Monday, July 03, 2006

The Play's the Thing

Poets have been tempted by the theater ever since Thespis, Greek singer of dithyrambs, donned his masks and dared to portray, as an actor, characters outside the chorus, thus, the determining legend has it, creating drama. The story is no doubt more complex; neolithic shamans portrayed animal spirits and wore masks, and ancient religions involved the elements of what we would call dramatic performance. But there’s no doubt that since his era, some 534 years BCE, some of the best of the west’s poets have felt the pull of the stage, the power of language in character, and the mask it provides.

This month two of Asheville’s most interesting young writers, Chall Gray and Devin Walsh, continue that long procession and make their leap to the stage: July 14 they open four original one act plays at 35 Below. Two of the plays are theirs, and the other two are by local poets; David Hopes penned one and Jaye Bartell the other. Gray says his and Walsh’s goal is to create a theater company different from others in the area, many of which provide fine performances, and to “show people that there’s also great playwriting” in town.

Gray and Walsh got to know one another at a meeting of the Asheville chapter of Toastmasters International, the non-profit that helps people of all backgrounds become, as they say, better and more confident speakers. Walsh’s dad had been a member for twenty-five years, so he’d grown up with the organization, and found for himself that its practice helped when he had to address the public. He and Gray were both writers and both active in creating literary publications, Metabolism for Walsh, an online and published “literary salon for the intellectually curious,” funded by UNCA, and Blue Elephant, which Gray helped create at AB Tech. While Walsh had published fiction and flash fiction (he and Gray both have had work up at the Flasheville site, he felt stymied when it came to playwriting. “Then”, he says, “Chall stepped in.” By last spring they had created Metabolism Productions and undertaken the development of the project that hits the boards on the 14th.

The plays … well, don’t be thinking Tennessee Williams, be thinking more along the lines of Samuel Beckett, but (if the work of Walsh’s that I’ve heard is any guide) funnier. His “Rochester and Pennyboil” has two middle-aged playwrights drinking and bemoaning their failures, with “vocabularies unleashed and lots of elevated wordplay”. Gray’s “Love from A to Z” is a love story in, of course, twenty-six parts. Hopes’ “Piss”, a “quirky, funny play,” Walsh says, features five characters “extensively versed in art history” in conversation. Jaye Bartell’s “Recalling Paradise” features a man who videotapes himself when he’s sleeping just to make sure he still exists in that state, and the dreams he has as he sleeps of two women without mirrors trying to convey to one another what they look like.

All the plays are fully cast, but as of a week ago Gray and Walsh were still interested in hearing from folks with theater experience, especially on the technical side; you can write them at

Metabolism plans to stage three productions a year; their second offering, now in the planning stage, should hit the boards in early November. It will feature plays by women playwrights.

Time will tell if these works catch the conscience of the king, or of the age, but I’ll wish all involved a good “break a leg” (that’s a way to appease the spirit of Thespis, who still lurks behind the scenes, they say, creating mischief), and see them on the stage.

When: July 14, 15, 8 pm, July 16 2:00 pm. July 20, 21, 22 8 pm, July 23, 2:00 pm.

Tickets can be prepurchased at ACT Box Office, Malaprops, and The Reader's Corner beginning Monday, July 3. Chall says "Seating is limited so we recommend that people get tickets early."

Admission: $5 for students, $10 for the public otherwise.


Updated with corrected show times. And I made Devin a poet; he claims not to be one.
Updated also to fix the link to Metabolism.

This post appeared in somewhat different form in
Rapid River Magazine's July issue.

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