Playbill picks: July local theater highlights

SECOND-HALF WONDERS: July marks the most prolific month yet for local theater companies. Photo by iStock

If you’re a fan of local theater, Western North Carolina offers plenty of options. Below are some highlights of productions hitting stages across the region.

Double dip

Renovations to 35below, Asheville Community Theatre’s downstairs black box space, are complete, and the room is again playing host to productions — its first since March 2020.

The latest offerings are two new works by playwright Joseph Reed Hayes, starting with Slow Ride, about a fateful Sunday bus trip for a hippie grandmother (played by Laura Berry) with her conservative daughter (Jen Russ) and goth granddaughter (Susan Hudson). It runs Friday, July 12-Sunday, July 21, followed less than a week later by Destination Moon, which centers on young terminal patient Truly (Evan Brooks) coming to terms with the news that her longtime illness is now in remission. This more experimental work — co-starring Corey Harper as the late-night jazz radio announcer with whom Truly forms a bond, and featuring original music from Asheville-based artist Teso McDonald — runs Friday, July 26-Sunday, Aug. 4.

Hayes, who also serves as the shows’ producer and director, notes that the two plays may seem totally different, but themes of managing the pain, fear and joy of being human are consistent across both works.

“I like writing plays for intimate spaces, with minimal sets and props, where the audience participates fully in the creation of theater,” he says. “A sort of magic occurs when our imaginations transform a bunch of random chairs into a city bus or a hospital room or a tiny radio studio. I love it when the audience can see the character’s eyes, can hear their indrawn breath, can experience the art as it happens.”

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Of all the shows to grace Flat Rock Playhouse over the years, Cabaret has not yet been one of them. That all changes this month when the Broadway classic from composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb hits the stage Friday, July 12-Saturday, Aug. 3

Set in 1930 Berlin, the production hops between the Kit Kat Club — where the charismatic Emcee (Joseph Medeiros) and lead songstress Sally Bowles (FRP artistic director and frequent show director Lisa K. Bryant) hold court — and the intersecting lives of boardinghouse inhabitants as Adolf Hitler’s totalitarian regime takes hold in Germany.

Cabaret has been casting a spell and sounding an alarm since it first hit Broadway, and if our first week of rehearsals are any indication, this is going to be one of the most powerful productions I’ve ever been part of,” says director/choreographer Chase Brock. “Don’t miss it.”

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‘We’re both Gemini vegetarians’

Want to feel extra fabulous? Legally Blonde the Musical has its Western North Carolina premiere at Hendersonville Theatre, running Thursday, July 18-Sunday, Aug. 4.

True to its 2001 source material film, the musical follows sorority girl Elle Woods (played by Morgan Miller) as she shakes up Harvard Law School with her fashion-forward, Bel Air ways.

“To me, Legally Blonde is not just about female empowerment. It’s about peeling back the layers of our lives to find the diamond that has been there from the beginning,” says director Heather Fender. “Elle Woods is not just ‘finding herself’; she is finally showing the world who she has always been.”

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Technological perils

Facing the allure and dangers of artificial intelligence head-on, local theater company The Cardboard Sea, in association with The Sublime Theater, presents Voice Commands for six shows Thursday, July 18-Saturday, July 27, at the BeBe Theater.

Written by Jeff Donnelly and directed by Todd Weakley, the dark comedy’s three interlocking stories explore how humans lean into AI and the ways it proves unreliable. The production stars Kristi DeVille, Charlie Holt, Eddie Yoffee and Iliana Hernandez.

“This piece isn’t interested in the discussion around AI becoming sentient or robots taking over the world,” Donnelly says. “This is more about how technology is filling voids in our lives that other people used to fill and acting as a coping tool in ways very few of us could have imagined even 10 years ago.”

Weakley adds that he’s excited to work with The Cardboard Sea again and praises the distinct “freedom and wildness” present in the rehearsal room.

“Our process is unconventional but lucrative. We trust each other to take leaps into the unknown,” he says. “With Voice Commands, a yearlong discussion has delivered a script that provokes and challenges. Our production will be unlike any other in all the best ways.”

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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