Friday, April 14, 2017

Apple Pie-A Rite of Passage

~Doc Lawrence~

The stage as a teaching vehicle dates as far back to ancient Greece as playwrights have plucked the family tree for comedy and tragedy. Early Christians used it to spread the Gospel by portraying the sacred stories in Greek amphitheaters. Much of what we know about each other and different cultures is owed to theater. Comedy is the kissing cousin of drama. Pie in the Sky, Art Station’s world premiere production once again makes the case that the arts-inexplicably always under threat-is the core of a civilized society. Diminish the arts even slightly and norms of civility decline.

Where else but the live stage can you examine the complexity of a family while baking a fresh apple pie?

Lawrence Thelen’s Pie In The Sky is a comedy about what happens when the “nesting instinct” is applied to the end of one’s life. Dory, brilliantly performed by Karen Howell lives with her mother Margaret, hilariously portrayed by Barbara Bradshaw. Both are widows sharing a modest home in Abilene, Texas. It’s Dory’s birthday and Mama arises at 4:10 am to start the process of making her recipe apple pie, her gift for Dory. Mama is noisy and very funny.

Dory wakes up and helps Mama, who has her own ways of using ingredients and kitchen implements. At times, there isn’t room for two cooks in the small kitchen. Through razor sharp lines, humor intensifies but is never cruel.

Mother (85) and daughter (65) are widows. Aging and the specter of limited days ahead is a backdrop. There are some family secrets and as the clock (and the oven timer) wind down, the opportunity for transparency is at hand.

Pie in the Sky is the anthesisis of those silly productions commonly named Della. Comedy-the real deal-is challenging and falls flat absent imaginative, creative writing and advanced acting. Thelen’s script as interpreted by these two gifted stage veterans pulls the audience into the kitchen. We revisit our mothers for a few precious moments, remembering that while they were set in their ways, they loved us and made few if any excuses for their slips along the way. They taught us how to be human.

Pie in the Sky is tightly directed by David Thomas, one of the real giants of theater in Georgia. Chad Fenimore’s stage management allowed the genuine aroma of a pie baking in the oven to waft around the audience, leaving them fully entertained, yearning for a slice of homemade apple pie.

Running through April 30. (770) 469.1105; 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Stone Mountain Strong: Evil Loses

-By Doc Lawrence-

Good triumphs over evil. It’s a story you look for and one just manifested in the historic Village of Stone Mountain, the lovely town beside the mighty granite monolith in one of the country’s most visited parks.

Restoration Team Declares Victory
Mindless vandals defaced a magnificent mural hovering protectively above the lovely town since its dedication in late summer of 2012. Yes, the filth and venom painted over the positive images of the city, its churches, cemetery, theater, ancient homes and memorials at first served the intended purpose: revulsion, sadness and deeply felt outrage. There were two choices: paint over the mural and hide the destruction, or, restore it.

One choice would obviously award evil a trophy.

The mural rests along a large wall of a pavilion on one of the most magnificent tracts of greenspace anywhere. The facility and land is owned and maintained by Stone Mountain First Baptist Church, one of Georgia’s oldest congregations. Over the years, the pavilion has hosted dinners, Christmas pageants, free movies for the public and will again be the site of a giant Easter egg hunt for children. The mural chronicles the city’s heritage and is a testament to the power of community.

The Work Begins
The idea for the mural originated with two local leaders who engaged Georgia artist Olivia Thomason, also a city resident, to lead and design the project. Over a period of sweltering summer weeks the mural took shape, with initial painting done by school children throughout the Atlanta region, local citizens, church members with Ms. Thomason always helping and working, often on a scaffold with paints and brushes at her side.

The entire project was a volunteer effort.

The finished mural incorporated the profound humanity of the village. “The painting,” said Ms. Thomason, “was a gift to the city.” In 2012, on a brilliant late summer Sunday, the mural was dedicated with dinner on the grounds, choir music and a speech and prayer by Dr. Dan Parker, an author, revered Baptist minister and close friend of Ms. Thomason. The diverse audience exemplified the majesty of inclusion. Frank Spence, a retired PR executive with the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Falcons attended and remembered the mural and dedication ceremony “as the South at its very best.”
2012 Dedication Ceremony

Five years after the dedication, on an early spring day in the Deep South, evil struck out. Sadly, the dark forces will be back somewhere, tossing bricks into a storefront window or a windshield, breaking into homes or desecrating a cemetery. But these good citizens demonstrated how to combat vandalism. You never allow a travesty to prevail. Doing nothing fertilizes evil.

The team of volunteers, David Thomas, Bill Leavell, Michael Hidalgo, City Council member Susan Coletti, Danny Ergle and Olivia Thomason completed the successful restoration and said they enjoyed doing it.

The mural looks even better. A sweet victory.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Nina's Musical Spell On Atlanta-Simply Simone Shines

-By Doc Lawrence-

I came close to meeting Nina Simone who performed in Atlanta for the Atlanta Jazz festival, at Morehouse College and at Chastain three years before her death. That emptiness was finally filled while I, along with a packed house, was immersed in the timely and powerful musical, Simply Simone at Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit. With 32 songs performed by four very gifted women portraying Nina Simone from her childhood in Tryon, North Carolina to her performances in Carnegie Hall, foreign countries, jazz clubs and the Newport Jazz Festival, we were treated to a tour de force of much of America’s greatest music.

A complex and passionate Nina told the world that she was not a diva, but The Diva. There are four talented actresses portraying Ms. Simone at different stages of her life: Marliss Amiea, Tina Fears, Chani Maisonet and Chelsea Reynolds. The musical review kicks off with the double entrendre-loaded I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl followed by My Baby Just Cares for Me, and then Simone’s best-known song and her first hit recording, the heart-wrenching I Loves You Porgy from Porgy and Bess. And the show was just beginning.
Chani Maisonet as Nina

Nina Simone’s skills as a pianist helped propel her journey from a North Carolina high school to the Julliard School of Music in New York City and later to an audition for the prestigious Curtis Institute where she was rejected for displaying too much emotion, stinging words of prejudice that inflicted emotional injury to the 17 year-old prodigy. Always defiant, Ms. Simone’s Young, Gifted and Black, another hit recording addresses self-confidence despite rejection and ensuing pain, and stirringly introduces a showcase of her determined plunge into music, singing and playing the blues, jazz, gospel and her signature protest songs.

The 1963 bombing of a black church that killed four girls in Birmingham, Alabama, an event that placed Ms. Simone’s voice and star power behind the civil rights movement is described in agonizing detail. The bone-chilling and very provocative Mississippi Goddam, Simone’s response to Birmingham and the murder of Medgar Evers that same year, explodes just before intermission, allowing time to catch a breath and recover some needed equilibrium.

Love me or Leave Me wasn’t composed for Ms. Simone, but when she performed it at the Newport Jazz Festive with a never-to-be equaled piano solo incorporating Mozart and Bach-style counterpoint, the recording stands today as a testament of her capacity to love deeply and never forgive an injury. There is pain on the stage but there triumphant moments of joy as well. Nina Simone was a versatile, virtuoso musician, an American original and a ferociously independent woman.

Beyond the music (the band is flawless), Simply Simone makes the case for the arts in Atlanta, particularly outstanding companies like Theatrical Outfit. On this day, the audience through the auspices of song and dance visited a little girl and a magnificent woman named Nina who expanded the reach of jazz and much of popular music, never hesitating to use her voice as a vehicle for change.

The show leaves the audience dancing and clapping. Nina could express hurt, but she also knew how to stir the spirit.

Created by Robert Neblett and David Grapes, Simply Simone: The Music of Nina Simone is directed and choreographed by Patdro Harris with musical direction by Chika Ma'atunde. Through April 15, 2017 at the Balzer Theater at Herren’s.

Artwork by BreeAnne Clowdus
Photography by Christopher Bartelski

Friday, March 24, 2017

Folk Art In The Sunshine State-Jeanine Taylor Celebrates 20 Years-

 By Doc Lawrence

Original Florida is easy to find. It’s in that vast green prairie with occasional rolling hills interspersed with wetlands, lakes and streams comfortably away from crowded beaches and theme parks. It’s a gentle land where wildlife thrives, coexisting alongside people in picturesque towns with almost endless outdoor recreational opportunities. Here is a unique, deeply embedded culture closely tied to nature featuring big skies, subterranean aquifers, wildlife, literature, music and art.

For those looking for cultural wonders, Florida offers a trove. Art, in particular folk art, symbolically tells so much about the Sunshine State and the Deep South. Jeanine Taylor, a Miami native, was educated at FSU and transitioned from a career in education to owning and managing a successful gallery in Sanford, a lovely town not far from Orlando, but light years away when measured by quiet elegance and charm. Jeanine Taylor Folk Art Gallery occupies a beautiful 100 year-old building and is celebrating a milestone of 20 years. Works by artists who visually tell the world what Florida and the South represent are omnipresent, covering walls, filling display tables, rising from floors and hanging from above. Collectively, they become an indoor rainbow of colors with powerfully positive energy.
"Louie" Guards Thomason's Paintings

Paintings by Atlanta folk artist Olivia Thomason just joined the works of others in Ms. Taylor’s gallery. Some like Missionary Mary Proctor, Ab the Flagman and Eric Legee are also Ms. Thomason’s friends from her days as a gallery owner. An accomplished artist, Thomason has a display case filled with awards including Atlanta’s artist of the year and gallery of the year. Coming to Jeanine Taylor’s gallery in Sanford, she says, “is an exciting opportunity. I want to be around Florida’s authenticity and have a lifelong love of so much of its core culture including legendary authors like Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston.” She added that “knowing and admiring Jeanine Taylor drew me here like a magnet.” 

Jeanine Taylor
Jeanine Taylor says her love of the arts of the region enamored her “with southern art and culture,” leading to the successful establishment of her gallery specializing in contemporary folk art from the Deep South. Ms. Taylor garners praise from high places. GO Inflight, Air Tran’s passenger publication, selected her gallery as one of the “twenty essential galleries in the country” alongside prestigious urban galleries in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Santa Fe and Chicago.

Ms. Thomason, in addition to her awards, has painted poet Carl Sandburg’s home, “Connemara,” a national historic shrine in Flat Rock, NC. Other notable paintings include the billboard greeting Atlanta’s Stone Mountain Park’s 8 million annual visitors. “I’ll always be at heart a country girl and my favorite paintings are based on precious memories from childhood.”

Her memory paintings adorn a lively wall in Jeanine Taylor Folk Art Gallery.

More information: .

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Atlanta's Irish Hero-Father Thomas O'Reilly

By Doc Lawrence

Since childhood days, I’ve known about the incident. Every word is true and remains one of the most fascinating stories I know about the Civil War and St. Patrick’s Day.

Father Thomas O'Reilly
This wasn’t about battlefield courage, a strategy that resulted in a monumental victory, or a stirring, inspirational speech. No, it was about how an Irish immigrant priest acting alone on behalf of God and innocent civilians, confronted a mighty warrior, faced threats of execution squarely in the eye and peacefully won a victory that somehow escaped history books.

A native of County Cavan, Ireland, Thomas O’Reilly, appointed as pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, arrived in Atlanta in 1861. Atlanta was a strategic transportation center for the Confederacy, and in 1864, the Union army, commanded by Gen. William T. Sherman, held Atlanta under siege with intense artillery bombardment. During the horror of Sherman’s extended assault, Father O’Reilly ministered to the wounded and dying of both armies, along
with civilian casualties.

Church of the Immaculate Conception
After the Battle of Atlanta, the city fell and was occupied by Sherman’s army. The decision was made to destroy Georgia’s infrastructure as part of Sherman’s well-known “March to the Sea.” Sherman issued the order for Atlanta to be burned, including all homes and churches. Enraged, O’Reilly gained an audience with Sherman at his headquarters, now the site of the Carter Center and Presidential Library.

The confrontation was unpleasant. O’Reilly, failing in his efforts to persuade Sherman to spare the city, was told by Sherman that he was pondering whether to have the priest summarily executed by firing squad. Undeterred, O’Reilly reminded Sherman that his army was substantially Irish Catholic conscripts who would likely mutiny before burning a Catholic church. O’Reilly also informed Sherman that, in the event of the destruction of churches, he would take official measures to have every Irish Catholic soldier in Sherman’s army excommunicated.

Sherman relented. Although over 5,000 were destroyed, five Atlanta churches were spared: Immaculate Conception, St. Phillips Episcopal, Second Baptist, Trinity Methodist and Central Presbyterian.

Father O'Reilly Memorial
O’Reilly was not executed. Upon his death in 1872 at age 41, he was buried in the basement of his church. A few possessions are on display. His resting place, which may be viewed by appointment, has the feel of a sacred shrine. I have visited there regularly over the years.
Each year, at the end of Atlanta’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta places a wreath at the memorial for Thomas O’Reilly, which stands on the corner of Atlanta’s city hall. The congregations of the churches he saved erected it long ago.

The courage and tenacity of Father Thomas O’Reilly embody the ecumenical spirit
that continues to define Atlanta an international beacon for human rights.

                                      Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

An Evening At Sassy's-A Gem In a Historic Village-

By Doc Lawrence

Joan Monroe With Her New Works
STONE MOUNTAIN, GA-Sassy’s is one of those welcoming places where you want to hang out. Joan Sharpe’s highly regarded creation is housed in a stately historic building made with granite from nearby Stone Mountain. Entering on this lovely late winter evening was a step into a fairyland of happy people literally surrounded by paintings, good books, jewelry, designer dresses and most anything else that stimulates the imagination.

Olivia Thomason (L), Joan Sharpe and Aalaia Foreman
This was Sassy’s sneak preview, a festive celebration that included the unveiling of new paintings by the accomplished artist Joan Monroe whose works adorn a red wall in one of Sassy’s rooms. “This is art you can use,” Ms. Monroe explained, noting that the clocks with brightly colored animals represented a new challenge beyond her popular paintings on silk. “I am very pleased with the results.”

Olivia Thomason, another well-known artist, said the works by Joan Monroe reminded her of a legendary artist: “I thought of Andy Warhol and the use of colors in some of his best known works like Marilyn Monroe. I love Joan’s new works.”

Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe
The visitors browsed through the rooms examining jewelry, books, and a potpourri of interesting items including eye-catching clothing for women, costume jewelry, shelves of collectible books and a cornucopia of unusual items that would make memorable gifts. The festive atmosphere was boosted by servings of wines and sangria, a prelude to the longer and more relaxed days of springtime just ahead.

Sassy’s is impossible to miss. Located at 975 Main Street in the Historic Village of Stone Mountain, you’ll find Joan Sharpe to be the accomplished hostess who immediately makes strangers feel like close friends. The selections are vast, varied and interesting. Prices are very reasonable (I am a happy customer) and when you see that glorious red wall with the colorful works by Joan Monroe, you will want to stay a little longer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dr. King-Requiem for a Wine Taster

 By Doc Lawrence

It’s one of the most fascinating stories about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Imagine a chance meeting between a global champion of human rights, and a racist former governor of Georgia at a wine store near the state capital building in Atlanta. And all this during the heyday of segregation on the eve of the civil rights revolution. Add the presence of a Pulitzer-Prize winning newspaper editor and the host, a progressive, well-educated wine shop owner who would become the father of fine wines in the South.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. walked into Sanders Wines to buy a good bottle of wine to celebrate his marriage anniversary dinner at home. Already there was former governor Marvin Griffin, a highly public adversary and outspoken critic of King and Ralph McGill, editor of The Atlanta Constitution (now AJC). Jim Sanders preserved the story in a copyrighted manuscript he gave me just prior to his death in 1999.

Sanders, who earned a Master’s in English from Emory University, had a small room in the rear of his wine shop where a select few would be invited to sit, talk, sip and eat, a tradition Sanders maintained without interruption until his death.

Dr. King would soon join in the wine enjoyment and conversation. After a glass or two of fine French Burgundy, tensions dissolved, replaced with good-humored storytelling.

Here is my radio broadcast and podcast based entirely on Sanders’ spellbinding manuscript, “Requiem for Three Wine Tasters” which you can enjoy:

Listen and feel the earth tremble.