Kool Kat of the Week: Playwright Lauren Gunderson Spins A Victorian Techie Tale with her Play ADA & THE MEMORY ENGINE’s East Coast Premiere During the 2017 Essential Theatre Play Festival

Posted on: Aug 8th, 2017 By:

This Week’s Kool Kat of the Week, award-winning playwright Lauren Gunderson hails from Decatur and joins a cast of fantastic local writers and performers at the 2017 Essential Theatre Play Festival, running through August 27 at the West End Performing Arts Center. Her Victorian-era play ADA & THE MEMORY ENGINE depicts the life and times of mathematician (credited as being the first computer programmer in history) Ada Byron Lovelace takes the stage in all its wounded, beautiful glory (schedule of performances here). In addition to Gunderson’s play, performances at the festival also include 2017 Essential Theatre Playwright Award winner G.M. Lupo’s ANOTHER MOTHER, and Dad’s Garage company member and writer for Turner Classic Movies, John D. Babcock III’s one-man show about legendary actor-director John Cassavetes, INDEPENDENT. If you love history, science, and formidable women, come on out and catch a glimpse of Gunderson’s lively portrayal of Ada Byron Lovelace, one of history’s forgotten gals of science, while supporting your local theatre!

Gunderson, named by American Theatre Magazine as the Most Produced Living American Playwright of 2016 hails from Decatur and has rejoined her Essential Theatre family with the East Coast Premiere of her homage to the forgotten women of science, ADA & THE MEMORY ENGINE, directed by Essential’s Ellen McQueen, and starring Ashley Anderson as “Ada,” Mark Cosby as “Charles Babbage,” and Brandon Partrick as “Lord Lovelace.” Gunderson’s writing career began to take root with her first play, Parts They Call Deep, winning the first Essential Theatre Playwriting Award in 2001, followed by her second ETPA award in 2004. She went on to procure other envied awards including the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, Aurora Theatre’s Global Age Award, the Eric Bentley New Play Award and the Dramatists Guild’s Lanford Wilson Award. Gunderson continues her prolific writing career, spinning tales for the stage and in the pages of children’s books (Dr. Wonderful and Her Dog: Blast Off to the Moon!).  Atlanta will have the opportunity to experience more of her works in the coming months at Theatrical Outfit and Synchronicity Theatre, which if they’re anything like ADA, we at ATLRetro be dying to catch them! We caught up with Gunderson for a quick chat about her love of writing, what draws her to the forgotten women of science, and coming home to her Decatur/Atlanta roots.

Lauren Gunderson

ATLRetro: You hail from Decatur. Was there anything you did while growing up here that fed into your ultimate career in theatre?

Lauren Gunderson: I was lucky to be in the care of some amazing theater teachers both in theatre and in the sciences. In high school theater I was lucky enough to play roles in some of the best literature there is, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare. Lynn Hosking, Peggy Hasty and Olivia Roller allowed me those chances to be onstage and I’ll never forget it. Performing those plays gave me the kind of intimate relationship with good writing that would lead me to having a single clue as to how to write a good play. One of my favorite teachers was Joe Winterschiedt who taught physics at Decatur High. He was such a jubilant and creative science teacher and he opened the door to my understanding that science isn’t just memorizing equations and facts; it’s a completely creative and transcendent approach to knowing and proving what’s true. These are the stories I most often tell in the theatre, the stories of great moments in science, of discovery, of the tough and exciting quest for real truth.

Your first professional play, “Parts They Call Deep” won the Essential Theatre Playwriting Award in 2001, when you were just 18, and you won again for BACKGROUND in 2004. Of course, you went on to win many other awards, but what was it about Essential then that helped nurture you as a beginning playwright?

They gave me my start as a playwright. I didn’t even know if I’d actually written a play until I gave it to Peter Hardy and he said, “It is a play AND it won our new award for Georgia writers!” I’ll always credit Essential Theatre as giving me the boost, the confidence, the experience and the first professional production of my career.

What is it like being back at Essential now. How did this production come about and what’s it like to work with Peter Hardy, director Ellen McQueen and the rest of the company?

It’s an honor. I’m so proud to be in the Essential family of artists. I was working remotely with most of the team because I live in San Francisco. But I have a contingent of Atlanta friends and family who always come to see my work. (Hi MoBo moms! Hi Oakhurst Family! Hi Emory!).

Production Still: Ashley Anderson as “Ada”

How did you become interested in Ada Byron Lovelace and what about her made you think she’d be a great play protagonist? We are in the age of tech and she started it! Hers is an amazing story for me to tell because of the convergence of art and science that swirls around her history. He father was the great poet Lord Byron, her mother was a mathematician and the company she kept included the greatest minds in England. She was a visionary, a rebel, a feminist before feminism, and a woman of passion and skill. She’s also deeply flawed and broken. That makes her a great human to build a story around.

What research did you do to write the play? Were you surprised by anything you discovered about Ada?

The most fun I had while researching was visiting the Computer History Museum out here in Palo Alto, CA, where they have a working full-scale model of Babbage‘s Difference Engine (his calculator). They actually run it once a day out here and it’s a sight to see. It’s as tall as a bus and about 10 feet long. The clanging and clacking when it’s calculating is mesmerizing. I took video. So cool. Check out the video here.

Also the wonderful spirited repartee between Ada and Charles Babbage. How much of that comes from their letters versus your imagination?

Many of the letters you hear in the play are taken directly from their actual correspondence. The sass and sexual tension is all mine! (Heh!)

When and where was the play first produced? Any anecdote about that production?

I wrote it for a company here in Berkeley called Central Works, for my friend and actor Kat Zdan as “Ada” and Kevin Clarke as “Babbage.” It was a dream to write for them and a wild process putting the play together. Much like Essential’s production, the premiere was a small company, a simple production – very intimate. I think the play works well like that. But the premiere had only 4 actors and Essential is doing it without doubling – a larger cast, a bigger landscape of characters.  The original song sung in the play was written by the incredible band The Kilbanes (Kate Kilbane and Dan Schlessinger). They wrote something magnificent for the show – mathematical, moving, soaring, sad, and beautiful. I’m so impressed with it. I sing it to myself often. You can hear it on the tumblr page here.

Production Still: (l-r) Ashley Anderson, Mark Cosby (as “Babbage”)

Without giving away spoilers, Ada’s “reading aloud” of “She Walks In Beauty” frames the play. Why this particular short work rather than another of Lord Byron’s many poems?

This was the first Byron poem I remember and it still haunts me – the elegance, the meter, the imagery. I find it terribly romantic.

What was the most challenging part of writing ADA AND THE MEMORY ENGINE?

The ending. Even though the final scene was the first one I wrote, it asks a lot of the actors, the play, and the audience to go with me. But I think it surprises you and deepens the story beyond where you might think it could go.

Do have a favorite scene, either that was fun to write or that when you see the play performed, you are especially delighted by?

I love their fight at the beginning of Act 2. It’s so great to see the actors let loose and get messy with their emotions.

This isn’t your first play about forgotten women scientists. Who else have you written about, what draws you to this theme, and will there be more in your future writing?

I write a lot about science and particularly women in science. Partly because GO LADIES OF SCIENCE! And partly because there is inherently more struggle in a woman’s story than in a man’s. The world is tougher for her – it’s biased, it judges, it wants her to fail. That’s even before she gets into a male dominated field like tech or the sciences. More struggles mean more obstacles mean better drama.

It’s hard to earn a living as a playwright (or as a writer in general) but you were dubbed the Most Produced Living American Playwright in 2016 by American Theatre Magazine. What’s your secret and do you have any advice for young playwrights?

Production Still: Mark Cosby, Ashley Anderson

I write a lot. I write fast. That is, in no short order, why I’m on that list. I love to write, I love figuring out the way a story works. Writing is like solving a mystery or cracking a puzzle. I love the work, which also means I do a lot of it. If you want to be a playwright, see a lot of plays, read about dramatic structure, and write every day.

What are you writing now, or what was your last completed work and when/where can we see those being produced? Any more productions coming up at Essential or any other Atlanta companies?

I’ve got about a thousand things going on including raising two kids and a cat. I am overjoyed that Theatrical Outfit is producing my play MISS BENNET this holiday season, co-written with Margot Melcon. And then Synchronicity Theatre is producing a wild, southern, political feminist farce, THE TAMING next June. Yay plays! I am so grateful to the Atlanta theatre community. It’s so rich with talent! Also my children’s book Dr. Wonderful and Her Dog: Blast Off to the Moon! just came out. It’s about a little girl scientist/adventurer and is pretty awesome with gorgeous illustrations. The Little Shop of Stories has signed copies in Decatur.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you come back to Atlanta/Decatur, and why?

Eat pimento cheese on the porch of my mom’s cabin in the North Georgia mountains, visit The Little Shop of Stories in Decatur to buy books for my boys, visit with friends and drink wine at Donna’s house, see some plays, walk the Highline, hug my friends at Oakhurst Baptist Church.

Photos courtesy of The Essential Theatre and Lauren Gunderson, and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: From a Star-Crossed Lover to a Blood-Thirsty Vampiress, Alessa Rogers of the Atlanta Ballet, Dances Her Way into a Town of Lost Souls in Helen Pickett’s Ballet Adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real”

Posted on: Mar 18th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Alessa Rogers as Esmeralda - Camino Real - Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

Alessa Rogers as Esmeralda – CAMINO REAL – Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

Alessa Rogers, professional ballet dancer with the Atlanta Ballet, will be dancing her way into a “dead-end place in a Spanish-speaking town” in a ballet adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ 1953 stage-play, CAMINO REAL,  sharing the role of “Esmeralda” (a character derived from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) with fellow company dancer, Tara Lee. The world premiere of Williams’ “lost classic” of love, redemption and courage has been adapted and choreographed by Atlanta Ballet’s choreographer in residence, Helen Pickett, with sound and original score by Peter Salem (get a taste here), which will be performed live with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra. The Atlanta Ballet’s CAMINO REAL premieres this Friday, March 20, with a red carpet opening night, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, running through March 22. For ticket information and performance schedule, please click here.

Alessa is currently in her seventh season with the Atlanta Ballet, the “oldest continuously performing ballet company in the United States.” She began training with Daphne Kendall, leaving school at 14 to pursue her dancing career at the North Carolina School of the Arts, which led to her spending one season with the North Carolina Dance Theatre II before her journey to Atlanta and the Atlanta Ballet. Alessa has danced across the country having been a guest artist at the National Choreographer’s Initiative in California (See video of Alessa detailing her experience at the NCI here) and at the Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance in Asheville, NC.

Alessa has filled the dancing shoes of many strong female characters since she began her dancing career, but her favorite roles include “Juliette” in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s ROMEO ET JULIETTE; “Margaret” in the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s “The Exiled”; “Lucy” in Michael Pink’s adaptation of DRACULA; “Ophelia” in Stephen MillsHAMLET, “Lover Girl” in David Bintley’s “CARMINA BURANA; and “Princess Irene” in the world premiere of Twyla Tharp’s THE PRINCESS & THE GOBLIN.

Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

ATLRetro caught up with Alessa for a quick interview about her trek into the dancing world; fully immersing one’s self into a character; her take on Helen Pickett’s ballet adaptation of Williams’ CAMINO REAL; and the sweet, sweet smell of vampires.

And while you’re taking a peek at our little Q&A with Alessa, get a taste of her transformation into “Juliette” in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “ROMEO ET JULIETTE here, which premiered this past February.

ATLRetro: What drew you to Atlanta Ballet?

Alessa Rogers: I came to Atlanta without much forethought simply because my older sister was already here dancing with the ballet. At the time I thought it would be a transition year between my first professional contract when I was 17 (with North Carolina Dance Theater second company) and figuring out where to go next. Now that I’ve been here for nine years, I’d say it’s been quite a long and wonderful transition!

How does it feel to be a part of Atlanta Ballet founder and dance visionary, Dorothy Alexander’s dream of bringing quality ballet to Atlanta?

You know so much has changed in the dance world since Dorothy Alexander opened Atlanta Ballet over 80 years ago. And even in the nine years that I have been here we have gone from being what could be described as a regional dance company into a world-class organization that has gone on international tours and consistently brings in the world’s greatest living choreographers. So it’s been a really amazing experience to be a part of that

Maillot's Romeo et Juliette - Photo Credit: Charlie  McCullers

Maillot’s ROMEO ET JULIETTE – Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

growth and to be able to grow myself within that. I think the most gratifying part of my job is when someone who has never seen dance before comes to a show and realizes that it is completely unlike the stilted, inaccessible performance that they had anticipated. You might be surprised at how much even the most jeans and baseball-cap wearing of people can enjoy a night at the ballet. (You can even come in your jeans, by the way!)

We see that you just recently wrapped your role as Juliette in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s ROMEO ET JULIETTE. What was it like to play the part of one of the world’s most well-known literary female characters?

Juliette was the highlight of my career so far. Having so recently finished, it is hard to imagine ever having that profound an experience on stage again- but of course I have to hope that another ballet that special will come along again. To portray a character that everyone is familiar with, I actually had to throw all my preconceived ideas out the window. I had to forget everything I thought I knew and had been told about Juliette so that I could start fresh, with no one else’s interpretations in my head; and be able to discover her for myself again as if for the first time. That’s what I tried to do at least.

What was it like playing “Lucy” in Michael Pink’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA? Anything fun about that performance you’d like to share with our readers?

Lucy” was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had on stage. She is such a complex character and it is almost always more fun to be the dark character than a sweet, vapid heroine. It’s something I hope to be able to do more in the future- the villain role. In the ballet DRACULA, the blood is made from corn syrup and everything gets drenched in it; so my pointe shoes, my hair, the whole backstage smells sweet. Every time I smell corn syrup now I think – vampires.

"Lucy" in Dracula. Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

“Lucy” in DRACULA. Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

Who or what influenced you to become a dancer? Any intriguing stories about how you got started?

I saw my sister’s dance recital when I was four years old, and in it there was a piece with bumblebee costumes. I decided right then and there I had to start ballet so that I could get one. (Full disclosure: Still haven’t gotten one!) And basically since I was four years old, I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer. I remember my sister and I once thinking it’d be a great idea to sleep in a split the whole night. The next day I couldn’t walk, but these are just the things we did (And we weren’t even the crazy ones!) I had lots of ideas growing up about what to do after I retired (dancers retire in their 30s generally) but I knew I’d have to be a dancer first. I don’t know that I ever made a conscious decision about the matter – it was just something I took for granted would happen.

"Esmeralda" - Camino Real - Photo Credit: Charlie  McCullers

“Esmeralda” – Camino Real – Photo Credit: Charlie McCullers

If you could be any character in any ballet or adaptation that you haven’t played before, who would it be and why?

Hmm. I don’t know that I really have any dream roles, per se, though I do have a lot of choreographers whose work I would love to do: Alejandro Cerrudo, Nacho Duato, Marco Goecke, Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, to name a few. My favorite roles are acting roles, so any chance I have to inhabit a character is always a fun process for me. I think you learn so much about the human experience when you put yourself into the skin of someone other than yourself. There are some great works of literature that I would love to see adapted into ballets – JANE EYRE, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, THE MISTS OF AVALON.

But actually, now that I think about it- when I was 11 or 12, I went to see the ballet THE RITE OF SPRING choreographed by Salvatore Aiello. I brought my book with me to the show because back then I was very bored by ballet. But as soon as the curtain went up everything changed. I had never seen a ballet like that before – there was nothing pretty about it; no tutus or buns or pink satin ribbons. It was raw and physical and scary and I loved it. It changed everything for me about my perception of what dance is capable of. At the end of the ballet the lead woman is stripped down to her underwear and covered in paint and is sacrificed – that’s a ballet I’d love to do!

Can you tell our readers a little (without giving too much away) about your role as “Esmeralda” in Helen Pickett’s adaptation and world premiere of Tennessee Williams’ stage-play, CAMINO REAL?

I am sharing the role of “Esmeralda” in our world premiere next week. The play is inhabited by characters from literature, like “Don Quixote” and “Casanova.” “Esmeralda” has her roots in Victor Hugo’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. She is a young gypsy girl who is held captive by her mother and is sold as a prostitute. Not a role I’ve had too much experience in playing fortunately!

Tennessee Williams’ CAMINO REAL, first performed in 1953, was one of the first American plays to break the fourth wall. Do you and the company

Tennessee Williams' "Camino Real"

Tennessee Williams’ CAMINO REAL

have anything special planned for this exciting three-day performance? Will there be additional runs?

I don’t want to give too much away, but there are a lot of firsts in this ballet. I think the audience will be surprised by a lot of what they see – many of the dancers (me included) actually have speaking roles which has been a challenge for us. There is an original score, original costumes, an original set and they are all amazing. The collaborative nature of this ballet has been so exciting. Just being in the same studio with all these talented, creative designers and artists who are working so hard (I’m pretty sure some of the production team has just been sleeping at the studio in order to get this massive ballet built.) has been so cool to watch. I just can’t wait to get into the theater and see it all come together and come to life!

Who are some of your favorite vintage and retro dancers and why?

I grew up in Charlotte (for the most part) and North Carolina Dance Theatre (NCDT) dancer Kati Hanlon was my hero. I think more than her being an amazing dancer, which she was, she was a really kind person. That affected me a lot as a young dancer – having someone who was so down-to-earth and approachable to emulate, as opposed to an icy, photo-shopped, perfect cut-out who couldn’t be bothered to smile at the clumsy kid who idolized her. Actually Kati was the lead woman in the production of THE RITE OF SPRING that I spoke of earlier. Eventually she became my teacher and then my co-worker at NCDT. It was one of my first magical stage moments the first time I shared a stage with her as a co-worker.

Nowadays, it is the people who I am surrounded by on a daily basis who inspire me the most. Atlanta Ballet dancers like Rachel Van Buskirk and Jackie Nash who can be so powerful and so soft at the same time. It’s interesting because those two have a very different style of dancing than I do. But I love to watch them and cheer them on and learn what I can from them.

What’s next for Alessa Rogers?

A show a month until our season ends in May and then guesting with the New Orleans Ballet Theater and Wabi Sabi in the summertime. I hope to be able to keep dancing until they drag me out of the studio when I’m around a hundred and then after that…I have some more plans!

Can you tell us something you’d like folks to know about you that they don’t know already?

In my spare time, I like to relax by rock climbing!

What question do you wish somebody would ask you in an interview but they never do and what’s the answer?

Q: Would you like some ice cream? And my answer? Yes, yes I do!

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The Devil Lives in Jake La Botz’s Throat: The Dark Pleasures of Raising Hell as the Trickster Who Tempts and Teases the GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY

Posted on: May 10th, 2012 By:

Jake La Botz and Kylie Brown in the Alliance Theatre’s world premiere production of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. Photo by Greg Mooney.

As the highly anticipated world premiere production of the Stephen King/John Mellencamp/T-Bone Burnett GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY hits its final week at the Alliance Theatre, there’s one thing critics and audiences seem to be able to agree on. Jake La Botz lights the stage on hellfire as The Shape, a supernatural trickster, tempter and Greek Chorus to the Southern Gothic Cain and Abel tale. Arms and chest riddled with tattoos with a slicked back pompadour that conjures images of Jerry Lee “The Killer” Lewis, La Botz looks like the older man your mama warned you to stay away from but who you were certain held the keys to Elvis’s “One Night of Sin.” His untamed bump, grind and sensuosity can’t help to remind one of the scandalous early days of rock ‘n’ roll when church moms sought to ban Elvis and THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW refused to shoot the future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll from the waist down.

All of which makes it a bit of a surprise that GHOST BROTHERS is Jake’s first go at musical theatre. But he’s a veteran musician who often plays tattoo parlors and a character actor in movies ranging from independent cult features like Terry Zwigoff‘s GHOST WORLD to major Hollywood pictures such as RAMBO. His vocals and lyrics reverberate with dark poetry and raw energy. He even sings a song called “The Devil’s Lives in My Throat.” He’s been compared to Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and a “modern day Hank Williams” by Steve Buscemi who has cast him in two of his movies, ANIMAL FACTORY and LONESOME JIM.

ATLRetro recently caught up with Jake to find out more about how he approached the role of The Shape and what’s next for him after the curtain falls on this virgin run on Sunday May 13.

How did you land the role of The Shape and why did you personally want to play the part?

I got an email from Laura Stanczyk, a heavy-hitting New York casting director, a couple of years ago to come in and audition for a show called HARPS AND ANGELS that was set to Randy Newman’s music. At the time I was living in New Orleans, touring as a singer/songwriter, and occasionally acting in films… no background whatsoever in theatre. To this day I have no idea how Laura Stanczyk found me. After flying to New York to meet with Laura, Randy and director Jerry Zaks – and not getting the part – I thought ‘musical theatre… hmmm… what a fluke… but that was interesting.’ Laura must’ve kept me in her mental Rolodex because when GHOST BROTHERS came along, she sent me an email that said “Jake, I have something you are PERFECT for” She was right. I took the job because I wanted to work with an exciting group of people and explore new territory as an actor – both the role and the medium.

Jake La Botz as the malevolent character The Shape in Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. Photo by Greg Mooney.

Your performance can’t help but remind me of a time when rock n roll was down ‘n’ dirty and just emerging from blues and honkytonk, Elvis Presley was still scandalous with his hip grinds and Johnny Cash wore black. Which musical performers inspired you and why?

Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment. That was an interesting time in music. It’s almost as if white people were able to touch back into their pre-Christian roots. The stuff Elvis was doing had been done for years by black blues and R ‘n’ B singers before him. Sex and music is primordial –  imagine a ‘pagan’ ritual, Greek god Dionysus.

I’m inspired by all the great roots-American music (blues, gospel, field hollers, hillbilly, ragtime, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, etc). My favorite singers are the ones that sound unique and otherworldly: Skip James, Hank Williams, Blind Willie Johnson, Bob Dylan, Tommy Johnson, Howling Wolf. I like to listen to music that sounds like it’s coming directly from “the source,” i.e. not manipulated too much by the entrepreneurial efforts of ego.

Seems like there could be quite a bit of Randall Flag (THE STAND) in The Shape, too—the manipulator, the trickster. Did Steve give you any background reading or direction in how to prep for the part?

No background or prep work from anyone particularly, although the entire cast was asked to watch Tennessee Williams films. The Shape I’m doing now is the same character I created for the audition, though he has filled out quite a bit since then. And I received quite a bit of good suggestions from John Mellencamp, director Susan Booth and choreographer Danny Pelzig along the way.

Your dialogue makes lots of intimations that The Shape might be The Devil. Is he?

Intimations? You mean like riding up from ‘below’ on an elevator? Wearing red? Talking about how I get bad reviews in church?

In the elevator down to the parking garage after the performance, two older blonde yuppie women told me they liked the show overall but that the language didn’t have to be so obscene, i.e. “tone it down.” Why are they wrong?

I’ve heard that a lot. I’m not sure they are wrong.

What was it like working with John Mellencamp and T-Bone Burnett? Did you collaborate with them at all on the music, or was it more just taking what they gave you and bringing the character to life?

What an honor to work with both of them. The direction I was given was to take the songs and make them my own… make them like The Shape. I’ve enjoyed doing that. I’m playing two of T-Bone’s guitars in the show… how cool is that?!?!

Have you heard anything about where GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY may be performed next and will you be reprising the part of The Shape?

There’s no telling at this point about the future of the show or the cast. I haven’t heard anything confirmed. Of course, I would love to be part of this if it goes to Broadway.

Have you had a chance to get out on the town at all while you’ve been in Atlanta? Any favorite hangout or local musician?

Haven’t had much time to explore. Cast member and country music legend Dale Watson had a Monday night residency at Smith’s Olde Bar that many of us frequented and also performed at. That was a hoot.

What’s next for you after GHOST BROTHERS? I saw something on your Website about a European tour and we’ll be seeing you onscreen in a new movie version of Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD (Directed by Walter Salles; Starring Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen) and in ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER?

From here I head to Cannes for the premiere of ON THE ROAD, followed by a European tour. Then back to NYC to look for a job! Yeah, both movies [are] coming out this year.

If you missed James Kelly’s Retro Review of GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY, you can catch up on it here. To purchase tickets for the final performances, click here.

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Retro Review: Elizabeth Taylor Purrs on the Big Screen in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at the Fabulous Fox

Posted on: Jul 10th, 2011 By:

By Dean Treadway
Contributing Blogger

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1965); based on the Tennessee Williams play; Dir: Richard Brooks; Screenplay by Richard Brooks and James Poe; Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burl Ives, Judith Anderson; Tues. July 12; pre-show at 7 PM/film at 7:30 p.m.; Coca-Cola Summer Film Festival at Fox Theatre. Trailer here.

Surely, the recent passing of superstar Elizabeth Taylor is behind the programming of 1958’s CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at the Fabulous Fox on Tuesday, July 12.  And it’s a good choice, too. Taylor’s sultry, skimpily-dressed Maggie The Cat is one of her most iconic performances, and is certainly the definitive filmed (or televised) portrayal of scribe Tennessee Williams’ most cunning heroine.

Still, the film version of Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1955 play could be better. In it, Paul Newman plays Maggie’s husband Brick, a former football star who’s literally been crippled by booze (he spends the whole film hobbled by crutches). Living on his bloated, bellowing father’s “plantation,” he’s constantly getting jabbed from all sides. His needling father and mother (the excellent Burl Ives and Judith Anderson) are wondering why he and Maggie don’t have any children while his brother Gooper (Jack Carson) has had a whole passel of kids with his woman (Madeleine Sherwood). Meanwhile, Maggie has moved into full seduction mode; the play takes place on a hot summer day, but that’s not the only reason she’s often seen in her skivvies. She’s trying all she can do to put the fire back into their romance. But Brick won’t have any of it; the idea of he and Maggie together has become distasteful to him, because he still blames her for driving his best friend to suicide.

The problem with the film comes with this final detail. In the original play, it was pretty clear that Brick and his friend, Skipper, were engaged in a homosexual relationship, and that Maggie slept with Skipper in order to break the duo up. But none of this is alluded to in the film, because it was 1958 and the studio, MGM, would have none of it. So the central conflict in the film is incapacitated, just like Brick (Williams himself was disappointed with the film version, telling the press that the movies “would set the industry back 50 years“). And yet Paul Newman wisely conveys some pained undertones that let us know what was REALLY going on.

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Copyright MGM Pictures, 1958.

The film bogs down in its middle, too, but it’s always handsome to look at, thanks to the Oscar-nominated color cinematography by William Daniels. And it boasts of one of the finest supporting performances in any Tennessee Williams adaptation: that of Burl Ives, reprising his Broadway triumph as the imposing Big Daddy Tabbitt, bemoaning the family’s danged “mendacity” while suffering, as a terminal case, through what might be his last birthday celebration. Somehow, Ives escaped an Oscar nomination himself, but Taylor and Newman got one, as did the film, its director (Richard Brooks) and its screenplay (by Brooks and James Poe).

In the end, although it’s not entirely successful, the main reason to see CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is for Ives and for Taylor. Both are forces of nature, but for wildly different reasons, of course.  Ives blusters magnificently, while Taylor slinks around like the beautiful cat she is. The Fabulous Fox is the place to be on Tuesday, July 12 (the pre-show, with the Mighty Mo singalong, cartoon and trailers, starts at 7 p.m.); one cannot miss a chance to see the stunning Elizabeth Taylor writ large on the big screen, where her beauty and talent were always meant to be experienced.

Dean Treadway is a longtime Atlanta film analyst and film festival programmer with more than 25 years of published works. His popular film blog is called filmicability with Dean Treadway and can be perused here at http://www.filmicability.blogspot.com/.  He is also a correspondent for Movie Geeks United, the Internet’s #1 movie-related podcast, at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/moviegeeksunited.

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