A FROTHY COME-0N

Three­penny to pair dra­mas with lo­cal craft beers

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

Raise a toast to Three­penny Theatre Com­pany for find­ing ways to present great plays in in­no­va­tive ways.

This week­end, 3PT is stag­ing three one-act plays at the Ever­green Theatre, great plays all, not gen­er­ally well known or of­ten per­formed, and with some of the city’s top tal­ent. And there will be beer.

Matt Crewse, one of the founders of 3PT, en­joys do­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions such as the one ear­lier this year with Hat­tiloo Theatre on “A Free Man of Color.” He also worked with Mem­phis Made Brew­ing Co. last De­cem­ber for 3PT’S Shakes­beer fundraiser. For this week­end’s pro­gram­ming, he de­cided to do three one-act plays with some help from the brew­ery.

“I’ve been want­ing to do Ed­ward Al­bee’s ‘The Zoo Story’ for a while,” Crewse says, “but it’s only one act, so we looked at the ac­tors who were avail­able and plays that would be good for them and that would fit with ‘Zoo.’”

The other one-acts are Ten­nessee Wil­liams’ “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Lis­ten” and Harold Pin­ter’s “The New World Or­der.” Crewse says the three share a cer­tain tone and aes­thetic while be­ing en­tirely dif­fer­ent.

“They’re all pow­er­ful dra­mas by iconic play­wrights,” he says. “They have small casts and deal in some way with the hu­man con­nec­tion.”

The ac­tors are also strong, and some are rarely seen on lo­cal stages. “Talk to Me” has Michael Ewing and Ja­clyn Suf­fel, “The New World Or­der” fea­tures Steven Brown, David Gal­loway and An­drew Glenn, and “Zoo Story” stars Michael Khan­lar­ian and Corey Parker.

Mem­phis Made Brew­ing co­founder Andy Ashby will se­lect beers to go with each of the plays.

The plays, like the fea­tured beers, have some things in com­mon, Crewse says. “You know the qual­ity is good. And with three plays and three beers, if you don’t care for one, it’s over in 20 min­utes.”

But he’s bet­ting that with the qual­ity of play­wrights, tal­ent and beer on tap, peo­ple will find some­thing to love about all of them.

This is, by the way, of­fi­cially the end of the third sea­son for 3PT. In­stead of is­su­ing a lineup for its fourth sea­son, Crewse says the com­pany is de­vel­op­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions that it will an­nounce as they hap­pen. “We’ll do more nim­ble pro­duc­tions and take them one at a time,” he says.

Beer Flight Theatre Night at Ever­green Theatre, 1705 Po­plar. Show­times: 8 p.m. Fri­day, Sat­ur­day, Mon­day; 2 p.m. Sun­day. Tick­ets: Set-your-own-ad­mis­sion ($15 sug­gested). Tick­ets sold at the door. Info: 3pt­drama.blogspot.com.

GET SOME FRESH ARIA

It’s now be­come some­thing of a tra­di­tion to hear var­i­ous snip­pets of opera in some of the most sur­pris­ing of places around town dur­ing Septem­ber.

Opera Mem­phis is mount­ing its fifth year of 30 Days of Opera, an on­go­ing event that the or­ga­ni­za­tion says “turns the opera house in­side out.” Rov­ing bands of singers pop up all around the re­gion to give typ­i­cally brief and lively per­for­mances, start­ing at 3 p.m. Thurs­day, Sept. 1 on the sec­ond floor of the Ben­jamin L. Hooks Cen­tral Li­brary. From 6 to 9 p.m., Opera Mem­phis will have a booth at Au­tozone Park as part of the “Ex­po­sure” fes­ti­val where dozens of lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions gather to cel­e­brate all things Mem­phis. A per­for­mance there is sched­uled for 7:25. Pop-up per­for­mances will hap­pen from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 2 in Cooper-young and at 10 a.m. Sept. 3 at the Mem­phis Farm­ers Mar­ket. Other sites range from Shelby Farms to the Le­vitt Shell and street cor­ners around town through the month. Check the

schedule at 30Dayso­f­opera.com.

BESSIE SINGS THE BLUES

Bessie Smith was a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter, bold enough to ac­cept the la­bel “Em­press of the Blues” and great enough to earn it as she ruled in the 1920s and ’30s. She was also a char­ac­ter, a trail­blazer and a trou­ble­maker, and she rel­ished it all.

Hat­tiloo Theatre’s “The Devil’s Mu­sic: the Life and Blues of Bessie Smith,” imag­ines her fi­nal per­for­mance, done in Mem­phis the night be­fore she died in a car ac­ci­dent in Mis­sis­sippi. The play is a se­ries of songs in­ter­spersed with Smith’s of­ten acidic view of life, giv­ing an op­por­tu­nity to hear her mu­sic and to let her tell her story.

Smith is played by Sa­man­tha Lynn Miller, who in­ter­prets the blueswoman’s work beau­ti­fully although the sto­ry­telling some­times falls flat. She shares the stage with pi­anist and mu­sic di­rec­tor Ju­lian Jones, who plays the band leader, Pickle, and with whom she oc­ca­sion­ally ban­ters. The spot­light, how­ever, is al­most en­tirely on Miller, and she serves up an in­trigu­ing look at this ex­tra­or­di­nary fig­ure.

“The Devil’s Mu­sic: the Life and Blues of Bessie Smith” runs through Sept. 4 at Hat­tiloo Theatre, 37 S. Cooper. Show­times: 7:30 p.m. Thurs­days, Fri­days, Satur­days; 2 p.m. Satur­days, 3 p.m. Sun­days. Tick­ets: $30; $26 se­niors/stu­dents ex­cept Sat­ur­day mati­nee, which is $26, $20 se­niors/ stu­dents. April 21 is pa-what-you-want per­for­mance. Info: hat­tiloo.org or 901525-0009. Adult con­tent.

HOT BUT­TON IS­SUES

Cir­cuit Play­house kicks off its sea­son with the in­cen­di­ary one­act drama “Dis­graced,” a com­pact work that siz­zles through sev­eral con­tem­po­rary and con­tro­ver­sial top­ics.

If the setup is a bit too con­trived, it cer­tainly serves to bring those is­sues to an ef­fi­ciently quick boil. It takes place on New York’s Up­per East Side with char­ac­ters who are as in­tel­li­gent as they are clue­less. Amir is an Amer­i­can-born Mus­lim lawyer with scant in­ter­est in his re­li­gion. His WASP wife, Emily, is an artist, fas­ci­nated by Is­lam and Is­lamic art. They have a din­ner at their Up­per East Side res­i­dence with Jory, an AfricanAmer­i­can col­league of his, and her hus­band, Isaac, who is Emily’s Jewish art dealer. With that smor­gas­bord of reli­gions, eth­nic­i­ties, in­ter­ests and some ex­ter­nal tur­bu­lent events, it takes no time for friend­ships and mar­riages to fray.

Irene Crist beau­ti­fully di­rects a smash­ing cast that never eases up on the en­ergy. Greg Sza­tkowski is mes­mer­iz­ing as the driven, type-a Amir, un­will­ing to hold his tongue when he can de­liver a well-placed dart. Natalie Jones im­bues Emily with a deep cu­rios­ity and charm while Isaac is played with a ge­nial ar­ro­gance by Gabe Beu­tel-gunn. Jes­sica John­son’s Jory is good-na­tured un­til it’s time to strike back. Shaleen Cholera plays Amir’s nephew with apt con­fu­sion as an im­mi­grant who is be­wil­dered by the re­quire­ments of as­sim­i­la­tion.

It is the sort of play that the­ater­go­ers will be in­tently dis­cussing as they walk out the doors. There are is­sues of eth­nic­ity, cul­ture, art, sex­ism, be­trayal, be­hav­ior, prej­u­dice, hu­man­ity, iden­tity, spousal abuse and pro­fil­ing — and per­haps that ends up be­ing an over­load.

Even with all its sharply etched char­ac­ters and raw feel­ings, how­ever, it still fal­ters. Not that a play­wright is obliged to come up with so­lu­tions, but the lack of res­o­lu­tion sug­gests that the idea is more about stir­ring things up.

“Dis­graced” runs through Sept. 4 at Cir­cuit Play­house, 51 S. Cooper. Show­times: 8 p.m. Thurs­days, Fri­days, Satur­days; 2 p.m. Sun­days. Tick­ets: $35 Thurs­days and Sun­days, $40 Fri­days and Satur­days. $25 Se­niors, $20 stu­dents/mil­i­tary, $15 chil­dren un­der 18. Info: 901-726-4656 and play­house­on­thesquare.org.

JON W. SPARKS

Matt Crewse, co­founder of Three­penny Theatre Com­pany, is di­rect­ing and de­sign­ing this week­end’s trio of one­act plays at Ever­green Theatre.

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