‘Mock­ing­bird’ has ‘lessons we haven’t learned yet’

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

Ten­nessee Shake­speare Com­pany’s sea­son be­gins with a con­tem­po­rary story that is not the Bard’s but does con­vey a sto­ry­telling power and depth ev­ery bit wor­thy of a Shake­spearean play

The pro­duc­tion is the stage adap­ta­tion of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mock­ing­bird,” and it’s di­rected by Dan Mc­cleary, TSC’S founder and pro­duc­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor.

Mc­cleary is very much con­cerned with con­text in pre­sent­ing TSC’S works. “Mock­ing­bird” will not sim­ply be a fic­tional story trans­ferred from script to stage. The the­ater­goer will ex­pe­ri­ence it tied into news events that have gripped the United States even as the na­tion con­tin­ues to strug­gle with civil rights and is­sues of jus­tice.

“One of my ar­gu­ments is that clas­si­cal sto­ries might help us find a safe and gal­va­niz­ing way to share a nar­ra­tive,” Mc­cleary says.

This sum­mer, he gave a talk to a Ro­tary Club about how Shake­speare’s works, in telling univer­sal sto­ries, might pro­vide clearer un­der­stand­ing to those on all sides of an is­sue. In an in­ter­view this week, Mc­cleary said Otis San­ford, colum­nist for The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal who at­tended the Ro­tary meet­ing, found the heart of the speech when he wrote af­ter­ward that there is so much so­cial tur­moil be­cause, “In essence, we are not speak­ing the same lan­guage.”

Mc­cleary says Harper Lee’s nar­ra­tive, like Shake­speare’s sto­ries, has the abil­ity to open up dis­cus­sion and help peo­ple find that same lan­guage. “‘Mock­ing­bird’ is, in my opin­ion, the Amer­i­can mas­ter­work of the 20th cen­tury,” he says. “It has lessons we haven’t learned yet.”

So Mc­cleary will be­gin the pro­duc­tion as he does with many of TSC’S shows — with a setup. He says the com­pany pro­duces its plays en­vi­ron­men­tally, mean­ing in part that it gets the au­di­ence into the story in a fa­mil­iar way. “It’s not so much a fram­ing de­vice as it is our way in,” he says. “That’s around the protests that have been top-of-the­fold news sto­ries this year, and school clos­ings. We use school clos­ings to set this pro­duc­tion in an aban­doned high school cam­pus in a neigh­bor­hood that’s strug­gling. The pro­test­ers de­cide to put on a story that po­ten­tially can bring peo­ple to­gether.”

The pro­duc­tion will not change Lee’s lan­guage. But it will, as Mc­cleary says, lean into a few things, such as how Tom Robin­son — the African-amer­i­can wrongly con­victed of rap­ing a white woman — ended up be­ing shot 17 times. It will also delve deeper into the lives of key char­ac­ters Rev. Sykes and Calpur­nia.

TSC is stag­ing “To Kill a Mock­ing­bird” in part­ner­ship with Hutchi­son School, where it will be per­formed at the school’s Wiener The­ater.

“Hutchi­son was a nat­u­ral for the venue for this clas­sic work,” Mc­cleary says. TSC has had a re­la­tion­ship with the school through its board and with sum­mer camps held there in the past. Also, he says, it would pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity to cast some of the girls of Hutchi­son who are the age “Beauty and the Beast”: Dis­ney mu­si­cal. 7:30 p.m. Thurs­days, 8 p.m. Fri­days-satur­days, 2 p.m. Sun­days, through Sept. 25 at The­atre Mem­phis (Lohrey Stage), 630 Perkins Ext. $30 ($15 stu­dents), $25 for age 62 and above and mil­i­tary per­son­nel. 901-682-8323. the­atremem­phis.org “Dirty Danc­ing — The Clas­sic Story on Stage”: A live ex­pe­ri­ence, with heart-pound­ing mu­sic, ro­mance and danc­ing. 8 p.m. Fri­day, 2 and 8 p.m. Satur­day, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun­day. $25-$125 plus tax and ser­vice fees. Or­pheum, 203 S. Main. 901-525-3000. or­pheum-mem­phis.com “The Odd Cou­ple”: Neil Si­mon’s play about two mis­matched room­mates. 8 p.m. Fri­days-satur­days and 2:30 p.m. Sun­days, through Sept. 25 at Ger­man­town Com­mu­nity The­atre, 3037 For­est Hill-irene, Ger­man­town. $12-$24. 901453-7447. gct­come­play.org

of the chil­dren in the play.

Ten­nessee Shake­speare Com­pany’s “To Kill a Mock­ing­bird”: Sept. 20-Oct. 2 at the Wiener The­ater at Hutchi­son School, 1740 Ridge­way. Show­times: Pre­views at 7 p.m. Tues­day, Sept. 20, and Thurs­day, Sept. 23. Reg­u­lar per­for­mances 7 p.m. Sept. 24, 29, 30, Oct. 1; 2 p.m. Sept. 25, Oct. 2. Tick­ets: $34; pre­view per­for­mances $16; Sept. 29 per­for­mance is Free Will Kids’ Night; se­niors (62-plus): $29; stu­dents (18-plus): $16. More in­for­ma­tion: 901-759-0604 and tnshake­speare.org.

LEAP­ING INTO 30

Bal­let Mem­phis opened its 30th sea­son Satur­day with a per­for­mance un­der the stars at the Live Gar­den at the Mem­phis Botanic Gar­den.

This is the third year the com­pany has started its sea­son at the out­door stage, and this one worked beau­ti­fully. The weather was nigh unto per­fect for an evening of mo­tion, with three works giv­ing a va­ri­ety of en­ter­tain­ment.

The main piece was Steven Mcma­hon’s “Car­ni­val of the An­i­mals,” set to the score by Saint-saëns and fea­tur­ing dancers ca­vort­ing amus­ingly as all man­ner of wildlife. It was a cos­tume de­signer’s show­case, and Bruce Bui con­tin­ues his ex­tra­or­di­nary and in­ven­tive work, putting the dancers into eye-pop­ping out­fits.

“Car­ni­val” was a tasty con­fec­tion that went be­tween two more sub­stan­tial pieces, Trey Mcin­tyre’s “In Dreams” and Brian Mc­sween’s “Pushin’ the Stone,” both burst­ing with Mem­phis in­flu­ences.

“In Dreams” has be­come the piece that Bal­let Mem­phis takes on tour, knock­ing out au­di­ences with its Roy Or­bi­son score and fresh chore­og­ra­phy, which the New York Times de­creed in 2010 was “dis­tinc­tive, touch­ing and am­bigu­ous.”

“Pushin’ the Stone,” mean­while, is even newer, first per­formed in May in a tent where the new Bal­let Mem­phis build­ing is go­ing up in Over­ton Square. Mc­Sween, the com­pany’s bal­let mas­ter, is in his sec­ond year here, hav­ing served as as­so­ci­ate artis­tic di­rec­tor with the Jof­frey Con­cert Group and as guest teacher with the Grand Rapids Bal­let and as ad­junct pro­fes­sor of dance at Grand Val­ley State Uni­ver­sity in Michi­gan.

It took him no time at all to glom onto the Mem­phis vibe, and he showed it by pair­ing tunes from lo­cal mu­si­cians with some ter­rific move­ment that brought the au­di­ence to its feet — an aus­pi­cious start to a promis­ing sea­son.

‘OUT OF THE CLOSET’

Emer­ald The­atre Com­pany, which for sev­eral years now has been stag­ing works re­lat­ing to the LGBT ex­pe­ri­ence, tried some­thing a bit risky over the week­end.

In­stead of pro­duc­ing a sin­gle play, it put out a call for short plays that would be culled and the win­ners pre­sented as part of its “Out of the Closet” Play­writ­ing Con­test.

Eight of the 42 sub­mis­sions sur­vived and were pre­sented, pulling in good size au­di­ences at TheatreWorks.

As with eight of al­most any­thing, some worked bet­ter than oth­ers, al­though they all had some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent to of­fer.

W.L. Newkirk’s “Suf­fo­ca­tion” won the top prize. It tells the story of an un­usual tourist at­trac­tion — the univer­sal closet door from which LGBT peo­ple must emerge if they’ve de­cided to go pub­lic.

The most en­er­getic and best writ­ten of the bunch was Joe Gulla’s “Sleep­ing With the Fish,” a sharp com­edy of two mob­sters who have just dis­posed of the re­mains of an as­so­ci­ate. The two, as it hap­pens, are good mafiosi with wives and chil­dren, and they also hap­pen to be lovers. Mark Per­golizzi and Daniel Mar­tine are pitch-per­fect as the wiseguys.

Give a round of ap­plause to Caro­line Sposto, who came up with the idea and pro­duced the fes­ti­val, gath­er­ing the en­tries, the six direc­tors and two dozen ac­tors and pre­sent­ing a mem­o­rable the­ater ex­pe­ri­ence. .

Ann Wal­lace (Calpur­nia), Ains­ley Lorentz Geno (Scout), Pa­trick Ryan Sul­li­van (At­ti­cus) in Ten­nessee Shake­speare Com­pany’s pro­duc­tion of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mock­ing­bird. “

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