In The Glow Of Available Light

I’ve lived in Columbus for 30 years, but I keep learning interesting things about our fair city.  This recurring experience always leaves me with mixed emotions — I’m glad I finally got clued in, but I also wish I’d been attentive enough to find out a lot sooner.

So it was last night, when Kish and I, along with Dr. Science and his lovely wife The Runner, went to see the Available Light Theatre performance of The Christians at one of the small studio venues at the Riffe Center.  I’d never heard of Available Light Theatre before yesterday, but it turns out that next year they will celebrate their 10th anniversary.  Shame on me!  After watching last night’s performance, I’m glad they’re here.

IMG_5641The Christians is a play by Lucas Hnath, one of the up and coming new dramatists in America.  It’s about the interplay of a pastor, his wife, an associate pastor, and a trustee and member of a rapidly growing Christian church who must deal with the aftermath of the pastor’s epiphany about the existence of hell, announced in a riveting sermon that begins the play.  The play could be viewed as an odd entertainment choice for our foursome, since three of us aren’t churchgoers and the fourth is Catholic, but drama is drama — and this play at its core is about five people struggling with very basic issues about their faith and, in the case of the pastor and his wife, the bedrock underpinnings of their marriage.

It’s a challenging topic, but the play is one of the most even-handed presentations of different Christian beliefs I’ve seen, and the cast did a convincing job of presenting multi-faceted characters who are wrestling with core personal beliefs and issues.  It was an interesting and thought-provoking play that kept Kish and me talking as we walked home.  Unfortunately for those of you who haven’t seen it, last night’s performance was the last one in the play’s run.

Last night also marked the end of Available Light’s season, and as they were taking their bows the cast members announced that next year, to celebrate the troupe’s 10th anniversary, the performances will focus on Columbus.  If you’re in town and you like theater, make a point to keep an eye out for the next season of Available Light Theatre.

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The Final Table

Last night Kish and I and the Unkempt Guy and his lovely wife caught The Final Table at the Studio Theater 2 at the Riffe Center.  In the interests of full and fair disclosure, I should note at the outset that I know and like Herb Brown, the author of the play, so you can take my comments with an appropriate grain of salt — but we had a great evening and I’d recommend the play to anybody who likes politics and is willing to see 20th century American historical figures presented from a unique, unvarnished perspective.

IMG_5204First, a quick nod to the theater.  Last night was the first time I’ve  been to a show at Studio Theater 2, and it is a wonderful, intimate venue.  The theater is in the round and seats less than 200 people.  We sat in the very last row and still we were close enough to see the actors and their facial expressions and hear the dialogue clearly.  It’s a perfect setting for a play like this, where the ultimate goal is get the audience thinking about the characters and the humanity behind their historical reputations.

The plot is that five American presidents — in order of appearance, Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Warren Harding, and Richard Nixon — arrive from their own individual purgatorial settings to a room furnished only with a poker table and a dealer/protaganist who happens to be the Muse of History.  They are there to play poker for their immortal souls, at the whim of God and the Angel Gabriel, with the loser to be cast into the fiery pits of hell.  Obviously, it is a tantalizing and thought-provoking premise.

If you like history, as I do, you can’t help but be drawn in by the concept of the play, and Herb Brown does a good job of drawing out the issues based on the historical record.  Why would Dwight Eisenhower be put into a purgatorial cell that has a racial element?  How would Harry Truman interact with the man who defeated him?  Who would ultimately take a leadership role in this cast of Presidents and position them for an ultimate resolution?  And — perhaps most tantalizing at all — how would Richard Nixon play poker?

I won’t spoil the show, but suffice it to say that the play is funny, interesting, and far more vulgar than you would expect if your notion of American presidents is limited to the sanitized and marbleized versions you get in American history class.  The acting is quite good across the board, but I must give special kudos to Jon Putnam, who made Nixon a funny and curiously sympathetic and pathetic figure — not an easy assignment by any measure — and Ralph Scott, who was a titanic and appalling Lyndon Johnson.

The Final Table has drawn such good crowds that it’s run has been extended though May 2.  Catch it if you can!

From The Capitol Theatre Balcony

Tonight Kish and I joined the Duke Fan and his lovely wife for dinner downtown at the Tip Top, followed by the Mike Birbiglia show at the Capitol Theatre at the Riffe Center.  We had a good dinner with great company, and the show was interesting with some memorable lines.

It’s the first time I’ve been to the Capitol Theatre, which is pretty pathetic on my part.  It’s a neat theater with good sight lines and acoustics, and it gives Columbus three very fine show theaters in the area immediately around the Ohio Statehouse.  I wish more people — myself included — took in the shows downtown, to help those theaters and the entire downtown arts scene thrive.