From Devastation, the Miraculous is Born: ‘Alabaster’ by Audrey Cefaly at Kitchen Dog Theater

Alabaster by Audrey Cefaly, Kitchen Dog Theater’s current offering, is enjoying a record-breaking 11-theatre run as part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere program. After experiencing the production opening weekend, I understand the play’s popularity.

Alice (a photographer) is constructing an essay of women whose trauma is evinced by visible scars. This project has brought her to June’s small, somewhat ramshackle farm in Alabaster, Alabama. June looks to be in her 40’s. She is surly, and bellicose, asking Alice very personal questions and relentlessly goading her. To the point that Alice is ready to leave. June lost her entire family (including a child) when a tornado came and took them, as they were trying to reach the storm cellar. Perhaps her ferocity is a defense, or a way to fight inescapable pain. June paints exceptional primitive paintings, on boards salvaged from the calamity. She talks to goats, and they reply. One night, a storm triggers her memories of the incident. In the midst of her hysteria, Alice rushes to her, and a romantic connection is initiated.

(L-R): Kristi Funk Dana (June) & Chase Crossno (Alice) Photo: Jordan Fraker

In some ways, Audrey Cefaly’s Alabaster reminds me of Steve Yockey’s The Thrush and the Woodpecker, another play that weds the catastrophic to the miraculous. Or at least, a kind of visionary breakthrough. Let’s take the goats: Weezy (the daughter) and Bib (the mother). Weezy begins the play chatting with us, so possibly, Cefaly means us to believe that they actually do speak. But even if June is delusional, sometimes crisis foments sea change. Who’s to say this phenomenon doesn’t make complete sense, for a woman trying to make some kind of life, after profound personal damage? When misery is your daily bread, maybe a spontaneous connection with another woman, enigmatic guidance from a goat, are just what the doctor (or God) ordered. Safe to say He owes her something.

Kristi Funk Dana is fearless in her portrayal of June, expressing rage and despair with authenticity. Chase Crossno’s Alice brings a more gracious, vulnerable energy to the chemistry. Lana K. Hoover’s Bib, the elderly, crotchety mama goat evokes the loved one whose time to pass is imminent. She will break your heart. Tina Parker’s Weezy, the daughter goat plays a crucial in the narrative, confronting June and calling her out when she conceals her deeper motives, even from herself. She pushes June into facing her scarier truths. Director Clare Shaffer is in intuitive and intrepid when she deep dives into Alabaster’s strange, difficult, often terrifying content. Shaffer’s exploration is masterful and vigilant, knowing when to go further and how to turn on a dime.

Playwright Audrey Cefaly | Photo courtesy of the playwright

Cefaly navigates the minefield of extreme emotional and spiritual pain, without ever asking us to pity June or distance ourselves. June’s turmoil is made canny and accessible to us, and yet we sense the effulgence, as well as excruciation. Though June’s haggard appearance reveals her arduous, prolonged struggle, Alice sees her radiance, and we do too. Cefaly never backs off of June’s raw ordeal, her groping for answers to make her life simply bearable. She takes us to a place both profane and sacred. Merciless yet gracious. Violent yet tender. Tumultuous yet flippant. Perhaps it’s the balance of zen koans: polarized extremes. I only know it’s one of the most electrifying dramas I’ve ever seen.

Kitchen Dog Theater presents: Alabaster, playing February 20th-March 8th, 2020.
2600 North Stemmons Freeway, Suite 180, Dallas, Texas 75207.
For tickets, visit www.kitchendogtheater.org or call the Box Office at 214-953-1055.

Article by Christopher Soden from Dallas Art Beat here.

Studio Theatre to Collaborate with Artist-in-Residence Psalmayene 24 after Receiving Doris Duke Grant

Psalmayene 24

Studio Theatre is one of eight theatres across the country, and the only arts organization in Washington, DC, to receive an 18-month capacity building grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s (DDCF) Building Demand for the Arts program, the Foundation announced this week. The program funds artists and arts institutions working to forge long-lasting relationships with diverse audiences.

Of the nearly $1.3 million awarded by DDCF, Studio received $82,500 to invest in connecting with African American millennial audiences in DC, in collaboration with director and playwright Psalmayene 24 (Psalm). He joins Studio as Artist-in-Residence during the grant period, which extends through the 2020-2021 Season.

Studio’s work with Psalm begins around its production of Antoinette Nwandu’s explosive breakthrough play Pass Over, directed by Psalm. Engagement efforts include the Pass Over Community Tour, which will bring readings of the play to five sites throughout the DC-area this spring: Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Howard University, the Anacostia and Shaw branches of the DC Public Library, and Joe’s Movement Emporium. Readings will be accompanied by talkbacks, panels, and other activities created in partnership with host venues to help process and spark discussion about this important contemporary work.

Studio and Psalm will continue to collaborate on ways to engage African American millennials through social events, talkbacks, workshops, and residencies tailored to specific Studio Productions.

Read the full article from Broadway World here.

Jacqueline Goldfinger, a Hot Philly Playwright — and a Really Big Stork

Meet a hot Philly playwright — and a really big stork

Philadelphia playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger was pregnant with her twins when a prenatal test came back with a little bit of an odd result. Everyone’s fine now — the twins are 7 — but the episode, along with the research Goldfinger did at the time, eventually gave birth to her new play, Babel. Related stories

It’s having its Philadelphia premiere Feb. 13 through March 8 at Theatre Exile.

Babel tells the story of two couples, one a lesbian couple, one a straight couple, who receive the results of prenatal tests and then wrestle with decisions. Advertisement

They do get some assistance from a “talking stork who wants to be a stand-up comedian,” Goldfinger said. “He gives his insight because he has carried so many babies.”

Anita Holland and Frank Nardi Jr. as the stork in Jacqueline Goldfinger's "Babel," playing at Theatre Exile from Feb. 13-March 8.
Courtesy of Theatre Exile Anita Holland and Frank Nardi Jr. as the stork in Jacqueline Goldfinger’s “Babel,” playing at Theatre Exile from Feb. 13-March 8.

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Goldfinger’s play gets into the ethics of reproductive technology, which can be uncharted territory here in the U.S. “It’s scary,” she said. In Europe, there are already protocols about what is ethical, but not so here. “We’re going to be the testing grounds for many of these new technologies.”

“That’s what’s wonderful about theater,” said Goldfinger, a rising star nationally. “We can take these huge terrifying ideas and put them into active stories that make you laugh and also make you think.”

Theater, pizza, beer, and love

You can lift a glass to Philadelphia’s theater community at Manayunk Brewing Co. this Friday as the third annual Philly Theatre Week (though Feb. 16) starts winding down.

A beer and a slice of pizza come with the price of a $15 ticket for a Valentine’s Day production that’s part of the series “A Play, A Pie, and A Pint,” presented by the theater troupe Tiny Dynamite. Grab a bar stool for 80 minutes of love scenes, poems, and (oddly) pet appreciation.

Read the full article from The Philadelphia Inquirer by Jane M. Von Bergen here.

Ryan Quinn to Direct DAD’S SEASON TICKETS (Nov. 13-Jan. 17) at Milwaukee Repertory Theater

“From oft forgotten or unheard sides of history, to powerfully resonant stories of today, this season in particular looks at life from myriad perspectives, and allows our audiences the opportunity to view the world through a different lens,” artistic director Mark Clements said in a statement.

The season will open with My Way: A Musical Tribune to Frank Sinatra (Sept. 11-Nov. 8), created by David Grapes and Todd Olson with a book by Olson. Directed by Kelley Faulkner, the musical will feature the greatest hits from Sinatra’s five-decade career.

Next up will be Titanic the Musical (Sept. 15-Oct. 25), with a book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, a musical retelling of the stories of those aboard the fateful ship. Clements will direct.

Following will be the co-world premiere of Meghan Brown’s The Tasters (Sept. 22-Nov. 1). Tasters have the important job of protecting high-ranking government officials from assassination attempts by serving as food tasters. The system is thrown off when one taster goes on a hunger strike. Laura Braza will direct.

The season will continue with an adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express (Nov. 10-Dec. 13), adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig. Detective Hercule Poirot must battle the clock to solve a murder on a train full of suspects who all have a motive and an alibi.

Next will be a musical comedy from Matt Zembrowski, Dad’s Season Tickets (Nov. 13-Jan. 17). Directed by Ryan Quinn, the musical asks the simple question: Who will inherit Frank’s prized season ticket at Lambeau Field?

See the full season lineup here.

Regina Taylor, Distinguished Writer to be Inducted into the The Texas Institute of Letters 2020

TEXAS INSTITUTE OF LETTERS ANNOUNCES NINETEEN DISTINGUISHED WRITERS

TO BE INDUCTED

For the 84th year,members of the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL) have decided on the induction of new members to join the ranks of the distinguished honor society founded in 1936 to celebrate Texas literature and to recognize distinctive literary achievement.

The TIL’s membership consists of the state’s most respected writers – including winners of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, PEN/Faulkner Award, Academy Award, Americas Award, International Latino Book Award, and the MacArthur “Genius” grant. Membership is based on ongoing and exceptional literary accomplishment.  Members of the Texas Institute of Letters have overwhelmingly approved nineteen writers to join the ranks of the TIL. 

The 2020 honorees include poets Cyrus Cassells, ir’ene lara silva, Emmy Pérez, and Loretta Diane Walker; award-winning playwrights Octavio Solis and Regina Taylor (also a Golden Globe winner); novelists Glenn Blake, Kathleen Kent, and Natalia Sylvester; bestselling journalists/editors/publishers Nate Blakeslee, Dan Goodgame, and Dan Williams; award-winning songwriters James McMurtry and Robert Earl Keen; environmental writer and editor Andrew Sansom; scholars Andrew R. Graybill and Emma M. Pérez; children’s and YA author J.B. (Jessica) Powers; and photo-historian of award-winning Southwestern cultural histories Bill Wright.

Dr. Carmen Tafolla, President of the Texas Institute of Letters states, “The move to diversify and include a wide variety of literary genres in our analysis of literary accomplishment has continued to bring us a rich base of outstanding word-crafters. We are extremely proud of the exceptional work these individuals represent. These nineteen literary masters and innovators span the creative gamut from stage plays to song lyrics and from novels to poetry, journalism, short stories, publishing, children’s works, and scholarly books.”  

New members will be inducted at the upcoming TIL annual meeting, to be held in Georgetown, Texas March 27-29.  The Annual TIL Literary Awards will also be presented at the weekend’s events. For more information, please visit the TIL website: www.texasinstituteofletters.org or email Carmen Tafolla, president@texasinstituteofletters.org.

From: TIL President, Dr. Carmen Tafolla