Saturday, September 10, 2011

699. A local theater review - Theatre [502] - from (Louisville's) Broadway

Last night I went to the Saint Francis Building's Land of Tomorrow Gallery where in the southwest corner of the historic building at Third and Broadway is a space large enough to house a small theater setting and seventy or so patrons. I had expected a friend to join me with his friend, but neither did, so my viewing was solo, which was fine. As usual, I seated myself in the rear-left of the room away from the acting area, and not far from where a decent glass (or plastic cup) of red wine could be had for a few shillings.

The night's production was the second perfomance of the first show by a new Louisville theater group known as Theatre [502], making use of some local numbers of distinction, Louisville's area code, just as I make use of our location, at Milepost 606 on the Ohio River. Mat Smart's work The Debate Over Courtney O'Connell of Columbus, Nebraska (hereinafter Courtney) is one of Smart's many works in both full-length plays, a musical, and several one-act performances. This play has had recent performances in Minneapolis ealier this year by The New Theatre Group, and previously at the Cafe Metropol in Los Angeles, and originating with the Slant Theater Project in New York where the play's author is a co-founder.

I was drawn to the performance by its director, Gil Reyes, whose works, or at least a few of them here and there, I have been following for about eight years. A few of my friends have performed in his works and I've enjoyed seeing them on stage - both my friends and the plays. Gil is a graduate of Kenyon College and has also studied at Middlesex College in London. Locally, he serves on the board at Walden Theater as well as the coordinating committee for the Fairness Campaign. I've come to know Gil best through our mutual friend Stuart Perelmuter.

Courtney is played in two acts, the first in the present, the second about 117 years ago, and set in the town of Columbus, Nebraska. The first scene involves a debate citing an old morality law concerning consensual relations between a man and a woman where two men square off to receive the full attention of a woman, Courtney, one to whom she has enjoyed a short engagement, the other who has been her beau of many years. One is a rather handsome California rich-kid recently out of grad school with promises of money and foreign travel. (I meant to slip him my card as that would work for me). The other is a plain looking and spoken local boy, an hourly wage earner, and a long history with Courtney. The debate takes a turn when the theater patrons are asked to vote on which man gets Courtney's affection. The audience is asked to vote. Ballots and pens are distributed and votes are counted.

I suppose there could be three different outcomes to such a vote, with either man winning the vote or there being a tie. The play is presented with two of those outcomes.

The second act reverts back to 1894 and the genesis for the law creating the debate. A man not happy with the outcomes of his advances toward a certain woman takes revenge on her friends, killing (offstage) over a dozen women in a local factory. After some on-stage antics between two sisters, a would-be hero, and a barkeep, there is more rather stylistic bloodshed - no blood - and in due time, the local sheriff arrives and cites the need for a law to prohibit such carnage in the future.

The play is performed by three key actors and two others in minor roles. I've seen two of them in other local productions - Zach Burrell and Leah Roberts. Burrell plays the debate moderator in Act I and both the barkeep and the sheriff in Act II. Leah Roberts is the star of the show as Courtney. She returns (in drag) in Act II as Amos Morgan, the outlaw whose actions prompt the morality law. Drew Cash, who I recognize but I'm not sure why, is the California kid in Act I, returning in Act II (in drag) as one of the sisters, and as the would-be hero by the name of Sherman Wilkes.

As an aside, the name Sherman Wilkes sounds to be as "southern" a name as could be and I'm sure a determined writer could build a play, book, or movie around such a name. Or, perhaps, that was already done with the name Rhett Butler. But, I digress.

The other key actor is Eli Keel. I have no familiarity with Mr. Keel but his performance as Scooner in Act I, the local boy, and as one of the sisters, Willamina (in drag) in Act II are solid decent work, much like the solid, decent local boy in Act I who won the votes of at least last night's patrons. The two minor actors were Sarah East and Jeremy Sapp.

Intermission provided time to mingle, get a second cup of wine, and listen to some interesting fiddle and banjo playing by Nick Peay and Scott Anthony. To be honest, they weren't playing a fiddle or a banjo, but I am not familiar enough with small stinged instruments to know what to properly call them. The interluding music was a combination of bluegrass, pop, and folk and made for very good listening.

The play, the music - and the wine - created a wonderful evening, albeit alone, in a space I had never visited in the past, the Land of Tomorrow Gallery.

Theatre [502] has three more productions planned for their "pulse-pounding" inaugural season.

Hunter Gatherers, by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb and directed by Mike Brooks, will be performed in the Victor Jory Theater at Actors, running October 14, 15, 17, 21, and 22.

It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis and directed by Greg Maupin in a co-production with the LePetomane Theatre Ensemble, will be staged October 24 at the Parkside Studio Inside at Iroquois. To be honest, I don't know if that means at the park or the high school, or somewhere else.

The final production of Theater [502]'s inaugural season will be Broadsword: a heavy metal play, by Marco Ramirez and directed by Amy Attaway, also set for the Parkside Studio Inside at Iroquois, for November 4-19.

Local theater is important for our community and talent. If you have a chance, go see a production. The website for the theater group is

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The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.