Thursday, July 17, 2008

Review: River City Rep's production of Member of the Wedding features two stars: veteran Margaret Avery and newcomer Lexi Langs

There are numerous reasons to get tickets for River City Repertory Theater’s new production, “Member of the Wedding.” The first is that on opening night the cast proved itself spectacular.

Margaret Avery is the award-winning actress who is perfect as Berenice the housekeeper. She plays her character with grace and sublety. Avery is a beautiful woman and effective foil for Lexi Langs, the teen spitfire who plays tomboy Frankie Addams. Also impressive was muscular Nicki Daniels in the role of the young buck, Honey Brown.

Reason two is Langs herself. This is a teen with a level of talent rarely seen hereabouts. Langs has a jillion lines which she delivers with absolute certainty. Director Patric McWilliams and Langs have fashioned a facial and body language that vividly conveys the emotional state of a lonely, passionate and mercurial kid.

“Member of the Wedding” is set in the 1940’s but it is full of the issues that dog our lives today. How do fiery youths become independent without causing some degree of havoc amongst us? How does the settled class respond to the artistic souls coming up in our hands? Across the city today one imagines that dads who saw the play last night are sitting down with their sensitive teens, making a fresh attempt to listen to their stories.

The cast has depth. Benjamin Maxey, a sixth grader with an important role, acquits himself well. As in the case of his thespian sister, Jessica Maxey, theater goers are watching him grow up on stage. Nicki Daniels commands the stage in the role of frustrated young black man yearning for fair treatment - and another reefer. Stanley Blackshire and Charity Schubert are impeccable in their supporting roles.

The Scottish Rite Temple is a venue of unusual style - like the Strand Theater, but more so - and impressive historic appointments. But the acoustics of the Temple do not aid the cast in projecting their lines. Between the acoustics and the Southern accents, the articulation of ending sounds was an audience concern on opening night. I’d suggest you get seats as close to the stage as possible to ensure full enjoyment of this absorbing drama.

Running time is some two hours, thirty minutes. On opening night there was a generous intermission at the end of act one.

Tickets are $25 and $35.
Reservations: 318-868-5888
Performances: July 16, 17, 18, 19 at 7:30 p.m. and a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday, July 2O.

18 comments:

Kathryn Usher said...

Very lovely writing..."Across the city today one imagines that dads who saw the play last night are sitting down with their sensitive teens, making a fresh attempt to listen to their stories."

Anonymous said...

I saw the production tonight and was amazed at the performances and the intricate detail that has molded this show.
The set is the "set of the season." The design takes your breath away and the lighting established a new level for local theater.
We are so lucky to have this company carrying serious, high level theater forward. Imagine, enjoying LIVE, the performances of an Oscar nominee and a young professional actress who blazes across the stage right here in Shreveport!
If you care about high quality theater you'll see this show. Thank you Mr. McWilliams and RCR for bringing us such wonderful drama.

Anonymous said...

Whoever wrote that is exactly right. WOW! I've been a big fan of Miss Avery's for a long time and to have a theater company bring her and this quality of a show here is , well, extraordinary. I go to all of the local theaters but River City Rep is setting a standard that is very exciting. This is a little bit of Broadway dropped into Shreveport. With community/amateurs charging $25 and $35 this is a bargin at their ticket prices! It was better than anything I've seen brought to The Strand. RCRT I'm sending you a check!! LOL

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed it is a real bargain considering RCRT is presenting a Broadway caliber production with a lovely, moving performance from an Oscar nominee and a remarkable star turn from a gifted young professional. Considering SLT is charging the same for amateur children's theatre and the economics of professional theatre are quite different, $45.00 and $55.00 would actually seem more in line with the quality of the product and the realities of producing it. Thank you RCRT for keeping the cost affordable so that more audiences can see your outstanding professional work! And thank you for bringing professional theatre to Shreveport.

Anonymous said...

Having seen most of the RCRT productions, I can say that while they are above average, to suggest that they are "Broadway caliber" is a joke. While Ms. Avery and the young girl were wonderful, it looked like every other show that Mr. McWilliams puts on. Their pretty, but nothing special. Plus, it is alway obvious that the comments of people "praising" their productions are part of the RCRT team, because it's impossible for them to commend these "incredible PROFESSIONAL productions" without undermining and slamming every other theater in town. It's a tired and predictable ploy.

Anonymous said...

Your envy is showing. I wrote one of the above comments and I have NOTHING to do with River City Rep except attend their shows. I go to New York 5 to 6 times a year to see Broadway shows and the quality of "Member" IS equivilent.
McWilliams' direction and innovation is something to be lauded NOT to be jealous of. There's not another director here operating on that level. Give the man his due...he's skilled, imaginative and has proven his talents for decades. It's so sad that envious people have to attack someone who is doing something great for the arts community.

Anonymous said...

I too left a comment and have no connection to RCRT. Stating that SLT is amateur (rather than professional) or that they are at the moment presenting children's theatre is NOT slamming anyone. These are factual statements. And statements of fact are not editorial. If the going rate for amateur children's theatre is $25.00 and $35.00 a ticket, then a professional production with professional actors who have trained for years to earn their living from acting produced by a director, designers and crew who also earn their living from theatre should be worth much more than RCRT is charging and certainly more than an amateur group charges. How RCRT cover their expenses at those prices defies explanation. But that is not building up anyone at someone else's expense. And the quality of the RCRT product speaks for itself.

Anonymous said...

First of all, let's be real clear about what "professional" theater is. While I applaud their efforts in bringing quality theater to town, I haven't been convinced yet of the reults. RCRT brings in one or two professional actors for their shows. Then they cast and pay all the "local, amateur" actors that you see at every other "amateur" theater in town to fill in the other roles. They are very good, but not "professionals". The only difference is that they get paid instead of volunteering, like they do at other theaters. So, let's stop with the "professional" and "amateur" debates shall we. Your other point of being jealous of McWilliams is extremely laughable. I won't even go into that. He is not envied, he is pitied. I would ask this though. Why do they not allow the regular arts reviewer from The Forum to review their shows. They will only allow their best friend, Mr. Crockett to do it, although he is officially retired. Mr. Crockett only reviews RCRT shows and that is it. Are you serious? What are they afraid of in the regular reviewer? Makes you wonder.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I just signed on and started to read these postings. No one said anything nasty about any theater. Yet, once again, the jealousy of those who aren't working on the highest level has kicked in. Pitied?! Patrick has delivered some of the very best performances, direction and designs this theater community has ever had. The audience response to him, the reviews (from numerous critics, not just Crockett) the awards all attest to his abilities. I doubt anyone who has a shred of theater knowledge pitys him. We're happy to sit and watch his work and be thankful he has a tough skin to not be bothered by people like these writers.

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that the primary distinction between professional (those who make theatre their career and earn from it their livelihood) and amateur (those who dabble as a hobby) is that professionals are paid. However, for a theatre to be a professional theatre they have to be sanctioned by Actors' Equity Association, the professional union representing professional actors, singers, dancers and stage managers. Once sanctioned, a theatre then operates under one of many AEA contracts that best suits their abilities to fulfill the requirements of those contracts at that phase of their development. You may be surprised to know that many professional theatres do not use 100% professional actors. But being sanctioned, they are allowed to hire professional actors, a privilege that is not granted to amateur theatre groups. Once sanctioned by AEA, you can not pick and choose. You are fully committed as a professional theatre and the contract under which you operate. Hopefully this clarifies this issue for you. It is again not subjective. It is factual. You may behave professionally or you may have professional standards. This is not a debate about relative talent. Either you are professional or you are amateur. Period. I have not seen a review of "The Member of the Wedding" in the Forum. Does the Forum even review theatre anymore? Perhaps the previous poster works for the Forum and has inside information. But if anyone else is curious about the editorial policies of the Forum they should contact Hugh Johnson. Anyone may review any production open to the public. All they have to do is buy a ticket and attend a performance. So to suggest that RCRT has some sort of control over who covers what for whom sounds somewhat paranoid and laughable.

Anonymous said...

One final thought. To be an amateur does not mean you are amateurish. To use the word professional in its accurate and correct context is not a swipe any anyone or anything else. But it does distinguish the level on which one freely chooses to operate. When a city is going after grants or funding or trying to attract businesses, the question isn't how many amateur theatre groups does your community have, the question is does your community have any professional theatre. When an actor auditions for a professional job, the casting director is only interested in their professional credits. So a professional theatre in your community giving opportunities to actors whose current status is amateur is a positive thing. They now have professional credits on their resume which now has at least a chance of not being tossed on the first pass. Professional theatres can also affort actors the chance to earn credits toward elegibility for union membership. So be grateful that Patric McWilliams is willing to work so hard to bring this opportunity to the arts community and the city of Shreveport.

Anonymous said...

This is all silly and counter-productive to what is being attempted with River City Rep...meaning bringing professional, high level quality to theatre, exposing local actors to major names, letting the rest of the nation know we exist.
I doubt seriously anyone at RCRT is worried about the "regular reviewer" for The Forum since he has no training in theater, no credentials to set himself up as an authority, has axes to grind with the people involved in RCRT and doesn't know half of what any of those people know.
The bigger question should be how he can "review" shows when he's linked to productions, directors and specific theatres. Now THAT'S something to have a forum on.

Anonymous said...

You just answered what many in the theater community have wondered for years. Lane Crockett had no credibility whatsoever because of his friendship with Buseick and McWilliams. And I happen to know that the current reviewer has no axe to grind with RCRT. That is just paranoia on your part. He is not linked to any one theater in town. Unlike Crockett, who was linked to one and only one theater.

Anonymous said...

Yet Crockett gave both of them negative reviews from time to time (when deserved) and gave glowing reviews to other theatres. This is the little story of comfort those of you who have not been as skilled have developed to justify your failures as artists. Poor things. AND, there were MANY other critics from Montgomery, Connerlly, Melson, Leydon, Alexander, Steinau, Trudeau, etc who gave them equally great reviews. Were they all in a conspiracy against you poor people?

Anonymous said...

"Poor people"? Hardly. We have wonderful lives inside and OUTSIDE of theater that include loving friends. We pity you because you obviously don't.

trudeau said...

Discussions of amateur vs pro and the role of critics are all good.

Attacks against each other provide more entertainment value than this blog can afford.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what all of this sniping and carping is about. My girlfriend and I saw the show last night and were completely blown away by it. It was the best thing we've seen all year. Congrats are in order not attempts to tear it down.
Be HAPPY that we have a theatre company this good. A lot of cities don't.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Dallas and am here doing work for a local company for a few weeks. I saw the show last night. I don't want to get into any of the arguments listed above as I don't know any of these people or situations. I will just say that the show was spectacular and is certainly better than anything I've seen in Dallas theatre for the last few years.
I also happened to see this show at the Alley Theatre in Houston some years ago. The Alley is a nationally acclaimed theatre and it's production was no where near this accomplished.
We've had the same situation in Dallas that this column represents. The community theatre people became angry as professional theatre grew and raised the levels that audiences expected. This is a natural by-product of professional theatre being created. Those involved with this company need to just keep their eyes on their goals and not let themselves be torn down or distracted.
Thank you River City Rep for an amazing evening of theatre.