After you get your kinks from the 1966 edition of Cabaret at CPCC, or set a spell with the black barbers of Cuttin’ Up at Actor’s Theatre, or ask yourself “with lawyers like these, who needs criminals?” after seeing Race at CAST, permission is granted to explore two once-in-a-lifetime productions outside the city limits.
Up in Davidson, the Davidson Community Players are unveiling a special edition of Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God, with Julianne Gold Brunson, the totally deaf actress who originated the role of Lydia on Broadway — for a whopping 887 performances — acting as production consultant. Huntersville actress Rachel Nicol, who does the lead at Armour Street Theatre, is also deaf. If that isn’t enough authenticity for you, both Sam Parker, who directs the drama, and Michael Corrigan, who stars as James Leeds, are fluent in American Sign Language.
Corrigan, who last appeared on local stages as a car salesman in Becky’s New Car, isn’t heard that often onstage anymore after winning CL’s Best Musical Supporting Actor laurels for his 1997 role in The Wizard of Oz. Once a Queen City cult favorite, Corrigan brings professional ASL interpreter credentials to the Davidson Community Players production through March 11.
An even more daunting enterprise is being attempted in Greensboro, where Triad Stage is producing Reynolds Price’s New Music Trilogy for the first time anywhere since 1989. A Tarheel native, Price lived within 100 miles of his birthplace for nearly all of his life, so the production is a timely tribute to the novelist and playwright, who died just over a year ago. As I’ve already reported, via a TheaterMania.com interview with Triad artistic director Preston Lane, Price was impressed with what he saw when the company presented the first part of the trilogy, August Snow, in 2003. Lane promised then to present the trilogy in its entirety, and the official opening of Better Days will be tomorrow night, Part 2 of a daylong marathon that lets audiences swallow the whole five-hour work in two gulps. The Part 1 matinee, clocking in at three-and-a-half hours, pairs August Snow and Night Dance.
Here, from the same Lane interview, is what New Music is all about in the director’s words:
As a whole, the trilogy is fascinating because it addresses some remarkable issues about how we make families, where we choose to place our love, and the way we make homes — a place where [people] can live and love and be true to themselves. Each of these is shown through the struggles of Neal and Taw [Avery], and then of course all those who surround them.
We have a young husband and a young wife who start the play off — they’re in bad shape. A year into the marriage, the husband is off drinking too much, he’s hanging out with his best friends, not coming home, and [the] wife has the gumption finally to say, “You have to make a choice.” And in that first play, we watch a young man grow up. We watch a woman grow up. She learns that many of her demands are unrealistic. So together they find out what marriage is.
We’re introduced to that incredible sidekick Porter [Farwell], who is a confirmed bachelor and learns that, to love Neal, what he may most need to do is let Neal go and find some other way to live his life. Maybe the way he has been loving has actually kept him from accomplishing something else. And in Neal’s mother [Roma], we find a woman who has to learn that her focus can no longer just be on her son, and she also needs to let him go. Then there are these excellent upstairs neighbors, Genevieve Slappy, who is so desperately in love and who so desperately needs comfort — and perhaps should take her mother’s advice and be less interested in defining herself by her partner and more interested in finding her own life.
So that first play is really about growing up, making decisions to actually step up to the plate and take responsibility for who they are and who they love. Then the second play, which jumps out of the Depression Era, out of a sort of inward looking time in America, to the very end of World War II. It starts with the tragic news that [Genevieve’s partner] Wayne Watkins has died freakishly after the end of the war and that Neal has not been called to serve in the war. His flat feet kept him away, and he has a great sense of failure. The golden boy of the town now has to figure out, well, what happens when you’re no longer the star, when you’re no longer the center of everybody’s attention? The question for Neal and Taw is, we’ve had a good life until now, but how do we make it on through the rest?
And that seems to be the question that everyone in this play is asking. Roma is trying to figure out, okay, I’ve let my son go. I could still live for a lot longer — where do I put my love now? Porter comes back from the Navy and has to figure out where do I put my focus now? And Genevieve, of course, struggles with losing all she loves and, as a result, takes her own life. So by the time we get to Better Days…we need better days!
And it’s very ironic, because it takes place in 1974, which is hardly a time of feeling better days. It’s a pretty tumultuous time: Watergate, the end of the Vietnam War. Things are looking pretty grim, and all these little Southern towns are falling apart. There’s no future in them any longer. And we find [the Averys’ hometown] a different town than it was in 1937 or 1945. Roma the matriarch is gone, and it’s her funeral that sets us off. People come to mourn or celebrate her passing, as the case might be, and we see people who, at the end of their lives in some ways, are looking back with regrets and with success both, trying to find a place where they can come together after everything that’s happened. Find a place to finally call home, a final resting place, a chance to re-form a family. And after all the separation, all the troubles, find a way to reconciliation.
Parts 1 and 2 keep rolling in rep through March 18. I’ll be sneaking off to do the second New Music Trilogy marathon in Greensboro on Sunday. See you there.