Susan K Asher, Atlanta PR and Art Reviews
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‘Exit Strategy’ at True Colors Theatre Company

2017 March 13


“Exit Strategy” at True Colors Theatre takes a serious look at the social injustice of school closings in 2014 in lower-income neighborhoods in inner-city Chicago. There’s plenty of substance and humor and a talented cast that makes this show worthwhile.

The play opens with the assistant principal Ricky (Matthew Busch) trying to break the impending bad news to Pam (Tess Malis Kincaid), a 23-year-veteran teacher, that at the end of the year the school will close due to “low test scores and some other stuff.” School staff will have to look for new jobs and students will have no nearby schools to attend.

Determined to keep the school, teachers (white, black and Latino) organize neighborhood walkthroughs and protests. An insubordinate student, Donny (Lau’rie Roach), hacks into the school website where he creates a fund-raising site to support the cause to save the school. Arnold (William S. Murphey), a middle-aged teacher who has fought this battle at other schools before and lost, says it’s likely this closing can’t be stopped.

Fifty other schools in low-income neighborhoods have been closed down in the past year. The dilapidated schools are bulldozed down, as high-end real estate like Trader Joe’s remake the neighborhood. This high school is so underfunded that the ceiling tiles are missing or stained and teachers have to buy rat poisoning because they can’t afford an exterminator.

“Exit Strategy” was first produced in 2014, in Chicago, where the playwright was then living, a year after Chicago Public Schools had issued a list of 129 schools to close. The mayor at the time ended up closing 54 public schools, mainly in low-income black and Latino neighborhoods.

Written by Ike Holder (named the “Chicagoan of the Year in theater 2014”) and winner of the Windham–Campbell Literature Prize for drama in 2017, directed by John Dillon, “Exit Strategy” runs through March 19 at True Colors Theatre Company.

Cast:
Tracey N. Bonner . . . . . . . . Sadie
Ralph Del Rosario  . . . . . . . . Luce
Diany Rodriguez  . . . . . . . . Jania

‘The Temple Bombing’ at the Alliance Theatre

2017 March 3

As someone whose family was a member of The Temple since the 1920s, I wish I could say I liked the play “The Temple Bombing” at the Alliance Theatre, but I can’t. My sister, who hates most everything, liked it. My mom felt the same way about it as I: It was more of an oral history than a play. Melissa Fay Greene’s fantastically written book, “The Temple Bombing,” which the play is based on, presents scenes that are far more dramatic and theatrical than those in the play.

The play tells the story of Rabbi Jacob Rothschild (Todd Weeks), a Pittsburgh native who came to Atlanta in 1947 to become the rabbi of The Temple, then Atlanta’s largest and wealthiest synagogue. Rothschild, a proponent of Civil Rights, compared the then segregated South to Nazi Germany, which started with segregation. Rothschild’s Friday night sermons and public speaking engagements consistently revolved around integration. In the early 1950s, the National States’ Rights Party, which the New York Times then described as a cross between the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis, wanted to shut up Rothschild and discussed bombing The Temple. When it was bombed years later, in October 1958, four Nationalist men were arrested and tried in court.

The trouble with the play is that it is very similar to what I just told you. There are too many scenes of people citing history rather than living it. The production is more of a sermon than a play, which should make you feel something and care about its characters. This “play,” and I use that word loosely, is more like a history lesson and reminds me of the types of plays I saw in elementary school back in the 1960s–plays that tell a history of the past rather than live the history. For example, in one scene Rothschild’s daughter, Marcia (Ann Marie Gideon) goes to her mother, Janice (Caitlin O’Connell) and says “I remember going to my mother . . .” Ensemble members of The Temple also talk about their memories rather than living them.

There are some live action scenes. The best scene is the trial of the accused bombers. Flamboyant attorney Reuben Garland (Ric Reitz) defends Chester Griffin (Justin Walker), who is accused of calling the Rothschild home and telling Janice that a bomb has been planted in her house. Effeminate and prissy, Garland waves his hands and arms while he speaks, swoons on a courtroom desk next to the judge and leaves plaintiff Janice in tears.

Written and directed by Jimmy Maize, “The Temple Bombing” runs through March 12 at the Alliance Theatre.

Full disclosure: My sister and I, whose father’s family was a member of The Temple since the 1920s, were third-generation Temple members. We remember Rabbi Rothschild and my mother remembers the bombing.

Cast:
Amari Cheatom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ensemble
Danielle Deadwyler . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ensemble
Eric Mendenhall . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . George Bright
Lee Osorio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ensemble
Justin Walker. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ensemble
Minka Waltz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ensemble

‘Too Heavy for Your Pocket’ at the Alliance Theatre

2017 February 26
by Susan Asher

Although today is the last day to see “Too Heavy for Your Pocket,” the winner of the 2017 Alliance/Kendeda National graduate Playwriting Competition, you should go if you can. The play is wonderful and the acting and singing are fine.

The four-character play revolves around the lives of four young adult black actors who live in Nashville during the early 1960s, when Jim Crow laws were still in force. Sally (Markita Prescott) and Evelyn (Eboni Flowers) are best friends, as are their respective spouses Tony (Rob Demery) and Bowzie (Stephen Ruffin). Bowzie has received a college scholarship to a private black university, Fisk University, for his intellectual abilities, but while he’s there he gets involved in the Civil Rights movement and joins the Freedom Riders, a bus ride of both blacks and whites headed for New Orleans to peaceably assemble for equal rights. Scenes flip back and forth between Bowzie—whose bus gets stopped in Jacksonville where he is imprisoned and abused by police—and drama that occurs among Tony, Evelyn and Sally.

We peer into Sally and Tony’s rental home, where they are still cooking on a 20-year-old oven, and into the handsome couple’s trials and tribulations of marriage. There’s nothing in the play that whops you over the head and preaches about Civil Rights. “Too Heavy for Your Pocket” is the story of fortitude and the belief that you can never give up no matter how heavy your load.

The playwright, Jiréh Breon Holder, holds an M.F.A. in playwriting from Yale and is working at Emory University on a playwright fellowship. He wrote “Too Heavy for Your Pocket” as a tribute to his mother and grandmother and to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Directed by Margot Bordelon, “Too Heavy for Your Pocket” runs through Feb. 26 on the Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre.

‘Constellations’ at Horizon Theatre

2017 February 8
Marge and Roland. Photo: Britt Else

Bethany Irby and Enoch King. Photo: Britt Else

“Constellations” is a Rashomon-like journey into the relationship between Marianne (Bethany Irby) and Roland (Enoch King). Or maybe I should say the relationships between the two, as the relationship and the couple are constantly changing. Marianne is a scientist studying how several outcomes can co-exist simultaneously. And thus follows the theme of the play. Every sentence could have a different outcome or a different response from the other person, and you’ll see them all played out.

In the vein of the famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s film “Rashomon,” the scenes in the play all have different outcomes. When Marianne first approaches Roland, he is not interested in her romantically. She tries to get his attention, and he responds one way. She says the same line again, and he responds another way. She says the line again, and gets a different response, and again, receiving different responses each time. Whereas in “Rashomon” a whole story is told before we see that scene played out in another way, in “Constellations,” there are so many outcomes of a single sentence uttered it is difficult to know what the plot or story line is. That is all revealed in the end, but in the meantime, I’m losing interest and am wondering what Marianne is referring to when she talks about going back to work. Much of the play seemed to me to be more of an acting exercise to see how the characters would respond truthfully in different ways to one another. What kept me interested, is the acting, which is terrific.

There may be so many ways to skin a cat, but seeing each cut, piece by piece was difficult for me. Alas, the story comes together at the end and might even make you cry.

Written by Nick Payne, directed by Justin Anderson, “Constellations” runs through Feb. 26 at Horizon Theatre.

‘Troubadour’ at the Alliance Theatre

2017 January 30
by Susan Asher


Janece Shaffer’s new play “Troubadour,” which takes place in 1951, is not just a tale about a retiring Nashville country singing star, Billy Mason (Radney Foster), and his strained relationship with his son, Joe (Zach Seabaugh), it’s also a tale that’s been around Hollywood and Broadway since the ’30s and ’40s: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, you know the ending. I love those types of musicals.

Back to old Hollywood. Just like those old musicals that proclaim, “Hey, let’s put on a show!,” Nashville is going to host a country singing contest and radio disc jockeys have announced that Joe will be competing. Joe has played as a backup singer and guitarist with his father’s band for years but has never performed as a solo artist. Away from the radio microphones, Billy tells Joe he’s not good enough to be a front man.

Inez (Sylvie Davidson), a shy newbie in town from Tuscaloosa, Ala., wants to perform and meet Joe. She’s been thrown out of her apartment for not being able to pay the rent and meets Izzy (Andrew Benator), a Jewish Russian tailor who creates sparkly Elvis-style costumes and is vying to become the next manager of the next greatest country music star.

At intermission, I am raving about this show to my companion, who is not so taken with it and can’t get past the country music, which she doesn’t like. In general, I don’t like country music either, but this music is great–it’s country, folk and music from the heart. Aside from a few mishaps with some accents being off here and there, the acting and singing are all great. I’m psyched that this show is going to be as great or better than Shaffer’s last play, “The Geller Girls.”

But in the second half, I feel let down. The action slows from the fast pace in the first half to a point that sends me to a quick nap. There are two places in the second act that I know exactly what is going to happen next. I write down my predictions, and low and behold, they both occur.

I still love the old premise that have made so many movies and musicals a hit: boy meets girl . . . Still, I want to be surprised and want fast action that keeps moving forward. Nonetheless, with the wonderful musical performances and fine acting by everyone in this cast, this is a show worth seeing.

Book by Janece Shaffer, music and lyrics by Kristian Bush (Grammy Award-winning recording artist from the band Sugarland), directed by Susan Booth, “Troubadour” runs through Feb. 12 at the Alliance Theatre.

Cast:
Rob Lawhon . . . . . . . . .Pooch/Jimmie Lollie
Bethany Anne Lind . . . . . . .Miss Kitty

Saxophonist Daniel Zamir Plays at MJCCA Feb. 19

2017 January 5
by Susan Asher


Daniel Zamir, a saxophone player and composer who fuses elements of Jewish sounds with jazz, ethnic and world music plays at the MJCCA Feb. 19.

While playing in New York, Zamir was discovered by John Zorn, who signed him to a recording contract on his label “Tzadik.” Zamir has recorded four albums on Tzadik, the last one included Zorn’s Masada band members Joey Baron, Uri Caine and Greg Cohen. Zamir has performed numerous times in Israel and the U.S. with Masada and Electric Masada.

Zamir has collaborated with Israel’s finest musicians of all genres from rock ‘n roll to Middle Eastern traditions. The saxophonist’s albums are the most successful jazz albums ever to be recorded in Israel, and have received high acclaim from the media. His album “Amen,” released in 2006, was the best-selling jazz album in Israel ever. Zamir has performed and recorded with the biggest names in Israel’s pop and rock scene. He has been performing as a special guest with reggae performer Matisyahu on his European tours and in the US. Both of them performed together with Sting on his last visit to Israel in 2006.

Zamir will perform Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta’s (MJCCA) Morris & Rae Frank Theatre, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. Ticket prices run $15-$25 and can be purchased by phone at 678-812-4002 or online at atlantajcc.org.

Thomas Friedman, Bruce Feiler and More
Author Talks at the MJCCA, January – April

2016 December 26


From January 15 – April 23, 2017, the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA), will present five author talks and book events.

A Page from the Book Festival of the MJCCA brings a prestigious array of authors to the Atlanta community throughout the year. Expanding on the success of the annual November Book Festival of the MJCCA, A Page from the Book Festivalevents allow the MJCCA to continue fostering a love of reading and enabling interaction with sought-after favorite authors.

Speaker Lineup:

Ø  Sunday, January 15, 2017, 7:30 pm

Dr. Michael J. Breus, The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype – And the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex…

Learn the best time to do everything–from drinking your coffee to having sex to going for a run–according to your body’s chronotype. In his new book, The Power of When, former Atlantan (Riverwood High School/UGA graduate), and clinical psychologist Dr. Michael J. Breus details new research that proves there is a right time to do just about everything, based on our biology and hormones. He presents a groundbreaking new program for getting back in sync with your natural rhythm by making minor changes to your daily routine. Breus is known nationally as “The Sleep Doctor” and has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show more than 30 times.

This event will be held at the MJCCA (5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody).

Fee: Member $10; Community $15

 

Ø  Wednesday, February 1, 7:30 pm

Thomas L. Friedman, Thank You for Being Late

Thank You for Being Late is a field guide to the 21st century, written by one of its most celebrated observers, Thomas L. Friedman. Here, Friedman discusses? the tectonic movements that are reshaping the world today and explains how to get the most out of them and cushion their worst impacts. You will never look at the world the same way again after you read this book. How you understand the news, the work you do, the education your kids need, the investments your employer has to make, and the moral and geopolitical choices our country has to navigate will all be refashioned by Friedman’s original analysis.

This event will be held at the MJCCA (5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody).

Fee: Member $18; Community $24

 

Ø  Thursday, March 9, 7:30 pm

Author Ruthie Ellenson and JFGA’s CEO Eric Robbins – IN CONVERSATION ABOUT Why Be Jewish?

In Partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta (JFGA), the community is invited to be a part of a compelling conversation with New York Times bestselling author Ruthie Ellenson (The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt) and JFGA’s CEO Eric Robbins about philanthropist Edgar M. Bronfman’s Why Be Jewish? A Testament, which was published just weeks before Bronfman’s death in December 2013. Ellenson and Robbins will discuss the 12 tenants Bronfman’s identifies as having shaped his leadership in the Jewish community for more than 25 years, which include a reverence for Jewish tradition, a dedication to social action, a pledge to engage in both Jewish and secular studies, a commitment to ethical business conduct, and the importance of effective leadership.

This event will be held at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta (1440 Spring Street NW, Atlanta).

Free and open to the community with RSVP.

 

Ø  Thursday, March 30, 7:30 pm

Bruce Feiler, The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us

From the New York Times bestselling author of Walking the Bible and Abraham comes a revelatory journey across four continents and 4,000 years, exploring how Adam and Eve introduced the idea of love into the world, and how they continue to shape our deepest feelings about relationships. In this fresh retelling of their story, New York Times columnist and PBS host Bruce Feiler travels from the Garden of Eden in Iraq to the Sistine Chapel in Rome, from John Milton’s London to Mae West’s Hollywood, discovering how Adam and Eve should be hailed as exemplars of a long-term, healthy relationship.

This event will be held at the MJCCA (5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody).

Fee: Member $10; Community $15

 

Ø  Sunday, April 23, 7:30 pm

Tilar J. Mazzeo, Irena’s Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto (Ms. Mazzeo is the featured Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day Speaker)

From Tilar J. Mazzeo, the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow Clicquot, comes an extraordinary and gripping account of Irena Sendler—the “female Oskar Schindler”—who took staggering risks to save 2,500 children from death and deportation in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. Granted access to the Warsaw ghetto as public health specialist, she made dangerous trips through the city’s sewers, hid children in coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through secret passages in abandoned buildings. Irene’s Children is a truly heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption.

This event will be held at the MJCCA (5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody).

Fee: Member $10; Community $15

Contact Information / Purchase Tickets

Ø  Purchase Tickets: Call the MJCCA Box Office at 678.812.4005, or visit www.atlantajcc.org/bookfestival.

‘Courtenay’s Cabaret: Home for the Holidays’
at the Alliance Theatre

2016 December 12


If you’re looking for a party where you can imbibe with friends inside an exquisitely designed elegant home and sing along with a Broadway performer, look no further than “Courtenay’s Cabaret: Home for the Holidays” on the Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre.

Collins sings some of the great standards — “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Santa Baby,” “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” encompassing numerous different styles, including opera, blues, cabaret and folk. Her rendition of “We Need a Little Christmas” was so wonderful it brought tears to my eyes. But the song I enjoyed her singing most was her alone sitting and playing the piano singing “River” by Joni Mitchell, whom she sounded much like.

Acting most of the songs out, Collins commands the stage like the wonderful actress she is. One moment, she’s a sexy seductress, and the next moment, she’s on her chaise lounge talking to her therapist remembering a memory long ago. A little girl comes to life as she recounts the traumatic memory of Mommy kissing Santa Claus.

In the second act, the audience gets to sing Hanukkah and Christmas holiday songs along with Collins and her three-piece band. She also hands out treats to the entire audience, homemade cookies and Hanukkah gelt, chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.

During each show, she brings out a surprise guest. Last Wednesday she had Chris Kayser, who came out dressed as a Rastafarian with long dreadlocks wrapped up in chains to promote an upcoming show. The best part of the entire show was the guest appearance by Kristian Bush, a Grammy Award winner who wrote the music for the upcoming premiere of  Janece Shaffer’s new play, “Troubadour,” which opens at the Alliance in January. I have never been a fan of country music, but I am now a fan of Kristian Bush, whose new song “Thinking About Drinking for Christmas,” is so funny, and as a solo performance artist, he was outstanding.

You never know who’s coming to Collins’s holiday party, but if she can possibly find other guests that will perform as well as Bush, that alone could make this party worthwhile.

The set, by Kat Conley, is exquisite, replete with a marble fireplace, numerous chandeliers and a long bar where guests can order drinks and the band can imbibe. If only Collins’s dress matched classy the decor. In the first act, she wore a long, green unflattering dress that looked as it had been made of shoddy polyester and picked up at a cheap store. The knee-length black cutout dress she wore in the second act was not half bad but certainly not great.

“Courtenay’s Cabaret: Home for the Holidays” runs on the Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre through Dec. 24.

The Song Project: Rapp, Bronston and Burroughs

2016 December 5


Jazz trio The Song Project (not to be confused with John Zorn’s The Song Project) recently was at the Velvet Note in Alpharetta playing music from the band’s latest CD “Cinema Paradiso,” as well as original tunes and their arrangements of compositions by Horace Silver, Monk, Bird, Prez, Dizzy and Charlie Hayden.

Mark Rapp, who has a master’s degree in jazz and studied with Ellis Marsalis, played trumpet and flugelhorn, and brought some non-traditional sounds to the music. He used a sound pedal that made some tunes swirl and echo like waves of wind and blew through a square-like pipe resembling a flat cowbell that he called a didgeridoo, which sometimes sounded like throat singing or a rumbling ocean. One tune swerved into a rock-and-roll stroll with Chris Burroughs on drums and Derek Lee Bronston playing something that reminded me of Hendrix.  TSP has played at Carnegie Hall, the Blue Note and the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

Listen to their music here: http://www.thesongproject.net/.

Matisyahu in Atlanta, Jan. 7-8

2016 November 15
by Susan Asher


On Jan. 7 & 8, at 8 p.m., MJCCA Arts + Culture presents “An Acoustic Evening with Matisyahu.” Matisyahu, the Grammy-nominated rapper with the top hits “One Day” and “King Without a Crown,” returns to Atlanta with a blended genre of music incorporating reggae, beat-boxing, alternative rock and inspirational messages.  The Jan. 7 concert will be held at the Morris & Rae Frank Theatre at the MJCCA (5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody). The Jan. 8 concert will be held at City Winery in Ponce City Market (650 North Avenue, Atlanta).

About Matishayu:
When Matisyahu first started touring to packed clubs more than eleven years ago, it was prior to the release of Live at Stubbs, the now Gold record, and prior to that record’s single “King without a Crown” reaching  No. 1 on the alternative rock radio charts.  His performances were a raw expression of his spirituality at that time.

Now, years later, fans who have seen Matisyahu before are saying that they have never seen him like this. What makes this music so engaging and unmatched, is that Matisyahu; a vocalist with no other instrument at his disposal, is an integral creative part in the improvisation. During the most recent Fall 2015 tour, video and audio posts of Matisyahu music inspired a steady stream of comments and inquiries asking, “What album is this song on?” But, it’s not on any album. Matisyahu’s songs are of that moment and that moment only. And these moments have the ability to connect the many different kinds of Matisyahu fans.

Matisyahu spoke about his transformation. “The last decade of my life has been immersed in my spirituality, and I really took that as far as I could take it. I’ve started to find other things resonating…”

Matisyahu Ticket Prices / Contact Info:

MJCCA Concert, 1/7/17:                    MJCCA Member: $45 – $100; Community: $65 – $100

City Winery Concert, 1/8/17:              MJCCA Member: $45 – $100; Community: $50 – $100

Special VIP Pricing:                            $100 (includes premium seating, post-show meet & greet, photo/autograph)

Purchase Tickets:                               678.812.4002, or visit www.atlantajcc.org/boxoffice.