‘Beautiful’ play explores social divides
When Greg Szatkowski got a message about “Disgraced” from director Irene Crist, he read the play and immediately fell in love with it. “I told her, ‘You’ve got to let me do it,’” he says.
She did, and as rehearsals ended this week for Friday’s opening at Circuit Playhouse, Szatkowski’s enthusiasm for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning play has continued to expand.
“It’s such a beautiful piece of writing,” he says. “Rarely do you come across a work where the playwright gives you everything, all the subtext, inflection and emotions in the writing. You just have to bring it to life.”
“Disgraced” was the most produced play in the country last season, according to a survey by American Theater magazine. The sizzling issues it addresses show why: “It deals with race, religion, sex, political beliefs — all pertinent to what’s going on in society at the moment,” Szatkowski says.
He plays Amir, an American-born Muslim lawyer in New York City who has little interest in the religion and has even changed his last name to a common Indian name. His WASP (White Anglo-saxon Protestant) wife, Emily, an artist, is far more interested in the faith and its art. They have a dinner at their Upper East Side residence with Jory, an African-american colleague of his, and her husband, Isaac, who is Emily’s Jewish art dealer.
“So you have the WASP and three social minorities,” Szatkowski says. “They meet for dinner, and things start to unravel as conversations bring up religion, politics, sex — the subjects that most people avoid for fear of offending someone.”
He says his character, Amir, was traumatized as a child and grew up with resentment. He never faced the anger he held onto, and his carefully constructed facade is in danger of falling apart.
In preparing for the role, Szatkowski researched the deep divides between cultures. “I’m Jewish, and I’m playing a Muslim,” he says. “I looked through the Quran to better understand the conflict in the Middle East and tensions between Jews and Muslims particularly, although both have similar ideas about doing the right thing and being kind and of service to others.”
Szatkowski says Crist’s direction is inspiring. “She’s one of my favorites because you can challenge and argue, and it’s for the purpose of making what is on the stage as honest as possible. I love working with people who challenge you and take you places.”
This has become, he says, one of his favorite roles. He’s played a rich variety of characters, some 30 or so in the past five or six years, from Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” to Werner Heisenberg in “Copenhagen” to Shakespeare and “Talley’s Folly,” plus over-thetop zaniness in “The Producers” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“I love dealing with analyzing and dissecting the human condition,” he says. “It helps me get a better understanding of myself. And to share — I’ve been told that part of an actor’s mission is to give it away.”
“Disgraced” runs Aug. 19-Sept. 4 at Circuit Playhouse, 51 S. Cooper. Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $25 opening weekend, $35 Thursdays and Sundays, $40 Fridays and Saturdays. $25 Seniors, $20 students/ military, $15 children under 18. Info: 901-726-4656 and playhouseonthesquare.org.
The Orpheum has announced its 201617 Family Series, half a dozen productions aimed at young people. The lineup:
Oct. 28: “Celeste,” the story of an imaginative girl who decides she must be from outer space and starts building a spaceship. For ages 5 and up; at the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education.
Nov. 11: “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and other stories, including “The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and “Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me.” For ages 3 and up; at the Orpheum.
Nov. 18: “Rhapsody in Black,” a one-man show with Leland Gantt on dealing with racism in America. For ages 13 and up; at the Halloran Centre.
Feb. 3, 2017: “Rock the Presidents,” a Natalie Jones and Greg Szatkowski in “Disgraced” at Circuit Playhouse, opening Friday. multimedia rock, pop and folk music journey discovering the 44 people who have served as president. For all ages; at the Orpheum.
Feb. 3: “The Meeting,” a Hattiloo Theatre production depicting a hypothetical conversation between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X on how best to achieve equality in America. For ages 11 and up; at the Halloran Centre.
Feb. 24: “The Ugly Duckling and the Tortoise and the Hare,” an unusual act of electroluminescent artistry and storytelling of two classic stories. For all ages; at the Orpheum.
For more information, contact the Orpheum box office at 901-525-3000, or visit orpheum-memphis.com.
Playhouse on the Square has a winner with its production of the durable “Mamma Mia!” ABBA’S songs provide the earbugs that will stay with you long after the performance, but there’s much more to look back on with a smile.
I’ve seen the musical a few times, and I never expect to like it as much as I finally do. The thing just burrows into that guiltypleasure niche and stays there.
There’s so much to like about the Jordan Nichols-directed production — lots of energy, smooth dance moves, a terrific set. But the talent soars, particularly Annie Freres as the harried boutique hotel owner and vexed mother of the bride trying to deal with good friends and old boyfriends who bring back the past. Freres has a superb voice and remarkable presence, owning the stage.
She’s not the only delight — Claire D. Kolheim and Kim Sanders give it everything they’ve got as the old pals having a “Come Thanksgiving”: A mother returns on Thanksgiving Day to her husband and four children after a mysterious 13-year absence. Presented by Bluff City Tri-art Theatre Company. 7:30 p.m. FridaySaturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Other shows at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26-27. $20 ($15 senior citizens, students/military (with ID). Theatreworks, 2085 Monroe Ave. 901-9466140. “The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith (Musical)”: The story of the legendary “Empress of the Blues.” 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 4 at Hattiloo Theatre, 37 S. Cooper. $30 ($26 students, senior citizens, military). Matinee: $26 general admission, $22 students, senior citizens, military. 901529-0009. hattiloo.org
good time on the island. They’re both sensational with their physical comedy and perfect timing, always fun to watch and hear.
When I saw Sunday’s performance, the audience was entirely on board, laughing hard at the jokes (and the men’s flipper ballet) and cheering Freres’ performance. You probably will as well.
“Mamma Mia!” runs through Sept. 4 at Playhouse on the Square, 66 S. Cooper. Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $35-40 Thursdays and Sundays, $40-45 Fridays and Saturdays. $25 seniors, $20 students/ military, $15 children under 18. Info: 901-726-4656 and playhouseonthesquare.org.
The 33rd Annual Ostrander Awards, celebrating the best of Memphis Theatre, will be handed out Sunday evening at the Orpheum. Who will bask in the spotlight? It might be Cecelia Wingate going for three in a row in the Direction of a Musical category. Two years ago she got it for “Young Frankenstein,” and last year she won for “The Addams Family,” both at Theatre Memphis. But she’s got some strong competition.
We can say for sure that longtime stage veterans and married couple Jim and Jo Lynne Palmer will have their moment as recipients of the Eugart Yerian Lifetime Achievement Honor.
Find out the results at 10 p.m. Sunday when we’ll post the winners at commercialappeal.com/entertainment.