‘Beau­ti­ful’ play ex­plores so­cial di­vides

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - STAGE - By Jon W. Sparks Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

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.

Fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment

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.

Su­pertroupers

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.

os­tran­der­ssun­day

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.

NOBY ED­WARDS

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