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The Local

a A Collection
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Curated by Ellen McQueen

COMPANY : Essential Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4322

SHOWING : July 12, 2012 - August 05, 2012

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

THE LOCAL is an original play about Atlanta, created by a collaboration of local artists. All the scenes are set in in different Atlanta locations, including famous landmarks like the Fox Theatre, the Cyclorama and Piedmont Park, but also less well known, but definitively Atlantan places and neighborhoods.

The play presents a far ranging portrait of the city, some of it historical, some humorous (like a song about being stuck in traffic on 285), some moving (like the scene based on a true story about a mother and her young daughter who visit a homeless man living under an overpass), and some dramatic (a dance portraying the phoenix, the mythical bird that is the symbol of Atlanta, burning itself up and being reborn from its ashes.)

Many Atanta artists have worked and played together to make this piece, and we want to share it with everyone who takes an interest in what makes Atlanta, Atlanta.


CAST & CREW LIST
Contributing Writer Margaret Baldwin
Contributing Writer Jessica Bodiford
Contributing Writer Peter Hardy
Contributing Writer Karla Mari Jennings
Contributing Writer Ellen McQueen
Contributing Writer Ashley McQueen
Contributing Writer Vynnie Meli
Contributing Writers Barbara & Carlton Molette
Contributing Writer Matthew Myers
Contributing Writer Topher Payne
Contributing Writer Sarah Satola
Contributing Writer Stephanie Schrag
Contributing Writer Oliver Turner
Assistant Director Robby Glade
Director Ellen McQueen
Stage Manager Barbara Gantt
Technical Director Chris Gilstrap
Lighting Designer Harley Gould
Scenic Design Robert Hadaway
Choreographer Marymay Impastato
Costume Designer Jane Kroessig
Properties Design Kathy Manning
Sound Design Jon Summers
Ensemble Christina A, Boland
Ensemble Cheryl Booker
Ensemble Adrian "Dre" Camacho
Ensemble Madeline J. Kahn
Ensemble Mei Nathan
Ensemble Nancy Powell
Ensemble John Stanier
Ensemble Spencer G. Stephens
Ensemble Charles Umeano
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REVIEWS

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A Portrait of the City With Some Young Playwrights
by Dedalus
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
3.0
For my third visit to this year�s Essential Play Festival, let�s hop aboard �The Local.� �The Local� is an anthology portrait of Atlanta, as told by some of Atlanta�s best playwrights. Developed and Directed by Ellen McQueen, it wants to multi-media-zoom from topic to topic with freeway-like speed, but, its ultimate effect me was more of a back-roads-meander inside the perimeter. The pieces were all too short or too shallow or too been-there seen-that to shed any new light on the city or to provide any compelling narrative, and, indeed, looking at the list of pieces is a bit of a challenge for my memory cells to recall what some were even about.

The play starts off �in the wrong lane� (so to speak) by giving us a musical parody of Atlanta�s traffic woes. Not only have we already seen an identical jab in one of Second City�s recent pieces at the Alliance (complete with rolling office chairs playing the roles of cars), it�s a too-easy shot that doesn�t tell us anything we don�t already know. Right from the start, I was given the impression we were getting more of a rant than a true portrait of the city, a home-grown knock-off of the Second City shows, none of which I was especially entertained by.

Here though, it was especially disappointing, since local authors do not (or should not) have the �outsider�s� perspective that, to my mind, dragged down the shows from Chicago. But, there it is � a lead-off rant about traffic, followed by a silly piece about all the �Peachtree Streets� in town. There are far too many monologues that go no deeper than a PR release (in other words, filled with information but not much character). There are even a few videos (but to me, too many � I DON�T come to the theatre to watch movies), one of which is no more than a commercial for the Beltline that could have come straight from the Public Outreach and Media department of the project organizers.

Even ignoring all these (admittedly) personal reactions I had to this piece � I would be hard-pressed to identify anything particularly �Atlantan� about the people on view. One of the better pieces, Ellen McQueen�s �Cyclorama,� even used a character from the north to try to examine the south�s ambivalent memory of the Civil War. The �Atlanta� on view was strictly events and landmarks that fail to illuminate any local �character.�

That�s not to say that everything here was forgettable. I liked Margaret Baldwin�s �Deepest Part of the Creek,� a sort of gothic �memory� tale that owed more to Flannery O�Connor than to Atlanta (or even Georgia) writers. Stephanie Schrag�s �CDC� was also clever, couched in the form of a Middle School report (marvelously performed by young Mei Nathan), but, again, it was more facts and figures than people and events. Ms. McQueen�s �Manuel�s� was a nicely ironic slice-of-theatre-culture that ended too soon, and the always reliable Topher Payne gave us �Everybody Ends Up here,� a character-driven comedy set during the Atlanta Pride parade which actually succeeded in showing a spectrum of attitudes and behaviors characterizing the gay community. But, yet again, place references to Atlanta aside, it could have been set in any metropolitan city anytime in the past forty years. I also really enjoyed the dance numbers, especially the final �Phoenix Reborn� piece that seemed to rise organically out of a generic talking-heads �Occupy Atlanta� video.

The ensemble cast also puts forth a grand and glorious effort � Spencer Stephens is our sorta kinda �conductor / emcee� who shepherds Christina Boland, Cheryl Evette Booker, Dre Camacho, Terry Guest, Madeline J. Kahn, Mei Nathan, Nancy Powell, John Stanier, and Charles Umeano through a plethora of roles and times and places that truly highlights what a marvelous pool of talent can be found in our city. There�s not a bad performance in the lot, and, in some cases, some truly remarkable turns.

Still, I can�t help but grumble about the �to what end?� aspect of all this fine work.

Perhaps the problem here is the short-work format. It is incredibly difficult to capture any emotional resonance or depth of theme in a 5 � 10 minute sketch. The best that can be hoped for is a quick sketchy comedy or monologue, or �theatre-lite� experience. While the attempt may have been to make a tapestry that eventually yields a memorable portrait, here, the pieces were too generic, too monochromatic to make any overall vision truly legible. Perhaps another problem is the �guidebook to Atlanta� aspect of the local references. Places and events are talked about only, they have little resonance or effect on the characters we see. Perhaps a smaller vision, fewer, but longer plays would have made a more coherent work. Right now, the piece includes twenty-five individuals, fewer than half of which I can recall with enough clarity to describe here. And, one final perhaps � there is a lot of history in Atlanta that could provide a �backbone� to a collection such as this � the Civil War, the early Indian era, Jim Crow, the Child Murders of the 1970�s. the Olympics. Even the local premiere of �Gone With the Wind� could provide a framework for several writers to discover a �character� of Atlanta.

But, a generic �This is Atlanta� theme is just too broad and subject to too many skim-the-surface (and clichéd) to support this many short works. The fact that 25 of them failed to show any compelling portrait is evidence of that.

Or maybe I was just too mind-numbed by traffic on Howell Mill Road to truly appreciate what I saw.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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