After 2020’s canceled Piccolo Spoleto season and 2021’s pared-down version, the 17-day festival returns this year with a rich array of theater offerings. From the story of a Black family coping with the matriarch’s declining health to celebrations of cultural icons, the schedule is packed with creative, diverse shows.
Dot captures Black language in a Black household
The language of Colman Domingo’s 2016 play Dot inspired Art Gilliard, founding director of Art Forms & Theatre Concepts (AFTC), as he was looking for a new production.
“[Domingo’s)]rhythm is right, just the way he captures the essence of people’s conversation,” he said. “He related well with what I consider the Gullah language here. Even though the show itself takes place in Philadelphia, the rhythm that he established captured the essence of Black language in a Black family household.”
Dot is a dramatic comedy that centers on the Shealy clan — matriarch Dotty and her grown children — gathering days before Christmas. The holiday cheer is coupled with the family’s growing awareness of Dot’s battle with Alzheimer’s, and the show portrays them handling the diagnosis with humor and warmth.
AFTC is bringing in guest director Miriam Crawford Grant, who has worked in New York and Los Angeles, for the production. The company is trying to connect with new artists, and this project will be a return to Grant’s roots.
“She’s a Citadel graduate, and a Lowcountry girl,” Gilliard said.
Dot, presented at the Queen Street Playhouse, will run June 2-12. Get tickets at piccolospoleto.com.
Dracula show includes exploration by Stoker descendant
A descendant of Bram Stoker, a lawyer/psychic medium, and a Halloween-born horror fanatic walk onto a stage. What follows is a multimedia exploration of Stoker’s singular mind. The horror fanatic, actor Braxton Williams, who portrays Stoker in the show, said it’s unlike anything he’s seen before.
Williams, along with Dacre Stoker (great grand-nephew of Bram) and paranormal expert and medium Andrea St. Amand, first mounted the show last October in a two-night engagement at the Charleston Library Society, ahead of this year’s 125th anniversary of the publication of Dracula.
Dacre is devoted to meticulous research into his ancestor, and the show is stuffed with it from projected slides and clips from a 2014 PBS documentary about vampirism to reenactments of the only interview Bram ever gave. There’s also a scene from the novel where Dracula crashes his ship on the cliffs of Whitby.
“There are all sorts of interesting little connections peppered throughout the story,” said Williams, who also added that Bram was married to Oscar Wilde’s ex-girlfriend. “Andrea is interested in it because she’s a self-described literary nerd, and she’s kind of an expert on occult history as well.”
Secrets of Dracula…Unearthed runs June 2-5 at the Chapel Theatre. Get tickets at piccolospoleto.com.
Pop-up play celebrates music of Laurel Canyon
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and Village Repertory Company was forced out of its home at Woolfe Street Playhouse, the company piled into trucks and hit the road, performing outdoor shows in Charleston and around the country.
Keely Enright, Village Rep’s producing artistic director, said they adapted to this new format, cultivating a low-key, around-the-campfire energy. They produced their own shows that focused on contemporary popular music. Ladies of the Canyon, an ode to the female folk-rock singers who congregated in Laurel Canyon in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is the ninth show of this format.
The production, named after Joni Mitchell’s 1970 album, tells the story of foundational artists such as Cass Elliot, Linda Ronstadt and Janis Joplin, as well as Mitchell.
“Joni Mitchell and Cass Elliot were huge, almost matrons of the music scene at the time,” said Enright. “And it’s just been really fun to sort of weave the story of these women together who really were trailblazers of their era, and to entwine their lives, their music, and also just to give them agency away from the male artists who were also very dominant.”
Ladies of the Canyon, presented by the Village Repertory Company, will be at a pop-up on West Ashley Greenway on Saturday, June 4. Free to attend.
The razor-sharp wit that inspired a show
When Susan Marrash-Minnerly is discussing the title of her one-woman show about literary icon Dorothy Parker, she recites the author’s darkly witty yet inspirational poem Resume from memory without missing a beat.
Marrash-Minnerly, a retired theater professor, has been dreaming about producing a one-woman show about Dorothy Parker for decades. She began writing the show in the early ’90s with a student, and the two fell even more in love with Dorothy in the process.
“It has become kind of my life’s passion project,” said Marrash-Minnerly.
Now, after a 20-plus year hiatus, she has the opportunity to bring Dorothy back during Piccolo Spoleto. The play finds Dorothy on the day of her death, reflecting on her life and prolific career as a writer, which was marred by self-doubt and insecurity. Marrash-Minnerly embodies Dorothy and takes the audience on a journey into the past.
Marrash-Minnerly admires Dorothy’s distinctive biting wit, but emphasizes that she wasn’t just a factory of one-liners.
“I want people to know that there was more to this amazing woman than ‘Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses,” she said. “There was more depth to her than that.”
You Might As Well Live, presented by Threshold Repertory Theatre, runs June 4 and 5. Get tickets at piccolospoleto.com.
Poe show gets the Charleston treatment
Director Chrissy Eliason grew up around death. Her parents, who happen to be named Bonnie and Clyde, owned an extermination company, which is now Eliason’s day job. She’s always been fascinated with Edgar Allan Poe, who was stationed at Sullivan’s Island in the 1820s. Eliason is excited to produce a show around his work, but her interest in his writing goes beyond the gothic.
“Some of it’s dark — well, a lot of it’s dark — but he just has a way with words,” she said.
The title, Cognac and Roses, is a reference to an anonymous visitor who used to leave cognac and roses at Poe’s gravestone, and the show will feature readings from some of Poe’s most famous works.
When Paul O’Brien (also of Threshold Rep) reads The Raven to start the show, fog will ooze around his feet, and Eliason said his reading sends a chill down the spine. “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” will be enacted as case studies in criminality, with performers in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs. But Eliason doesn’t rely too heavily on elaborate staging.
“The poetry is the star,” she said.
Cognac and Roses: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe, presented by Threshold Repertory Theatre, will run June 4-11. Get tickets at piccolospoleto.com.
Ellen E. Mintzer is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.
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