Month: April 2018

DEATH AIN’T NOTHING BUT A FASTBALL ON THE OUTSIDE CORNER: Review of August Wilson’s “Fences”

By Theresa Allen, guest blogger

The warm golden glow of a summer’s evening juxtaposed against the dark shadows of a dilapidated brick city home provides a luminous backdrop to the riveting and heartbreaking performance of August Wilson’s Fences at the Lone Tree Arts Center. There is still time to pick up tickets to see this extraordinary performance before the play closes on Saturday, April 21st.

Fences opens with Troy Maxson, a garbage man, holding court in his backyard with his captive audience, his wife Rose and best friend Bono. In the opening scene, Troy is a mesmerizing storyteller who humorously recounts a fantastical tale, in the African-American oral tradition, of how he wrestled and escaped from death. This allegorical telling is the thread that holds all the complicated aspects of Troy’s personality together in a deeply disappointing world.

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Esau Pritchett as Troy Maxson. Photo by Danny Lam.

The part of Troy is portrayed by Esau Pritchett, who brings to life a good, but deeply flawed man whose personal frustrations have resulted in building walls between himself and those who love him. Pritchett’s strong voice, charismatic nature, and powerful stage presence provides the audience the sense that they are watching the tragic fall of a working class hero.

In his youth, Troy has the opportunity to play for the Negro Baseball League, at a time before the racial barriers were broken by Jackie Robinson. However, he is involved in a robbery that results in the loss of his baseball future, and he ends up with penitentiary time. He is not home to raise his oldest son, Lyons, played by Bradford Barnes. In his limited understanding of the world, Troy cannot comprehend Lyons’ calling to become a jazz musician and is annoyed by his inability to provide for his wife and his weekly requests for money.

Troy’s second son, Cory, played by Jay Reeves, is a young man with the opportunity to receive an athletic scholarship. Reeves gives a outstanding performance as a young man full of hope and optimism that is dashed when his father will not sign the papers allowing him to play college football. Troy projects his own failure in athletics on to Cory. This is Troy’s way of protecting Cory from the harshness of the world. However, it’s Troy’s sense of duty towards his family coupled with his own inability to be a perfect father and husband that is the tension that holds this play together.

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Esau Pritchett and Julanne Chidi Hill. Photo by Danny Lam.

Without giving away the plot, the pivotal crisis that occurs between Troy and Rose illuminates the complexity of their 18-year marriage. Rose, who in Act I seems marginalized in the lives of Troy, Lyons and Cory steps into the spotlight as a strong and resilient character in her own right in Act II. Julanne Chidi Hill, the actress who portrays Rose, gives a spellbinding performance when she challenges Troy’s view of the world by pointing out her own disappointment in his behavior and her own life. Yet she rises above the situation. There is a great acting chemistry between Hill and Pritchett, which makes Troy’s betrayal profoundly devastating to the audience.

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(L-R)Bradford Barnes, Julanne Chidi Hill, Darryl Alan Reed, and Jay Reeves. Photo by Danny Lam.

The one character that ties all of the family together is Darryl Alan Reed’s memorable performance as Gabe, Troy’s mentally ill brother. It’s no coincidence that Gabe, who carries a trumpet and who is constantly talking to St. Peter will be the vehicle for Troy’s redemption. In fact, I was surprised and delighted by the “deux ex machina” ending reminiscent of the chariot scene in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This interesting ending reminds the audience that no one escapes death and what that means for those who love you. While Troy may have been a free man in 1950s Pittsburgh, he was still enslaved in a culture by racism, poverty, responsibility, and powerlessness in a world that seemed to be constantly conspiring against him. Closure only comes to Troy’s wife and children, and to the audience, through forgiveness and understanding.

Fences is the sixth in a series of ten plays Wilson called the “Pittsburgh Cycles.” Written in 1985, Fences was the winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. In the capable and deft hands of director Wren T. Brown and this fine cast, this smart, funny, captivating, and heart-rending performance of Fences engages the audience with a satisfying story about the human condition.

Tickets for August Wilson’s Fences are sale now from $35 to $60 and can be purchased at www.lonetreeartscenter.org/fences. The Lone Tree Arts Center is located at 10075 Commons Street in Lone Tree. Free on-site parking is available.

Review: Bob Kendrick

1521560770_h_negro_baseball_league_show headerBy Keilani Fleming, Guest Blogger

It was a blustery evening as Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum located in Kansas City, Missouri, made his way up to the podium to speak on his passion; the true history of baseball in the context of the Negro Leagues.

BobK1(Mug)1Kendrick visited Lone Tree Arts Center, in part, as a complement to the current running theater production, August Wilson’s Fences. Several of the baseball players about which Kendrick speaks are referenced in the play, set in the 1950s, by the main character, Troy Maxson, played to perfection by Esau Pritchett.

I had a moment of panic when Kendrick, early in his multimedia presentation, listed off baseball stats for some of the great known names in the game like Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron. Whereas I’ve only watched baseball since I witnessed the ballerina-like grace of Troy Tulowitzki during his rookie year with the Colorado Rockies, my 14 year old daughter accompanied me for the evening and was indifferent, at best, to baseball. In that moment, I thought of my father-in-law, probably sitting at home watching the Rockies game, and how he would have been a more enthusiastic choice.

I chose my daughter because she loves historical content and a good story. As it worked out, I wasn’t wrong in my choice of guest.

Initially, I started taking notes on the various players on the Negro Leagues, names I’ve never heard of before with my limited baseball knowledge. Eventually, I put down my pen and just listened to the engaging speaker in front of me with his wealth of anecdotal knowledge of the likes of “Rube” Foster, “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, “Cool Papa” Bell, Martin Dihigo, and “Buck” O’Neil.

Previously, when I thought of athletes of the past, I didn’t believe they would be able to cut it in the modern day. Athletes are faster, stronger, hits are further, pitches are faster, and training has become an exact science so athletes have precision honed skills. But story after story from Kendrick showed me just how wrong I was. “Cool Papa” Bell running all the bases in 12 seconds. Gibson clearing the bleachers at Yankee Stadium with a homerun. Satchel’s 105 mph pitches.

As Kendrick “(took) control of the pen of history and (told) the story as it should have been told,” I was proud my daughter’s now expanded knowledge of baseball had a foundation in these stories; the stories of the Negro Leagues as they made their way in a segregated sport to produce some of the best athletes known to date.

Most surprising to me were Kendrick’s assertions about the man who broke through the color barrier of baseball in 1947: Jackie Robinson. Kendrick and others believe Robinson’s ability to not only be an exceptional athlete but also his ability to not get ruffled by the backlash of discrimination he experienced, helped spur a bigger conversation about civil rights. Kendrick described Robinson as “not the best man, but the right man” for the job.

When the question and answer portion of the event commenced, my eyes traveled across the room and I noticed something rather remarkable. The audience spanned from kids to seniors, across races and genders. I had spent an hour listening to Kendrick tell the story of how the Negro Leagues were born out of segregation to bring integration and I was witnessing its true mass appeal, over 70 years after Robinson joined Major League Baseball, at Lone Tree Arts Center.

For more information on the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum located in the historic district of 18th and Vine in Kansas City, Missouri, please visit http://www.nlbm.com.

For tickets to Lone Tree Arts Center production of August Wilson’s Fence showing until April 21, 2018, please visit http://www.lonetreeartscenter.org/fences.

Preview: SFJAZZ Collective and the Music of Miles David and Original Compositions

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By Theresa Allen, Guest Blogger

Looking to spend an evening listening to world-class jazz music in the Greater Denver area? The SFAZZ Collective will be performing “The Music of Miles Davis and Original Compositions” on Wednesday, April 25 at 7:30 at the Lone Tree Arts Center.

The SFJAZZ Collective is an all-star ensemble that performs new and fresh arrangements of work by a modern jazz master. The SFJAZZ Collective, a nonprofit launched in 2004 in San Francisco, is a collaboration of many diverse and dedicated jazz musicians who wish to inspire audiences with high quality concerts and a children and teens’ music education outreach program aimed at encouraging the next generation of jazz performers.

The SFJAZZ Collective will perform a tribute to legendary jazz composer and musician, Miles Davis, who was one of the most innovative and influential jazz performers of the 20th Century. “The Music of Miles Davis and Original Compositions” will be performed by eight SFJAZZ Collective musicians, all at the top of their fields, including:

David Sánchez, a Grammy Award winning jazz tenor saxophonist, from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. Sanchez performed in Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra and Dizzy’s Trio until Dizzy’s death in 1993, toured with the Phillip Morris Superband and with many other jazz greats. He will be performing with Sean Jones, an American trumpeter and composer who was featured on Nancy Wilson’s Grammy Award winning album Turned to Blue in 2007. On vibraphone, Warren Wolf , a musician trained in many genres from classical to jazz and who is a percussion instructor at the Berklee College of Music. Wolf performs regularly with the Rachael Price Group (of Lake Street Dive fame) and the Donel Fox Group.

Miguel Zenón will be performing on the alto saxophone. He is a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective as well as a composer, bandleader, teacher, and a four-time Grammy Award nominee. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Genius Grant. On trombone will be Robin Eubanks, a jazz and fusion musician who has performed with Slide Hampton, Sun Ra, and Stevie Wonder. Eubanks has appeared on The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live.

Edward Simon will accompany the group on piano. Simon is a Venezuelan jazz musician who has performed on several Grammy-nominated albums and who teaches at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.  The jazz bassist is Matt Penman, one of the most in-demand musicians in the United States. Penman recently joined the faculty of the Roots, Jazz and American Music program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. And last, but not least, Obed Calvaire will perform on drums. Calvaire has performed along with Wynton Marsalis, Seal, Lizz Wright, and Sean Jones among many others.

An evening with the SFJAZZ Collective offers us the extraordinary opportunity to hear selections of Mile’s Davis’ works interpreted by the foremost musicians in the field of jazz today. Tickets for the SFJAZZ Collective’s “The Music of Miles Davis and Original Compositions” are on sale now from $33 to $55 and can be purchased at www.lonetreeartscenter.org/sfjazz. The Lone Tree Arts Center is located at 10075 Commons Street in Lone Tree. Free on-site parking is available.