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Stage Planner: Freefall does 'Our Town,' Parsons Dance performance at the Straz

NOT MAYBERRY: FREEFALL DOES 'OUR TOWN'

Every day of the year, someone is performing Our Town somewhere in the world. Freefall Theatre starts its run of the Thornton Wilder classic this weekend with Bob Devin Jones in the lead role.

"Because it is such a seminal American play, it's a play that you do," said Eric Davis, Freefall's producing artistic director. "So it's on that list of the plays that we want to do but also that we must do, much like there are pieces of music that every orchestra must play."

That said, the company aims to make this show unlike the others.

It is a reunion of sorts. Freefall got its start in 2008, putting on The Wild Party at The Studio@620, which Jones founded a dozen years ago as a performing space and gallery. In Our Town he plays the Stage Manager, who narrates the action in the self-aware setting of a theater, surely a groundbreaking notion in 1938 when it was first performed.

"The decision to cast Bob came very naturally out of reading the play, appreciating its metatheatrical qualities and blurring that line between what's real in our community that we live day to day and what's real in the play," Davis said.

Our Town uses no set, just a bare stage. The Stage Manager addresses the audience from time to time, and narrates the action from the balcony and elsewhere. Within all of that, characters in the mythical Grover's Corners live out their lives, have dreams and undergo changes. The barrenness of the stage and small-town feel have led many to interpret the play as a sentimental slice of Americana — something these actors are determined to rise above. For Davis, it evokes the revolutionary discoveries of Albert Einstein.

"Einstein showed us that space and time are a fabric that's intertwined," he said, "and that we could potentially move freely through both."

A note in the script by Wilder asks that players avoid sentimentality. Freefall's Our Town will communicate much nonverbally, through choreography by Leann Alduenda.

"Something that's really cool about our production is that the inner life comes out through this movement and this expressive dance," said Kelly Pekar, who plays Mrs. Gibbs.

As for Jones, an accomplished actor long before The Studio @620, the role is a chance to accept direction.

"I like things that stretch me," Jones said. "As I told Eric the very first day, 'Use me, mold me, push me.' At 61, I like to reach. And this is definitely a reach."

Our Town runs Saturday through Feb. 14. 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $21-$43. (727) 498-5205. freefalltheatre.com.

FLYING THROUGH: PARSONS DANCE

Before he started Parsons Dance more than 30 years ago, David Parsons had already worked with people who would change contemporary dance. He has since become one of those people.

Parsons, who grew up in Kansas City, Mo., has taken that physicality he learned as a gymnast to new levels. His company performs tonight, and anyone who loves dance will want to consider going. In the same way the best musicians within a genre have often played with each other at some point, Parsons worked as a young man with the founders of the Pilobolus dance troupe. He danced with Momix, a Pilobolus offshoot, before founding Parsons Dance in 1985.

In the 1990s, he hired Juilliard graduate Robert Battle, who stayed with Parsons Dance for seven years. In 2011, Battle became only the third director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, one of the largest dance companies in the world. The lighting designer he has used, Howell Binkley, won a Tony for Jersey Boys and designed the lighting for the smash hit Hamilton.

"I think that family tree pushed me toward doing a lot of stuff that doesn't have a lot of sets or props," Parsons said. "It's really about the human body."

He is on a mission to spread dance to people who are just starting to realize how much they need it. "When you have So You Think You Can Dance and so on in the last 10 years, young kids really want to be in the performing arts because they see that. And who wants to sit in front of a computer all day?"

The show starts at 8 tonight at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $45-$55. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

Stage Planner: Freefall does 'Our Town,' Parsons Dance performance at the Straz 01/13/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2016 11:03am]
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