July 1, 2008

New Acting Group Offers ‘Thought-Provoking’ Theater

By Kevin Kittredge [email protected] 981-3323

Roanoke's pre-eminent live theater, Mill Mountain Theatre, is in debt these days, but that hasn't stopped anyone else from, well, getting into the act.

Star City Playhouse on Williamson Road recently completed its first season. Local playwright Kenley Smith is turning the former New York Fashions building on Campbell Avenue into a venue for new theater. And Showtimers, the community theater on McVitty Road, has been going since 1951.

Now comes Gamut, a group of local thespians with a hunger for meatier fare. Gamut -- which is an acronym for Gypsies and Misfits Unknown Theatre -- was formed from the remains of the 1980s troupe The Acting Company, which had similar aims, said Gamut artistic director Miriam Frazier.

The troupe will perform four short plays by British playwright and 2005 Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter on Thursday, Saturday, July 6, 10, 11 and 13 at Jefferson Center's recital hall. Thursday is also the opening date for the "Gang of Lost Souls" art show at Jefferson Center, with works by emerging artists.

As for the plays, "They're heavy. They're dark," said Frazier -- though at least three of the four are also funny.

"Nobody else would do this, because they'd lose money. We don't care about losing money, though I would prefer to break even," she said. "I think there is an audience in Roanoke for difficult, thought-provoking theater."

The Pinter plays are "Party Time,""Ashes to Ashes,""Precisely" and "Press Conference," and all four will be performed each night. Tickets are $10. There will be a cash bar at each performance.

For tickets call the Jefferson Center Box Office at 345-2550.

Wilhelms gone from MMT

Pat Wilhelms has left Mill Mountain Theatre.

Mill Mountain's education director, who began working for the theater in 1998, supervised and taught drama camps and directed Mill Mountain touring shows that performed as far away as Fredericksburg. She also directed the main stage musical "I Do I Do" last summer and the family-friendly "Tales of the Arabian Nights" in April.

She was dismissed by artistic director Patrick Benton, according to several sources.

"Wherever she went, she was an ambassador for the theater," said Michelle Bennett, a longtime Mill Mountain Theatre marketing employee who now works for Center in the Square. Bennett still does graphics work for the theater under a contract between the theater and Center.

She blamed Wilhelms' departure on "a personality conflict" between Wilhelms and Benton. "There is a lot of support for Pat. A lot of the staff feels very bad."

Benton and board member and past president John Light both declined to comment, saying it was a personnel issue. "We certainly wish Pat the best," Benton said.

Wilhelms also declined to comment. She said being hired by the theater a decade ago had been "a dream come true. I just want the best for Mill Mountain Theatre."

Ginger Poole, who did the choreography for the theater's current main stage musical, "Into the Woods," is filling in for Wilhelms, Benton said. He said the theater's summer drama camps began last week.

A celebration of French music

Soprano Marianne Sandborg and organist Thomas Baugh have teamed up for a concert of French music at Christ Episcopal Church on July 8.

Included will be works by Impressionist composer Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen -- whose often-performed "Quartet for the End of Time" was composed in a German concentration camp. This year is the 100th anniversary of Messiaen's birth. (Messiaen survived the camp, by the way, and died in 1992 at age 83.)

The concert also will include an organ work by 17th-century French composer Nicolas de Grigny.

"The de Grigny is like being in a French monastery, then the Debussy is like a Monet painting done with sound, then the Messiaen is wildly different in every respect," Sandborg said in an e-mail. "This is a hugely varied program and it's free."

July 8 is also the 1,057th anniversary of the founding of Paris, according to www.brainhistory.com.

Christ Episcopal Church is at 1101 Franklin Road. 343-0159.

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