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Review: A Little Theatre

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By John Baggett

The problem with community theatre is that there’s just so much drama, and Tyler Civic Theatre’s latest production, “A Little Theatre” is a comedy all about that drama.

“A Little Theatre” is the story of a small community theatre that is more interesting backstage than it is on stage. The company director, Warner DeMille (Nyc Moy), is tired, cranky, and facing the end of his contract. He is also tired of every show featuring the same people, who bring the same problems each time. He is also annoyed that theatre manager Agnes (Robin Haynie) doesn’t do things the way he thinks they should be done, not to mention her perpetual sunny disposition. Still, Warner has a job to do, directing the new play, The Murdered Guitar.

Rounding out his cast of regulars are ambulance chaser Edward Joffrey (Jamey Whitley) and his wife Bobbi Jo (Jinny Jo Harris), veteran actress of housekeeper type roles, Millicent (Lucinda Kintrell), Sheila Ross (Camille Becton), an actress that will try to steal your husband instead of your role, and her ‘passionate everywhere except the stage’ husband, Author (Stan).  There is also manic elementary teacher Susan (Brianna Beard) and her boyfriend Nick (Nathan Deere). Warner tries his best to get through rehearsals without this cast killing each other, or him killing his liver. Hope seemingly arrives when Cindy (Melody McNatt), a drama major from Chicago, shows up at auditions, but when she steals the eye of Nick, things continue to derail for Warner. The story progresses from rehearsals through auditions and finally to opening night, at which time, if they make it out alive, they could consider the production a success.

The play was written by Scott Finley, a veteran of the Civic Theatre stage. This is his first play, which was inspired by his time at Tyler Civic Theatre, however he says that the play is a work of fiction and “any names have been changed to protect the innocent!” Sean Holliday, last seen on the Civic Theatre stage as Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” assembled a cast filled with comedic talent that brings the laughs from almost every inch of the stage.

Moy is fantastic as Warner, evoking lots of laughter from his perpetual frustration. Haynie is Warner’s polar opposite in optimism as Agnes, and she is truly a joy to watch. Whitley, a veteran of improv troupe Card 53 brings the same energy here that he does to those shows. Watching his character find his voice will leave you in stitches. The same goes for Harris, who goes from over the top to vindictive, but is never not funny. King is great going from a mild mannered to angry type when his wife flirts with another man. He truly shines when he goes into “acting” mode, a dry, deadpan delivery of every line that is just as hysterical as when any of the other characters go crazy.

Becton is fantastic, as is Kittrell. Both deliver performances that anyone would recognize that has been around the same group of creative types, or co-workers, or whatever group you might spend an extended amount around. McNatt is fun to watch as well, going from wide eyed and optimistic, as well as smitten with Nick, to frustrated, as the insanity around her escalates. Beard’s manic energy as Susan is a delight to watch, as well as impressive as she spits out all of her rapid fire dialogue with precision. Finally, Deere is great, going from a character that starts out sympathetic and, by the end of the show, is just pathetic. This is Deere’s debut, and I hope he does more because he has some great comedic chops.

“A Little Theatre” is the type of show that you should probably see twice. Not only is the dialogue funny, but there are times there are visual gags from different areas of the stage, and it’s easy to miss them. It also proves the true talent of this cast because not only do they have to deliver good, believable performances as their real characters, but when they become the characters in the play, they have to act badly, and that’s not an easy feat. If you need a good laugh, then I highly recommend going to see this show. Your face will hurt when you leave.

“A Little Theatre” opened March 3 and runs through March 12 at Tyler Civic Theatre, 400 Rose Park Drive.  For more information and to purchase tickets call (903) 592-0561 or visit http://tylercivictheatre.com/production/2016-2017/a-little-theatre

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Around East Texas

Review: The Touch

By John Baggett

Tyler Civic Theatre is kicking off its 70th season. To start the brand new season, they begin with a very special one week run of the new play, the heartwarming drama, “The Touch.”

Set in East Texas, generations ago, the story revolves around Big Granny (Traci Smith), a woman who has the ability to heal those with just her touch, a power passed down in her family every other generation. While her grandmother healed almost everyone she could, Big Granny is afraid of her powers. She is haunted by the loss of her daughter to pneumonia, whom she could have healed but was afraid that her attempt would have killed her.

Now, a great grandmother, Big Granny lives with her granddaughter Faye (Brianna Beard) and great-granddaughter Juney (Delaney Mullee). Faye stayed home to raise her daughter and help out while her husband left to work on the docks and her sister, Betsy (Kaylee Parker), travels the world. Betsy returns with news that she has a permanent teaching position in Dallas. Her return stirs up feelings of hurt in Faye, but when Juney gets hurt in an accident, everyone, including Big Granny, must face their worse fears to be a whole family again.

“The Touch” was written by Mike Hargrove, a veteran of Tyler Civic Theatre, having written a dozen plays and directed several shows. This is his final work, completed just days before he sadly passed away. This debut production is directed by his wife, DeAnna Hargrove, who also directed “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” earlier this year.

This is a play that was written with love, as much of it was inspired by Hargrove’s family, and beautifully produced. So much heart and soul into this show, from writing to casting to every single performance. It is truly a labor of love.

This cast is superb. Smith, who is always excellent in every role, has never been better. She delivers such a warm, yet powerful performance, and gives her absolute all on stage. Beard is also outstanding, running almost the entire span of human emotion. Mullee continues her streak of wonderful performances and this also is a career best for her. She has talent beyond her years. Parker is also amazing, delivering an almost effortless, natural performance.

The supporting cast is brilliant as well. Cheyenne Whorton plays Sonny, a man who was healed as a child by Big Granny’s mother, and he gave a flawless performance. Kenneth Reid plays Monroe, the patriarch of the Marner family, and is terrific in his few scenes. Stan King gives as another first-rate performance as the doubting Doc Fleming, who believes there is a scientific reason for everything.

Making their TCT debuts are Austin Sandy and Maria de la Garza-Grahm, M.D, as the shopkeepers of a local market and I hope they continue to grace the stage. Finally, in silent roles as customers are Chylar Whorton, Blair Gonzalez, and Bella Schenck. Every single one of them did a fantastic job and I cannot wait to see what they do next.

“The Touch” starts this new season on an incredible high. It is a touching, funny, emotional experience and I really encourage you to see this show. It’s going to be over before you know it, so go see this wonderful play before it’s too late.

“The Touch” opens on Thursday, September 6 and runs through Sunday, September 9. For more information and to purchase tickets call (903) 592-0561 or go to  http://tylercivictheatre.com Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive.

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Around East Texas

The 70th Season Begins at Tyler Civic Theatre

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Single show tickets are available for $18 for adults and $15 for students. FLEX Pass are available for multiple performances. Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Dr., Tyler, next to the Tyler Rose Garden Center. For more info or tickets call (903)592-0561 or go to tylercivictheatre.com. The 2018-2019 productions are:

October 5th-14th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “Dial M for Murder” – Tony Wendice has married his wife, Margot, for her money and now plans to murder her for the same reason. He arranges the perfect murder. He blackmails a scoundrel he used to know into strangling her for a fee of one thousand pounds, and arranges a brilliant alibi for himself. Unfortunately…the murderer gets murdered and the victim survives. But this doesn’t baffle the husband: He sees his hireling’s death as an opportunity to have his wife convicted for the murder of the man who tried to murder her, and that is what almost happens. Luckily, the police inspector from Scotland Yard and a young man who is in love with the wife discover the truth, and in a scene of almost unbearable suspense they trap the husband into revealing his guilt, thus freeing Margot.

November 6th-7th (school shows) and November 8th-11th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs” – The classic children’s tale of Snow White, seven dwarfs, a magic mirror and an evil queen comes to Tyler Civic! Supposedly disposed of by the wicked queen, Snow White finds her way to a happy glen and the home of seven friendly dwarfs. A deadly apple casts her into a deep sleep, from which she is revived in time by her devoted prince.

January 13th-14th (school shows) and January 15th-20th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “The Taming of the Shrew (Condensed)” – This season TCT performs a hilarious, but seriously abridged version of Shakespeare’s classic “The Taming of the Shrew.” The 45-minute play preserved the original language along with all the major plot turns, but condensed it down to a one-act play and is a perfect introduction to the Bard for participant and audience member alike.

February 8th-17th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “On Golden Pond” – This is the love story of Ethel and Norman Thayer, who are returning to their summer home on Golden Pond for the 48th year. He is a retired professor, nearing 80, with heart palpitations and a failing memory but still as tart-tongued, observant, and eager for life as ever. Ethel, ten years younger, and the perfect foil for Norman, delights in all the small things that have enriched and continue to enrich their long life together. They are visited by their divorced, middle-aged daughter and her dentist fiancé, who then go off to Europe, leaving his teenage son behind for the summer. The boy quickly becomes the “grandchild” the elderly couple have longed for, and as Norman revels in taking his ward fishing and thrusting good books at him, he also learns some lessons about modern teenage awareness – and slang – in return. Date Night for Valentine’s Day will be February 14th with a Dessert Theatre. Tickets are $24 for adults, $20 for students.

March 8th-17th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “Bus Stop” – In the middle of a howling snowstorm, a bus out of Kansas City pulls up at a cheerful roadside diner. All roads are blocked, and four or five weary travelers are going to have to hole up until morning. Cherie, a nightclub chanteuse in a sparkling gown and a seedy fur-trimmed jacket, is the passenger with most to worry about. She’s been pursued, made love to and finally kidnapped by a twenty-one-year-old cowboy with a ranch of his own and the romantic methods of an unusually headstrong bull. The belligerent cowhand is right behind her, ready to sling her over his shoulder and carry her, alive and kicking, all the way to Montana. Even as she’s ducking out from under his clumsy but confident embraces, and screeching at him fiercely to shut him up, she pauses to furrow her forehead and muse, “Somehow deep inside of me I got a funny feeling I’m gonna end up in Montana …” As a counterpoint to the main romance, the proprietor of the cafe and the bus driver at last find time to develop a friendship of their own; a middle-age scholar comes to terms with himself; and a young girl who works in the cafe also gets her first taste of romance.

April 11th-14th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “The Complete Works of Shakespeare – Abridged” – Come see all 37 Shakespeare plays performed in 97 minutes! Three madcap men in tights weave their wicked way through all of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, and tragedies in one wild ride that will leave you breathless and helpless with laughter. An irreverent, fast-paced romp through the Bard’s plays, “The Complete Works of Shakespeare – Abridged” was London’s longest-running comedy.

May 10th-19th (Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm): “Groucho Marx, A Life in Revue” is a stage play written by Groucho Marx’s son Arthur Marx and Robert Fisher with musical direction by Jim Grady. It is a look at the life and career of the famous entertainer Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers and “You Bet Your Life” fame. It opened off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on October 8, 1986 and played 254 performances closing on May 3, 1987. This inspired bio musical about “The One and Only” begins with Groucho as an old man doing his famous Carnegie Hall show. It then goes back to the beginnings of the Marx Brothers and their struggles to make it in vaudeville, their rise to stardom and their eventual break up. All classic Groucho songs are included. One actor plays Groucho, another plays Chico and Harpo, and one actress plays all the wives, girlfriends and Margaret Dumont. A hit in New York, across the U.S. and in London, this show will delight Marx Brothers fans and the as yet uninitiated. The performance on Sunday, May 12th (Mother’s Day) has an optional pre-show brunch. Tickets are $34 for adults, $30 for students. Also, a dinner-theatre opportunity will be available for Thursday May 16th performance.

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Memberships Available for CCT’s 2018-19 Season

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If you love the theatre, does the Cherokee Civic Theatre have a deal for you! The Cherokee Civic Theatre’s (CCT) annual membership drive is open, and theater patrons are invited to cash in on the deals, steals, perks, and privileges that come with being a CCT member.

“With the price of movie tickets and concessions on the rise, becoming a member of the Theatre really is the best bang for your entertainment buck,” CCT Vice President of Membership, Carol Dilliard said.

CCT audiences are treated to a traditional season of four full-length live-theater productions including at least one musical and a Christmas show which runs from October through April.

“The show would not go on without our patrons, members, and volunteers,” longtime theater volunteer and board member Jerry Parker said. “We appreciate so much the support of all our members and patrons – you’re why we do this in the first place.”

The First Night membership package starts at $50 and includes one ticket to every show, reserved seating, mailed reminders of upcoming productions, recognition in every show’s program, discounts on additional tickets, and voting privileges at the theater’s annual meeting. Student memberships and junior memberships are also available for $25 and $10, respectively. Contact the CCT Box Office at (903)683-2131 or visit cherokeetheatre.net to become a CCT Patron member.

This season’s line up of plays begins this fall with the musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” set for October 6th-7th and 12th-14th.

The annual Christmas play, “Scrooge of the West,” hits the stage December 7th-9th and features a holiday classic with an old West twist, written by longtime CCT alum and Rusk resident Sheilah O’Heaney.

The spring production, set for February 23rd-24th and March 1st-2nd, showcases the world premiere of “A.M WWJG,” penned by another local writer, Minette Bryant, of Jacksonville.

The final show of the 2018-19 season is “Leading Ladies” by Ken Ludwig, set for May 4th-5th and 10th-11th.

Proceeds from shows, season ticket memberships, and donations help keep the theater moving forward.

The all-volunteer, non-profit organization has dedicated more than 45 years to bringing the dramatic arts to the greater East Texas area.

According to the CCT’s website, the group’s mission is “to afford opportunities for cultural and artistic enrichment in East Texas by providing a venue for local talent to produce live theater for the entertainment of diverse audiences. Our goal is to educate both youth and adults in all aspects of the theater and to encourage volunteers to learn and showcase their skills both on and off the stage.”

Get Involved

Adults can get in on the fun during Cherokee Civic Theatre’s regular season, both in front of and behind the curtain.

“You can get involved by being cast in a show or by volunteering for backstage positions like stage manager, set or sound design, lighting and costume design,” CCT board member Lisa Pierce said. “There is no experience required, just show up on the audition day. There is no shortage of ways to get involved here.”

The Cherokee Civic Theatre is located at 157 W. Fifth St., just off the square in Downtown Rusk. Tickets are available for the entire season or for individually for  at cherokeetheatre.net.


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