A FROTHY COME-0N
Threepenny to pair dramas with local craft beers
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.
Matt Crewse, cofounder of Threepenny Theatre Company, is directing and designing this weekend’s trio of oneact plays at Evergreen Theatre.