Horizon Theatre commissions a brand new play, “Freed Spirits,”for its annual New South Play Festival. By Southern native Daryl Lisa Fazio, this delightful romp premieres just in time for Halloween.
Set in famous historic Oakland Cemetery, “Freed Spirits” focuses mainly on Susan, played by Horizon veteran Suehyla El-Attar. Susan is recently widowed and throws herself into being a knowledgeable docent at the cemetery.
We first meet Susan during an interview with a young documentarian, Keisha, played by Jimmica Collins. Keisha is intent on capturing a compelling story with drama and realism, and hangs on Susan’s every word. She mirrors the audience with her infectious eagerness to unravel the story.
Anxious and earnest, Susan possesses an eidetic memory that she can access like a database. At times, her impulse to recite information overtakes her like a self-soothing litany.
El-Attar’s unrelenting energy absolutely draws us in. Her quirks are endearing and we feel the immense care and affection she has for those around her, including the spirits laid to rest in the cemetery itself.
Susan volunteers with Dr. Netta Finch, played by Marguerite Hannah, a retired pathologist turned gardener. Netta is a suitable foil for Susan with her no-nonsense attitude and self-assured demeanor. Yet, she reveals a surprising side to her. Growing up in a funeral home, she developed abilities as a psychic medium. Leading a séance in the second act, she reveals a compelling depth to her humanity.
Hannah draws a down-to-earth portrait of a complex character, guarded and layered. As Netta chases the ghost of Mary, a slave, we feel her desperation. We want to dig deeper just as Mary digs up what appears to be her own remains.
Byron, played by Jonathan Horne, is a young romantic photographer, true to his namesake. Despite a heart condition, he soldiers on with the others, as he has through life without much of a connection to his parents. He is bright, eager to help, and doesn’t hesitate before jumping in headfirst.
Horne’s endearing nature makes Byron awkward and lovable, who provides some comic relief in his bumbling but determined nature.
Bryn Striepe steals the show as M.J. Bell, a self-appointed investigator dedicated to logic and deductive reasoning. As M.J. delivers her signature unsettling assessments of each character, she revels in her knowledge and skills. Her sense of superiority and rigor captures the imagination of Susan and Byron, who are nearly set in believing she is a superhero. All of this falls away once Susan learns the truth about her.
Striepe performs the truest homage to the inimitable Sherlock Holmes. Her aloofness, intensity, and eccentricity are practically Whovian.
Other characters of “Freed Spirits” share traits with Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in a fitting tribute to the mystery genre. Like Holmes, Susan and MJ struggle with nicotine use. Netta and Byron have a shared interest in the spirit communication, as Doyle developed later in life.
An encounter with the apparition of rebel soldier McKinley Etheridge, played by Spencer Kolbe Miller, draws the gang into a richly textured ghost hunt with as many twists and turns as Oakland’s winding brick paths. As we move deeper into the narrative, the characters explore their connections with each other and reveal to us more about themselves.
More than just a mystery-comedy, the production has some compelling takeaways. People have layers. Fully embrace your weirdness. The process of getting to know someone is like unearthing a grave or a buried treasure.
“Freed Spirits” is an entertaining production with a beautifully constructed set with amazing attention to detail and lighting. Sure to appeal to wider audiences, this unique Atlanta production is perfect for the upcoming spooky season.
“Freed Spirits” runs through Oct. 30 at Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave NE in Atlanta. For tickets or information, call 404-584-7450 or visit horizontheatre.com
When the levees break in New Orleans, a doctor ventures into the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina to find his beloved wife. What he discovers underwater is a club called the Gumbo Pot—evidence that the vibrant spirit of the Crescent City can never be washed away.
Almost 700 miles away in Titusville, Fla., a veteran returns home covered in burns after her latest tour of duty, only to find that her hometown has changed almost as much as she has.
In Yazoo City, Miss., sisters Nola and Nell are living on the outskirts of town during the last days of school desegregation. Then one day a woman shows up from Chicago claiming to be their sister. There’s just one problem: They’re white and she’s black.
These stories are not born of the Spanish-moss-and-sweet-tea-on-the-front-porch South of Tennessee Williams, or the sepia-toned nostalgia of Horton Foote. They are all from plays by a new generation of Southern-raised female writers who are telling stories of today’s South and infusing their personal journeys as Southern artists into their work. As such they may prove a powerful antidote to prevailing attitudes about the region, which, if you take the last 10 years of American Theatre’s Top 10 most-produced plays list as a guide, was represented exclusively by To Kill a Mockingbird, The Whipping Man, The Glass Menagerie, and The Mountaintop.
Meanwhile, closer to home, these local artists are taking that old national perception out of the rocking chair, off the plantation, and into the new millennium. That’s not to say they’re overlooking the area’s dark racial history in their work. But they are giving contemporary social context to the diversity and complications of today’s South.
“One of the greatest misconceptions in the theatre about the South is that we’re all living in a Tennessee Williams play,” said playwright Daryl Lisa Fazio. “Then there’s the accent, where you’ll see characters talk like they’re in a Tennessee Williams play but they’re in the Delta. Then again, what are people given about the South in the media?”
Fazio grew up in Starkville, Miss., and is currently based in Atlanta. While she originally dreamt of being an actor after studying theatre at Northwestern University, she found her way to playwriting while teaching graphic design at Truman State University. There she acted in a play called Parallel Lives; she relished the experience, yet when she looked for more roles for strong Southern women, she realized there weren’t many. As she started to get to know area theatres by freelancing for them as a graphic designer (her current clients include Atlanta’s Horizon Theatre Company and Actor’s Express, as well as Florida Repertory Theatre in Fort Myers), she began to write plays with those missing roles.
“I’m not college-educated as a writer,” Fazio admitted. “I was learning from every play I read who I wanted to be and what I wanted to say. I realized I wanted to write roles for women. I also realized that there were a lot of things about race that I didn’t understand.”
Race and womanhood are central themes in her play Split in Three, about sisters who find their Mississippi town changing due to school integration. The show premiered at Florida Rep last year and will be produced at Atlanta’s Aurora Theatre next May. And her new play Freed Spirits, set in Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery, is playing at Horizon Theatre Sept. 23-Oct. 30.
Fazio says that her stint at Northwestern reshaped her views, in particular on racism. “When you’re around race every day you think you’re not racist, because you’re so heavily Baptist,” she suggested. Studying just outside of Chicago, also a deeply segregated city but with different attitudes about it, opened her eyes. “You realize you’re all these things you didn’t know. I was part of a very small, conservative world growing up, and when I left for college in the big city, that all changed. There was more than one way to do everything, including seeing other races.”
Race and history are also significant influences in the work of another Atlanta-based playwright, Gabrielle Fulton. Her grandfather’s tales about his mother picking 100 pounds of cotton a day, mixed with the clandestine stories of slave rebellions in the South, became the basis for her play Uprising. The piece had a rolling world premiere at Horizon Theatre in Atlanta and Alexandria, Va.’s MetroStage last year.
“There was a pride he had in her, and there isn’t a lot of pride associated with our ancestors who picked cotton,” recalled Fulton, who also studied at Northwestern. “I wanted to honor that strength and work ethic and provide a story to make these people real instead of something you just read about in history books.”
In the play, a woman named Sal who lives in a community of freed black people in Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., meets a man who is the lone survivor of John Brown’s raid; together they must figure out what freedom means to them.
“Uprising is a play set before the Civil War told from the perspective of African Americans, not white people, which is a thing that has been missing,” Fulton said of the play, excerpts of which were also presented during an event at Raleigh, N.C.’s Mordecai Plantation, “Reclamation: Plays by Female Voices of Color.”
Two of her other plays, The Seed Planter (about a Civil Rights activist whose daughter resents her choice to prioritize progress over parenting), and Passing Black (a commission from Clark Atlanta University that takes place during its first African-American art annual in 1942, at which a woman who appears to be white submits a piece), are also told from the perspectives of black women. This point of view is not always welcome; indeed, before Uprising was staged last summer, many artistic directors told Fulton that the play would never be produced. Some seemed to think that a play written from a black woman’s perspective would have limited the play’s audience appeal. Fulton rejects the notion.
“It’s a challenge being an African-American female playwright in the South,” she admitted. “You really have to make a case for why your story is worthy. Everything is extremely hard, but I’m going to keep doing it.”
Diversity and representation onstage are also very important to Leah Nanako Winkler, who is half Japanese and half white. She wrote her play Kentucky as an ode to the place where she grew up, Lexington. In the play, 30-year-old Hiro, who has defected to New York City, comes back home when her younger sister, a born-again Christian, gets engaged. Hiro thinks she is going back home to save her sister from a life of being barefoot and pregnant, but both must learn to accept the different people they have become. The play is not autobiographical, but is inspired by her life—Winkler’s real-life sister is a born-again Christian; the characters are, like her, mixed-race; and she has lived in New York for a decade.
“I don’t really see a lot of plays about the South, but when I do it’s about poor people who are white,” Winkler said. She points out that Lexington has a sizable Japanese population we don’t hear about much in the news, let alone see onstage. “I went to Japanese school. I went to a diverse high school. My mom was a piano teacher. There were poor people, but there was also horse country.”
Winkler is working on her MFA in playwriting at Brooklyn College, and was one of the Youngblood playwrights at NYC’s Ensemble Studio Theatre, where Kentucky premiered in April. It will be produced at East West Players in Los Angeles, Nov. 10-Dec. 11.
“A lot of people don’t even know that there’s theatre in Kentucky,” Winkler pointed out, but it was high school theatre that inspired her to become an artist. “I got an amazing education in a place where not a lot of people think people are educated.”
Christina Quintana, who has Cuban roots, shares Winkler’s sentiment about her Southern theatre education; she credits the performing-arts high school New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and her time as an intern at Southern Rep in that city, with sparking her interest in theatre. Her musical Gumbo, which was workshopped at the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival in central New York, is set during Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans during her senior year of high school.
The play approaches the subject via the classic story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Quintana admits that for years she avoided writing about the storm, as it was all anyone ever talked about when they referred to New Orleans. But then she met composer Brett Macias at Columbia University, and the story came to her in a dream; it seemed serendipitous.
“History tells us where we come from, and I always want to be in conversation with the people who paved the way for us,” said Quintana, who is also a Youngblood playwright at EST. “As an early playwright, I felt like I needed to avoid the classics and that new plays were the only way. Suddenly I realized that all great stories are somehow rooted in one another, and there are so many wonders and tricks of the trade to be gained from the classics.”
NOLA also serves as the backdrop for her play Scissoring, which was a finalist for the Alliance Theatre’s Kendeda Award in 2014, which is about a teacher at a Catholic school forced to choose between her career and the life she’s built with her longtime girlfriend.
“I believe there’s a lot of the extraordinary in our everyday lives, if only we look for it,” Quintana said, “and theatre gives us the opportunity to explore this head on.”
Lindsey Ferrentino’s roots in Merritt Island, Fla., along with her interest in what happens to veterans when they return home from war, inspired Ugly Lies the Bone, which is running at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre Sept. 16-Oct. 9. It had its world premiere at Roundabout Theatre Company in NYC, and Ferrentino is currently adapting it for a potential television series. The play follows a veteran who returns to her Floridian hometown just as the space shuttle program is closing. The work hits very close to home for Ferrentino.
“I grew up under a banner that said, ‘Welcome to Merritt Island—where dreams are launched,’” she said. “I went away to college around the same time as NASA’s layoffs and the space shuttle program shutting down, and came home to an area whose landscape drastically changed, both physically and economically. I began to notice a parallel between the town looking for a way to start over and soldiers looking for the same thing, in an area that had little opportunity to offer them.”
Scenes in Ugly alternate between Jess’s hometown and a virtual-reality therapy being used to treat veterans in perpetual pain. Ferrentino says she would like audiences to walk away with more empathy for veterans, and to be in a communal space where they have no choice but to witness the physical, personal, and domestic cost of fighting foreign wars. She also aims to show off her South, noting that there is a difference between Floridians and Southerners.
“I don’t think of my area as a place where debutante balls or Southern gentility is really a thing,” said the playwright, who recently won the prestigious Kesselring Prize for Ugly Lies the Bone. “My South—or a version of it, based on my hometown—is faster, brighter, and gloriously tackier. There are cruise ships and rocket launches and Mickey Mouse and the Fountain of Youth.”
For these young female playwrights, in other words, the South is a microcosm for exploring bigger social issues: race, class, war. At the same time, they are updating and reshaping the Southern narrative onstage, writing from viewpoints that are rarely seen. Bypassing the columns and gazebos of the past, they are paving a way for more daring works by artists south of the Mason-Dixon Line to take the national spotlight.
“The South has a very dark history, but also a rich one,” said Quintana. “It’s important that we acknowledge both of these things, and it’s important that we tell the full story. The South is full of so many stories, voices, and fantastic figures, past and present. There are vibrant companies and theatre artists across the South who are pouring themselves into creating quality theatre. This must be known and celebrated!”
Kelundra Smith is an arts journalist based in Atlanta.
A version of this story appears in the October 2016 issue of American Theatre.
Broadway World Atlanta: ‘da Kink in My Hair Uplifts Atlanta
by Courtnee Miles July 18,2015
As I’m conditioning my hair and applying every essential oil known to man on my scalp, I am reflecting on the production I saw yesterday evening. I had the pleasure of seeing ‘da Kink in My Hair at the Horizon Theatre in Atlanta. The play was nothing short of amazing. It was personal to me because as an African-American millennial woman, it reminded me of the joys, as well as the struggles, of myself, my mother, my mother’s mother, and even my mother’s mother’s mother (I hope you’re following me). This amazing musical captivated me with songs and rhythms of Africa and the Caribbean, while reminding me of where I come from.
Written by Trey Anthony, this production tells the story of women from all walks of life with one common goal- to be beautiful. West Indian stylist, Novelette, reassures the other characters that their beauty is much deeper than just a hair style. She tells them that it comes from within and that learning and accepting their own truths are the keys to happiness and internal peace. Thank you, Ms. Novelette, for inspiring me to embrace ‘da kink in my hair.
‘da Kink in My Hair is showing until August 28. For tickets and other inquires, you may contact the Horizon Theatre at (404) 584-7450.
Horizon Theatre’s current “The City of Conversation,” by Anthony Giardina, directed by Justin Anderson, running through June 26, is a delicious piece of theatre that you must not miss.
It’s set near Washington D.C., Georgetown, where deals are made and fates are sealed at night in the comfortable salons of an elite group of powerful Washington hostesses.
So you thought that important political decisions were made solely in the halls of Congress or the White House? Oh, grow up, as the late Joan Rivers would say.
I remember the late Martha Mitchell’s (wife of Attorney General John Mitchell) face on the cover of Time Magazine; the caption was “The Wives of Washington.” You may be too young to recall the antics of Ms. Mitchell, who became famous for her late night phone calls to political power players or the press, especially during the time of Watergate. But the Georgetown power demimonde, if you will, exists, although Giardina’s play makes it clear that its influence has lessened, especially in this (2016) ferocious political year.
Potomac Fever, the lust and addiction to power that proximity to Washington can engender, is on ample display in “The City of Conversation.”
No one plays the game better than Hester Ferris (Tess Malis Kincaid), whom we first meet in the waning days of the Carter Administration, 1979. At a soirée in her elegant parlor she is helping pave the way for “a little Judiciary Committee thing” by entertaining Republican Senator Mallonee (Allan Edwards) and his wife, Carolyn (Deborah Bowman), both of whom stylishly make the most of their relatively brief time onstage.
Hester’s composure is somewhat challenged by the sudden arrival of her handsome son, Colin (Justin Walker) and his fiancée, Anna (Rachel Garner). Both have just finished their studies at the London School of Economics. Hester is not thrilled by her son’s long hair, nor by Anna’s tall boots; although staunchly Democratic herself, Hester, as stated, is plying the conservative Republican senator. She’s creating an entire milieu for her evening’s agenda, and as someone once said, these things must be done delicately.
Hester and Anna’s instant rapport is roughly that of a cobra and a mongoose. Hester can spot attempted flattery or manipulation a mile away, and Anna’s vaulting ambition is instantly apparent to Hester. She even suggests to Anna that she’s seen that movie, and it’s called “All About Eve.” Yet Anna’s no lightweight; she plays hardball, but then, so does Hester, and with a lot more experience. Both women are out of Colin’s league in intellect and cunning, yet he’s no dunce. He simply lacks their drive and fascination with power. Oh yes, Anna is Republican and has swayed Colin. Hester fumes.
Hester’s mainstay and Rock of Gibraltar is her sister, Jean (Carolyn Cook); her boyfriend is the senator from Virginia, Chandler, played with practiced poise by Chris Kayser.
Pretty soon Anna and Colin have a little boy named Ethan (Vinny Montague, in a feisty performance). Hester adores him, and when she and Anna bring out the big guns for serious battle over possible Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, there is full-out warfare; and Anna is not afraid to use Ethan as a bargaining chip. But she underestimates Hester’s total determination.
Playwright Giardina’s dialogue snaps and crackles, and this A list cast makes the most of it. The show is a feast for those who love fine acting. Carolyn Cook and Chris Kayser show why they are Atlanta acting legends: There’s not a false move or wasted glance or gesture from either of them. Rachel Garner more than rises to the occasion as she goes toe to toe with Ms. Kincaid in heated, tense scenes; it’s a breakthrough performance for Ms. Garner.
I do think that the essence of anger often comes out very quietly; yes, shouting must occur at times, but I think it must be used judiciously. There’s no extra charge to the director or cast for that caveat.
Speaking of Mr. Anderson, his direction is right on the money: the fluid blocking, the insightful handling of scenes, crescendos, and subtle shifts in the momentum and emotional atmosphere. A fine director is supposed to make these things look easy, and he does.
More praise for the actors: Justin Walker’s Colin is quite touching: Colin is a young man who is well-intentioned but all too aware of his limitations, and somehow a subtle undercurrent of sadness emanates from him; very impressive work from Mr. Walker.
It falls to Joshua D. Mitchell to lighten the mood a bit in the play’s final scenes, and he does.
Finally, there is Tess Malis Kincaid. She is flawless: All her formidable gifts—her fierce intelligence, her power, concentration, and subtlety—are on glorious display here. She hasn’t won three Suzi Bass Awards for Best Actress for nothing. Her Hester now ranks in my book with her Barbara in Alliance Theatre’s “August: Osage County,” a towering performance.
Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay have created a beautiful set for what is hands-down the best play on the boards in Atlanta. Don’t miss it.
Critics and audiences couldn’t get enough of The Toxic Avenger, and so we’re bringing it back! Horizon’s musical comedy sensation The Toxic Avenger will be outside in the ATL this summer when it hits Piedmont Park, June 9th through the 12th– and thousands of FREE tickets will be available to the public beginning May 12. Get ready to experience an Atlanta hit in the center of our city!
Last summer, Horizon’s sold-out musical Avenue Q was a rollicking fun party in the Park, playing to thousands who came to picnic, play and watch fantastic professional musical theatre in Piedmont Park. “Avenue Q was so amazing and special last summer – audiences of all ages and types came together for a truly unique Atlanta experience. There is just nothing else like it – live performance under the stars. And it’s free!” says Lisa Adler, Horizon’s Co-Artistic/Producing Director. “The Toxic Avenger was another runaway hit for Horizon in our Little Five Points home this past winter. It’s just so much fun – upbeat, smart and silly at the same time with a hugely energetic and talented cast, fantastic rock music and a live band. Everyone leaves smiling every night, so it is the perfect show to bring together Atlantans in the heart of our city under the sky and treetops this summer.”
Full of off-beat humor and an amazing score, The Toxic Avenger is the Winner of the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical and is guaranteed to have the audience laughing on the green. “Infectious fun to watch….Just enjoy,” raved the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. ArtsATL noted it was, “most fun to be had in local theatre,” and Atlanta InTown promised, “you’ll have tons of fun.” It’s a laugh-out-loud rock musical with an unlikely hero, the mild-mannered scientist, Melvin Ferd the Third, whose crusade to stop the corrupt mayor gets him dumped in toxic waste.From the smoke emerges our green, gooey superhero with mega-strength – The Toxic Avenger, or Toxie for short. He’s here to save his home town from toxic waste, win the love of the beautiful blind librarian, stop global warming and bring a brand new day of clean air and harmony to New Jersey and the world. This tour de force for five powerhouse actor/singers playing over 30 roles keeps the action spinning as the music rocks the park.
Thanks to a major grant from The Charles Loridans Foundation, a supporting grant from the Mark and Evelyn Trammell Foundation and a partnership with the Piedmont Park Conservancy, Horizon continues for the second year the tradition begun by Georgia Shakespeare of bringing free professional theatre to Piedmont Park this summer, giving new audiences a chance to experience Horizon. “Our mission is to connect people, inspire hope and promote positive change through the stories of our times – and this gives us the chance to do that on a larger scale and with great joy.” said Adler. “There has been a huge influx of new residents intown, and this is the perfect show to introduce them to the amazing work they will find at Horizon and our other professional Atlanta theatres and the talented theatre artists who are thriving here.”
Park performances will be Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, June 9-12 at 7:30 PM, and audiences will provide their own blanket or low beach chair. Grounds open for picnicking at 6 PM. Free and $15 Reserved Seating Section Tickets are available ONLINE ONLY beginning May 12. General admission tickets will be available for free for each performance, but must be reserved online in advance. Reserved Seating section tickets are $15 (plus tax and small service charge) and get you in the reserved seating area up close to the stage. Arrive at your leisure and walk past the crowds to come right down front. Limited Table Seating Tickets close to the stage are $35. Tickets are available online only at www.horizontheatre.com. Audiences will bring their print-at-home or mobile tickets and will need to bring their own low chairs (30” back height maximum, 6” seat height maximum) or blankets for seating. Anyone bringing a taller chair will be directed to the rear to allow good sightlines for all. Food and non-alcoholic beverages may be brought in for picnics – although no glass is allowed. No firearms allowed. Food trucks will provide dinner options for purchase and wine, beer, water and soft drinks will be available for sale onsite. The stage is in the Promenade green space at the North end of the Park, conveniently located near the Park/Botanical Gardens Sage parking garage and The Prado entrance to the Park.
Theater review: Topical talk highlights Horizon’s ‘City of Conversation’
by Bert Osborne
May 23, 2016
Despite all the intelligent, articulate and frequently witty political banter that fuels “The City of Conversation,” the most inspired and keenly observed moment in director Justin Anderson’s Horizon Theatre production owes more to sheer happenstance than deliberate design.
Anthony Giardina’s comedy-drama spans 30 years (1979-2009), principally involving a liberal Washington, D.C., socialite whose son marries an ambitious conservative activist. On the stately townhome set of designers extraordinaire Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay, the opening scene takes place at the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency; the closing sequence is set at the start of Barack Obama’s first term; and, in between, the play’s second segment unfolds in 1987, when Ronald Reagan nominates Robert Bork for the Supreme Court.
Wait for it: When Anna, the daughter-in-law, suddenly realizes that she champions the appointment no more staunchly than Hester, her mother-in-law, opposes it, she proclaims, “We’re not going to lose on this … I mean, a president gets to pick his Supreme Court, doesn’t he?” (If you don’t know who Merrick Garland is, the serendipitous irony will be lost on you, but Horizon’s with-it opening-night audience reacted to the line with the most enthusiastic and spontaneous response in the whole show.)
There’s a decidedly sophisticated spark to the script and its fictional characters — at least as long as they’re talking politics, dropping real names like “Teddy” Kennedy or “Ollie” North and sharing anecdotes about them, or otherwise debating topical current events about racial progress and socioeconomic agendas.
“The City of Conversation” isn’t exactly fair and balanced, though. Both women can be equally headstrong or occasionally strident, but Giardina finally gives Anna a much harder time for her ulterior motives as a wife and mother, while essentially giving Hester a pass for keeping longtime companionship with a married man. Tess Malis Kincaid brings her usual flair to Hester, and co-star Rachel Garner holds her own serviceably as Anna.
Director Anderson casts even the smaller, more thankless supporting parts with qualified (possibly overqualified) heavy-hitters: Chris Kayser as that adulterous lover; Carolyn Cook as Hester’s subservient sister (whose back story is vaguely addressed and then ignored); Allan Edwards and Deborah Bowman as a smarmy Southern senator and his oblivious wife.
Elsewhere, in the meatier roles of Hester’s son, Colin, and later her grown-up grandson, Ethan, Justin Walker underwhelms — twice. So does Joshua D. Mitchell as the latter character’s gay boyfriend. And Vinny Montague as a younger version of the grandson.
Giardina’s comedy is squarely on target in depicting the “charmingly quaint rituals” of bipartisan dinner parties or in questioning the “decline of liberalism” and “legislatively coerced good behavior.” It’s as a drama that the play falters, reduced to a family soap opera that pits Hester against Anna for the love and admiration of Colin, and then for influence and control over Ethan.
Call it an “unwieldy” if hardly “necessary” union, but talk about striking a compromise …
“The City of Conversation”
Through June 26. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays (no matinee on June 4); 5 p.m. Sundays. $25-$35. Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. (in Little Five Points), Atlanta. 404-584-7450, www.horizontheatre.com.
Bottom line: More effective as political commentary than as domestic melodrama.
ATLANTA –After three years of searching, Horizon Theatre Company is proud to welcome Thomas Fowlkes as the new Managing Director. Thomas is an Atlanta native with a vast experience in arts administration and community building. “He had a persistence about him that is critical to the job,” notes Co-Artistic Director Lisa Adler. “I am very confident he is the right person for the job.” Managing Director is a critical position to the executive branch of Horizon, and the board and staff were deliberate in their search for the right candidate. “I would rather have the position open than give it to the wrong person,” Adler stated, and that mindset was evident in her evaluation of each candidate. With Thomas joining the staff, Horizon is excited about the possibilities for 2016 and beyond.
Thomas was most recently Creative Manager at Jamestown, LP where he was a key member in the creation of the rooftop experience opening soon at Ponce City Market. Prior to joining the development initiative, he was the Director of Production for the Atlanta Ballet. This allowed this Atlanta native to reintegrate into Atlanta after a successful career in New York with Charles Cosler Theatre Design, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and Barbizon Electric Company. Before his time in New York, Thomas worked with the Tony Award-wining Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago as their Director of Production where he helped orchestrate their move into their new home on Michigan Ave. In Chicago, his lighting design won him acclaim at the Chicago After Dark Awards, but his designs have been seen in New York, Houston, and on tour across the country. Thomas received his education from Rice University, along with specific training for Nonprofit Management from the Georgia Center for Nonprofits. With a proven track record of joining an organization and bringing innovation and growth, Thomas was the natural choice for Managing Director.
As you may know, March is National Women’s History Month, and yesterday was International Women’s Day. Last year, C4 Atlanta shared the stories of women arts administrators in our city as part of a project with the National Women’s History Project called “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives”.
C4 Atlanta is excited to curate this blog series for the second year in a row! We will be highlighting women’s stories on our blog and on our social media throughout the month of March and into April. This year we have expanded the project to include the stories of more women and to share a diverse range of experiences, including women nationally as well as locally. Sharing women’s triumphs challenges stereotypes within today’s society and overturns social assumptions about who women are and what women can accomplish.
With that being said, we’d love to introduce our next leading lady, Collins Goss.
Where do you work and what do you do? I work as the Development Manager for the Horizon Theatre Company. I am in charge of all of Horizon’s fundraising efforts, including the annual fund, major gifts, foundation grants, government contracts for services, and special events. I also work closely with our Board of Directors, and I do a chunk of the project management work for Horizon’s community-based projects.With that being said, we’d love to introduce our next leading lady, Collins Goss.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up? Honestly, I never really had a set goal. Most kids would list teacher, nurse, vet, doctor, but I never had a specific thing that I knew I wanted to do.
Who was your favorite artist/writer/performer growing up? I loved to read growing up, so most of my favorite artists were writers. I could not get enough of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series as a teenager. I really, really loved classic lit like Little Women, To Kill a Mockingbird, Peter Pan, Little House on the Prairie, etc.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you? I have been so lucky to have had several wonderful influencers and mentors. I had two teachers in high school who blew my world wide open: one was from South Africa and one was from Queens. They somehow ended up teaching in South Georgia where I grew up, and they exposed me to a world much larger than I had known. My biggest influences, though, are definitely my parents. In my completely unbiased opinion, they are the greatest people on earth who give and love unconditionally and who get up every day to make the world better even when it is really hard and no one says thank you. They taught (and still teach) me so many things, but “thank you” was a big one. Everyone is worthy of your attention and gratitude no matter who they are.
When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work? I took dance lessons from preschool through high school. I wasn’t very good, but I enjoyed it and still enjoy being a dance patron. I got into theatre the way a lot of kids do: my friends in high school were in the one act play and spring musical. I wanted in on the fun too. The alternative was playing basketball or jumping hurdles, and no one wants me to do either one. Yikes. I think I started unofficially working in some aspect of arts admin in high school and just never stopped. I am still not quite sure how that happened.
How is art a passion for you? Art is something that you can enjoy all of your life, and there is always a new show, art form, or artist to discover. The ability to keep discovering is what makes art a passion for me.
What are your thoughts on equality and representation of women in the arts? I work in an office of all women, and this has been the norm in most of my jobs in arts admin. I don’t know if that is typical or not, but I think it is awesome. Working in the arts full time is not easy. The hours can be long and the days frustrating, but women get stuff done and totally defy the odds.
What in your profession has given you the greatest satisfaction or fulfillment? Looking back, what would you have done differently? What would you do again? The first thing that comes to mind is working on Theatre in the Park last summer. Horizon produced Avenue Q in Piedmont Park for a five night run in June 2015. That’s right. We produced a full scale Broadway musical outside in the middle of Atlanta in June with 28 puppets, a band, and 11 actors. Most of the tickets were given away for free, and we had more than 7700 people join us in the park that week. Moments like this are the reason I got into this business. All these people from all over the Atlanta area left their houses and Netflix to come outside, sit on a blanket, eat a picnic, and watch puppets sing about growing up and finding their purpose. Would I do it again? Heck yes.
What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta? Atlanta artists and administrators just make it happen in Atlanta, and their work is amazing. No one seems to take no for an answer, and I think that is pretty cool. There has been a lot of talk about Atlanta’s public art scene, and I am really excited to see what comes out of this. We have tons of space that could benefit from an art intervention: the Little Five Points plaza (Horizon is tackling this one starting in April, so stay tuned!), MARTA stations, and so many more.
What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community? I would really like to be a part of raising awareness of all the arts offerings in Atlanta and the impact the arts have on our communities. There are several individuals and arts organizations that are committed to advocating for the arts whether it is on the government level, among business leaders, or with individual patrons. I am really excited about an audience development project I am working on with theAtlanta Intown Theatre Partnership (AITP). AITP is made up of Horizon, 7 Stages, Actor’s Express, the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern and Theatrical Outfit, and we are committed to pooling resources and doing things together that we could not do as individual theatres. Currently we want to raise live theatre going as a top of mind thing to do among 20-40 year olds who live/work/play along the Atlanta Beltline. We are still in the very early stages of the project, but I see tremendous potential for success.
Where can I learn more about your organizations and work (websites, social media, etc.)?
Collins Goss (Development Manager) joins the Horizon Theatre Company after working for the University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance. At UA Theatre & Dance, she served as the digital communications, marketing, and patron services managers throughout her three years. She has also worked for the Texas Shakespeare Festival and Rose of Athens Theatre in Athens, GA. No matter the location, audience development and communication have been the focus of her work, and she is excited to be a part of the staff and community at the Horizon Theatre. Collins completed her MFA in Theatre Management from the University of Alabama in December and has BA degrees in English and Theatre from the University of Georgia.
I’d seen all five of the stars in other performances last year, so I knew it was going to be phenomenal. This quintet masters more than 30 costume changes during the show, performing more characters than I could count. It’s a fast-paced, raucous musical comedy that anyone with a sense of humor will absolutely love.
Julissa Sabino and Nick Arapoglou, Photo by Amanda Cantrell
The Toxic Avenger | Horizon Theatre
The show is about a nerdy-geek (I can relate) who is in love with a beautiful blind librarian. When he announces that he will save the city from a growing toxic waste problem, she totally falls for him. Later, the song “Thank God She’s Blind”…well, just look at what happened to him when a government official’s nincompoop puppets drop the ball…rather, drop him into a vat of toxic waste! He’s not entirely disappointed with the results.
Nick Arapoglou and Julissa Sabino, Photo by Amanda Cantrell
The Toxic Avenger | Horizon Theatre
The song list alone speaks to the fun that is this show. Songs like “Kick Your Ass”, “My Big French Boyfriend”, and “All Men Are Freaks” are hilarious and fantastic, but nothing compares to “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore”, a rapid-fire lyrical battle between Melvin’s motherAND the Mayor of Tromaville—who are BOTH performed by the amazing Leslie Bellair. This is perhaps my favorite scene of the show!
How can two characters performed by one actress be on stage at the same time, you ask? Brilliantly! That’s how. This you must see live and in persons!
Austin Tijerina, Julissa Sabino, Michael Stiggers, Photo by Amanda Cantrell
The Toxic Avenger | Horizon Theatre
I attended the pre-opening Sneak Peek at which we got to meet the cast, the crew and all of the theatre staff…what a magnificent, insightful treat that was!
I saw Julissa Sabino (Sarah), Michael Stiggers (Black Dude) and Austin Tijerina(White Dude, and holder of at least two Suzi Bass Awards) all three in Rent last year at Actor’s Express. I’d seen the movie a number of times, but that was the first time I’d seen a stage performance of Rent…it too was amazing!
I was super excited to learn that The Toxic Avenger was by Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and David Bryan (music and lyrics), the same guys who brought us Memphis, which I saw at Aurora Theatre last year. The two shows are not even distant cousins, but I love each for what they are and the theatrical mastery they bring to the stage.
The third time I saw The Toxic Avenger, Julissa (Sarah) had taken ill, so her understudy was standing in. Actress Rose Alexander was brilliant! That was the first time I’d seen her perform, but I hope not the last.
Nick Arapoglou, Leslie Bellair, Photo by Amanda Cantrell
The Toxic Avenger | Horizon Theatre
I’m totally a huge fan of Nick Arapoglou and Leslie Bellair. Having seen them perform together in Avenue Q was awesome enough, but in The Toxic Avenger, they went to a whole other dimension…fun, vengeful and lovable.
Lislie said, quite modestly, during the Sneak Peek event that this was the first role where she was tasked with playing “sexy”. As Melvin’s mother, if the Golden Girls is what gets your motor running, she nailed it. And as the Mayor of Tromaville, she’s totally smokin’ hot! I mean that respectfully, Leslie. In fact, I would venture to say that there’s not a role you couldn’t perform brilliantly!
Michael Stiggers, Nick Arapoglou, Austin Tijerina
The Toxic Avenger | Horizon Theatre
Nick’s transformation from Melvin to Toxie is lightening-fast! The costume designers,Isabel Curley-Clay and Moriah Curley-Clay, who are also scenic designers, we got to meet during the Sneak Peek event. You figure out pretty quickly why they’ve received four Suzi Bass Awards!
Nick Arapoglou and Julissa Sabino, Photo by Amanda Cantrell
The Toxic Avenger | Horizon Theatre
Surprisingly, many aspects of this ooey, gooey, eyeball-won’t-stay-in-its-socket superhero story are true to life…people who care about the environment, corrupt government, egotistical criminals, a disappointed parent, a sex-crazed doctor and a published author wannabe included! Most of all, it’s totally a love story! I think you’re going to fall in love with this show and many of its characters.
Sluggo (Micheal Stiggers) and Bozo (Austin Tijerina), by Greg Mooney with Daryl Fazio
The Toxic Avenger | Horizon Theatre
Michael Stiggers, “Black Dude”, and Austin Tijerina, “White Dude”—seriously, those are their character’s names in the program—are constantly in and out of costume, all over the set and a different character seemingly every other minute. To name a few, these two alone portray thugs, a folk singer, a doctor, illiterates, and salon technicians. They’re awesome!
Jaquetta, Toxie, Nikki | The Toxic Avenger | Horizon Theatre | Photo by: Travis S. Taylor
I love getting to meet the actors as much as I love seeing them perform. Following the show, theatre-goers are invited to stick around to meet the cast and make photos with them! When was the last time you had your photo made with a superhero?
One of the times I saw the show, four friends joined me…it was a laugh-fest! Jaquetta(above left) and Nikki (above right) posed with Toxie, and friends Cameron and Jameswere along, too. Yes, that’s a Doctor Who phone case in Nikki’s hand…she’s a fellow sci-fi enthusiast!
The Toxic Avenger | Horizon Theatre | Photo by: Travis S. Taylor
On another visit, my best friend Barry came along. We’ve seen a lot of shows together at Horizon Theatre and we love this one, too! Pictured with Barry is ‘Ma‘, Melvin’s mother (above left, performed by Leslie Bellair) and ‘the cop‘ (above right, performed by Austin Tijerina).
The Toxic Avenger | Horizon Theatre | Photo by: Travis S. Taylor
I am so beyond impressed with this production…the actors, the set design, lighting, choreography…everything about it makes for a super fun evening out. I highly, highly recommend this show! The run wraps up on Sunday, March 13, so don’t waste time…get your tickets here and go see how to save a city and fall in love at the same time!
A pre-show dinner recommendation: Each time I’ve been to see The Toxic Avenger, I and friends have dined at the recently opened El Bandido Mex Mex Grill…I personally have been SIX times already! It’s that amazing and it’s very close to the theatre. Their calamari is some of the best I’ve ever had!
Up next at Horizon Theatre: Sex With Strangers! No, no, it’s (probably) not what you’re thinking, but it is provocative! Check it out at Horizon starting April 1…no joke!