The SpotLight

Story G. E. Light

In late September the West Point-Clay County Arts Council staged Luigi Januzzi’s “All The King’s Women,” a comedic unveiling of Elvis’ life through the eyes of 18 women and two men at the Louise Campbell Center for the Arts. This converted former retail space has hosted many events, gallery shows and even parties. But how do you perform a complicated play in a space that is neither a proscenium arch stage, a black box theater, nor even a theater in the round?

Sometimes less is more; simple, minimal props allow the audience’s imaginations to run rampant and speed up scene changes in a show chock full of different locales. If it was good enough for Shakespeare and his Globe gang … .

On the slightly raised stage, a phone and several chairs can become a show biz office or even various rooms in The White House on that fateful day EAP earned FBI status.

A bare stage allows a monologuist (Mia Vick) to encapsulate a late night grocery store encounter with the King over bananas and peanut butter. This lack of complicated scene changeovers in a two-act play with eight distinct scenes helped speed the play happily to its conclusion following the “Romeo and Juliet” prologue notion about “the two hours’ traffic of our stage.”

Ironically, the most fully propped-out sequences were the radio broadcasts featuring the play’s primary male actor (not counting the looming but absent presence of the King, of course), which served to cover the scene changeovers and set the cultural context and time period for each scene. Many around me were particularly impressed by Brock Turnipseed’s vocal dexterity in portraying a live radio broadcast fade-out over and over again.

Starkville Community Theatre’s mid-November smash success with “Nunsense” raised an interesting question: When is a musical not really a musical? The almost nonexistent plot meanders from scene to scene and musical performance (be it solo. dance or full group workout) interspersed with some canned comedy bits, including an audience quiz.

So not a book musical in any real sense.

The elaborate production history of “Nunsense” uncovers how it fits more comfortably in the genre of revue. “Nunsense” began life as a series of greeting cards with nun-themed punchlines. Much of this humor remains in the show to this day. Then it was a cabaret for 38 weeks before reviving as the all-conquering, second-longest-running, off-Broadway show after another SCT fave, “The Fantasticks.”

A revue is a multi-act performance that combines music, dances and sketches often, but not always, loosely tied together thematically. Coming out of 19th century melodrama, its golden era was from 1916 to 1932, when it spoke to a singularly upper class audience beyond the ribaldry of vaudeville and often involved very topical satire. Two basic strains of revue shows remain: collegiate (Cambridge Footlights, Hasty Pudding Theatricals) and curious local remnants (San Francisco’s Beach Blanket Babylon, running since the ’70s with divas of both sexes and those fabulously enormous street-scene hats). Here in Starkvegas, a Southern audience whooped and hollered to some inside baseball about a very feminized Northeastern-American Catholic subculture. And that my friends … is “Nunsense.”

A mashup for those not hip to modern pop culture is often a video that puts together two disparate artists, say AC/DC’s power chord riffs in “Back in Black” and The Bee Gees lyrics to “Stayin’ Alive,” as produced by Wax Audio to make a new surprisingly pleasant song “Stayin’ in Black.” Christopher Durang attempts this trick with multiple plays by a single artist, Anton Chekov, in the Tony Award-winning “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” with its Mississippi debut at Starkville Community Theatre in late February. Some sense of the meta-comedic goulash coming arrives when we have a Disney Princesses smackdown between Masha in a Snow White costume and Nina in her store-bought Cinderella togs (soon transformed into Dopey of the Seven Dwarves).

Kris Lee’s “Uncle” Vanya provided the play’s standout monologue, an extended harangue in the final scene fondly defending the ’50s zeitgeist from rotary telephone calls to Fess Parker’s coonskin caps to the comfortingly bland golden age television of “Ozzie and Harriet” and Señor Wences of “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The play ended with lines lifted almost directly from Chekov and characters from “Uncle Vanya” (Vanya and Sonia) and “Three Sisters” (Masha).