Pulitzers Play Little Rock: Lawrence Hamilton in THE PIANO LESSON at Arkansas Rep

LawrenceHamiltonAugust Wilson received his second Pulitzer for The Piano Lesson in 1990.   It was thirteen years later, that play would take the stage of Arkansas Rep in January 2003  And while he was not the lead, local favorite Lawrence Hamilton shone in the play.

Hamilton played Wining Boy, a musician and gambler who was smooth at hiding his secrets. (This being an August Wilson play, almost every character had secrets.)  Others in the cast were J. Bernard Calloway and Trish McCall as the brother and sister at the center of the play who were struggling about the future of a family heirloom.  Kevin E. Jones, Veronika G. Macon, Ron Scott, Dennis Bivings, and Marsha Murdock rounded out the cast.

The production was directed by Gilbert McCauley.  The design team included Mike Nichols (set), Yslan Hicks (costumes), Matthew Richards (lighting) and M. Jason Pruzin (sound).

Hamilton would revisit the role of Wining Boy in a production at Cape Fear Regional Theatre just a few weeks before his 2014 death.

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.

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Pulitzers play Little Rock – CLYBOURNE PARK

Clybourne

While A Raisin in the Sun did not win the Pulitzer, it did inspire a sort of prequel AND sequel which did win that award.  Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park was inspired by the earlier play.  After an Off Broadway production in 2010, it won the 2011 Pulitzer for Drama. A subsequent Broadway production won the 2012 Tony for Best Play.

In 1959, a white couple sells their home to a black family (the fictional Younger family from A Raisin in the Sun), causing an uproar in their middle-class neighborhood. Fifty years later in 2009, the same house is changing hands again, but the stakes have changed.

As neighbors wage a hilarious and pitched battle over territory and legacy, Clybourne Park reveals just how far our ideas about race and identity have evolved.

In 2014, Arkansas Repertory Theatre brought the play to Little Rock in a production directed by the founder of the Rep, Cliff Baker (up next at the Rep with God of Carnage which closes out the 2017-2018 season).

The cast included Shaleah Adkisson, Ryan Barry, Katie Cunningham, Lawrence Evans, LeeAnne Hutchison, Robert Ierardi, Jason O’Connell, and David Tennal.  The creative team includes scenic designer Mike Nichols, costume designer Yslan Hicks, lighting designer Yael Lubetzky, sound designer Allan Branson and properties designer Lynda J. Kwallek.

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: Yslan Hicks

cc16-hicksYslan Hicks has dressed hundreds of people in all sorts of clothing.  As a theatrical costume designer and educator, she has worked throughout the United States.  She is currently an Associate Professor and Interim Department Chair for the UALR Theatre and Dance Department.

Yslan has design credits that include productions at UALR, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Lincoln Center Institute in New York City, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Portland Center Stage in Oregon, the Old Globe in San Diego and Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Mass. As an artistic associate at Lifeline Theatre in Chicago, she has designed a number of literary adaptations including Dracula, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.

Her work with the Arkansas Rep spans over two decades.  Among her recent productions are The Whipping Man, Clybourne Park, and Gee’s Bend.  In addition to UALR, she has served on the faculties of the University of Tulsa and Tulane University. Yslan is a member of United Scenic Artists, Local 829.

Yslan is also an in-demand speaker.  Most recently, she has given a series of talks for the Central Arkansas Library System on the history of fashion. Among her topics have been Downton Abbey and bridal dresses.

Discover Mystery and History along the SCOTLAND ROAD at UALR Play

ScotRoad1000UALR’s third theatre production of the 2014-15 season opens tonight and runs through February 15.  Jeffrey Hatcher’s Scotland Road plays at 8pm tonight through Saturday and 2:30pm on Sunday in the University Theatre on the UALR campus.

Mystery, history, and human obsession plot the course of Scotland Road.  Reality is called into question when a simply dressed young woman is rescued from a small iceberg in the North Atlantic. All evidence, including her one word to the rescuers, “Titanic,” points to her being a survivor of the world’s worst sea disaster 80 years before.

The play navigates its way through several unexpected twists and turns as the woman is questioned by John Jacob Astor V, great-grandson of one of the Titanic’s most celebrated victims and a man preoccupied with every aspect of the event. Each meeting both unravels and deepens the mystery, and forces Astor to embark on his own voyage of soul searching.

Highly stylized and rich with imagery, the play examines the depths of who we are and brings to the surface the realization that few things, and fewer people, are what they seem.

The show’s director is Dr. Jay E. Raphael, professor and chair of UALR Department of Theatre and Dance.  The cast features Keaton Duersch, Ashley Mahan, Heidee Alsdorf and Stacy Pendergraft.  The creative team includes William Marshall (scenery and lighting), Yslan Hicks (costumes), Jim Spencer (sound) and Karen Harris (props).

Ticket prices are $10 for the general public and $5 for UALR students, faculty, staff, and seniors.  For more information, tickets, and reservations call 501.569.3456.

Final Weekend for THE WHIPPING MAN at the Arkansas Rep

THEREP_THE WHIPPINGMAN (no credits)-page-001There are only three chances remaining to see the riveting play on stage at the Arkansas Rep – Matthew Lopez’s award winning The Whipping Man.  

An extraordinary tale of loyalty, deceit and deliverance, The Whipping Man opened off-Broadway in 2011 to critical acclaim, winning the 2011 John Gassner New Play Award from the NY Outer Critics Circle and becoming one of the most produced plays in the country.

On Passover, 1865, the Civil War has just ended and the annual celebration of freedom from bondage is being observed in Jewish homes across the country. One of these homes sits in ruins. As Jewish confederate officer Caleb DeLeon returns from the war, badly wounded, to find his family missing and only two former slaves remaining, Simon and John, the two men are forced to care for him.

As Caleb, Simon and John wait for the family’s return, they wrestle with their shared past as master and slave, digging up long-buried family secrets as well as new ones. With Passover upon them, the three men unite to celebrate the holiday, even as they struggle to comprehend their new relationships at a crossroads of personal and national history and to come to terms with the sordid legacies of slavery and war that threaten each of their future freedoms.

Ryan Barry, who was featured in last season’s Clybourne Park returns to the Rep joined by Michael A. Shepperd and Damian Thompson.  The production is directed by Rep vet Gilbert McCauley (Gee’s Bend, Looking Over the President’s Shoulder, The Piano Lesson, A Soldier’s Play, Fences, Frost/Nixon).  Other members of the creative team are set designer Mike Nichols, costume designer Yslan Hicks, lighting designer Dan Kimble, sound designer Allan Branson and props designer Lynda J. Kwallek.

Performances are at 8pm tonight, 2pm tomorrow and 7pm tomorrow night.

Riveting WHIPPING MAN at Arkansas Rep

THEREP_THE WHIPPINGMAN (no credits)-page-001The Arkansas Repertory Theatre production of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man is a riveting production which features three men grappling with issues of faith, family, and fidelity over three days at the close of the Civil War.  Set in the remains of a once-grand townhouse in Richmond (masterfully designed by Mike Nichols), it tells the story of Caleb, the scion of the edifice’s owner, and two of the now-former house slaves, Simon and John.

As Simon, the moral compass of the trio, Michael A. Sheppherd portrays a complex man wrestling with the changing times while holding on to a vision of a bright future. His approach to the role is to emphasize Simon’s pragmatism. He can easily shift from stern (when making hard decisions) to tender (when discussing his wife and daughter). Sheppherd projects an inner strength which never allows the character to slip into the “noble, long-suffering slave” stereotype.  As do the other two actors, he finds the quiet, honest humor in the script while not disrupting the story.

Damian Thompson likewise avoids having John wear the “shiftless, devious” label. He joyfully struts like a peacock in his increasingly finer clothing (a deft creation of costume designer Yslan Hicks) and brags of his latest acquisitions (which progressively litter the stage courtesy of props designer Lynda J. Kwallek). But like the other two characters, he is seeking to better himself in these uncertain times. Thompson’s eyes and smile flash the brilliance of the character, who obviously has intelligence since he taught himself to read.

Ryan Barry’s Caleb spends much of the time onstage sitting in one place due to an injury. Through his sometimes pained voice, shifts in posture and gestures, he never seems static. His descriptions of the horrors of war are gripping. When paired with his soft tone of voice and romantic longing for the girl he left behind at home, he serves as a reminder that not all went into war with gusto.

Throughout the play, it becomes apparent that all is not what it seems with any of the three. What the secrets are, and who knows what about whom, is just part of the evening.  While the mysteries are plot points, they are not the whole point of the story.  The faith and shared experiences bind these three together far more than they would care to admit.  Sheppherd, Thompson and Barry share a great chemistry which serves the production well.

Director Gilbert McCauley obviously trusts his actors and the script.  He lets the action unfold at a languid, but not sluggish pace.  In his hands, the silences and stillness of the actors can sometimes be more powerful than words and movement.  There are moments in the script which could easily shift into melodrama, but McCauley does not allow that.

This same approach is shared with the strong and subtle lighting design of Dan Kimble. He achieves a rare balance of having the stage dim and well-lit at the same time. The mood of the play is also ably served by Allan Branson’s sound design.

The Whipping Man offers no easy answers or pat endings. While none of the characters are without flaws (who is?), they each have redeeming qualities.  At the end of the play, one is left wondering what will happen to them.  Realizing that the Reconstruction era in the South was hardly pleasant for anyone regardless of race, the audience knows that the future will probably not be too satisfying for any of the three.

Toward the end of the play, the trio share a Seder. In addition to the obvious connections (Abraham Lincoln and Abraham from the Bible, the end of slavery in both eras), it is also about sharing faith and sharing experiences.  It is, for a brief respite, a moment of pure peace.

The Arkansas Rep production of Lopez’s play serves as a helpful reminder that in the midst of chaos, harmony can be achieved, if only for a moment.

Award winning THE WHIPPING MAN now at Arkansas Rep

THEREP_THE WHIPPINGMAN (no credits)-page-001As Producing Artistic Director Bob Hupp often says, one of the objectives of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre is to tell a variety of stories.  Following the holiday frolic that was Elf, next on stage is Matthew Lopez’s award-winning play The Whipping Man.

An extraordinary tale of loyalty, deceit and deliverance, The Whipping Man opened off-Broadway in 2011 to critical acclaim, winning the 2011 John Gassner New Play Award from the NY Outer Critics Circle and becoming one of the most produced plays in the country.

On Passover, 1865, the Civil War has just ended and the annual celebration of freedom from bondage is being observed in Jewish homes across the country. One of these homes sits in ruins. As Jewish confederate officer Caleb DeLeon returns from the war, badly wounded, to find his family missing and only two former slaves remaining, Simon and John, the two men are forced to care for him.

As Caleb, Simon and John wait for the family’s return, they wrestle with their shared past as master and slave, digging up long-buried family secrets as well as new ones. With Passover upon them, the three men unite to celebrate the holiday, even as they struggle to comprehend their new relationships at a crossroads of personal and national history and to come to terms with the sordid legacies of slavery and war that threaten each of their future freedoms.

Ryan Barry, who was featured in last season’s Clybourne Park returns to the Rep joined by Michael A. Shepperd and Damian Thompson.  The production is directed by Rep vet Gilbert McCauley (Gee’s Bend, Looking Over the President’s Shoulder, The Piano Lesson, A Soldier’s Play, Fences, Frost/Nixon).  Other members of the creative team are set designer Mike Nichols, costume designer Yslan Hicks, lighting designer Dan Kimble, sound designer Allan Branson and props designer Lynda J. Kwallek.

The production opens Friday, January 23 and runs through Sunday, February 8.