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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Three Shows Open This Week:

Theater Wilmington, North Carolina
Suzanne Nystrom, Monnie Whitson and Jane Mcneill-Balter perform in ‘The Hallelujah Girls.’ Photo by Michele Seidman.
Theater

Suzanne Nystrom, Monnie Whitson and Jane McNeill-Balter perform in ‘The Hallelujah Girls.’ Photo by Michele Seidman.

Local stages offer a range of enter-tainment this weekend, from comedy to drama to mystery. Big Dawg Productions, Cape Fear Theatre Arts and Porch Theatre Company will open “The Hallelujah Girls,” “Lady” and “Clue!” respectively. We caught up with each to find out what audiences can expect upon curtain call.

The Hallelujah Girls

Cape Fear Playhouse • 613 Castle St.
June 2-5, 9-12 and 16-19, 8 p.m., or Sun., 3 p.m.
(June 3 performance: Sold Out!)
$18 GA/$15 students and seniors
$10 on Thursdays
www.bigdawgproductions.org
“This show reminds me to live while I’m still alive!” Michele Seidman, director of Big Dawg Productions’ latest play, “The Hallelujah Girls,” says. Opening this weekend at Cape Fear Playhouse, Seidman steps out of her normal singing (Michele and the Midnight Blues) and acting (“Empire Records”) shoes to take over the directing reign of an estrogen-filled cast.

“The show has six women and two men,” she says. “There is no way to watch and not laugh, male or female. I know all the lines, and sometimes I still burst out so bad my eyes water.”

The story takes place in the South—Eden Falls, Georgia, to be specific—at a church-turned-day-spa. Here, a group of friends rediscover life’s meaning after one of their close pals, Vonda Joyce, dies.

“The script hit home in many ways,” Seidman says, admitting to her own battles with health recently. “While Vonda was alive, she failed to really live. I have gone through some tough stuff in the last few years; it forced me to retreat because it created limitations. I sort of stopped living. But it did not kill me! I can change my fate, unlike Vonda. This show reminds me to live while I am alive. The selfish side of me wants to laugh more, and by directing this, I am!”

The friends in the show consist of Sugar Lee (Jane McNeill Balter), Carlene (Monnie Whitson), Crystal (Emily Graham), Mavis (Charlotte Hackman), Bunny (Suzanne Nystrom) and Nita (Holli Sapperstein). While the humor spreads across the board, from dealing with needy family to bad bosses to widowed friends, the appeal is tenfold. The women are bringing depth and range, not to mention a bevy of infectious laughter to Wilmington.

“During their journey, the ‘girls’ as a collective become the little engine that could,” Seidman says, “as they overcome one obstacle after another, even though they are the under dogs. . . . Call it the ‘Rudy’ effect. You know how bad you want him to make it on the field? You feel the same way for these women. You want them to make it.”

Their characteristics envelop a wide range, too. The flaky, the bawdy, the showoff, the know it all—they’re all here. And a few men are alongside them.

“Ron Hasson keeps Bobby likeable even when you think you should hate him,” Seidman says, “and you would never know Carter McKaughan is fairly new to acting because he brings ‘blow hard’ Porter to life.”

In the end the actors sculpt their roles with exciting details, but it couldn’t have been done without the writing team of Jessie Jones, Nicolas Hope and Jamie Wooten, otherwise known as “America’s three funniest playwrights.” JonesHopeWooten are known for comedies like “Dearly Beloved,” “Christmas Belles” and “Southern Hospitality.” The have celebrated 1,300 productions worldwide, and “The Hallelujah Girls” continues to spread wonky Southern charm across the equator.

“Somehow they managed to flush out characters, bring them to life, pepper it with great humor and still keep it cohesive,” Seidman notes. “If one person had written this, it would still be genius; the fact three authors pulled this off is magic in itself.”

Lady

Thalian Hall Studio Theatre • 610 Chestnut St.
June 1-4, 8-12 and 15-19, 8 p.m. • $14
www.thalianhall.com
The political climate of America is under much scrutiny—more now than ever. Many say it stemmed from the 2001 fated day of September 11. Outlooks and belief systems fundamentally shifted. When theatre can embrace the mold of society and reflect it in a way that’s as entertaining as it is conceptual, something enlightening is born.

Dan Morris, local actor and director, lends his talented hands to Cape Fear Theatre Arts’ latest play, “Lady,” opening this week. The production follows three childhood friends on a hunting excursion, wherein their mores are revealed and impend upon their connectivity as adults. Played by Justin Smith, Gil Johnson and Jon Stafford, the seasoned cast embodies a multitude of talent.

“I see these roles as expressing three attitudes that have emerged since [9/11],” Morris states. “I would leave it to the audience to discover the differences and how their relationships have changed in the past decade.”

Playwright of the Drama Desk award-winning “The Pavilion,” Craig Wright, who wrote “Lady,” debuted as a TV writer in 2001’s HBO series “Six Feet Under,” which earned him an Emmy nomination. He continued seeing success on shows like “Lost” while writing scripts for the stage. 2009’s “Lady” uncovers the raveling edges of friendship and the inevitable changes many people go through while their country’s in the midst of war. Though the story’s premise seems simple enough, the character revelations become a stomping ground of fodder on patriotism, Iraq and apathy.

“While issues are stated and faced, the play does not turn didactic,” Morris ensures. “Wright gives each character a unique voice. I think we have all known the people represented here. They have dimension and swing easily from the serious, to the mundane, to the humorous. It is obvious their relationship is deeply rooted.”

Morris’ 20-year experience on Wilmington’s theatre scene—on at least 75 productions—clearly gives him veteran status. However, his connection to Broadway runs deep, too, as he worked on “Glenngarry Glen Ross” and “On Golden Pond,” along with actors like Patti LuPone and the legendary Mr. George Abbott. He pulls from all experiences to bring the most inspired performances to light.

“It is my hope that as a director I can readily relate to actors,” he says. “Each has his own process. I trust actors to get where they need to go. With any luck I can assist along the way. As an actor I mind my own business. As a director I am in everyone’s business. Ideally it is a collaborative effort.”

Cape Fear Theatre Arts (CFTA), an arm of City Stage Productions, hosts its second show of the season at Thalian Hall Studio on June 1. “It has been a goal for some time for Justin Smith and Gil Johnson, two of CFTA’s producers, to begin incorporating a studio season,” Nick White, City Stage’s company manager, says. “It’s because of the success of City Stage that they are able to do it now. A studio season typically requires a more intimate space . . . We are certainly not saying goodbye to the venue at City Stage, and we will be back up there for our 2011/2012 main stage season.”

Clue!

Front Street Brewery • 9 N. Front St.
June 2, 9, 16 and 23, 6:30 p.m.
$40 (includes dinner)
www.porchtheatre.com
The famed Hasbro whodunnit board game returns to downtown Wilmington, as Porch Theatre Company reignites live action at Front Street Brewery on June 2. Ms. Scarlet, Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum are only a few among the ranks of the murder mystery and mayhem.

Suzzan Smith, director of Porch, has successfully staged the show before as a part of the dinner theatre’s ongoing season. However, each time she returns with a new premise to stump the audience.

“This time the action takes place in the mansion of Mr. Boddy,” Smith reveals. With the audience acting out the role of detective, clues are given throughout the show to help them solve who killed Mr. Boddy and with what weapon.

“At the beginning of the show, two audience members are invited to pick from a deck of cards,” Smith explains. “In addition to determining the details of the crime, the cards also determine what lines Mr. Boddy will speak at various times in the show, which then gives clues to the solution of his murder.”

The cast—or “game pieces” as Smith refers—include Heather Setzler, John Markas, Maxwell Paige III, Matt Malloy, Pat Maloney, Damond Nelson and Smith herself. The mystery not only comes with a bevy of personalities to work through upon suspicion, but it all takes place over dinner. Front Street Brewery will prepare a three-course meal for the audience. Tickets are $40, and the show takes place every Thursday throughout June. Reserve seats at (910) 232-6611.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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