The Local Life: Hard work pays off for ARTworks theater

Special to Lowcountry LifeJune 25, 2012 

ARTworks is in the middle of its second theater season, and the black box theater that JW Rone built is functioning beautifully. As a community center, ARTworks is 12,000 square feet of dedication to the arts. The theater is the 4,000-square-foot nuclear core that fuels the mission. The first row of seats is 5 feet from the stage.

These two seasons have been my introduction to working in the world of theater. Behind the scenes, I have learned, theater is a whole lot of work. It's a lot of fun, too, judging by the many hours volunteered by actors, crew, scene painters and ushers, as well as the paying audience members.

One Sunday earlier this June was the last of eight shows of "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," a comedy about art, science, fame, jokes and love, by Steve Martin. The backdrop is Paris in 1904, and the only set is a bar, the Lapin Agile, much like the set of TV show Cheers, where the proprietors know a lot of people's names. Freddy, the slapstick bartender, was played athletically by Matthew Donnelly, and Heather Denardo's Germaine the barmaid conveyed a wonderful array of facial expressions throughout the play. One night, Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein and a time-traveling Elvis Presley cross paths at the bar, and profound conversations ensue. Because the play revolves around conversations, Germaine's facial expressions are important. When she rolls her eyes or gives a flirtatious look or simply pays attention while another is talking, she helps direct the audience's attention.

The actors made the playwright's dialogue real. You should have seen Christine Grefe in the role of Suzanne, Picasso's lover, twitch her long velvet skirt eloquently.

Audience members commented on how well the cast worked together. Jay Weidner said, "They were acting the whole time." The audience that day also included Bob and Caren Ross, Kathleen Jordan with friends from Callawassie, Shawn Sproatt and Joellen Herschey (who have acted on this stage), Aubrey Disbrow, Mary Campbell and a Marine in a charming blue polka dot dress, perfect for strolling Paris in the springtime. She came to see fellow Marine Tristan Brew, who played Einstein and did well with the lines of math formulas required for that role.

Before the house opened, bistro accordion music played throughout the building, and people browsed the gallery and artist studios and enjoyed refreshments. On stage, Einstein ordered absinthe, Sagot the art dealer ordered rum and Germaine responded to requests for wine with "what color?", which turned out to be a more significant query than red versus white. Picasso was played by the energetic -- and non-egotistical -- Zack Wells, who puffed his chest and deflated his shoulders in accordance with the wild goings-on.

In this brilliant play (I saw it three times) Picasso proclaims his ideas are from the future, a shift he declares distinguishes the 20th century from the 19th century way of continuing the past. This century hasn't settled the matter yet, but the second half of ARTworks' theater season presents classical plays with bright streak of comedy. Denardo and Donnelly will appear together again in "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged," followed by a production of Moliere's "Misanthrope," from the 1600s, translated from the original French verse by local writer Daniel H. Daniels.

The one unchangeable rule of theater still will apply, though: Unwrap your crinkly candy before the action begins.

Lisa Annelouise Rentz is the transmedia publicity leader for ARTworks, the community arts center in Beaufort. She is developing the "Creative Writing with Kids" app, and can be reached at lisa@beaufortcountyarts.com.

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