There are a few things you'll notice fairly easily when you watch Sam Shepard's sibling civil war True West. You'll see the colossal accumulation of junk you'd expect from the ritual reunion of two slovenly brothers -- coupled with some major typewriter damage. Amid the hostilities and the flying scenery, you may also notice that, by evening's end, there's some major role reversal between Austin and Lee.
Role reversal is so complete that when True West was revived on Broadway during the 1999-2000 season actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly kept swapping roles throughout the run. In the upcoming production, co-produced by BareBones Theatre Group and the new Lagrange Point Productions, Tom Ollis has exclusive dibs on Lee -- and typewriter demolition.
But the truly jarring aspect of this evening isn't what happens onstage in Shepard's combustible comedy. It's where this is happening that's truly mind-blowing. BareBones Theatre Group, the arch proponents of Charlotte's fringe theater scene, is summering on bosky Queens Road at Theatre Charlotte!
It's a phenomenon perfectly worthy of a "What the f*&%$?!" response. Possibly that's the reason that director James Yost and producer Anne Lambert are calling the five-week grass-roots celebration What the F*&%$tival!
"We're cavorting with the old people!" Yost admits. But the hookup really stems from Yost's longtime acquaintance with Ron Law, Theatre Charlotte's enterprising new executive director.
"Ron and I have known each other for a while," Yost explains. "When he first moved to Charlotte, I was the first person that he called about directing. This was before he took over at Theatre Charlotte, and before Carolinas Concert Association. When he took the job at Theatre Charlotte, I was very supportive of him, because I knew that he would turn it back into the community theater it once was. Incorporating local directors, getting new actors, getting fresh people -- giving Julie Janorschke and Matt Cosper and Frank Dominguez and all those people the opportunities that they were looking for.
"So I think he and I are on the same page, in terms of what Charlotte needs theater-wise."
The doors opened wide and handsomely at Theatre Charlotte when Carrie Ann's Kiss premiered, one of the smartest, most professionally mounted new comedies ever to hit the Queen City or Queens Road. The satire on Mary Kay culture was a cosmetic colossus, as well-attended as it was well-made.
Now the fare at 501 is getting wilder and woollier (and a lot more difficult to spell) with the What the F*&%$tival! lineup. True West, directed by Yost, is just the beginning of the grass-roots riot, playing through July 15.
A free reading of Matt Casarino's The PornoZombies blows into the barn on Friday, June 21, at 8pm. Charlotte Observer movie maven Lawrence Toppman hosts an aprés play discussion with playwright and cast.
The Big O sends another emissary on Sunday, July 23, when theater writer Julie York Coppens leads a post-play discussion of the late Wendy Wasserstein's Third, starting at 2:30pm. The Wendy Readings actually begin on the previous afternoon, July 22, with a 2:30pm reading of The Heidi Chronicles followed by a 5pm performance of An American Daughter.
How can you follow that? With the infamous Attack of the 24 Hour Plays on July 29. In this ghoulish, sleep-depriving marathon, six short plays will be written, cast, rehearsed and performed in 24 hours!
On Friday, July 28, at 8pm, six playwrights will be given a particular suggestion, in the form of a quotation, song or picture. We'll have 12 hours to write a 10-minute play, returning with our completed script by 8am on Saturday morning.
Yes, I did say we, since I've accepted the challenge of writing one of these six scripts, hazarding the likelihood of being mocked and pilloried in public. Ron Law will be Theatre Charlotte's playwriting gladiator in this event.
You, our devoted readers, will have multiple outlets for participating in this madness. Watch these pages in coming weeks and you'll find out how your prompts and quotations could become part of my marching orders on July 28.
Or show up early at Theatre Charlotte on the morning of July 29 for auditions. Scripts will pass from our hands into those of randomly assigned directors. Aspiring actors arrive at 9am for open call auditions and will be cast on the spot. The shows will go into rehearsal immediately, and they will be performed in front of an audience -- ready or not! -- at 8pm.
Of course, if you're truly gutless, or if you have a healthy capacity for schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortune of others), you'll make a beeline to 501 Queens Road for both the intended and unintended merriment. That's not to say that my own participation in What the F*&%$tival! will be limited to this single humiliation.
Oh, no. I'll be hanging out at Theatre Charlotte on July 14 to host the post-play talkback with cast and director of True West. I'll delay my encore stint with the microphone until the final production of the F*&%$tival!, Jason Robert Brown's pocket musical, The Last Five Years. Lambert will direct this lovely two-hander, opening Aug. 3 and playing Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm (plus a Sunday matinee on Aug. 6 at 2:30pm) through Aug. 12.
I come in from the wings after the Aug, 4 performance to chat with Lambert and the two stars, Susan Roberts Knowlson and Patrick Ratchford. Enough said?
Meanwhile, the opportunity to wage war in True West is a dream come true for Ollis and George Cole, cofounders of Legrange. They approached Yost back in the halcyon days when BareBones was a fixture in the SouthEnd area.
Cole has kicked around the local area for awhile, most notably at CAST in Finer Noble Gases and Glengarry Glen Ross.
"I've been shopping around and looking for a production to go ahead and mount," says Cole. "Lots of people that I know say, 'I hate my job, I wish I could do something different.' And I say, 'Why don't you?'"
He also had the ambition of working in a company where forgotten inspirations and last-minute panic attacks were the exception rather than the rule. So he decided to start his own.
Now for the first time, Cole has a company, a leading role onstage (he's Austin, the screenwriter) and a partner. Cole is a photographer when he's not feeding his theater bug while Ollis is an eBay bookseller.
There may, however, be a residue of tantrum envy when Cole's co-star attacks those typewriters.
"When Tom lets loose on that bad boy, it is just spectacular. The crunch of keys flying -- there's just nothing like it."