Tuesday, May 12, 2009


One of the more surreal aspects about last week for me was seeing Kimberly Jones Clark at the Science Museum on Thursday and then at the Firehouse on Friday. As the proper and articulate 19th century wife (and cousin!) of Charles Darwin, Jones was decked out in a plain, conservative frock with a tidy haircut. As the stripper-on-the run in “Trailer Park,” she wore a garish blonde wig and a skimpy skirt – oh, and there were those pasties, of course.

It was fun to see such a significant range in characters portrayed by one actress in such close proximity. But while it was cool that Ms. Jones could pull off such dramatic differences so well, it was even more intriguing to pick out the similarities in the portrayals. Both women were smart, insightful and surprisingly supportive of the men in their lives. Jones infused both with an admirable pluckiness, the kind of backbone that shows some kind of innate strength. With that kind of similarity between two desperate roles, it’s hard to imagine that this isn’t an aspect of Jones’s own character.

There was a lot to laugh at in “Trailer Park” but I have to be honest and say that I was ready for it to be over well before it was done. I have really enjoyed everything I’ve seen Chris Hester in before but his character here did nothing for me. I didn’t believe in him for a second. Afterwards, I thought back to Dennis Hopper’s Frank in the movie “Blue Velvet,” a similarly unhinged (though exceedingly more threatening) character. He was just as extreme as Duke but I believed in Frank – and feared him. But by the reaction of the crowd during the second act, though, mine was a minority opinion. Oh well, can’t argue with the masses.

I went back and reread Ms. Haubenstock’s review and have to say that I agree with most everything she had to say. There is a lot of leeway I can give a production based on charm alone but after too many scenes where people aren’t lit or songs where lyrics are unintelligible, I lose patience. As Randy would say, I’m just keeping it real, dawg.

But in the spirit of also keeping it positive (thanks for the nice comment, Anonymous!) I’ll finish up by saying that the “white trash chorus” – Nancy McMahon, Durron Tyre, Aly Wepplo – was consistently entertaining. Even though the weird revelation of “Lin” at the play’s end was an incomplete and clumsy misfire, these “girls” provided the spice that made this otherwise unappetizing entrĂ©e palatable.

Next up (at least in this space): “Altar Boyz.”


Thespis' Little Helper said...

Kim was fantastic (in both)! Especially funny were the two days where ENDLESS FORMS went down around 3:54 at the Science Museum and she had a 4:00 show at Firehouse!

What a gal!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave and the rest of the theater community (or anyone who reads this blog).

Chris Hester here, yes, the one currently playing Duke in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Get ready for a long posting, but I have a lot on my mind.

I hesitated to even write anything, but since I love this bog and love the forum for discussion I did want to take a moment to chime in, especially after the past 24 hours and some personal epiphanies that this recent posting has afforded me.

As an actor, this is always one of those interesting and precarious scenarios. I must say I cringed when I first saw the posting last night. Naturally, I am the type of person who wants everyone to enjoy a performance (who doesn’t) - the characters, the sum total, and so forth. So, naturally, I was disappointed with your take on the show and my performance, in particular. Even though I fancy myself an actor, I am human, and I think anyone would feel some sort of hurt feelings when things are not positive.

I also remember hearing stories of folks who never read critics reviews out of the shear fear of hearing negative comments. The natural ego deflation would set in, and then the hideous process of questioning the choices made, then the unfortunate feeling that one has let both the playwright and the audience down. Uggh.

Then I began to reflect...

Since I sincerely value your perspective and your commitment to the theater scene in Richmond, I realized that this is certainly not anything personal. More than anything, I had to realize that your opinion and critique is worthwhile, even if I may not agree or like it. It is your opinion and you are obligated to report out truthfully how you evaluate a show. I respect this forum and then the opportunity for folks to share. Without this sort of discussion, we would be in a perpetual state of bliss and happiness. Why the heck would we even take the time to read this sort of commentary, right? We need to have criticism and some level of conflict to allow each of us to really think about the work we are doing as actors and as theater companies.

Next came to the conclusion that in the scheme of things, I should approach this and other critics reviews really like something I read about in publications or internet critical summaries, say www.rottentomatoes.com, for example. Put your comments perspective shall I say…

In those posts there is usually a percentage of critics who recommend a show or film and then the audience exit polls of a similar nature. Given this logic, I would say that the majority of Richmond critics would appear to recommend The Great American Trailer Park Musical given the posts to date in all of our Richmond publications and forums.
More importantly, I then began to think of the audience. In all reality, they are the biggest reason I do this sort of work. I want to entertain. Given the audience response during the show (continuous laughter must be a positive sign), follow-ups after the show, the incredible word of mouth, and excellent ticket sales this show has seen, and it would lead me to believe that the majority of the audiences are receiving this production in a positive manner. So, on the whole, I would generally think the weighted average of all folks involved as an audience member of this show – citric or otherwise - enjoys the production. Maybe they do have trouble with the lighting, or the sound, or even some of the performances, but throughout this run, I feel confident that at the conclusion of each show, my peers and I have met our objective – to entertain an audience.

I am proud of the show and I am proud of my performance. I am not going to change a thing. That would be sacrificing the role and the character that I have invested time and energy creating. I am honored to be able to entertain. I am proud to help an audience laugh, especially in this unsettling time. I am grateful for the opportunities that the Richmond theater scene provides. More than anything, I am grateful for this particular bog posting, and for the entire critical review process. It has led me to reconcile that in the scheme of things, no actor is ever trying to fail, nor are we going to hit a homerun everyone’s’ eyes. This is fine by me. After reading your comments, ironically I feel refreshed. It has forced me to do some perform some internal analysis and has allowed me to reconcile my personal feelings against the process.

For this, I say, thank you.


eraserhead said...

Chris, I had the same reaction as Dave after seeing the show, but it was the script, not you ... you gave a very physical, leave nothing behind performance. My daughter saw the show twice and loved you. I loved what the performers did (again, great job, Jacqui!), but the whole thing was just too over the top for my taste; it was jumping the shark on a trampoline.

An unhinged redneck kid who will soon be reunited with his trailer park parents wasn't meant to be believeable. You played it over the top, the way it was meant to be.

Dave, as a David Lynch aficionado, I appreciate the reference to Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth, but Frank was believeable because the mood and scenes were brillianlyt set up to make him so.

Not so much for Chris' Duke in "Trailer Park," a fun diversion, but not a place to make pronouncements about believeability.

Thanks for the insight into your role and approach, Chris.

Dave T said...

Yours has got to be among the most extraordinary and well-adjusted comments I've ever received. I have been thanked by actors many times for my positive remarks but never for anything less-than-positive. So for that I say: you are most welcome!

I think you are absolutely right -- as an actor, I think you should listen to your director, your audience and your own heart. As I said in my post, there were certainly many people enjoying the hell out of your performance. My opinion need not diminish anything about that.

In general, I hope theater artists can derive value from my comments, positive or negative. If they don't, I hope they accept them as just one person's opinion...and move on. Chris, it seems as though you've done both -- derived value and moved on. Seems like an incredibly healthy way to go about things.

Dave T said...

I appreciate your perspective, eraserhead (and was wondering whether a mention of Mr. Lynch might prompt a comment, given your "handle.") Not to be argumentative, but for me, if I don't believe in the characters on some level, I have serious trouble maintaining interest in a show. As one director who I have great respect for once told me about farces, there might be the most ridiculous things happening on stage but, for the show to work, the actors have to believe it all makes perfect sense. In other words (to borrow a phrase from another director), they can't be in on their own joke. In that context, I believe pronouncements about believability are relevant whether you're talking about the wildest farce, the splashiest musical, or the most serious drama. That's my opinion, at least.

Anonymous said...

I haven't told you I love you in a long time, Chris Hester, so I will share my lurve publicly now. You are honest and reflective and smart and talented and funny and damn fine eye candy to boot.

Your comment is a wonderful example of what makes any blog valuable and interesting.

- Jennifer Frank

Frank Creasy said...

I clearly recall a show I did a few years ago. Our opening night was VERY warmly received, the second night's audience quickly rose to give us a standing ovation at curtain call, and we all celebrated roundly UNTIL...the next morning, when the review sliced and diced us every which way but loose. A few good points, we agreed, but so out of line with the majority! (This was not Dave's review, by the way!)

I have no idea how hard it must be to review performances, but without candid, critical commentary good or bad, we run the risk of becoming the Paula Abdul nation. Being nice and complimentary only goes so far, and at some point we need to know what people REALLY think.

I've not seen "Trailer Park", though I've heard good things; I've also heard good things generally about Mr. Hester, and if someone I respect so much (Jennifer Frank) has such respect for Chris...well, then by extension, you have my utmost respect as well, Chris. Your posting herein simply justifies that.

Our collective goal as artists is to be consistenly great every time. God Knows, I am not...but I try. And Chris, even Stanislavski said the first thing we must do is entertain. I'm thoroughly convinced you do JUST that. And I'm equally convinced that Dave's forthright opinion was born of careful consideration and long experience. As someone who has championed the RTCC awards, Dave's loyalty to outstanding theatre in this community is well established.

Stimulating dialogue such as this (my own comments possibly excepted) are EXACTLY why people follow this blog!

Kim Jones Clark said...

Hi Dave. I would like to share a story about the wonderful and talented Chris Hester. I'm glad you're sitting, because this is a bit long. My apologies!

Let me first echo what so many people say regarding your blog, and the service it provides the artistic community of Richmond and surrounding areas. I have immense respect for your insight and support of local theater, and I look forward to each entry. We all forget how busy you are when something new is not posted for several days. And we do miss it! I find it interesting how many times I've heard the words, "did you see Dave's blog today?"

So thank you for keeping all of us well informed and excited about the goings on in Richmonds arts! Also, thanks so much for your very kind words in a recent entry. I have never received such positive feedback from a critic before, and you basically made my year! (May I add that the superb writing, directing and acting of fellow "Darwin" team members made my job so much easier in that production! Larry Gard, Tim Ireland, and Douglas Jones are an unstoppable artistic force!)

As far as "Trailer Park" is concerned (another great artistic team: Jase Smith, Leilani Mork, Maggie Marlin, and the awesome band), the thing I truly wish we could document is the show within the show. By that I mean the circus that happens backstage. I know every actor has wanted to reveal the actions behind the curtain. The juggling with costume changes never ceases to amaze me. Obviously, some shows have more than others. "TP" is one that is truly an ensemble production, both on and off stage. Everyone knows that all shows are well oiled machines that would simply crash and burn if just one piece lags behind or misses a beat. How much we all yearn to get that point across to our non-theatrical patrons!

This finally brings me to Chris Hester. (Sorry for all the "tongue waggin"!) Chris is an integral part of our "machine." He gives 120% to his performance, and as you pointed out, he definitely thrills the audience! Then he jumps in and helps tremendously with the costume changes. Also, two Sundays in a row I had matinees back to back. I literally bolted out of the Science Museum and zipped to the Firehouse with ten minutes before showtime. Chris, the other cast members, stage manager, backstage crew, and costume designer were all there ready to help. Talk about team work. I simply could not have done it without them!

One of those nights I recalled what Chris had done, and laughed all the way home. That afternoon, in my frantic state of rushing to get ready, Chris grabbed a beer, poured it in my mouth, taped my mic pack to my back, staightened my wig and fastened my corset. Then in my panicked costume change he ripped my shorts off, put my skirt on, adjusted my bra, dabbed my sweaty face with a towel, and actually said, "have you lost weight?"

Wow! Drinks, pampering, compliments,and well...undressing. All in a total of 10 minutes!

Does anyone remember the "Mr. Wonderful" doll?
Chris, I adore you on and off stage, and I thank you for being there. I will always see you as "Mr. Wonderful!"