his pockets. Caroline balks, and refuses to take money from a child, but her own children desperately need food, clothing and shoes. Regardless of the circumstances, whether it is the death of President Kennedy, her daughter’s growing activism and misunderstood dismissal of what she perceives to be Caroline’s choice to remain a maid, her son’s enlistment in Vietnam, a fight with a newly college-bound friend, or a spin with the dryer, Caroline remains unflappable.

 


Next To Normal

Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
July 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27, 2014
Directed by Ralph Hyman
Music Direction by Lori Isner

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Next To Normal tells the story of a mother, Diane Goodman, who struggles with bipolar disorder and the effect that her illness has on her family. This contemporary musical is an emotional powerhouse that addresses such issues as grieving a loss, ethics in modern psychiatry, and suburban life. With provocative lyrics and a thrilling score, this musical shows how far two parents will go to keep themselves sane and their family’s world intact.

 


The Beauty Queen of Leenane

By Martin McDonagh
August 22, 23, 29, 30, September 5, 6, 2014
Directed by Deb Lewis

Co-winner of the 1998 Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding play and set in the mountains of Connemara County, Galway, Ireland, The Beauty Queen of Leenane tells the darkly comic tale of Maureen Folan, a plain and lonely woman in her early forties, and Mag, her manipulative aging mother, whose interference in Maureen’s first and possibly final chance of a loving relationship sets in motion a train of events that leads inexorably towards the play’s terrifying dénouement.


A Quiet End

By Robin Swados
September 26, 27, October 3, 4, 10, 11, 2014
Directed by Ryan Whitfield

Written in 1985, A Quiet End was one of the earliest dramas to deal with the AIDS crisis in the United States. Three men, a teacher, an aspiring jazz pianist and an unemployed actor, are in a rundown Manhattan apartment. All have lost their jobs and are shunned by their families; they have AIDS. Their interaction with a psychiatrist heard but not seen throughout the play and the entrance of an ex-lover healthy yet unsure of his future provide a forum for exploring the meaning of friendship, loyalty and love. By celebrating the lives of men who, in the face of death, become fearlessly life embracing, the play explores the human side of the AIDS crisis.

 


Topdog/Underdog

By Suzan-Lori Parks
October 31, November 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 2014
Directed by Jermaine McClure

Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Topdog/Underdog, a darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity, is Suzan-Lori Parks’ latest riff on the way we are defined by history. The play tells the story of Lincoln and Booth, two African American brothers whose names were given to them as a joke, foretelling a lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment. Haunted by the past, the brothers are forced to confront the shattering reality of their future. Vibrating with the clamor of big ideas, audaciously and exuberantly expressed, this play considers nothing less than the existential traps of being African-American and male in the United States, the masks that wear the men as well as vice versa.

 


Other Desert Cities

By Jon Robin Baitz
December 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, 2014
Directed by Ralph Hyman

A finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Other Desert Cities involves a family with differing political views and a long-held family secret. Brooke Wyeth returns home to Palm Springs after a six-year absence to celebrate Christmas with her parents, her brother, and her aunt. Brooke announces that she is about to publish a memoir dredging up a pivotal and tragic event in the family’s history—a wound they don’t want reopened. In effect, she draws a line in the sand and dares them all to cross it.

 


No Exit

By Jean-Paul Sartre
Adapted from the French by Paul Bowles
January 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31, 2015
Directed by Tommie Tinker

In No Exit, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Jean-Paul Sartre tells his story of two women and one man, who are locked up together for eternity in one hideous room in hell. The windows are bricked up; there are no mirrors; the electric lights can never be turned off; and there is no exit. The irony of this hell is that its torture is not of the rack and fire, but of the burning humiliation of each soul as it is stripped of its pretenses by the cruel curiosity of the damned. Here the soul is shorn of secrecy, and even the blackest deeds are mercilessly exposed to the fierce light of hell. It is an eternal torment.

 


The Sound of Music

Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II,
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp

February 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, March 1, 2015
Directed by Elizabeth Reha
Music Direction by Lisa Petursson

Winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, this final collaboration between Rodgers & Hammerstein was destined to become the world’s most beloved musical. When a postulant proves too high-spirited for the religious life, she is dispatched to serve as governess for the seven children of a widowed naval Captain. Her growing rapport with the youngsters, coupled with her generosity of spirit, gradually captures the heart of the stern Captain, and they marry. Upon returning from their honeymoon they discover that Austria has been invaded by the Nazis, who demand the Captain’s immediate service in their navy. The family’s narrow escape over the mountains to Switzerland on the eve of World War II provides one of the most thrilling and inspirational finales ever presented in the theatre. The motion picture version of The Sound of Music remains the most popular movie musical of all time.

 


Last Summer at Bluefish Cove

By Jane Chambers
March 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28, 2015
Directed by Lana Hallmark

Winner of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award and seven Hollywood Drama-Logue Awards, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove is the story of a dissatisfied straight woman who leaves her husband to spend some quiet time by herself and who unwittingly and naively wanders into the midst of a group of seven lesbians at the beginning of their annual beachside vacation. She falls in love with the charming leading character who, unknown to her, is dying of cancer. The friendships, the laughter, the love, the fears of being outed, the difficulties of being gay and how it affects relationships with family, children, parents and careers, the demonstrations of what the painful price could be for a gay life 30 years ago in everyday America, had never before been told with such respect. Chambers’ comedic dialogue, sensitivity to human nature and tender treatment of her characters help the play transcend preconceptions and show the universality of these women’s journeys, whether straight or gay.

 


Karski’s Message

By Phillip McMath
April 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25, 2015
Directed by Ralph Hyman

A World Premier of local playwright, lawyer and historian Phillip McMath’s well-crafted story of how no one listened or helped when the genocide of the Jews was happening, Karski’s Message is the story of Jan Karski, a Polish World War II resistance movement fighter and later professor at Georgetown University. In 1942 and 1943, Karski reported to the Polish government in exile and the Western Allies, Britain and the United States, on the situation in German-occupied Poland, especially the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the secretive German-Nazi extermination camps. Karski personally met with President Roosevelt in the Oval Office, telling him about the situation in Poland and becoming the first eyewitness to tell him about the Jewish Holocaust. During their meeting Roosevelt asked about the condition of horses in Poland. Roosevelt did not ask one question about the Jews.

 


The Member of the Wedding

By Carson McCullers
May 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30, 2015
Directed by Margaret Pierson Bates

Winner of the 1950 Critics’ Circle Award as the best play, Carson McCullers’ report of a harum-scarum adolescent girl in Georgia is wonderfully—almost painfully—perceptive; and her associated sketches of a Negro mammy and a busy little boy are masterly pieces of writing. This is a study of loneliness is felt, observed and phrased with exceptional sensitivity. The Member of the Wedding deals with the torturing dreams, the hungry egotism, and the heartbreak of childhood in a manner as rare as it is welcome.