Susan K Asher, Atlanta PR and Art Reviews
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Mark Kendall in ‘The Magic Negro’
at the Alliance Theatre

2017 April 3
by Susan Asher


“The Magic Negro and other Blackity Blackness as told by an African-American Man who also happens to be Black” is billed as a hilarious one-man show performed and written by Mark Kendall. Although nearly the entire audience was howling with laughter, I was wondering what they all found to be so funny.

After the show, my middle-aged white girlfriend from my high school graduating class who was with me said her cheeks hurt from smiling so much. She and a black woman next to her tried explaining what they found funny to me by telling me the point of the show: to think about racism. I understood that. What I didn’t understand was what was so damn funny. The black woman asked if I was familiar with Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock. Yes, I said, and I find them to be funny.

I laughed some in this show. When Kendall reads aloud to an imaginary group of young children the book “Sam I Am,” a parody of Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” I laughed and thought the humor was smart when he finally got the scene going. The first minute of two, he just creates the scene and the Seuss characters as he reads from the book’s pages while the pictures and words are shown on a large screen behind him. He juxtaposes the actual words from Seuss with his own words. When he finally gets to the part about a word that should not be uttered, I am laughing. This skit about a word that Sam refuses to say and then finally enjoys saying is very funny, especially since Kendall creates his characters so well.

I also laughed at the stereotypes of things that three different types of black men will say: one who is not black enough, one who is too black and one who is in the middle and calls himself African-American. Just when it makes sense for one of those types to say something about Martin Luther King, Kendall flips the direction so that his words fill us with laughter. Kendall is especially good at surprising the audience with the unexpected line.

Kendall is an ensemble member and teacher at Dad’s Garage Theatre, a local improv troupe. He was named best professional funnyman by Creative Loafing Atlanta in 2015.

“The Magic Negro and other Blackity Blackness as told by an African-American Man who also happens to be Black” runs through April 15 on the Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre.

‘Nobody Loves You” Brings Loads of Laughs
at Horizon Theatre

2017 March 29
by Susan Asher


The Off-Broadway hit musical comedy “Nobody Loves You” is one of the funniest most entertaining shows I’ve seen in years. Whether you love or disdain reality TV, this smartly written show will make you squeal as you watch TV-reality characters and producers behave as badly as they do on reality TV.

Mainly a cross between “The Bachelor” and “Big Brother,” “Nobody Loves You” is a reality TV show in which singles compete to find a mate and become the last couple standing. Think of the most neurotic, obnoxious characters you’ve seen on any reality show, add rhetoric and steroids, and meet the candidates. There’s super intense Samantha (Leslie Bellair), the Christian right, Christian (Ben Thorpe) and the seductress bombshell Megan (Jennifer Alice Acker), who in the hot-tub room thrusts her hips into Christian, pulls off his belt, spreads her legs and tells him to “come on in.” Although the characters are more than lively, they are no more over-the-top or unreal than the characters on reality TV.

Representing those who hate TV reality shows is Jeff (Patrick Wade), who says reality shows are only as real as the breasts on those shows. After his girlfriend, Tanya (Wendy Melkonian), dumps him at the end of a season to apply to be on the show to find someone who is better suited for her, he applies to be on the show to get her back. After joining the cast, he discovers that Tanya was not chosen as a cast member. He decides to stay anyway to write about stupid, “unreal reality TV” as part of his dissertation for his master’s degree. Nina (Melkonian), the show’s producer/director, encourages him to stay and state his true thoughts about reality TV as it shows how real the TV show really is.

The show’s host, Byron (Brad Raymond), brings “The Bachelor” show’s Chris Harrison to life with the same cock of the head and the same smirk with outstretched arms as he talks with viewers and the contestants. Byron also sings silly songs, sometimes in the style of Luther Vandross. Then, he sends contestants home because “Nobody loves you.”

You’ve seen characters like this: Dominic (Austin Tijerina), who tries to be hip and cool and to impress women by showing off his abs, acts similarly as the character “The Situation” from “Jersey Shore.” And there’s a scene that looks like something right out of “Big Brother” when Jeff wins the cupid staff, giving him the right to decide which contestants will room together. Evan (Tijerina), the gay roommate of Jeff’s love interest, Jenny (Jeanette Illidge), who works behind the scenes on the show, is hilarious as he sings and live-tweets about each episode.

I’ve never seen a full episode of “Jersey Shore” or “Big Brother,” but I’ve seen enough to see how “Nobody Loves You” parodies them as well as “The Batchelor,” a show I hate to admit to watching, religiously.  “Nobody Loves You” is smart funny, not stupid funny.  I and my companion, a 60-something-year-old straight male who practices law and does not watch reality TV, loved this show. Special shout out goes to Melkonian, who is outstanding in the three roles she plays.

Book & lyrics by Itamar Moses, music & lyrics by Gaby Alter, directed by Heidi McKerley, “Nobody Loves You” runs through April 30 at Horizon Theatre.

Itamar Moses is an American playwright, author, and television writer.  He has been a staff writer for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, TNT’s Men of a Certain Age and most recently The Outsiders. Gaby Alter is an award-winning songwriter and composer based in Brooklyn. He writes for stage, television (MTV, PBS), film, radio (NPR), video games, and straight up pop songs.

 

‘Cinderella and Fella’ Delights Young and Old Alike

2017 March 23


No matter what your age or how often you’ve seen “Cinderella,” the world premiere of “Cinderella and Fella” will surprise you and fill you with joy and laughter. (The above video does not do it justice.) The script, singing and acting are excellent, and the performance by Queen Shelayley (Courtenay Collins) is reason enough to see this show.

The action takes place in a forest on the outskirts of a town called Kashoogie, where Cinderella (India S. Tyree) has just manually dragged her tiny house up to a forest filled with streams, kudzu, magnolias, wisteria, and lightning bugs. Her step-mother (Terry Burrell), step-sister, Vamnesia (Molly Coyne) and step-brother, Lavoris (Brian Walker), step outside of the house and read the announcement posted on a nearby tree. A “Boy Be Gonna” event will be held at the castle, where the prince will choose someone to become his cohort to live and travel with him for a year.

Back at the prince’s palace, Queen Shelayley dotes on Prince Maurice (Jeremiah Parker Hobbs) like a bubbale, fearing for each cough, germ, or item he touches that might harm him. Later, after his mother has sent him to his room, he considers aloud to himself why he should go outside anyway and quickly recalls a litany of all the things that could injure him. He sounds very much like little Peggy Ann McKay from Shel Silverstein’s poem “Sick” and it’s quite amusing.

Animal puppets, including a turtle (Scott E. DePoy) and a jive-talking frog, come to life to help Cinderella. Speaking of puppets, there’s a twist on the “Avenue Q” hit “It Sucks to be Me,” featuring Cinderella and Prince Maurice singing “How Cool It Must Be (to be you).” All the music is wonderful. Step Mom sings “I Must Love You Very Much” after prohibiting Cinderella from attending the gala. Cinderella belts out a soulful song, “I Got This,” Queen Shelalyley sings an operatic number, and Prince Maurice plays guitar and sings like a rock star. This is a feel-good show for happiness.

Book and additional lyrics by Janece Shaffer, music, lyrics and musical direction by S. Renee Clark, directed by Rosemary Newcott, “Cinderella and Fella” runs through April 9 at the Alliance Theatre.

‘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.