Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Biloxi blog

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2010 at 6:46 PM

When a town is bursting with acting talent like Charlotte is – and disdainful of supporting professional theater like Charlotte is – you get strange mutant stage productions like Theatre Charlotte’s recent Biloxi Blues. Ably directed by Dave Blamy, Biloxi Blues was community theater in name only. What was it really? A fully polished professional production for which the actors didn’t get paid.

Robert Crozier played the autobiographical narrator in Neil Simon’s comedy memoir, which deftly revisits the comedy and the crucible of basic training during WW2. In Crozier’s beautifully calibrated performance, Eugene Morris Jerome became a perfect mix of candid likability and shy reserve. Likewise, Colby Davis was a nerdy volatile handful as Arnold Epstein, out of shape physically yet ethically buoyed with a backbone of steel. You could say pretty much the same from the most demanding supporting role, Lamar Wilson as the roaring drill sergeant, down to the most fleeting cameo, Gayle Taggert as the housewife whore who relieves Eugene of his virginity.

These actors and the rest of the cast – Josh Looney, Jon-Claude Caton, John Wray, Scott McCalmont, and Paula Schmitt – put in weeks of professional-level work preparing and performing this comedy. And they deserved paychecks as much the director and the designers that the system allows to cash in. Were Charlotte a town that supported professional theater, a good number of these actors would in professional productions right now, more esteemed by the public, and I daresay by themselves.

Short-term, the public doesn’t lose when community theater becomes so outrageously good. But long-term, the whole ecology of Charlotte theater is harmed. For the aspiring actors who could be making their first strides toward becoming as good as Crozier, Davis, Wilson & Co. don’t get a chance to be cast at Theatre Charlotte’s hyper-competitive auditions or to develop their craft at the Queens Road barn.

Free market conditions haven’t really benefited the theater community in Charlotte or its fine actors. At times, Theatre Charlotte gives in to the monstrous conditions of the marketplace. In mainstage productions like Biloxi Blues, that means surrendering its community theater mission.

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