In review – The Uganda Project: Come & See, Go & Tell

The Uganda Project: Come & See-Go & Tell, created, directed and choreographed by Jennifer Mizenko has a great meaning and purpose behind it, but I honestly cannot tell you what that purpose is or what really went on for the entire 90 minutes of the dance experience.

While Mizenko may have gone, seen and come back, the show has no recognizable storyline. I tried flipping through the playbill to cure the confusion about who is who and where these people are going consumes the majority of each piece.

By the time I had figured it out, there is a completely different set of dancers on stage to distinguish.

I commend Mizenko for taking such an obviously beautiful experience and bringing it back to share with everyone and anyone willing to listen, but there is nothing to listen to.

Without narration or at least an insert with the background information of the experience, the beauty and message is lost.

The sporadic photography helped paint a picture of the African atmosphere, the beauty and desolation, but it was nothing that had not been before. There was no explanation of the characters as people, and it was difficult to discern between quite a few without knowing the dancers’ names.

Taylor Thomas, senior hospitality management major, takes her role as The Job Lady and creates a breathtaking portrayal of a woman in crisis. Her ability to move with grace while restricted by a skirt is the most beautiful moment of the show.

Even though the majority of the cast looked beyond miserable for the majority of the production, one newcomer caught my attention almost immediately.

Brianna Fuller, freshman theater major, glowed with energy and enthusiasm from beginning to end. Her portrayal of Whitney, one of the missionaries, brought a bit of much-needed light back to the stage.

If the rest of the cast can catch her enthusiasm and draw the audience in, the bewilderment will become less of an issue.

As a less religious person than the majority of the population, I was shocked and almost offended by the blatant religious outpour found in nearly every scene.

While I respect everyone’s right to the first amendment and the freedom to practice whatever they please, it is the last thing I want to see from the dark abyss of the house.

Yes, the trip was a missionary trip and religion was a huge part of the experience, but it becomes a constant tick for those with a different faith.

Dex Edwards saves the day once again with his brilliant scenic design that attracts enough attention to get noticed but blends in seamlessly to become the most specific hospital room or the most vague African plain.

His ability to hide an entire porch for the majority of the performance, however, is the most amazing part of the entire show (minus the live chickens).

While the show is not heavy on props, the few that were necessary were used well. Despite the fact that I never knew where they were going, the props used to create a car for the 15 dancers to pile into was a brilliantly crafted way to remove the bulky aspect of what could have been.

The lighting was the best they have had this semester, and the designer Paul Kennedy should be proud.

The images that were created and deepened with a simple manipulation of light brought life to the performance.

The Job Lady’s solo has a barely-lit stage, but the lack of light brings more to the piece than any amount of brightness could ever do.

In order to truly enjoy The Uganda Project, you must come into the experience fully knowing that you will not understand what you are seeing and draw your focus to the fact that there is beautiful choreography mixed among the confusion.

Believing that the beauty of dance is enough to tell a story is a wonderful thought, but the ability to execute expression with no words is harder than I once thought.


In Review: “The Drowsy Chaperone”

People love musical theater for its ability to remove the audience from the daily grind and bring them into a world where song, dance and glitter are a part of everyday life. If you’re looking for something to do for two hours that only requires you to sit, laugh and enjoy, The Drowsy Chaperone is the perfect way to go.

The Drowsy Chaperone is a musical within a comedy, and the two complement each other flawlessly; sometimes you forget you’re watching a musical and sometimes forget you’re watching anything but. The musical numbers are not overwhelmingly flashy and flamboyant but still give you that classic musical-theater-big-dance-number feeling.

Directed by Rene Pulliam, this is one of the strongest and most well-cast musicals that Ole Miss has seen in a long time. A farce about musical theater itself, the show is a good weekend activity for the diehard theater patron or the random student looking for something new to entertain them outside of football.

Jared Davis, an alum of the Ole Miss theater department, steals the show with his hilarious characterization of Man in Chair. After watching his performance, it’s a wonder why he was so overlooked in his time here before graduation.

A perfect fit for the neurotic lover of classic musical theater, Davis never stops being active throughout the entire two-hour performance. Even when the focus is completely off of his corner, he is constantly engaged in everything going on in front of him.

Every aspect of his character draws you into the show, eagerly anticipating what craziness will come next.

Senior Anna Donnell takes the part of Drowsy to a whole new drunken, sultry world while traipsing around the stage, martini glass in hand. As a representation of the Broadway stars of yesteryear, Donnell commands attention. While she is nothing new to this department, this could easily be one of her best mainstage performances of her college career.

Sophomore Christian Green is off to a strong start with his performance of Robert Martin. As his first major role here, Green creates a multi-dimensional character full of life and emotions. He pulls off his solo flawlessly and even manages not to skate off the stage blindfolded. After such a strong performance, I expect to see Green a lot more in his remaining years here.

Jade Genga, a newcomer to Ole Miss and Fulton stage, was a bit disappointing overall as Janet. While Genga has a beautiful voice and physically fits the character perfectly, she lacks an energy and commanding presence that a showgirl simply must have to survive in the business.

The pairing of Underling and Tottendale very easily could have been overdone and borderline annoying, but Christopher Young and Ashley Mitchell make comedic magic onstage. From Young’s entrance in Cold Feet as the perfectly proper British butler, he won my half of my heart for the night.

The other half was given to Mitchell from the second she took the stage in a puffy white dress without a clue in her (character’s) head. I could easily watch these two in a show of their own and never grow tired of them. They are, without a doubt, the quintessential comedic relief characters and pull it off flawlessly.

The best part of a musical (when you’re lucky enough to find one) is a live band backing strong singers. The band, hidden discreetly backstage, brings a new feel and authentic 20s sound to the stage without the annoyance of hearing Karaoke backtracks.

As always, you can’t beat a Dex Edwards set around here. With the entire set simply being the interior of an apartment, it’s difficult for much to stand out, but Edwards is known for putting the most emphasis into some of the smallest details. His work for the finale is definitely something not to be missed.

Overall, this show is top-notch and ready to entertain the masses. As Man in Chair so eloquently puts it, “I just want to be entertained. Isn’t that the point?”

Yes, sir, that is the point of theater. While there is something to be said about making a point and changing the world with art, its original purpose was to entertain, and that’s exactly what the cast of The Drowsy Chaperone will do.

In Review: “Boy Gets Girl”

In the world of blind dating, there are two main outcomes: falling in love and being stalked. One of these is very glamorous and wonderful, and the other is the premise of this show.

“Boy Gets Girl” is a contemporary drama by Rebecca Gilman about how human relationships work, from romantic to platonic to familiar. Throughout the course of the show, you learn that these characters are more than meets the eye; the men and women alike have been hurt time and time again, and the damage starting to crack through and interfere with everyday life.

Dr. Rhona Justice-Malloy, the chairman of the theater department and director of this show, always sticks with small, intimate shows that are meant to bring social issues to your attention with in-your-face tension and emotion. This is quite possibly the most successful of her shows here with a good script and a solid cast.

Taylor Wood, a senior and veteran to the stages of Ole Miss, gave a realistic and honest portrayal of her character, Theresa Bedell. As a single woman trying to balance her career and her love life at the same time, Wood has true emotions with every line she delivers. From her awkward first date to her emotional breakdowns, her character is exactly what a stressed, lonely woman should be. She is a strong actress portraying a strong female character and it fits Wood like a glove. There is not a moment I would have changed about her overall performance; Wood is definitely a perfect choice as the lead.

Will Harris plays Tony, a very insane man with a lot of love for his mother. As a senior who just decided to audition for some plays one day, he holds himself well enough to get by, but it becomes very apparent that he is not comfortable with the stage and his surroundings to do the character justice.

After their first date, Tony extends an invitation to Theresa for another later that weekend, and she (of course) accepts, but I have no idea why. The awkwardness between the two of them is enough to make the entire audience feel out of place and uncomfortable. This was not a strong pairing, but luckily, the tension pays off in the end.

However, two of the men stuck out to me long after I left the theater.

Jay Jurden, a well-known face around campus, does beautifully with his old misogynistic character and his constant obsession with the naked female anatomy. Jurden is known for his comedic timing, but he is able to leave the comedy behind and seep into a darker, more emotional place full of loneliness and despair at the drop of the hat. Every scene he was in, I was completely engaged on him. His performance is top quality and easily the most entertaining of them all and he quite possibly steals the show.

My other top male choice is Gavin Fields, a freshman from Ridgeland. As Mercer, he brings new light to men and truly wants to help Theresa without any ulterior motives. Fields stays very consistent with his character and was easily the most likable of the bunch. The raw energy he brought to the stage with his presence alone commanded attention, yet he was still a sensitive and truthful man. I look forward to seeing more from him in the upcoming years.

The set is minimal and modern with a few pieces of interchangeable furniture and three sliding panels for walls. It works well overall and the walls move enough to create quite a few different New York City locales, going from office to bedroom to restaurant with a few little shoves this direction and that.

The lights, designed by Paul Kennedy, really bring life to the show. In a scene where Wood is sitting alone in her bedroom, she turns off the lights and a beautiful cityscape of the Upper East Side appears on the walls behind her. The lights really brought focus and dimension to some of the more simple scenes.

I was a bit disappointed in the usage of music in this production. There was very little background music, if any at all, and very loud, abrupt music during all scene-changes and breaks. It didn’t seem to flow with or fit the show as much as the other technical elements.

Overall, this show is a complete success with spurts of comedy mixed with a dark story that many women have had to tell. They deliver a strong performance with an important message that everyone on this campus can relate to in one way or another, making it a perfect getaway after a crazy weekend or two of football.

In Review: “The Rising Son: a story piece”

When you think of Oxford, rich culture and artistic history should be the first thoughts that come to your mind. William Faulkner, John Grisham and Modest Mouse are a few of the well-known artists with Oxfordian influence, but one more obscure artist that everyone in this town should know is Dex Edwards.

Edwards is an associate professor in the theatre department at Ole Miss, but around the world, he is known as something more.

After being the artistic director for the world’s biggest baseball, which ultimately brought the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta, it’s no wonder his shows have become some of the most anticipated productions on campus every season.

As the only person in the state of Mississippi who is a member of United Scenic Artists, he is a man among boys in the theatrical world. His concepts bring meaning to a lifeless script and his designs can transform a few pieces of scrap metal into a moving replica of a 1920s car.

“The Rising Son: a story piece” is a one-man show both written and performed by Edwards himself. A story about his life (and quite a few strange happenings along the way) stands out as one of the most honest and well-produced shows in the past few years on this campus.

The writing alone sets this play apart from many I have ever seen before. His simple life anecdotes turn from playful to philosophical with a simple twist. The story he tells about his temporary assistant, Kenichiro Komura, reflects his own loving feelings for his son and the multiple parallel plot lines intertwine to create a beautiful two-hour performance piece that is nothing short of amazing. The colors of evil are used to connect two stories that would never have been together seamlessly. There is no way to simply summarize this story into a few words, but the profound effects of the story will stay with audiences for years to come.

The acting in a one-man show is always tricky; separating each character with no props or costumes is quite a task. Edwards used many voices, mannerisms and postures to distinguish between the diminutive Mrs. Komura, the muscled Brent and everyone in between with ease. His connection to the story gave him a slight edge, but the honesty behind his characters and the true emotions he portrayed bring a whole new life to the show that could not have been done by anyone else.

The set consisted simply of a table, two blocks and a stool with a large disc hanging as backdrop. With the hundreds of projections mixed with the five set aspects, it was always clear where we were and what was going on in the scenes. Even when Edwards pulled out his pointer to lecture the “class” on how exactly a heart works, nothing in this show was ever done in vain.

One of the most important aspects of a show with minimal set dressing and no character or costume changes is the music. Music is what brings you into a Japanese hotel room or back 20 years into a dream sequence. The minute the music ends, it’s clear the location has changed from Atlanta to Tokyo and back into the inner-workings of Edwards’ mind. Alex Mauney, sound designer, pulled songs that fit in perfectly as quiet background music with a distinct intent while still leaving places in silence for a more dramatic effect.

Overall, this show was a well-needed shove back into the arts and culture for the semester and hopefully is a predecessor for six more wonderful shows in the Ole Miss Theatre Department’s season.

With as much experience as Dex Edwards has had, not only in the theatre, but in his life, it is no surprise that he is an artistic visionary with a very different grasp of reality than the majority of the population. His personal adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” will be running at the end of this semester, and it will definitely be a sight to behold.