As debuted on July 4 on the opening night of Molière’s Tartuffe
, the Montford Park Players
have a new tradition: A champagne reception on the upper stage following the opening night’s performance.
That this champagne ritual debuted with Tartuffe
may be happenstance, but it perhaps carries a lot of symbolism. After all, the production is directed by the artistic director of The Magnetic Theatre
, and features a mix of actors who have worked with both companies. As always, Hazel Robinson was at opening night, ready to perform her rain-go-away ritual if need be as she handed out playbills alongside other volunteers.
Every theatre in town that has developed since the mid-‘70s has some relationship, even if just an indirect one, to Hazel Robinson
and her Montford Park Players
. Robinson founded the troupe in 1973 on her grocery budget on the firm belief Asheville was thirsty for the arts and that Shakespeare and classical theatre are part of our common heritage, and should be available to all, regardless of ability to pay. Her theatre background, encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare, and unflappable determination to stage classical theatre for free kept the company going through its challenging early years. As Asheville went slowly from being boarded up to thriving and artistic, many new groups came into and out of being, with Montford Park Players and Asheville Community Theatre
remaining local stalwarts.
Thirty-nine seasons later the company performs no longer in Montford Park but in an amphitheatre on the other side of Montford built for the company in 1983, and the company stages multiple indoor fundraiser shows throughout each year, many of which are neither Shakespearean nor classical. But the core experience – being enriched through classical theatre while sitting under the stars with a picnic, with cash at the ready come intermission to drop into the hats actors bring through the audience – remains the same.
These days Asheville sustains a wide variety of successful theatres, from the professional regional theatre North Carolina Stage Company
to diversity-focused Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective
. And, a professional theatre dedicated exclusively to original works is The Magnetic Theatre, whose artistic director, like Robinson’s incredible knowledge of Shakespeare’s canon, has a specific background that informs much of his work for his group: the Theatre of the Ridiculous, by way of New York’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company.
The majority of the shows Samuels has written or directed for The Magnetic Theatre
have fallen under the category of ridiculous, a specific approach to comedy exemplified by playwright, actor, and director Charles Ludlam, a mentor of Samuels’. While the Magnetic has also produced other styles of work, the ridiculous has dominated in Samuels’ work for the company.
Montford Park Players presents classical theatre, and Tartuffe
, with its high farce, is a perfect match for Samuels’ background. The Magnetic Theatre and every theatre in town owe Hazel Robinson a hearty “thank you” for her role in helping revitalize Asheville’s cultural center, so it is only appropriate that Samuels is directing classical farce staged at the amphitheatre that is Robinson’s namesake.
As far as the production itself goes, the pacing is excellent, performers are well-cast, costumes are attractive, set looks wonderful (and, to director Samuels’ credit, one barely notices how much of the stage is dressed but not used), lighting design is strong, and sound design is unobtrusive. In short, the show is what it should be, and Samuels and Robinson should both be delighted by the production.
runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. through July 26 (note: there is no Sunday performance on the final weekend) at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre on Gay St
. Bring a picnic and, if you see Hazel, say “thank you.”