A Carlotta musical and new adaptations of two classic American stories are among the pre-Thanksgiving theater offerings around town
You know the year is winding down when: 1) temps drop, 2) leaves fall, 3) Veronica Mars delves deeper into her latest mystery arc, and 4) the mighty Carlotta Sue Philpott comes round. But not so fast — our favorite Tennessee matriarch's current show is a special pre-Wing Ding scripted musical called Carlotta and the Curse of Wolf Manor, now playing at the Theatre Off Jackson. It's a crazy-ass hoot, with all the piss-yourself hysteria and wacky down-home charm we've come to expect from the Wing Ding bunch.
The play opens with a brilliant little video segment recorded by the (fictional) Wing Ding Fan Club's (fictional) president, who seems to've caught the very last installment of the popular variety show on tape: a major cast meltdown (both offstage and on) plays out before our eyes. Weeks later Carlotta (Troy Mink), her son Slaw (David Nixon), and their pals Nellie (Órla Mc Govern), Terry (Tom Ledcke), Trinity (Jill Farris) and Mrs. Celito (Marc Carvajal), all still embittered over the events that transpired that fateful night, have each been summoned to the mysterious Wolf Manor by its sole occupant (Karen Jo Fairbrook). Someone dies, everyone is a suspect, and the perpetrator is unmasked Scooby-style at the end.
Original musical numbers, none of which are as hilarious or magical as the semi-improvised scenes between them, are peppered throughout. A couple of the songs in Act I cringe-induce (and not in a good way), but the balls-out Act II makes up for it all. Everyone in the cast is great, as per usual, but the moments between Carlotta and Slaw (even the one in which Carlotta relays a recipe consisting of chopped bologna and Kraft Mac-n-Cheese) dazzle and astound on many levels. When Carlotta gets to her Gone With the Wind scene, prepare to hurt yourself laughing. (Two weeks later, I still ache a little.)
This madcap marvel only happens until November 4, so get yourself to the ID asap.
And Wolf Manor is but one of many mid-autumn theater offerings to be had around town. The Rep continues its season with Will Eno's surprise off-Broadway hit and Pulitzer finalist Thom Pain (based on nothing) in the intimate Leo K. Theatre, and to call it a bit more challenging than Carlotta is to understate big-time. The unnamed sole character, as portrayed very well (and somewhat House-like) by Todd Jefferson Moore, warns us early on: "If I were you, I'd be sick of this already."
He's on to something there.
Shortly thereafter, amid a flurry of seemingly random Beckett-esque babble on life and broken-heartedness and lots of other things, a pre-arranged (I think) "audience member" gets out of his seat and leaves; the character shouts from the stage, "Au revoir, cunt!" It was the only time he made me laugh (mainly because I'd thought repeatedly about bailing myself). But, as the 70-minute show wore on (and Lordy, it does seem longer than that), I started appreciating Thom Pain a little. By the end, in fact, I was somehow liking the thing more than I loathed it. Although there's definitely some loathe left.
Don't feel rushed or anything, but it's ending soon, too (11/5).
The Intiman's acclaimed American Cycle series continues this season with Richard Wright and Paul Green's play Native Son, newly adapted and directed by Kent Gash. Wright's classic 1940 novel on poverty and powerlessness is widely hailed as one of American literature's most powerful stories; the book's exploration of racism (and its consequences for both individuals and society) is second to none.
Due to some transport issues beyond my control (frakkin' Metro!), I missed opening night, and won't have a chance to see the play before this story appears. But I've heard really good things, particularly about Ato Essandoh's performance in the lead role of Bigger Thomas, that make missing it out of the question. And, Lord knows, the Intiman is due for a good play after the mess they gave us last month. (Wanna come? We have until November 18 to check it out.)
And in other classic-novel-come-to-life news, there's more in store before the holiday shows begin next month. I'm especially excited about the next big Rep production, a new adaptation (and the first authorized one since the mid-'20s) of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, to take place in the big Bagley Wright Theatre beginning November 2. If the story doesn't grab you (all those East Egg and West Egg goings-on between Daisy and Gatsby never were my cup of tea), you know that the Rep never falters in the design department; fantastic 1920s-themed sets and costumes are sure things.
And perhaps this fresh take on the material will make for a nice comparison to (and/or contrast of) Native Son in telling us something new and profound about the good ol' American Dream.