Monday, February 8, 2010

'Ashville': Bringing Real to Downtown Roanoke

Lucy Thurber (from left), Todd Ristau and Paul Mashejan at the post-play discussion and Todd and Lucy (right) outside the theater.^

Lucy Thurber and Paul Mashejan, a couple of the fancy-schmantzy, big-city theater people Todd Ristau and Kenley Smith like to bring in and show off at Studio Roanoke, was making a point after Lucy's play, "Ashville," had finished its performance less than an hour ago.

It was a point that Roanoke and small communities like it need to hear: Don't let fancy-schmantzy, big-city people and plays take your mind off what you're doing. It's not about showing off; it's about developing theater and the arts; it's about growing your own. Lucy said that and Paul underscored it. They've both seen what happens when that dynamic doesn't occur and Todd, who directed Lucy's play for the Roanoke audience, agreed enthsiastically. He kept saying, in effect, "It's not about the money."

It is a simple matter of knowing what you are and being that, they strongly agreed.

It was a lesson the Grandin Theatre board of directors should have been there to hear. It is a philosophy that could solve some of the problems they've created for themselves by depending on the things they shouldn't depend on, like big, Hollywood movies--in an art house. But that's another argument for another day.

Lucy's play was another matter altogether: a fine piece of very difficult writing, presented by a talented, local group of people--most inexperienced, all solid--and appreciated by a small, eager audience. I got the feeling that a little hum ran throughout asking, "Where in the hell has this type of theater been? Certainly not here."

Even when Mill Mountain Theatre's "B" stage was going full tilt, it was not this experimental, this raw. Lucy's play was as basic as early Elvis and she had to talk about it for a while to convince me that it was about love. But, indeed, it was. Not so much the love I see in my neighborhood, but the love that's in evidence, as Lucy said, "among the people I grew up with." And, yeh, I've known a few of them, too: rough, vulgar, needy, violent, addicted to far too many things. Not so much "The Sound of Music" that you'd have seen at MMT.

My thought is that the entire mass of people who will be interested in going to studio Roanoke in the near--or far--future probably does not exceed 500 and I'd be surprised, frankly, if it's anywhere near that big.

This play will run for the rest of the week and I strongly urge you to see it in order to get an idea of just what real theater--experimental, exciting, creative theater--can be in a small room with a small crowd, a small stage and some big talent.

You can get tickets ($15 for most, less for old farts like me and kids) at 540-343-3054. I will warn you that if you're sensitive to harsh language, drugs and sex, stay home and watch TV. No! Wait! Not that. Just go to bed.

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