Sunday, February 24, 2013

Arts & Extras: Women cast as lead hobos in Gamut's 'Godot'

Arts & Extras column

Mike Allen, arts and culture columnist

Mike Allen, arts columnist

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Roanoke stages haven't often seen productions of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," despite the play's status as a masterpiece of 20th-century absurdist theater.

A bare bones summary of the plot hardly sounds enticing. For two acts, two hobos wait in a desolate landscape for a mysterious man named Godot - pronounced "Guh-DOH," by the way, not "Go-DOT," as I once thought.

Yet there's a poetry to the non sequitur dialogue and word games between the main characters that Miriam Frazier, artistic director of Roanoke's Gamut Theatre, sums up by saying, "Being lost together is always better than being lost alone."

Frazier acted in an all-female production of the play when she was a student at Hollins College.

"I've always been in love with the play," she said. Because of the way certain snatches of dialogue repeat themselves, "it's sort of like a long song with a repeating chorus."

For the protagonists in Beckett's 1949 play, Frazier cast Kris Laguzza and Stevie Holcomb - two actresses frequently seen in regional theater productions - as Estragon and Vladimir (aka Gogo and Didi), respectively.

Both Frazier's previous experience and casting choices would likely have drawn protest from Beckett, who was opposed to having women cast in "Godot."

"These are really iconic parts," Frazier said, asserting they belong to the theater community at large. "I was always open to casting it with both men and women."

The cast is rounded out with Kevin McAlexander as Pozzo and Spencer Meredith as Lucky - two more hobos who wander into Didi's and Gogo's turf - and Noah Jones as The Boy, who delivers messages from Godot.

For Noah, the 9-year-old son of Kevin Jones, who runs the Kevin Jones Performing Arts Studio out of his Roanoke County home, the enigmatic part is a definite shift from his role as Chip in the touring production of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast." The musical came to the Roanoke Performing Arts Theatre in 2011 as a "Broadway in Roanoke" production.

At a recent rehearsal, as Noah practiced with Holcomb and Laguzza, all three had to check themselves from saying "Mister," as the script reads, instead of "Miss" or "Ma'am."

Without the logic of a traditional plot, "Godot" presents a challenge for actors. "It's not a very linear sort of thing," said Laguzza. "You really have to be in the moment. You really have to be in tune with the other person."

The play also has roots in the Vaudeville-era comedy of Charlie Chaplain and Laurel and Hardy. "It's incredibly physical," Laguzza said.

Frazier said casting women in the main roles adds a dimension to the friendships between the two leads. "I think it really enriches it, I think it makes it warmer," she said.

"Kris and I are good friends in real life so the chemistry was already there," Holcomb said.

Performances take place 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and March 7-9 in the June M. McBroom Theatre at Community High School of Arts and Academics, 302 Campbell Ave. S.E. in Roanoke. Admission $15, Thursdays, $10, students $5. For more information, call 540-676-1415 or gamuttheatre@gmail.com.

48-hour novel contest

Josh Chapman, academic director of Community High School, is looking for a few brave novelists.

He's organized a competition guaranteed to test any writer's endurance - "The 2013 Roanoke Pulp and Paper 48-Hour Novel Writing Contest."

The contest will start 9 a.m. March 23 and end 9 a.m. March 25. The stakes: a $500 prize and near-immediate publication of the winning book in trade paperback form.

The printed and bound book will be presented at the March 30 "Vaudeville Night" event during the Roanoke Marginal Arts Festival. This year, the festival runs March 28-30, with a warm-up of workshops, classes and lectures run by regional and visiting artists, called "Lycee Marginal," taking place March 25-28.

Contestants will be expected to crank out at least 30,000 words. The stories must take place in Roanoke and take part in pulp traditions such as science fiction or detective fiction. Works already in progress are forbidden. Each writer will be given individual prompts for inspiration.

As for where the cranking out of these masterpieces will take place, the rules say, "Contestants are encouraged to write in public. Facilities will be provided for those wishing to do so."

The contest's judge will be former Roanoke resident C.L. Bledsoe, a Baltimore poet and critic who's also author of the novel "Last Stand in Zombie Town." Chapman described him as "a sort of professional literary comedian."

For more information and to register, email Chapman at jchapman@communityhigh.net. You can also read the complete rules at the Arts & Extras blog.

Trumpet soloist

The New River Valley Symphony will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday in Burruss Auditorium on the Virginia Tech campus.

The program includes Dvorak's Symphony No. 8, Beethoven's "Egmont Overture" and the Arutiunian Trumpet Concerto by Armenian composer Alexander Arutiunian, which will feature a solo by Jason Crafton, assistant professor of trumpet and director of the music department's jazz ensembles. Admission $10, senior citizens $8, students $5. For more information, call 231-5615 or www.tickets.vt.edu.

The Rainier Trio

At 7 p.m. March 5, chamber music group The Rainier Trio will perform works written for violin, viola and piano by the likes of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Milhaud at St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church, 2339 Grandin Road, Roanoke.

Though the concert, subtitled "Romantic and More," is free, donations will benefit Family Promise of Greater Roanoke, formerly the Roanoke Interfaith Hospitality Network.

Expect ragtime and tango music in the mix as well. For more information, call 774-5183 or visit www.stelizabethsroanoke.org.

Artists wanted

Monday is final day for artists to send in applications for the 11th Annual New Works Exhibit in the Hayloft Gallery at The Jacksonville Center for the Arts in Floyd.

The show, which last year featured 81 pieces by 32 artists, will run from March 22 to May 19. Applications can be downloaded at jacksonvillecenter.org, or artists can apply in person at the center at 220 Parkway Lane South. Applications fee is $30, Jacksonville Center members $25. Visitors to the exhibition will vote to award a People's Choice prize of $50. For more information, call 745-2784.

On the Arts blog

The Mallory Fine Art gallery in Abingdon will open an exhibition March 7 by Abingdon artist Charles Vess, a comic book and fairy tale illustrator and winner of the World Fantasy Award. To learn more, visit blogs.roanoke.com/arts.

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