CHARLESTON — My first two Spoleto Festival USA shows were extreme opposites — first comedy, and then sorrow.
The Bristol Old Vic Company is the longest continuously run theater in the United Kingdom. After seeing their production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which used puppets from the Handspring Puppet Company along with their actors, I can see why. This show was big, brash and bawdy — I think the Bard himself would be pleased.
The second show was two one-act operas, Giordana’s “Mese Mariano” and Puccini’s “Le Villi.” Even though these two powerful operas deal with tragedy, I came away uplifted due to the beautiful voice of Jennifer Rowley.
The one-woman show “Rebecca and the Fox” truly makes history come alive — and not just any history, but history that happened just outside Orangeburg County in Fort Motte. Chris Weatherhead, portraying Rebecca Motte, gives a glimpse of life during the Revolutionary War. Weatherhead is co-founder of The Actors’ Theatre of South Carolina along with her husband Clarence Felder, a St. Matthews native.
At the Woolfe Street Theatre — the new home of The Village Playhouse — the off-Broadway hit “Love, Lost, and What I Wore” was performed in reader’s theater-style by five talented actresses. Although funny and poignant, the production was too long, an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
The winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for drama, “Clybourne Park” is mesmerizing. Well-acted by the ensemble cast of Pure Theatre, the play is a follow-up to “A Raisin in the Sun.” In the first act, it’s 1959, and residents of a Chicago neighborhood are realizing that a black family is moving in. In the second act, it’s 2009, and the roles are reversed as gentrification takes place — a white family is moving into the same house in what is now a black neighborhood. I still think about this brilliantly written satire.
For some comic relief, I saw “Reformed Whores,” an hour-long musical comedy. The two performers were not only good musicians, but they also had pleasant voices to perform totally clever and inappropriate songs. When I say nothing was sacred, I do mean nothing. The production reminded me of an adult musical version of the old TV show “Hee Haw.”
I was surprised that David Ives’ off-Broadway comedy “Venus in Fur” was a part of Spoleto, as it is still being performed is New York. The 90-minute no-intermission show concerns a playwright desperate to find an actress to play the lead in his adaptation of the classic sadomasochistic tale “Venus in Fur.” As he is about to give up, in walks Vanda. The two actors were excellent, and very believable in their parts.
What a disappointment the musical “Slammer Girls” was! This production is a parody of the 1960s film genre that sexually exploited women. In his notes, the director said “these women in prison films were so awful, they were great.” Unfortunately, his version was just “so awful.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Tell Me on a Sunday” was a gem. This hour-long one-woman musical tells the story of a British hat designer seeking a career in America. The production was wonderfully sung, and the keyboardist was amazing.
The 70-member Charleston Men’s Chorus gave an hour-long Memorial Day concert. The blend of voices was superb. After their rendition of “The Mansions of the Lord,” “Taps” was played. It was so moving, one could have heard a pin drop.
The musical “Children of Eden” features many talented children and teenagers. Using the creation story, the musical tells of the age-old conflict between parents and children. The production is a perfect family-friendly musical. You will leave with many positive talking points.
I always enjoy the Rising Star performances that spotlight artistically gifted students from South Carolina, ages 9 through 18, in any art form. I was shouting “Bravo!” along with the rest of the audience after listening to a 10-year-old pianist, a 9-year-old cellist and a 10-year-old violist who each could have been playing in any adult orchestra.
The musical “The Satire Diaries: Eat, Pray, Giggle!” was a disappointment. It had a few clever vignettes, but not enough to save the show.
The Early Music Series is always a lovely way to spend an hour while listening to lovely music. The afternoon that I attended, the group Chatham Baroque, one of the world’s foremost baroque ensembles, performed. Although it was enjoyable, I have two complaints. When announcing the songs, the speaker did not use a microphone and therefore could not be heard. And the musicians wore street clothes, which made the performance look like a rehearsal.
College of Charleston’s Young Artist Series was another hour-long treat. The most accomplished students in the Music Department have an opportunity to shine, and shine they do!
“Sounds of Charleston” is a 90-minute concert where one can hear the unique music that defines the South. In the program that I attended, John Tecklenburg, who has family ties to Orangeburg, played the piano masterfully.
While strolling through Marion Square and enjoying all of the visual art, I discovered some exciting news about two of my favorite artists. Orangeburg’s own Floyd Gordon’s coffee table book, “The Unique Art of Floyd Gordon,” will be coming out this fall. In addition, Barnes & Noble will be releasing Charleston artist Tate Nation’s art puzzles this fall.
Orangeburg native Boo Sheppard, retired host of Time-Warner’s “Orangeburg Inside Out,” lives in Clemson with her husband, Macon.