Presented by BroadAxe Theatre
May 20-29 at
Bongo After Hours Theatre
Nashville steps a little further down the corridor of the dangerous mind of Jeremy Childs this week, when BroadAxe Theatre presents the world premiere of the noted actor-writer's new play, Palisades. Author of the local perennial favorite Vampire Monologues, Childs pushes into more serious territory with this latest effort, a full-length, two-act crazy-quilt rumination that he calls "a concept album I had to put onstage."
Childs admits to a work ethic that finds him pondering dozens of dramatic projects at once, until a particular idea commands his full attention and is brought to fruition. Palisades was first drafted some eight years ago. It received a reading at Mockingbird Theatre's 2003 NeST Festival, which encouraged the playwright to present the work to BroadAxe co-founders Steve Earle and Sara Sharpe. In the meantime, Childs was appointed as the company's artistic director. Events come full circle with the play's debut under Childs' direction, featuring a cast of five that includes Sharpe, Josh Childs, Rachel Agee, Marlon Styles and Matt Mellon.
Childs isn't quick to categorize his latest creation. "For marketing reasons, it's a dark comedy. But like many playwrights, I don't set out to write a certain kind of play. This one is about the thin line between self-indulgence and the meaning of 'to thine own self be true.' It's also about relationships, about feeling like you're trapped, and about doing the best you can do with what you have without crossing over that line."
On the surface, Palisades concerns five people stuck in a diner during a hellacious rainstorm. With a nod in the direction of one familiar Nashville landmark, the restaurant is called Rotier's. Childs points out, however, that the exact location is not anyplace specific, and if anything, the setting here might be viewed as the nostalgic and rural Southwest, where he grew up.
According to Mellon, who plays the character of Jo Jo Ba ("King of Calypso Country"), relations and power are the play's meat-and-potatoes issues. "It's hard to pin down on a thematic level," he says. "What it contains are power struggles among a bunch of very unique persons in a somewhat abstracted scenario. The human energy in a space like this will create a hot dynamic."
The space in question is the intimate environs of producer Ken Bernstein's Bongo After Hours Theatre, which will undergo a serious transformation into a contemporary diner, whose ambience and spirit appear to be stuck in a retro era, complete with a '50s-style jukebox.
"My favorite kind of theater is voyeuristic theater," says author Childs. "As if you're looking through a window at something maybe you shouldn't be seeing. I wanted to take that idea another step furtherto go past the window and actually put the audience right in the middle of it. On purpose, the play is claustrophobic, and the Bongo space is perfect for that."
Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon's 1962 novelty hit "Palisades Park" kicks off the play, and the tune's amusement-park atmosphere links into Childs' personal vision. "It's a roller-coaster plot," he says. "It's got a beginning, middle and end, but the audience won't know where they're going and won't be sure how they got there until they reflect on what they've experienced."
Absurdist repartee, quizzical verbal concepts and salty, colloquial (i.e., R-rated) language best characterize Palisades' vocabulary. "Some of it is super-realistic," says Childs. "But it's always about jazz to me. And breaking rules: matching those two styles and hooking them together so the piece flows and doesn't jolt the audience. This is an intense script for the actors, but everyone's done a good job of understanding the 'orchestration.' "
Childs' multifaceted theatrical career has been active indeed for the past five years, but Palisades represents a leap forward. "I think this is the most important thing I've ever done."
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