Theater Notes: Essential Play Festival returns and a chef cooks up cabaret

Laurie Beasley as Myra (right) and Ellen McQueen as Harlowe (left) in "Raising the Dead." Photo by Elisabeth Cooper
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Laurie Beasley as Myra (right) and Ellen McQueen as Harlowe (left) in "Raising the Dead." Photo by Elisabeth Cooper

Credit: Elisabeth Cooper

Credit: Elisabeth Cooper

And Synchronicity’s ‘Stripped Bare’ test-drives new ideas.

After a year off due to the pandemic, the Essential Theatre Play Festival returns with its 2021 edition, continuing through Nov. 21 at West End Performing Arts Center. The festival will premiere two plays by Georgia playwrights who are co-winners of the 2021 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award: Erin Considine’s “Raising the Dead” and Anthony Lamarr White’s “Calming the Man.”

Considine’s play is first up, and launched the festival on Nov. 5. “Raising the Dead” was a finalist this year at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference, the prestigious play development program.

The comedy-drama “explores female strength, friendship, abandonment and love, all in the context of a New Orleans night,” the Atlanta playwright has said.

Considine said she began writing the play early in the pandemic “because I needed rescue. I needed human contact, and I was so grateful for my friends. The women in my world became tiny, buoyant life preservers. This play is a love letter to the women who held my hand and kept me from slipping under the waves.”

White’s “Calming the Man” was given a 2018 workshop production as part of the Alliance Theatre’s Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab program, which described its plot thusly: “In a small Southern town in the 1970s, a black father born into segregation pushes one of his two sons to succeed and cripples the other with anger and hatred.” “Calming the Man” previews Nov. 10 before opening on Nov. 12.

White is a playwright, novelist and screenwriter from Crawford, southeast of Athens. He said while coming of age in North Florida, he “noticed how many small, Southern towns had a railroad track running through (them) that racially separated the town. Growing up on one side of the tracks versus the other sometimes meant that life looked incredibly different given varying socio-economic realities and segregation between races. I wanted to write a story about that.”

The Essential Theatre Play Festival also will reprise Shelby Hofer’s “High Risk, Baby!” on Nov. 17 and 18. It’s billed as a “heart-expanding autobiofictional story about one woman’s wild and epic journey into motherhood.”

Since 1999, Essential Theatre has produced more than three dozen world premieres by Georgia writers, including early plays of writers who have gone on to achieve national recognition such as Lauren Gunderson and Topher Payne. The company’s mission is to help develop “a thriving, dynamic American theatre community in which Georgia playwrights are a recognized and celebrated part.”

The festival requires proof of vaccination or a negative test no more than 72 hours old, with masks required as well. Festival ticket information at essentialtheatre.com.

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Mitchell Anderson, who has starred on shows including "Doogie Howser, MD" and "Party of Five," owns MetroFresh in Midtown and MetroFresh Catering.

Credit: Becky Stein

Mitchell Anderson, who has starred on shows including "Doogie Howser, MD" and "Party of Five," owns MetroFresh in Midtown and MetroFresh Catering.
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Mitchell Anderson, who has starred on shows including "Doogie Howser, MD" and "Party of Five," owns MetroFresh in Midtown and MetroFresh Catering.

Credit: Becky Stein

Credit: Becky Stein

Life is a cabaret for MetroFresh’s Mitchell Anderson

Spurred by his then-approaching 60th birthday and the isolation of the early part of COVID-19, Atlanta actor and chef Mitchell Anderson challenged himself to create an autobiographical show about his life.

The fruit of that effort, a cabaret-style evening of anecdotes and songs that he has titled “You Better Call Your Mother,” continues through Nov. 7 at Synchronicity Theatre.

The owner of MetroFresh and a star of the digital series “After Forever” traces the title to when he came out of the closet in a most public way 25 years ago.

“When I walked off stage after going off-script and telling the audience I was gay at the 1996 GLAAD Awards in Los Angeles, I was advised, literally by someone I was passing as I left the stage, ‘You better call your mother,’” Anderson recounted. “At the time, I was a little bit famous after 10 years on television and I was playing a gay character on “Party of Five.” As it turned out, the spontaneous decision to ‘come out’ at that moment, made after years of trying to figure out how to live sort of in and sort of out of the closet, changed the trajectory of my life.”

“You Better Call Your Mother,” a 90-minute show in two acts, is directed by Courtenay Collins, with musical direction by Bill Newberry. Tickets are $25 (at brownpapertickets.com/event/5159617, limited availability for Nov. 6 show). In an unusual offer, ticket holders can partake of specially priced meals at either MetroFresh location prior to the evening performances and before or after the Nov. 7 matinee. Synchronicity requires proof of vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours. Masks also are required.

Synchronicity presents second ‘Stripped Bare’ work-in-progress

Among several Atlanta theater troupes actively working to develop new plays and support emerging playwrights, Synchronicity Theatre calls its “Stripped Bare” project “an incubator to test-drive new ideas.” The second of four “Stripped Bare” presentations this season, Kayla Parker’s “How to Be a Lesbian,” will be at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10. (Free, but reservations required at synchrotheatre.com.)

It’s described as a comedy one-act in which “a queer Black woman comes out of the closet and realizes that there is much more to being a lesbian than she anticipated.”

After receiving an undergraduate degree in acting from Howard University, Parker moved to Atlanta, beginning her career here as an Actor’s Express directing intern during the 2019-2020 season. In addition to Synchronicity Theatre, this year has brought stage, podcast and documentary film opportunities from True Colors Theatre Company, Actor’s Express and the Alliance Theatre, respectively.

Meanwhile, Horizon Theatre’s “New Georgia Woman Project: Black Women Speak” was launched to develop plays grounded in experiences of everyday Black women. Readings of scenes from four project plays, followed by a discussion with the writers, will be through Nov. 7 in person at Horizon as well as virtually.


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ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

ArtsATL logo
Caption
ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

Working closely with the American Press Institute, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is embarking on an experiment to identify, nurture and expand a network of news partnerships across metro Atlanta and the state.

Our newest partner, ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be introducing more partners, and we’d love to hear your feedback.

You can reach Managing Editor Mark A. Waligore via email at mark.waligore@ajc.com.