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Joseph Baker - Page 3

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.



Summer Stages: Dancing in the Streets and Dancing and More in the Theatres in Memphis
June 1, 2015

Now that Memphis in May has finally bid adieu to the Sunset Symphony, crowned the winners of the barbecue contest,and trod well the welcome mat to the magnficent new Bass Pro Shop, Memphians can look to its theatres, old and new, for diversions of a histrionic nature.

BWW Reviews: Playhouse 'Brushes Up' KISS ME, KATE
May 11, 2015

For its spring musical, Playhouse on the Square has reached several decades back and produced -- not an 'old warhorse of a musical' (sorry, Rodgers and Hammerstein) -- but a true thoroughbred, Cole Porter's sparkling, innovative (at the time) KISS ME, KATE. Just as Shakespeare himself created enduring plays by utilizing the best plots and characters of other works, so did Porter and his collaborators, Bella and Samuel Spewack -- they went right to the Bard himself, and in building their own superb entertainment around the rollicking THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, they created such a witty, enjoyable romp that would cause even the immortal Shakespeare to set aside his pen, smile, and snap his garters.

BWW Reviews: Theatre Memphis Brings THE PHILADELPHIA STORY South
April 27, 2015

George Cukor's 1940 film version of Philip Barry's THE PHILADELPHIA STORY was Katharine Hepburn's return to glory after the actress had been labeled 'box office poison' after the failure of several films. 021The savvy Hepburn was able to bend MGM to her will when it wanted to film Barry's play, and the end result rewarded everyone involved: Hepburn, her old RKO co-star Cary Grant, and the up and coming James Stewart. Not only were Oscar nominations and wins in store, but at the center of it all was Hepburn in all her patrician, high cheek-boned elegance. She may have given greater performances as the tragic, dope-addicted 'Mary Tyrone' in the film version of Eugene O'Neill's LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT or as the caustic, sparring 'Eleanor of Aquitaine' in James Goldman's THE LION IN WINTER, but for those who want to see Hepburn at the height of her unusual beauty and comedic gifts, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is a must. Having seen the film numerous times, I was wary of Theatre Memphis' staging of Barry's work. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, once seen, leaves such an impression that it's rather like tackling a remake of THE WIZARD OF OZ or GONE WITH THE WIND or THE GODFATHER. Director Jason Spitzer has taken the dare, and he and his cast have mostly succeeded in the satiny, stylized production currently playing at Theatre Memphis.

April 24, 2015

Once again, it's Spring; and once again, Stage Door Productions has brought professionals and nonprofessionals together to share their love of musical theatre and their talents in what is, by now, an annual event: THE BEST OF BROADWAY 3, closing this weekend at the KROC Center, is Director Brandon Kelly's latest 'greatest hits' collection to entertain Memphis' audiences. This is the second year I have attended this event, and even though a review at this point probably won't make much difference in bolstering attendance, BEST doesn't really need it. The audience here is 'a given' (and a vocal 'given' at that) - a multigenerational aggregation of relatives and friends, lovers of musicals, and people who simply want to be entertained; and in that latter respect, THE BEST OF BROADWAY 3 does not disappoint.

BWW Reviews: Dia-TRIBES at Circuit
April 21, 2015

David Morgan's detailed set design for Circuit Playhouse's production of Nina Raine's TRIBES 'speaks volumes' (no pun intended) for the noisy, ego-driven family the audience is about to meet: Piano, stage left; 'intellectual' clutter scattered about; books everywhere; and - oh, yes - a liquor bottle on the table. The members almost immediately begin to descend on stage, chattering away with the kind of overlapping, hyper-intense dialogue that would make the late Robert Altman smile and put fingers in both of his ears. Nothing seems in harmony hear -- everything is a cacophonous, confused kind of roar. At the center, as a kind of eye to this verbal hurricane, is 'Billy,' sweetly casting his gaze from one pair of lips to another, as that is the only way he can absorb the conversations that are colliding about him.

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

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 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 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 Treatment
March 20, 2015

KING HEDLEY II Provides Powerful Theatre at Hattiloo

BWW 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: 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: 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 ASSASSINS
March 9, 2015

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 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'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' 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 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 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.