Playbill picks: March local theater highlights

IN LIKE A LION: As the weather turns warmer, the cool of area theaters beckons. 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 various stages across the region.

Back to reality

Playwright Del ShoresSordid Lives heads to Hendersonville Theatre, Thursday, March 21-Saturday, March 30. The beloved comedy chronicles the fallout of an elderly matriarch’s accidental death and the plentiful truths it unearths in a small Texas town. The theater website lists a PG-13 rating for adult language, themes and situations.

“Anytime you have a show that is a cult classic with so many comedic elements, the tendency is to try and play to the comedic elements first,” says director Guillermo Jemmott Jr. “In our first read-through of the show, I told all our actors that I did not want them to do that. These are real people in a strange, sad, albeit funny situation. The more serious they are in a comical situation, the more accurate it seems to us in the audience, and that is what makes it funny.”

Aiding those efforts, assistant director River Spade feels it’s “important to emphasize the sincerity in portraying the characters’ struggles and relationships throughout the comedy.” That process involved guiding the actors to fully embody their roles and connect with the story’s emotional core. And Spade has also been mindful of stage choices to help the audience’s understanding of each character, utilizing set design, sound design and lighting to underscore key moments of revelation or conflict.

“As a Black performer and assistant director, I have a unique way of portraying a tale. As such, the goal throughout rehearsals was to create an inclusive and collaborative environment where all cast and crew members felt supported in their creative exploration,” Spade says. “If any of the actors brought up questions or concerns about their characters, we would employ a range of techniques to aid in the character development process. I’m glad I was able to work with Guillermo to be able to share this story with the audience.”

The directorial team’s approaches resonated with Jorja Ursin, who’s striving to transcend the stereotypes inherent in playing barfly Juanita.

“I am attempting to bring a fresh take on this character by downplaying her drunkenness and emphasizing her multidimensional personality instead,” Ursin says. “I’m digging into Juanita‘s personality to find some believable behaviors that are surprising to the audience and genuinely hilarious  — ‘genuine’ being the key word here.”

And while it would be easy to play the broad comic character of Brother Boy simply for laughs, Sean Smith likewise seeks to bring depth to his role.

“Giving Brother Boy more than just that drag [queen] veneer is challenging,” Smith says. “I compare him to Don Quixote. He too lived in an alternate reality that ‘normal’ people did not understand. But that did not make his reality any less real. I find Brother Boy in that ‘surreal’ world, too.”

To learn more, visit

All Greek to me

For its next trick, Haywood Arts Regional Theater in Waynesville stages The Lightning Thief, Friday, March 15-Sunday, March 24. The rock-infused musical quest is based on Rick Riordan’s best-selling young adult book series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

The thrilling story follows teenage demigod Percy and two pals on an epic journey as they attempt to find Zeus’ master bolt before it’s put to destructive use. Appropriate for all ages, the tale is filled with humor, mythological marvels and plenty of catchy tunes.

“What I love about this show is that even though it is a fantastical storyline with demigods, gods, creatures and larger-than-life items, the story is very real,” says director Javan Delozier. “These are very real teenagers trying to navigate growing up without a parent. They have anxieties and learning disorders — they want to make friends and fit in. It’s a very relatable story while still being out of this world.”

Such emotions have likewise inspired choreographer Jessi Hoadley. “I’ve been really enjoying getting these actors to tap into the angst of it all,” she says. “[I’m] using the choreography to really express the inner turmoil of these teenagers.”

To learn more, visit

Coven home

Following the immense success of its February production, the broad comedy Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, N.C. Stage Company sustains its commitment to humor, albeit with a dark, existential twist.

Running Friday, March 15-Sunday, April 7, Witch comes from the brilliant mind of playwright Jen Silverman, whose The Roommate was a highlight of the theater company’s 2022-23 season. In this latest production, former Roommate co-lead Callan White plays Elizabeth, who’s been labeled a witch and cast out by her town of Edmonton. Alone, she becomes a seemingly easy target for the devil (Arusi Santi) to obtain her soul. But she proves far more slippery to Old Scratch, and as he ramps up his efforts, unexpected passions arise, alliances are formed and the village is forever altered.

Maria Buchanan, N.C. Stage’s marketing and communications manager, describes the play as “a very bold, very loose, very funny” retelling of the 1621 Jacobean play The Witch of Edmonton. The production is directed by Angie Flynn-McIver, with stage management by Amelia Driscoll. Though not family-friendly due to strong language, mature content and staged violence, the show is recommended for theatergoers ages 15 and older.

Witch is a surprisingly funny look at what happens when we’re asked, ‘What would you sell your soul for?’” says Flynn-McIver. “The characters in this play all have different answers, and you might see yourself in one of them.”

To learn more, visit


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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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