Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Weekend That Was: Anna Brennen, Roxanne Faye, Lance Bass

Stageworks fetes its founder, an actress embodies a role, and Bass comes to CASS.

Posted By on Tue, Jun 3, 2014 at 9:22 AM

click to enlarge Anna Brennen.
  • Anna Brennen.

Two powerful women shone this weekend (and I’m not talking about Elsa or Angelina), and a South Tampa gallery opened with a splash — and a Bass.

On Sunday, I was glad to be in the audience for Stageworks Theatre’s grand sendoff to Anna Brennen, the company’s formidable founder and retired artistic director. The program took place in Stageworks’ home base in the Channel District; the space, which opened in 2011, was one of Brennen’s proudest achievements following the company’s long history as a “gypsy” theater.

Paul Wilborn and Kathi Grau emceed the event, which featured a kickoff number by everyone’s favorite mother-and-son cabaret team, the inimitable Scott & Patti, followed by a who’s who of local actors, directors and board members sharing recollections of what it was like to work with the legendary and famously outspoken artistic director. Grau’s comment that Brennen was “a pain in the ass” got one of the biggest laughs of the evening and not a few nods of assent — because, when it comes to theater, no one’s more passionately opinionated than Anna Brennen, and she’s never been above kicking some butt. She was also praised for creating a theater that placed a strong emphasis on diversity, both in its programming and its casting.

A highlight of the entertainment was a series of excerpts from Jane Martin’s Talking With…, with a starry group of actresses, including Eileen Koteles, Rosemary Orlando, and Lisa Powers, reprising excerpts from the monologues they performed in Stageworks’ original production in the 2001-02 season. Powers’ character was a baton twirler — and before she left the stage, she offered her baton to Brennen.

The passing of the baton has already taken place at Stageworks — Karla Hartley took over as producing artistic director at the beginning of 2014. But the retirement party for Brennen was a much-deserved tribute, testimony to a remarkable woman who has played a crucial role in Tampa Bay theater for more than 30 years.

click to enlarge Roxanne Fay as Mary Magdalene.
  • Roxanne Fay as Mary Magdalene.

Last fall, Roxanne Faye
won the first Jeff Norton Award from Theatre Tampa Bay, a $500 grant to develop her one-woman play about Mary Magadalene. The night of the awards, she read the only section of that script she’d finished — a riveting account of an escape by boat following the crucifixion of Jesus — and I don’t think I was alone in thinking, “I’ve got to hear the rest of this!”

This past weekend, I did get to hear and see the rest, along with an enthusiastic crowd packed into the Studio@620. Creative Loafing was the media sponsor for Upon This Rock: The Magdalene Speaks, and I was proud to be associated with it. Performed with grace and intensity by Faye, the play posits a Mary Magdalene who is not only devoted to Jesus but who is able to translate his teachings into words. It's a credible argument that the Gospels might just have had an uncredited (female) author.

Faye recently obtained the rights to Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, which ran briefly on Broadway in 2013 with Fiona Shaw. Roxanne’s plan: Play both Marys (Toibin’s mother of Jesus and her own Magadalene) in repertory at Jobsite next season.

click to enlarge Turchin and Bass (left) with Cassie and Jake Greatens (in white jacket). - BRIANADAMSPHOTO.COM
  • BrianAdamsPhoto.com
  • Turchin and Bass (left) with Cassie and Jake Greatens (in white jacket).
As Megan Voeller pointed out in her preview of last Friday’s opening at the Contemporary Art Space & Studio in South Tampa, it takes guts to open a new gallery. She might have added charm: Cassie and Jake Greatens, who look like the Sarah Jessica Parker and Joaquin Phoenix of South Tampa, charmed a passel of equally stylish, handsome and monied-looking folks into attending the impressive show of work by UT’s Chris Valle and L.A. artist Michael Turchin  who was at the gallery with his fiance, Lance Bass. Turchin and Bass were also charming, in an unassuming, not-at-all celebrity-self-conscious way, and if crowd numbers were any indication, the coming-out party for CASS was a big success. (Turchin's Facebook page reports that he'd sold half his pieces by Saturday.)

And this footnote
on powerful women: I re-watched The Normal Heart on HBO, and was even more impressed the second time around by the fierce performance of Julia Roberts as Dr. Emma Brookner (a role, incidentally, which Roxanne Faye portrayed with conviction in freeFall’s production of the play on which the HBO film is based). I also watched Frozen for the first time: and while I gotta say my favorite part was Olaf the snowman, I liked Elsa the freeze queen and Anna the spunky princess and especially liked that it wasn’t the handsome hero’s kiss that broke the spell at the end [SPOILER ALERT], it was a sisterly hug. As Angelina Jolie proved with those big box office numbers for her own turn as a chilly queen with magical skills, sisters are definitely doing it for themselves.

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