Six months after the latest round of funereal predictions for Savannah’s theater community, things are alive, well – and delightfully vigorous.
Two new shows debut this week – one a reading of an extremely contemporary (and nerve–shattering) drama, the other a re–telling of a 60–year–old who–dun–it, the longest–lived and best–loved example of that evergreen stage genre.
There’s more to come this summer – stick with Connect on that subject – but for now, the lights are coming up on The Collective Face and the Masquers of Armstrong Atlantic State University.
The Collective Face first showed its face in May, with a production of the British drama Enchanted April at New Covenant Church.
At the moment, the organization includes just its three founders – David Poole, Kristen Long and Richie Cook – but the idea is to bring together as many like–minded individuals as possible. Object: Collaboration.
“We’re hoping to attract people who want to work with us as actors, as directors, as designers,” Long says. “Because it is a collective. We want to make sure that lots of local artists, from different disciplines, know that they’re welcome with us and that we’re certainly seeking their talents.”
Onstage this weekend at Muse Arts Warehouse (formerly Indigo Arts) is Bryony Lavery’s 2004 Tony–winning drama Frozen.
It’s a staged reading, not a full production.
“A big part of it is we’re just trying to get our name out in the community, and we thought that this would be a really good way to draw in new audience members, and to do some contemporary plays that are kind of different from what we started with.”
Another reason to keep Frozen stripped–down: Full productions cost money, more money than the Collective Face has in the coffers at the moment.
Two more readings are on the books for later in the summer, with the next full–scale play, The Little Foxes, scheduled for fall.
“David, Richie and I were all in the MFA program at SCAD, in performing arts,” Long says. “And we love Savannah. We wanted to stay here, and we thought the theater community could really use another production company.”
Poole is directing the readings of Frozen, which tells the story – via the perspectives of three different characters – of the brutal murder of a young British girl.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Long advises. “It’s very compelling and it’s very edgy, but it’s very cathartic, too. It causes one to step back and look at one’s concept of forgiveness and morality. It’s a very thought–provoking play.”
And the killer is ...
Across town at Jenkins Hall on the campus of Armstrong Atlantic State University, the Masquers troupe is staging The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, a warhorse of the community theater stage since the early 1950s.
In fact, The Mousetrap – the tale of a young couple, a police detective and a bunch of eccentrics holed up in a spooky old English country hotel – is still playing on London’s West End. It is officially the world’s longest continuously–running play.
“During the summer, we try to put up family–friendly shows, basically summer stock,” says AASU director Peter Mellen. “Just ‘go, have a good time, enjoy yourself.’ And this is the classic summer stock piece.”
Mellen’s student actors, by and large, weren’t familiar with the twisty ins and outs of The Mousetrap. “They’ve heard of Agatha Christie, but they haven’t necessarily ever seen this particular play,” he says. “So it was actually kind of fun during the initial read–through with the cast, because they didn’t know who–dun–it until they read it!”
Christie’s play was the boilerplate for virtually every staged who–dun–it to come. With its expert blending of humor, horror and suspense, Mellen explains, it’s the perfect acting exercise for young thespians.
“If you’ve ever seen a classic Alfred Hitchcock, you know he uses humor to set up the scary stuff,” he says. “And the scary stuff is scarier because he gave you a laugh beforehand. It’s a very fine line, but if you’re going to be a good actor, you really need to be able to walk that line.”
Because there have been more than 42,000 performances in London alone, a movie version and countless community theater productions, there probably aren’t too many theater–lovers who haven’t experienced the snap of The Mousetrap.
“Interestingly enough,” says Mellen, my mom was a huge Agatha Christie fan. And I would notice that she’d be reading an Agatha Christie mystery, and I’d say ‘You’ve already read that!’
“And she’d say, ‘Yeah, but I don’t remember how it ends.’”
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road
When: At 8 p.m. July 9 and 10
Information: (912) 713–1137
Where: Jenkins Hall, AASU campus, 11935 Abercorn St.
When: At 7:30 p.m. July 8–10, 15–17; 3 p.m. July 11 and 18
Information: (912) 344–2801