Posted in acting, Life in general, theatre, Year in review

2019 in review: Acting

2019 was a good year for acting.  The coolest thing was taking part in a web series called “Black on Both Sides.” You can find it here.

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I’m seen briefly in Episode 2 (uncredited, but I’m the person taking notes while standing next to the CEO — played by my friend Scott Piehler — in a meeting).  I’m also seen (mostly from the back) at a party in Episode 7, and I even have one line!  Woo!  Okay, what all that means is don’t watch this show looking for me; watch it because it’s good, and my brief appearance is a bonus. 🙂  I hope to work with Alonge again in the future.

Side note: filming that party scene was an adventure. It was done on a Saturday afternoon after I had just gotten out of the hospital, having had surgery five days earlier.  Due to a reaction to the pain meds, I kept running off the set to throw up. Every twenty minutes. Between takes and trips to the loo, I laid down on the sofa and tried to nap.  God bless Shani Hawes, one of the producers, who made sure I had ice water and a clear path to the bathroom.

Stagewise, I performed in four plays in 2019.  I just realized that. Four plays.  In one year.  No wonder I’m exhausted.

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First up was The Vagina Monologues with Bad Seed Theatre (partnered with Out Front Theatre) in February. This was an extremely limited run, three performances, all proceeds of which went to Camp Cadi. We did really well, raising over $7000 in support of their programs.  I had the monologue “Hair.”

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It was a fabulous experience, being in a show comprised entirely of a cast of women, speaking frankly about our bodies, our lives, and our experiences.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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From TVM with its HUGE cast, I went into a play that was very nearly a one-woman show.  Staged Right cast me as the lead in their production of A Round-Heeled Woman, based on the book by Jane Juska about her sexual adventures after posting an ad for, um, companionship in the New York Review of Books.  This show starts out with Jane (that is, me) having phone sex and proceeds from there.  I went on at the beginning of Act I and never left the set — and nearly never stopped talking — until intermission; lather, rinse, repeat for Act II.  The other five actors bopped in and out of the set according to the needs of their multiple characters; and some of the scenes (and much of the dialogue) were rather explicit.

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The truth is, if I hadn’t just done The Vagina Monologues and overcome some acting inhibitions that I wasn’t aware I had, I never would have had the gumption to tackle Jane. As it was, the three-page monologues nearly killed me: I was still calling for line on the Wednesday before we opened, but come opening night, we were good. Okay, truth time: I blanked briefly in the middle of Act I on opening night, but muddled through and got myself back on track; and the rest of the performances had no blanks.  A few skipped lines, but no blanks!  I am forever grateful to director Starshine Stanfield for trusting me with this character.

When Round-Heeled closed in late May, I decided to take the summer off (except for a dance class). Come August, I was ready to go again.  Act 3 Productions cast me as Juror 9 in their production of Twelve Angry Jurors.

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Let me tell you, after Jane’s line load in A Round-Heeled Woman, I was immensely grateful for the fewer than 50 lines my character required in Jurors.  That’s one of the bonuses of large casts and short plays — the speeches are divided among many more characters, making it a little easier on the actors.

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And this was a fun cast, too: most of the other actors were in their 20s, far younger than me, and it was sheer joy to spend so much time with people in that age group. I don’t get that opportunity very often. As a group, they had an attitude of wryly cynical hopefulness, an outlook that will likely serve them well in the future. As far as the play went, we had decent audiences and were well-received.  I got paid, too. That’s always a bonus.

As soon as Jurors closed, I went right into rehearsal for my final play of the year, 20th Century Blues with Live Arts Theatre.  This was my third production with Live Arts, and I’m always happy to work with Becca and the gang.

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Much smaller cast, much larger line load, lots of fun.  I’ll steal the synopsis from the theatre’s website: “Four women meet once a year for a ritual photo shoot, chronicling their changing (and aging) selves as they navigate love, careers, children, and the complications of history. But when these private photographs threaten to go public, relationships are tested, forcing the women to confront who they are and how they’ll deal with whatever lies ahead.”

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I played Sil, a New York real estate agent who is reluctant to have photographs showing “forty years of her gradual decline” exhibited publicly.  This was another show where the cast was primarily women — all of us playing someone very close to our own age, for once, and discussing issues we actually related to in our personal lives.  Kind of cathartic, in a lot of ways.  It was a good show that, due to its timing, didn’t get seen by too many people. Unfortunately, we were competing with all the Christmas-themed shows, like It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, that were being presented at many of the area theatres; 20th Century Blues was most definitely not a Christmas show.  But the people who did see it really liked it.  We closed the Saturday before Christmas.  (And I got paid again, hurrah!)

I don’t know what show I’m doing next.  I have a couple of auditions coming up this month; and expect more to be scheduled soon as theatres start casting their spring shows.  I doubt I’ll do four shows this year; but I didn’t plan to do that last year: it just worked out that way.  We’ll see what shows up in the audition notices.  I’ll keep you posted.

Posted in Knitting, Life in general, Movies and TV

Look, Mom, I’m on TV!

Well, actually, on Seeka.TV in a web series called “Black on Both Sides.” You can find it here.

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Blurb:  Anansi Moor looks like the poster child for a post-racial America. He is intelligent, witty, and well-spoken—and just black enough to fill a diversity quota without being threatening. Yet behind his carefully curated song and dance is a game that grows ever more dangerous as the quest for justice drives tactics that will either free the caged bird—or scorch its wings.

Before anyone gets too excited, I have to tell you, mine is a teeny-tiny-if-you-blink-you’ll-miss-it part, but the rest of the series is cool, so watch it anyway.

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: The Trespasser by Tana French

The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad, #6)The Trespasser by Tana French

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy Tana French’s Murder Squad series, and this installment is no exception.

Antoinette Conway and her partner Stephen Moran tackle their latest assignment, the murder of Aislinn Murray. It appears to be a slam-dunk the-boyfriend-did-it case, but the inconsistencies lurking around the edges keep hinting at another solution. Conway and Moran poke at the inconsistencies, start running into roadblocks, and begin to suspect corrupt cops and organized crime are somehow connected to the murder. Then the constant harrassment and pranks Conway suffers in the squad room lead her to believe her partner is sabotaging their case.

Antoinette Conway is a difficult character to like, and the whole Murder Squad comes off as an abusive dysfunctional unit. That makes this a rough read. But persevere. It’s worth it in the end.

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Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: Kindred by Octavia Butler

KindredKindred by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Giving this 3 1/2 stars.

You all know the plot by now: Dana, a modern black woman, is inexplicably thrust back into the antebellum South, time after time, where she is presumed to be a slave based on the color of her skin. Eventually she figures out she is drawn back to that particular plantation and that particular time to protect the life of the young son of the plantation owner. Said son is her ancestor — a twist on the Grandfather Paradox: she must keep him alive long enough to father a child with a particular slave or she will not exist.

Ms. Butler pulls no punches in her graphic detailing of the brutality of slavery. Said brutality makes this a difficult read. It’s a worthwhile read, regardless. If I have a quibble, it’s that the time travel mechanism is left completely unexplained — a trick of the cosmos, a spiritual connection, a genetic memory? Who knows? Although the “how” of Dana’s multiple trips to the early 19th Century isn’t relevant to the story Ms. Butler wanted to tell, I still wanted a bone to chew on, some pseudo-rational gobbledegook, however implausible, that my brain would accept as working within the confines of the story.

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Posted in Life in general, theatre

On stage: Evelyn In Purgatory

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Me as Lila, Cat Roche as Evelyn

One of the cool things about Atlanta is all the local playwrights, and the opportunity to perform their work with the playwright in the audience. That was the case with Evelyn In Purgatory by Topher Payne. Mr. Payne is a good friend of Becca Parker, the artistic director of the theatre, and he showed up for a matinee.

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L-R: Allison Brady as Candace; Sean Turner as Toby; and Melissa Maute as Roberta

But I get ahead of myself.

Evelyn In Purgatory is the story of Evelyn Reid, a New York City school teacher who finds herself awaiting a disciplinary hearing with a bunch of other castoffs from the public school system. The play was staged by Live Arts Theatre, directed by Becca Parker and D Norris, and featuring (among others) me as Lila Wadkins, an erstwhile hippie-turned-art-teacher awaiting her own hearing for, ahem, insubordination.

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Rodney Johnson as Fred; Sean Turner as Toby

I was a little apprehensive about doing another show at Live Arts after the hell that was Virginia Woolf, but this production suffered none of the setbacks and roadblocks that plagued that show.  Thank the theatre gods for small mercies.  (Incidentally, that production of Woolf has now entered local theatre lore.  I can’t even count how many actors/techies I’ve met since the show closed who, once they find out I was in it, come back with “Oooooooh!  I heard about that…”  But I digress.)

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Candace tells a story; Lila tries not to judge

Evelyn‘s rehearsals ran smoothly and efficiently, direction and notes were clear and straightforward, and the directors were able to accommodate my conflicts because I was rehearsing and performing the Tapas festival at the same time.  The best thing, though, is my character was a knitter.  I spent the majority of my on-stage time with knitting needles in my hand.  It was fabulous.

Once we opened, we had great audiences, and even sold out a couple of performances.  We got this glowing review from a local director, and we were nominated for several awards.

Last Saturday was the Live Arts Theatre awards ceremony, also known as “The Livelys.”  Much to our surprise, we won!  A lot!  Five awards went to our production:

Best Supporting Actor: Rodney L. Johnson
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Cat Roche
Best Director: Becca Parker and D Norris
Best Ensemble: Evelyn in Purgatory
Favorite Production: Evelyn in Purgatory

All in all, a much better experience than my last at Live Arts.  I’ll go back there again. Assuming they’ll have me.

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Roberta pantsed the little bastard.
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Coach Fred tries to whip us into shape.
Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m going to quote the Publisher’s Weekly synopsis here: “…[an] intricate and imaginative novel by one of China’s most celebrated genre writers. In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death. Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title.”

Excellent work. That complex game and the detailed description of its play take up several chapters of this novel. They were probably the hardest for me to get through — I am not a gamer and I don’t care about video games. At. All. But these chapters serve to advance the plot, they’re relatively interesting (I’m aware some folks find them “awesome”) and, eventually, the implications of each game-playing session become clear.

I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. But the author and translator did an excellent job of explaining astrophysics to the unwashed masses (that means me), and I was able to follow enough of the science and reasoning to make sense of the direction of the plot. Plus the sheer educational value of the history of the Cultural Revolution, of which I knew nothing, made this a worthwhile read.  I’m looking forward to the second book of the series, as soon as it becomes available at my library.

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Book review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

The PowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Time: Five minutes into the future. Women, especially young women, have developed the unexpected ability to generate powerful electric charges, at first randomly when in danger, and then at will, as they learn to control their newfound talent. Over the course of several years, more and more women begin to make use of this skill — for protection, for power, or both — and some men begin to organize against them, leading to a grand showdown that is foreshadowed by the interchapter archaeological discussions of ancient artifacts.

A brutal and stark portrayal of a world being flipped on its head.

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Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

A Colony in a NationA Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clear-eyed analysis of the current state of racial tension in the United States. Chris Hayes is aware of his privilege as an educated, relatively affluent, white male, and uses that privilege to elucidate his premise that, for all its lip service to equality and justice for all, the US is a divided society — the Nation, generally composed of white people excessively concerned with public safety and “law and order;” and the Colony, constituted in the main by people of color who are increasingly the targets and victims of the “law and order” mindset of the Nation.

Hayes’ premise is easily confirmed by recent events in which people of color just going about their own business have had the cops called on them for what amounts to breathing while black. Not that the Philadelphia Starbucks incident or the Oakland barbecue incident are anything out of the ordinary for black folks in this country: we just hear about them now because of the ubiquity of smart phones and use of social media.

While Hayes doesn’t offer any solutions, that’s not the point of his book. The whole point here is to raise awareness. Look around. Take notice of the many ways the Nation oppresses the Colony. And, if you’re white, do your best to recognize your part in the oppression — because we all do it, despite our best intentions. Recognition leads to self-awareness leads to a change in behavior.

Because black lives matter.

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Book review: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

Sleeping BeautiesSleeping Beauties by Stephen King

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The sleeping women became enshrouded in cocoons and, without them, men tore the world apart.

This novel hinges on the premise that, without women’s civilizing influence, the human male is a brute savage, bent on destruction and domination. And while that might be true to a certain degree and for certain men, I simply can’t believe men in general would lose all sense of decorum and restraint within a three-day absence of their mothers, wives, and daughters, even given they don’t know if said absence is temporary.

I mean, give it at least a week, right? Maybe even two.

Two stars and “It was ok” is all the praise you’re getting from me, King père et fils. It was readable, at least.

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Book review: The Lauras by Sara Taylor

The LaurasThe Lauras by Sara Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the middle of a spring night, 13-year-old Alex’s mother hustles both of them into the car, puts Alex in the back seat with a blanket, and drives away from their home and Alex’s father, with no explanation. All Alex knew was Ma and Dad had been fighting, again, and this time must have been the worst, or Ma would never have left.

The pair spends the next few years on the road, traveling from place to place, small town to small town, more or less in hiding, while Alex’s mother works odd jobs to support them. Now and then Ma talks about her past; now and then they visit places and people Ma had known as she was growing up in foster care. Ma has loose ends to tie up.

Alex has loose ends, too. Mainly, Alex hasn’t decided whether to present as male or female, and so alternates depending on mood and available clothing. While this usually doesn’t cause trouble, Alex occasionally runs into people who don’t understand and want to classify and categorize by gender. Ma is fiercely protective of Alex’s genderqueer identity and won’t stand for any nonsense from jackasses.

Told in the first person from Alex’s perspective, this wandering road trip of self-discovery — for both Alex and Ma — is mesmerizing, beautiful, tender, gruff, and heart-wrenching. Life on the run isn’t easy, but our stalwart nomads make the best of their circumstances, and eventually find themselves a satisfactory state of being.

Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this book.

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