‘Country House’ reveals universal family truths
“The Country House,” which opens this weekend at Circuit Playhouse, is a play about theater people that will assuredly draw a lot of theater people.
Yet director Dave Landis says it’s not an insider’s frolic but rather a skillfully written work by acclaimed playwright Donald Margulies that is relatable to anyone.
“It’s about those personal experiences that everybody has dealt with,” he says. “The fact that it’s theater people just makes it a little more entertaining.”
The premise (which draws from Chekhov’s “The Seagull” and “Uncle Vanya”) has a theater family and some friends gathering under one roof, partly because some are involved in the Williamstown Theatre Festival that’s going on and partly to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of a family member.
At the center is matriarch Anna (Jeanna Juleson), a Broadway actress who has done it all and achieved great fame, although it’s fading, and she’s dealing with the death of her daughter the previous year. Elliot (Michael Gravois) is her son, described by Landis as “not quite successful in his artistic endeavors, battling depression a bit and searching for his true calling.”
Walter (Barclay Roberts) is the widowed husband of Anna’s daughter, a famous Hollywood director who used to direct on stage and who has brought his much younger girlfriend Nell (Kim Sanders), a TV actress.
Susie (Brooke Papritz) is Walter’s 19-year-old Yale student with no fondness for Nell and a general dislike of actors. Not part of the family is Michael (John Moore), a Hollywood hunk whose fame doing TV schlock doesn’t make him feel any better about selling out.
“They all have slightly different agendas on dealing with grief,” Landis says. “One thing I love about Margulies is how he kind of peels back the veil of who these people are so we see them in a mundane, everyday existence dealing with very personal issues. When it all comes down to it, they’re a family.”
There is ample wit with dramatic moments, Landis says. “It’s character driven, and watching these people go at each other and talk about the state of art today all makes for fun fodder.”
And what about stage people playing stage people? “It’s a great cast to work with,” Landis says. “They bonded very tightly as a theater family, and shows like this tend to bring out that bond in performers, especially when playing theater people.”
“The Country House” runs April 22-May 15 at Circuit Playhouse, 51 S. Cooper. Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $22 opening weekend (April 22-24), $30 Thursdays and Sundays, $35 Fridays and Saturdays, $22 seniors/ students/military, $10 children under 18. Info: playhouseonthesquare.org and 901-726-4656. Play contains adult language.
GSO TURNS 40
The Germantown Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a gala concert featuring music directors past and present.
The program, rich with favorites, includes Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” Schubert’s Overture to “Zauberharfe,” Kabalevsky’s Violin Concerto in C Major with Daniel Gilbert as soloist, Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Smetana’s “The Moldau” and Wagner’s prelude to “Die Meistersinger.”
Conducting are past music directors Patricia Brumbaugh and John Hodges as well as the current music director, Ronald Vernon. Anthony Gilbert will conduct the Kabalevsky. The presence of the two Gilberts on this piece represents their grandfather, Noel Gilbert, founder of the GSO and its first music director.
Noel Gilbert, who died in 1991, was a significant contributor to the Memphis music scene. He was a teacher at then-memphis State University for many years and was a member of the Memphis Sinfonietta, which would become the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. He was founder and conductor of the Memphis Concert Orchestra, which performed summer concerts at the Overton Park Shell for more than 30 years.
In the late 1930s he was staff violinist at WREC radio, and in the 1940s he led WMC radio’s staff orchestra — yes, they did that sort of thing once upon a time. He was conductor of The Peabody Hotel Orchestra after World War II, and he did background music with Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Carla Thomas, B. J. Thomas, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.
Germantown Symphony Orchestra 40th Anniversary Gala Concert: 7 p.m. Saturday at the Germantown Performing Arts Center, 1801 Exeter. Tickets: $12. Info: germantownsymphony.org and 901-794-9730.
■ Ballet Memphis last weekend staged “Cinderella,” one of its grand, crowdpleasing productions. It was a lovely presentation with Julie Marie Niekrasz in the title role and Jonathan David Dummar as the Prince alternating performances with Virginia Pilgrim Ramey and Brandon Ramey.
As choreographed by Steven Mcmahon, artistic associate for Ballet Memphis, the movement was firmly in the classical ballet tradition although it loosened up considerably when the wicked stepsisters took the stage. They were danced to slapstick perfection by Rafael Ferreras and Alberto Gaspar.
The company did the Mcmahon production four years ago, and there were repeat performances by Niekrasz and Ferreras. Also returning as the stepmother was Elizabeth Mensah, whose grace and cool conveyed an exquisite dread. Crystal Brothers was also back as the fairy godmother, weightless, precise and lovely.
■ Meanwhile, a much more intimate pair of shows ended a brief run last weekend.
Voices of the South alternated a couple of powerful solo works, one a reprise from 2007 and the other brand new.
Rebecca Fisher wrote and performed “The Magnificence of the Disaster,” which won Ostrander Awards for its emotionally revealing true story, both funny and tragic, that won Ostrander Awards in 2008. Emily Fisher, Rebecca’s mother and a well-known patron of the arts, was murdered 21 years ago. Rebecca wrote this one-woman show about the repercussions of the killing on the family.
The other show was Todd Berry’s “Beyond the Box,” a very different kind of family story that was fresh and compelling in its poignancy and humor.
Berry started by regarding the attic filled with boxes of stuff that was overwhelming him, left by his mother to sort out. It got him to telling some family stories, which took him to talking about his late father and the relationship, such as it was, that they had. It was about 45 minutes of profoundly affecting storytelling, nicely paced, well thought-out and rich in detail. Berry says he’s working on a second act that will be more about his mother. Can’t wait to see it.
Such one-person shows can be risky, sharing deeply personal details while keeping the viewer engaged. Voices of the South has a gift for finding works that resonate in just the right way and is providing a valuable outlet for local talent to show superior work. This is exactly the sort of thing that needs support from the public — particularly the artistic community.
Jeanna Juleson (from left), Michael Gravois and Brooke Papritz are theater people playing theater people in “The Country House,” opening this weekend at Circuit Playhouse.