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Joseph Baker

Joseph Baker I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from 1971 until 2007. When I retired, I was Chairman of the English Department and moderator of the Film Society. I have always been involved in the arts, and upon retirement I pursued my interests in painting (watercolors, acrylics, oils) and sketching (charcoal, pen and ink, graphite), ultimately resulting in a one-man show at WKNO Gallery in 2013. Having taught American, British, and World Drama, I have always had an interest in local theatre; and my reviews of plays at such venues as Theatre Memphis, Playhouse on the Square, and Circuit Playhouse have been posted on FACEBOOK and CALLBOARD in Memphis.
MOST POPULAR ARTICLES
LAST 30 DAYS

BWW Reviews: Hattiloo's KING HEDLEY II Gets the Royal TreatmentBWW Reviews: Hattiloo's KING HEDLEY II Gets the Royal Treatment
Posted: Mar. 20, 2015


BWW Reviews: Voices of the South Offers a Riveting AWAKENINGBWW Reviews: Voices of the South Offers a Riveting AWAKENING
Posted: Apr. 4, 2015


BWW Reviews: Playhouse's VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE Would Make Chekhov GiggleBWW Reviews: Playhouse's VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE
Posted: Mar. 23, 2015


BWW Reviews: YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, Junior Division, at GCTBWW Reviews: YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, Junior Division, at GCT
Posted: Apr. 18, 2015


BWW Reviews:  Theatre Memphis' RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN - 'Blistered Sisters'BWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis' RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN - 'Blistered Sisters'
Posted: Apr. 13, 2015


LAST 365 DAYS

BWW Reviews: DeSoto Family Theatre Storms the Barricades With LES MISBWW Reviews: DeSoto Family Theatre Storms the Barricades With LES MIS
Posted: Jul. 7, 2014


BWW Reviews: Playhouse's GYPSY Offers Rose Her TurnBWW Reviews: Playhouse's GYPSY Offers Rose Her Turn
Posted: May. 12, 2014


BWW Reviews: The Orpheum Proselytizes - Sort of - With THE BOOK OF MORMONBWW Reviews: The Orpheum Proselytizes - Sort of - With THE BOOK OF MORMON
Posted: Jun. 26, 2014


BWW Reviews: MARY POPPINS' Umbrella Soars at PlayhouseBWW Reviews: MARY POPPINS' Umbrella Soars at Playhouse
Posted: Aug. 25, 2014


BWW Reviews: YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, Junior Division, at GCTBWW Reviews: YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, Junior Division, at GCT
April 18, 2015

BWW Reviews:  Theatre Memphis' RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN - 'Blistered Sisters'BWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis' RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN - 'Blistered Sisters'
April 13, 2015

While watching the Next Stage production of Gina Gionfriddo's RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN at Theatre Memphis, I was reminded of John Van Druten's screenplay for the 1943 Warner Brothers film OLD ACQUAINTANCE. It was one of those 'women pictures' which provided thespic opportunities for the likes of actresses like Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins, who, in fact, were the lead players in this particular film. In their youth, the two women had been friends, but as their paths parted in life, the Davis character, brittle and alone, became a critically acclaimed (if financially challenged) author, while the Hopkins character, finally penning a bestseller (trash that it is, it rakes in the 'big bucks'), jealously desires what Davis has. I couldn't help thinking, if Gionfriddo's RAPTURE had fallen into the hands of a director like Vincent Sherman, I could see Davis as the 'Catherine Croll' character, who, despite national recognition and an evidently fulfilling career, begins to have doubts about her life choices. (If you've ever seen the famous car scene in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's ALL ABOUT EVE, also starring Davis, you'll hear the character of stage actress 'Margo Channing' lament what a woman gives up when she devotes herself entirely to a career: I wonder if this very scene influenced Ms. Gionfriddo in her characterizations.) The other character, 'Gwen,' would obviously have been given over to Hopkins, who would have shone as the once promising woman who jettisoned her own burgeoning promise to marry 'Don Harper,' who once had been Catherine's intended (George Brent, anyone?).
BWW Reviews: Voices of the South Offers a Riveting AWAKENINGBWW Reviews: Voices of the South Offers a Riveting AWAKENING
April 4, 2015

Poor 'Edna Pontellier' of Kate Chopin's THE AWAKENING - as 'corseted' by society as she is by the habiliments of the day. I'd like to imagine a tea party where she'd feel welcome. Let's see . . . whom to invite? One of Henrik Ibsen's stifled heroines - HEDDA GABLER or 'Nora' from A DOLL'S HOUSE; and there's 'Janie Crawford,' the African-American heroine of Zora Neale Hurston's THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD. What about Gustave Flaubert's MADAME BOVARY? Oh, yes, and let's not neglect the movies: Vivien Leigh's convention-daring 'Scarlett O'Hara,' her foot dancing away while she sports widow's weeds, or a black-wigged Bette Davis gyrating to get out of a small town in King Vidor's hothouse melodrama BEYOND THE FOREST. Now, that would be some group, but they'd all end up smashing the teacups.
BWW Reviews: Playhouse's VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE Would Make Chekhov GiggleBWW Reviews: Playhouse's VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE Would Make Chekhov Giggle
March 23, 2015

I wonder if Jackie Nichols is providing on-site psychiatric help for those involved in the repertory presentations of Anton Chekhov's THE SEAGULL and Christopher Durang's VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE at Playhouse on the Square. Surely the veteran Irene Crist, performing double duty as Director of both the uber-heavy Chekhov piece and the giddy Durang parody, is on a schizoid seesaw as she veers from the serious to the silly - and the same might be said from the cast members who swap costumes and take their characterizations from one play to the next. Having just seen THE SEAGULL last week, I was eager to see how Durang's TONY-winning play would parlay all that Chekhovian talk about artists and pseudo-artists into something more laughter-inducing. However, rest assured that the talents involved in both plays rise (or fall, as it were) without any difficulty.
BWW Reviews: Hattiloo's KING HEDLEY II Gets the Royal TreatmentBWW Reviews: Hattiloo's KING HEDLEY II Gets the Royal Treatment
March 20, 2015

KING HEDLEY II Provides Powerful Theatre at Hattiloo
BWW Reviews:  PLAYHOUSE Gets Serious With THE SEAGULLBWW Reviews: PLAYHOUSE Gets Serious With THE SEAGULL
March 16, 2015

Staging a play by Henrik Ibsen or Anton Chekhov poses certain problems for theatre groups. On the one hand, there is a commitment to 'the classics' - and there is an opportunity for actors (especially young ones) to examine their talents and extend them in directions they have not gone before. The 'downside' is the reputation such plays have as 'talkfests,' for they are often deliberate and detailed in their construction of characters and relationships. I was reminded of this during both the performance and the intermission of Playhouse on the Square's production of Chekhov's THE SEAGULL (which, literally, follows on the 'heels' of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW). During Intermission, two couples stood next to my seat and discussed the play. With a hint of apology, one lady stated, 'The actors are very good, but I really prefer the musicals.' Yet, as I watched and listened to the play, I glanced at one audience member, leaning forward and rapt in concentration; and further down my row, another could audibly be heard gasping at the insensitivity of 'Madame Arkandina' toward her son.
BWW Reviews:  Emerald Company Chases the Rainbow in STANDING ON CEREMONYBWW Reviews: Emerald Company Chases the Rainbow in STANDING ON CEREMONY
March 16, 2015

The Emerald Theatre Company at Theatre Works is currently showcasing not one, not two, not three - but nine pieces in its latest production, STANDING ON CEREMONY: THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS. This modest, meaningful series of vignettes - some, extremely funny; some, sad in the extreme; all, worth seeing - deserves a bit of attention. No matter where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, these enjoyable little playlets tug on your sensibilities and ultimately have a point and purpose. A number of writers have contributed to the piece - Paul Rudnick, Moises Kaufman, Neil LaBute, and others.
BWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis' THE BOY FROM OZ - Sparkles Aren't Just for July 4thBWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis' THE BOY FROM OZ - Sparkles Aren't Just for July 4th
March 13, 2015

There was a time when it seemed as if any talent contender in a beauty pageant would lay into 'Don't Cry Out Loud' (later, Dolly Parton's 'I Will Always Love You' seemed to supplant it). It crept out of every radio station ad nauseum. Its almost iconic 'ear candy' status rendered it cringe-inducing, as far as I was concerned. Moreover, its composer and interpreter, Australian Peter Allen, was not the kind of performer I enjoyed - I prefer my talent without the 'over the top' exclamation point; he belonged, to my way of thinking, to the Liberace/Barry Manilow/Liza Minelli kind of performer. (Admittedly, I have a number of friends who take issue with this and who, rope in hand, would gladly pursue me if lynching were acceptable.) Their 'showmanship' and 'over the top' self-promotion proved exhausting. However, the intervening years have reconciled me to Allen's music, and THE BOY FROM OZ. with a book by Martin Sherman and Nick Enright and a parade of Allen songs, has, in Theatre Memphis' latest offering, even somewhat endeared me to him.
BWW Reviews: Circuit Playhouse Hits the 'Bull's Eye' with ASSASSINSBWW Reviews: Circuit Playhouse Hits the 'Bull's Eye' with ASSASSINS
March 9, 2015

BWW Reviews: GCT's ALL MY SONS (or Waiting for Larry)BWW Reviews: GCT's ALL MY SONS (or Waiting for Larry)
March 8, 2015

The intimate venue at Germantown Community Theatre provides a perfect setting for a drama like Arthur Miller's ALL MY SONS, an early-but-still timely demonstration of Miller's gifts as a playwright - and, as with all of Miller's major works, a veritable feast for actors. Like the later, legendary DEATH OF A SALESMAN and the McCarthy Era-inspired THE CRUCIBLE, Miller adopts and, when necessary, bends the rules of Classical tragedy to admit the likes of 'Willy Loman' and 'Joe Keller' into a realm dominated by OEDIPUS and ANTIGONE. While ALL MY SONS certainly stands on its own merits as an important play, it is tempting to see the similarities between it and Miller's most famous work.
BWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Splits Atoms in COPENHAGENBWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Splits Atoms in COPENHAGEN
February 16, 2015

Theatre Memphis' Next Stage has girded its loins and taken on the challenge of staging Michael Frayn's dense and difficult COPENHAGEN, and it must have known from the outset that such an esoteric piece will offer rewards to a select audience. The very title itself (though certainly appropriate) is not exactly audience-inviting; and the language, redolent with physics jargon and theories, is tantamount to watching a foreign film or listening to an opera without subtitles. Indeed, I had been warned by a very erudite theatregoer who had just seen it the previous night that there would be an exodus after intermission: There was. In spite of all this, the play can be richly rewarding for those who remain seated - even those whose only previous experience with physics came in the form of the woefully miscast Denise Richards as research physicist 'Dr. Christmas Jones' in the 'James Bond' adventure THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (my jaw dropped at that one - as it did recently while watching Jennifer Lopez assay the role of an instructor of classics in THE BOY NEXT DOOR . . . with 'Minnie Mouse'-voiced Kristen Chenowith as an Assistant Principal!)
BWW Reviews: Theatre Works Showcases O'NeillBWW Reviews: Theatre Works Showcases O'Neill
February 14, 2015

Nothing seems to scare the valiant little troupe Threepenny Theatre Company. What has it got to lose? So what if the budget allows for no more than a perfunctory set? So what if its selection of classics (i.e., MACBETH) hardly has the appeal of a crowd-pleasing musical? Relying on a commitment to quality of writing and performance, it has pulled off a real coup: A stunning production of Eugene O'Neill's warhorse of a classic, the autobiographical LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, produced posthumously and, in 1962, given classic cinema status by Director Sidney Lumet and brilliant performers Ralph Richardson, Katharine Hepburn, Dean Stockwell, and Jason Robards, Jr. (to whom O'Neill was as essential as Tennessee Williams was to Elizabeth Taylor). This particular warhorse, however, is of the Trojan variety, and Director Matt Crewse has tamed the beast with the aid of four performances that are nothing short of brilliant.
BWW Reviews:  Playhouse Does the 'Time Warp' AgainBWW Reviews: Playhouse Does the 'Time Warp' Again
February 1, 2015

It's an interesting and unintentional coincidence: PETER PAN, which wrapped up Playhouse on the Square's Holiday Season, offered the younger set its first taste of transvestism, with musically gifted actresses alternating in the role of 'Peter' (talk about the incipience of gender confusion); now, as the New Year has begun, the older set has its exposure with Jim Sharman and Richard O'Brien's THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. This isn't the first time Playhouse has allowed a cast and crew to indulge themselves in fishnet hose and makeup; I can recall previous performances of this guilty pleasure with the remarkable Mark Chambers (anyone who ever saw him 'strut his stuff' is not likely to forget his performance - 'boomers' who 'time warped' in the aisles still talk about it). I imagine that everyone involved in this production dived headfirst into their costume fittings with all the giddy zeal of children glamming it up at Halloween.
BWW Reviews: Circuit's BAD JEWS Is Exciting TheatreBWW Reviews: Circuit's BAD JEWS Is Exciting Theatre
January 26, 2015

While watching Circuit Playhouse's wickedly funny, stimulating production of Joshua Harmon's BAD JEWS, I was briefly reminded of an almost forgotten episode of SEINFELD, in which 'Elaine' clashes with her mutton-loving cousin 'Holly' over Grandma Mima's missing napkins (actually used by 'Jerry' to hide chewed pieces he couldn't swallow). SEINFELD was noted for raising the trivial to herculean comic heights, and in that respect, BAD JEWS surpasses it. One of the reasons is that, instead of 'napkins,' the object in question is a chai, a gold ornament a deceased grandfather guarded and hid under his tongue during his internment in a Nazi prison camp (now that's a backstory waiting to be told in a different play).
BWW Reviews: Theatre Works Explores Why WE LIVE HEREBWW Reviews: Theatre Works Explores Why WE LIVE HERE
January 5, 2015

I like the title of Harold Ellis Clark's WE LIVE HERE, winner of the NewWorks@TheWorks playwriting competition hosted by Playhouse on the Square and now playing at Theatre Works. If you emphasize the word WE, it offers two different interpretations: (1) It could refer to the racist white characters in the play, who don't relish the idea of ceding part of their predominately white neighborhood in Metarie to the black characters who have had the questionable luck of winning a post-Hurricane Katrina lottery; or (2) it could refer to the black characters themselves, who defiantly (and rightly) have planted their feet on new, if rocky, turf. In fact, any of the three words in the title could be emphasized and, consequently, offer a new facet inviting a different interpretation.
BWW Reviews:  Theatre Memphis Spikes the Eggnog with A CHRISTMAS CAROLBWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Spikes the Eggnog with A CHRISTMAS CAROL
December 12, 2014

As my hand was turning to mincemeat while writing personal notes in Christmas card after Christmas card, I persevered, knowing that at the end of my travails there would be a reward: A much anticipated performance of Theatre Memphis' annual 'gift' to Memphis, Charles Dickens' venerable A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I must admit: I have not attended every performance of that classic since its inception. I have, however, infrequently stopped to hang my wreath at its door; and I've seen some fine 'Ebeneezers' over the years (I recall a former teaching colleague, Tom Ford, offering a tight, clipped interpretation and, of course, one of the best and most frequent of the actors donning those tattered gloves, Memphis acting favorite Barry Fuller). As I wrote card after card, I began to think about all the other interpretations of A CHRISTMAS CAROL that I have encountered through the years - Seymour Hicks; Reginald Owen (in the role MGM intended for an ailing Lionel Barrymore, who had become famous for his radio performance and who would have, no doubt, been superior; a not-all-that-bad consolation prize was his equally tight-fisted 'Mr. Potter' in Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE); Orson Welles (in a Mercury Theatre radio performance); Sir Ralph Richardson (a beautiful audio recording); Alastair Sim (in the early 1950's British film and offering my favorite interpretation of the role; Danny Peary, in his fascinating ALTERNATE OSCARS, selects him as Best Actor for that performance); and, certainly, George C. Scott, in what was considered to be the version to end all versions. (And does anyone recall Jim Backus' 'Mr. Magoo' in a delightful animated musical television special back in the 1960's?)
BWW Reviews: Playhouse Has a Right to 'Crow' About PETER PANBWW Reviews: Playhouse Has a Right to 'Crow' About PETER PAN
December 8, 2014

Having witnessed the stultifying, bloated NBC production of PETER PAN LIVE (what were the 'powers that be' thinking would hold a child's attention span for three hours, however padded with yet more Peter Pan plugs from Walmart?), I was reluctant to attend Playhouse on the Square's annual production of the James Barrie children's classic. I am probably one of the handful of reviewers to recall the 1955 NBC production (and later one as well) with the legendary pairing of Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard (whose fruity, overly ripe 'Captain Hook' would make Johnny Depp's 'Jack Sparrow' seem more like a white collar executive). As an IPad-free child inured to black and white fare, it hardly mattered that Mary Martin was, to put it politely, mature; that the production values were clunky; that the wires and 'Tinker' herself were glaringly apparent. In short, I was captivated. Yet, Martin possessed the kind of spunk and spontaneity that made us children believe (not to mention that she had the kind of singing voice that made her a legendary Broadway performer, as evidenced by SOUTH PACIFIC and SOUND OF MUSIC). She could make a child want to fly. Allison Williams, last evening's 'Peter,' lacked that optimistic boyishness (though she had the tomboyish Hilary Swank look 'nailed') and, despite having a pleasant enough voice, often seemed out of breath; but Chrisopher Walken, whom I like and who I initially thought would be inspired casting, seemed to have wandered in from a cocktail party hosted by zombies. His dancing made that of the Monster in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN seem as nimble as that of Fred Astaire. Despite the wonderful lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and despite the 'ear candy' musical score by Mark Charlalp and Jule Stein, those long, middle stretches in Neverland made me wonder if it would Neverend.
BWW Reviews: Circuit Playhouse Rubs Noses With the SANDERSBWW Reviews: Circuit Playhouse Rubs Noses With the SANDERS
December 1, 2014

SANDERS FAMILY CHRISTMAS Sweetly Blends the Serious and the Silly
BWW Reviews: New Moon Shines With WOMAN IN BLACKBWW Reviews: New Moon Shines With WOMAN IN BLACK
November 10, 2014

BWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Dusts Off TINTYPESBWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Dusts Off TINTYPES
November 6, 2014

Not too many seasons back, at Theatre Works I saw a charming review of turn-of-the-century musical numbers (by the likes of Irving Berlin and others) entitled SIMPLE MELODIES. The songs were rendered by a small but talented ensemble, and I so enjoyed it that I returned more than once - basically, because I wanted to treat friends who I knew would appreciate it as much as I did. With Theatre Memphis' TINTYPES, conceived by Mary Kyte with Mel Marvin and Gary Pearle, and charmingly directed (often with a 'knowing wink') by Kell Christie, I may just have to contact those friends once again.


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