Beginning Stages 

New theater company offers a forum for local playwrights

Veteran Music Row commercial producer Jim Reyland has been nurturing alternate dreams as a playwright for about 10 years. The author of locally produced stage works such as Stuff (1999) and Shelter (2006) recently founded his own nonprofit theater company, Writer’s Stage, whose broader goal is to serve as a resource for committed Tennessee playwrights looking for an outlet for their as-yet-unproduced work. Reyland’s networking plan will provide writers with feedback, play readings on a regular monthly basis, and, with luck, the hope of drawing interest from other producing organizations, both in Nashville and elsewhere.

But first up for Writer’s Stage is Reyland’s own new musical 21 Baker Road, a bittersweet but magical tale about a family man who’s never quite able to articulate or realize his greater purpose in life, and who must deal with a decidedly ironic twist of fate. Co-written with composer Addison Gore, the show will be presented in its first public staged reading (and singing) at 7:30 p.m. March 1.

“We’ll keep it flowing, like a live radio show,” says Reyland. “The whole idea is to hold the musical up to the light long enough so people can see what we have, so we might instill interest in others to try to help take it to the next level. Local theater producers have been invited, we’ll be handing out response cards for the audience to get some honest feedback, and we’ll have a post-show talk-back session.” 21 Baker Road runs just over two hours, with one intermission. A 3 p.m. dress rehearsal is open to all Belmont students, since the university once again has consented to lend its marvelous theatrical resources to a local producing group.

Reyland has gathered an interesting mix of professional singers and actors, along with students from Belmont’s ever-active musical theater program, to help give his work its first breath of stage life. Among the cast are John Warren, Sara Schoch and Lisa Gillespie—all gifted veterans of Boiler Room Theatre musicals—plus younger aspirants like Audrey Filson, Zach Pinell and Patrick Shaw. Barry Scott directs.

“It’s a story about people who lead lives of quiet desperation,” says Gore, who spent 30 years as a commercial airline pilot before getting back to music in a serious way. “This is a show about real-life stuff that people go through, and for which there isn’t necessarily a solution.”

Adds Reyland, “It’s also about finding the balance in one’s life, between work and family.”

The players will sing the entire score of the show accompanied by fully orchestrated tracks. The music is bright, contemporary and pop-flavored, balancing whimsy with poignance. Also appearing onstage is Dove Award nominee David McMullan, who lends his talents as a solo trumpeter, the only live instrumentation in this staging.

“As with any staged reading, we’re looking to find the spine of the piece,” says Scott. “We’re joining the book with the music onstage for the first time, in order to take it to the next level, to see how it can be further envisioned. It’s an exciting process.”

While its subject matter is decidedly different, Scott likens the Reyland/Gore piece structurally to the musical Little Shop of Horrors. “They’re both unlikely stories, with zany comedy, plus songs that really grab you.”

Tickets for 21 Baker Road are on sale at the door and through the Belmont University ticket office at 460-8500.

Southern satire

Dane Dakota’s Who Loves Judas? is, for a good while, one of the finest pieces of original stage writing produced in this town in recent history. The author’s setup and action appear to be inspired by the satire of Jules Feiffer (Little Murders), but his portrayal of the clash of staid, older mind-sets vs. younger subversives is fresh and wholly his own, filled with contemporary social ideas and often wildly funny. A Nashville bank executive (Caroline Davis) invites her boss (Dave Thoreson) and his wife (Linda Speir) to dinner in order to push along a coming promotion. Her offbeat photographer/artist husband (Michael Roark) challenges the conventional ways of the guests in outrageous fashion, while drop-in friend Katrina (Cynthia Williams) adds to the shock value with her tales of life as a hooker and drug addict. Chris Basso appears as the biblical Judas, shadowing all the players with a video camera. It’s kooky stuff, but also very smart and resonant. Director Melissa Bedinger Hade prods her ensemble into some specific performances in which everyone shines. Act 2, alas, only partially extends the core story, then heads into some frustrating character explorations. It’s definitely worth a look, though. Who Loves Judas? runs through March 1 at Darkhorse Theater.

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