Dan Sharkey, Ginny Lee and
Michael Abbott, Jr. in Brother Wolf
(Photo © G. Allen Aycock)
Dan Sharkey, Ginny Lee and
Michael Abbott, Jr. in Brother Wolf
(Photo © G. Allen Aycock)
Now in its fifth year, the Triad Stage Theater in Greensboro, North Carolina thrives in part by telling stories that speak to the local community. That impulse inspired artistic director Preston Lane to write and produce Brother Wolf, a new musical based on an Appalachian folk hero -- described as "a preacher, pioneer, and do-gooder" -- who travels to the mountains to fight evil.

Lane sees Brother Wolf as a modern-day Beowulf; but he also acknowledges the Coen brothers' film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which uses ancient myth and traditional music to tell stories about the American South, as inspiration for the story. After hearing about Laurelyn Dossett and her band Polecat Creek on NPR and via a BBC report, he approached these accomplished country musicians about writing the show's score.

He believes that many regional theaters try too hard to imitate New York companies rather than speak to their own audiences. "I wanted to do theater in a Red State," says Lane, "because I think theater has the ability to make us imagine what it's like to be the 'other,' and this is something that seems to be sorely lacking in the country right now. In fact, I think we may be the only theater in the world where [Yazmina Reza's] Art didn't do well."

-- A.K.

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Terri McMahon and Richard Howard in UP
(Photo © Jenny Graham)
Terri McMahon and Richard Howard in UP
(Photo © Jenny Graham)
"I write plays because I love spectacle and story," says Bridget Carpenter. "I like to tap into myths, and I like to create my own." Her latest work, UP, is currently running at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and it seems to epitomize this philosophy.

The play is inspired by the true-life experience of Larry Walters, who in 1982 launched himself and his lawn chair into the air by utilizing weather balloons filled with helium. This adventure has inspired other theater pieces and films -- for example, the stage musical The Flight of the Lawnchair Man -- but Carpenter is quick to point out that she has created her own story based on the flight and has not even seen any of the other works that deal with the incident. "The life of Larry Walters has its own integrity," she says. "It doesn't need me to dramatize or embellish it. I took this beautiful, singular event of his life and used it as a springboard for the story I wanted to tell."

UP was originally performed at the Perseverence Theatre in Alaska in 2003. It revolves around a character named Walter Griffin, who flew in his lawn chair 16 years ago and has been trying to top that singular achievement ever since. "Walter is not at all living in the past," says Carpenter, who made a few revisions for this production. "He's living in the present and, in some ways, the future. He's been trying to invent other things that are not flying the way the lawn chair did." This causes tension between him and his wife, Helen, "who has had to bear the burden of the mortgage" while Walter pursues his dream. Adds Carpenter, "I was inspired by the image of a man alone, flying in his chair. And that image compelled me to wonder who was waiting far below, waiting for him to come down."

The author was also inspired by Philippe Petit, best known for his high-wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. "I sort of gave my personal admiration of him to the character of Walter," says Carpenter. "Walter thinks about him a lot, and Petit becomes a figure in his mind for him to talk with."

-- D.B.

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Step Pearce in The War Anthology
(Photo © Mark Montour-Larson)
Step Pearce in The War Anthology
(Photo © Mark Montour-Larson)
Imagine the task undertaken by Colorado's Curious Theater Company, which commissioned 10 of America' s most distinguished playwrights to contribute to The War Anthology. The eight short works that resulted comment on such conflicts as the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War, and the war in Iraq.

Director Bonnie Metzgar helped conceive the project in a meeting with the theater's artistic director, Chip Walton, and Pultizer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel (whose The Long Christmas Ride Home had its regional premiere at Curious). The company then called on such well-known writers as Suzan-Lori Parks, Will Eno, and Vogel to participate; its members also reached out to artists whom they had previously wanted to work with, including spoken word poets Steven Sapp and Mildred Ruiz. (Tony Kushner contributed an existing piece, Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy.)

The subject of war photography connects the individual works. Parks chose to respond to a photograph within a photograph: A mother of an executed soldier holds up Eddie Adams's infamous image of her son being killed. Local playwright Melissa McCarl found a photo of the Sand Creek Massacre and wanted to help bring to light this sad piece of local history, in which Colorado's militia brutally attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho village. There are also several short dance pieces in the anthology; and Parks composed a song, "Welcome Me," that serves as a sort of anthem for the evening. "Suzan talked about Homer," Metzgar recalls, "and there's a long tradition of people singing about war." You can download a clip of the tune from the company's weblog, curioustheatrecompany.blogspot.com.

-- A.K.