Thursday, October 21, 2010
Another Winning Production at Hollins
With the production of Melanie Marnich's "These Shining Lives," Hollins University Theater has once again demonstrated that the line between professional level theater and outstanding student productions is thinner than a one-pound trout line.
Marnich's story is perfect for a performance at a woman's college: the story of four close friends working in a factory painting watch faces with radium so they glow. They don't know the radium is killing them, but the company does. It leads to a heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting conclusion and a fascinating study in character between the opening and closing lines.
Hollins' theater, for the past several years, has been Roanoke's best showplace, even when professional Mill Mountain Theatre was operating. Hollins took on and continues to take on much more difficult and challenging material because it is not required to draw big audiences (which it does) or make a profit (which is probably doesn't).
Hollins also has Ernie Zulia, the area's best theater guy. He teaches at Hollins and once worked at Mill Mountain, but he outgrew the part and is in his element molding outstanding productions using a combination of student novices and veterans. The list includes scene and lighting designer John Sailer, consume designer Julie Hunsaker (former owner of the Grandin Theatre), technical director John Forsman and stage manager Lilly Gray.
The obvious stars of the most recent production are the four lead actresses. Annalee Hunter plays Catherine Donohue, whose lawsuit brings down the offending watch maker. Her three friends are played by Lianne Jackson, Emma Sperka and Emily Elliott. Lianne Jackson nearly steals the play with her portrayal of the smart-mouthed, often bawdy Charlotte.
Excellent support comes from the males in the cast, borrowed from other theaters: Chad Runyon (who is now a grad student at Hollins, but has been acting in Roanoke circles for some time) and veteran Ross Laguzza.
It is a fine ensemble performance of a solid play with something important to say.
It continues through the weekend, with evening performances at 7:30 and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 online and $15 at the door and they're worth every penny you're spending. Order them here.