Special Report from the Road: Culpeper's State Theatre Features Endstation Theatre Company and Their Rocking TWO GENTLEMEN OF VIRGINIA On Tour
SPECIAL REPORT FROM THE ROAD:
Welcome to the first of a series of reports from the outskirts of the big cities! For the next couple of weeks, I will be visiting some of the smaller cities and towns around that all share one thing in common: cultural gems that dot the landscape. Washington, DC, Baltimore, Norfolks and Richmond are certainly hubs of museums, live theatre, concerts and other events. On a smaller scale, so do many of the less populated communities that stretch beyond the Beltway and are away from I-95.
Today, I present to you Culpeper. In the spirit of full disclosure: I live in Culpeper even though I cover theatre for the huge DC market. Later in the series, I will be reporting from some of the other cities and town that contain exciting centers for theatre and culture. For, now, I offer my report and review on both Culpeper's State Theatre and a theatre company that is usually at home miles away.
ABOUT THE STATE THEATRE: Residents of DC and the metropolitan area certainly hit the road during the summer months, as do folks from thehistoric capital of Virginia and all around the Commonwealth. As people pass through the towns and hamlets, they may have traveled up or down Route 29/15 though Culpeper County. An area steeped in history and boasting many fine restaurants and shops, the cultural jewel of downtown Culpeper is the State Theatre. After serving as a movie theatre for many years, the theatre has spent years boarded up and in disrepair. A grassroots campaign and homegrown effort to save the theatre began during more than a decade ago, and in 2012, the refurbished playhouse and movie theatre reopened.
The State Theatre offers an array of theatrical and musical events throughout the year. Family programming, such as classic films, mix with a variety of musicians and touring productions for a full service venue. With a commitment to Virginia-based artists, the State Theatre invited Endstation Theatre Company to take their recent summer play on the road and head indoors. Culpeper's gain should make other communities envious, judging from the enthusiastic reception of TWO GENTLEMEN OF VIRGINIA.
ENDSTATION THEATRE COMPANY: You might not have heard of the Central Virginia-based Endstation Theatre Company but you need to track them down. Founded in 2006 and usually based near their artistic home in Lynchburg, Endstation Theatre Company has made a name for itself for a number of years with dynamic productions of Shakespeare and carefully selected new works. Earlier in this summer, TWO GENTLEMEN OF VIRGINIA played under the stats on the campus of the beleaguered Sweet Briar College and the grounds of Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest. The young company brought their comic mash-up of Shakespeare, history and 1980s pop culture to the State Theatre in Culpeper and here's the deal: you missed out!
TWO GENTLEMEN OF VIRGINIA: Boasting youthful energy and boundless creativity, the small but mighty company did not perform a straight-laced rendering of Shakespeare's early comedy. The script by Walter Kmiec & Jude Falnnelly used the original play as a theme and variations to wonderful effect. Perhaps Shakespeare might not have recognized the show he wrote since it was not taken page-by-page from his comedic tale of friendship, infidelity and cross-dressing. I think the Bard would have been thoroughly entertained by the skillfully paved intersection of historical references from the 1780s and rock and roll memories of the 1980s.
Directed with emphasis on speed and creativity by co-writer Walter Kmeic, TWO GENTLEMEN easily adapted from its previous outdoor venues to the classy surroundings of the State Theatre. In classic Shakespearean performance style, the production was stripped of all but the most essential props, suggested costumes, and quick-changes galore.
The gifted comic actors commanded the stage with a bold mash-up of pop culture references and time-bending adventure. Gone are the Italian gents named Valentine and Proteus; replacing them are two of rock and roll's most exciting stars: Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Madison! Wait a minute - who said they were rock stars? Yep, it was that kind of show folks and everything worked like a charm.
The action opens in a spoken prologue from a character from Shakespeare's play, Crab the dog, except this time he is played with superb comic timing and a Brooklyn-esque accent by Chris Merlino. Dressed as a man-sized canine, he happens to be a talking, time-traveling dog Dog-Net, who has returned like Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator" to save the day.
A time-traveling dog on a mission is just one of the sharp and funny gags and references of the night. Betsy Ross not only designed the first flag of the nation, she also designed Madonna's wedding dress from "Like a Virgin." Crab makes it clear that it is both 1783 - while America was still and infant - and 1983 - when Thriller ruled MTV, Alf was on TV, and Jason Voorhees had only starred in three "Friday the 13th Films.
Crab must stop Jefferson (the carrot-topped and sensitive Chris Martin) from crossing the Atlantic, breaking up the Democratic-Republicans, and allow him to complete the most exciting double-album in history "The Constitution." Meanwhile, Jefferson's friendship and collaboration with his guitar-wielding side-kick Madison (Jude Flannelly) is severely tested by the usual events that break up bands: cross-purposes, the lure of a solo career and a woman.
Jefferson sails to Paris with Madison close behind. In close pursuit, Crab accompanies the band's roadie, groupie and Madison's secret crush, Dolly (the lively and manic Raechelle Egan). Taking a cue from Shakespeare, Dolly and Crab cross-dress for their disguises and pretend to be Mr. and Mrs. Marquis de Lafayette. The scene where Crab attempts to man up the disguised Dolly was a sight to behold.
The trans-Atlantic intrigue gets even more complicated when a shady music producer with a sacre bleu French accent sets his sights on signing Jefferson to a terminal contract. Played with comically villainous swagger by George West Carruth, Richard Cosway proved to be a crafty nemesis for the visitors from Virginia. With a romantic twist, Cosway's independent and frustrated wife Maria (wittily played by the willowy Katie Bottomley) falls for Jefferson, still reeling from the death of his beloved wife Martha.
While in Paris, the gang crosses paths with the stoned and strung-out Ben Franklin (also performed by Carruth, truly a comic-chameleon). Carruth's Franklin melded the look of a greying Jerry Garcia with the delivery of Sean Penn from his "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"-era.
How all the characters mix and mingle and how the infamous Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold makes for a laugh-a-minute, romp that honors Shakespeare's play while creating a new and exciting comedy that should be seen from the Tidewater to the Appalachians and everywhere in between.
Endstation Theatre Company has performed on the campus of Sweet Briar for a number of summers. As reported in the press, Sweet Briar is in flux after closing its doors this past spring. Geoffrey Kershner, ETC's co-founder and artistic director, shared the good news of Endstation's future venue options. "We are taking up a new summer residency at Randolph College in Lynchburg next yea," said Kershner. "We also have a permanent office space/play reading space in downtown Lynchburg."
The future looks bright for Endstation Theatre Company as they took to the road and continue to have a place in Central Virginia to find new converts to their brand of theatre magic.
~ follow me on Twitter @jeffwalker66
For more information about the State Theatre: click HERE
To find out more about Endstation Theatre Company: click HERE.
Photo Credit: Jeff Walker; Endstation Theatre Company