Posted on 01 May 2012.
Known as the comedy improv duo GlitterBomb, performers Mandy Butler and Shannon Jenkins don’t shy away from the truth when it comes to the art of theatre. Whether talking smack or giving props, they’ll dish out honest feedback about Atlanta’s hottest shows. They shower glitter where praise is due and drop bombs when criticism is deserved. The pathologically blunt Mandy holds an MFA in acting pedagogy, while the over-dramatic Shannon has covered the arts as a journalist since 2001.
Below you’ll find GlitterBomb’s candid conversation about John Mellencamp and Stephen King’s “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” showing at the Alliance Theatre through May 13.
Set = A Heap of Glitter
From left: Shuler Hensley, Kylie Brown, Lucas Kavner, Emily Skinner and Justin Guarini grapple with the family secret in the Alliance Theatre’s production of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. Photo by Greg Mooney.
S: The set had a lot of depth. There were so many layers; it was like an onion.
M: The set became a ghost itself.
S: It was another character.
M: It had its own ambiance and its own story to tell. It was really lovely. It made the play for me. It was seamless. At the top of the show I was concerned the set was so ambitious it might eclipse the rest of the play but it didn’t. They really used it.
S: They lived in it. And the attention to detail was meticulous. There were beer taps and the bar was made of billiard bars…I mean “balls.”
M: I’m surprised you had a hard time saying “balls.”
Glitter for Costumes
M: I really loved the chromatic scheme. It was very subtle how the costumes made the actors simultaneously players and set pieces. When the actors weren’t in the action they sort of blended in.
S: With the play taking place in my native Mississippi, I was particularly watching to see how they would dress the characters. The costume designer, Susan Mickey, did her homework.
Representing the South
S: They did a good job of portraying Southerners without making it cartoonish or insulting.
M: As a Southern girl myself, I have a chip on my shoulder about people playing Southerners in a certain way. Their accents were so thick at times they lost their articulation. Yes, that happens in life, but this is a theatrical production and the audience needs to understand you. So articulate, hit your consonants and don’t make it vowel soup.
The Band Plays On
M: The choice to have a live band was a wonderful, ambitious idea but acoustically that’s not going to work in every venue if the show tours. And it didn’t work in this venue. It drowned out the actors, and I lost a lot of the text. Just use tracks. It was just too loud.
S: I like it loud.
Let the Music Play
M: John Mellencamp is amazing. It was all-American Norman Rockwell meets Edgar Allan Poe.
S: The songs told a story, which John often does. The songs really sunk their teeth in me. Whoever was behind us liked it too. Their feet were just a thumping.
M: I was being kicked the entire time.
S: I saw you give them the devil look. I even caught myself tapping my foot a few times but I stopped because I’m a considerate patron.
M: The music was great, but I was nervous in the beginning because it started out flat and low-energy. The actors were singing low. I thought that was going to be the whole show. It picked up with the number “Brotherly Love.”
S: I really liked “Home Again.” It was sweet.
Cruising the Men
S: The biggest stand-out was the actor [Jake La Botz] who played The Shape.
M: We’re going to have to disagree. The work he did was safe and easy. He was costumed well and he could sing. He moved beautifully. Acting wise, he could have gone deeper. I wanted Jeremy Irons, villainous, unapologetic. I wanted a serpentine quality to him.
S: Well, I liked him. Plus, he was scary hot. That’s when a guy looks like he’d shank you but you’re attracted to him anyway. He had all those tats and he didn’t have a shirt on under his vest. I kept staring at his flat abdomen.
M: But I missed his charm. I wanted him to give me more.
S: He can give me more. And Justin Guarini can haunt me any time.
M: Isn’t he handsome?
S: He’s a pretty, pretty man. And he has superb singing chops. I loved the gritty tone to his voice. Also, in case you’re ever watching for a man for me, the actor who played Andy [Travis Smith] has the ideal physique. I wanted to see under that white T-shirt. Did you see his guns? He flexed his arm and I was done.
Peter Albrink, left, and Travis Smith fight it out as brothers in the Alliance Theatre’s world premiere production of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. Photo by Greg Mooney.
M: Both the actresses playing Jenna [Kate Ferber] and Anna [Kylie Brown] were physically awkward. They had beautiful bodies but they didn’t know what to do with them. When they were dancing, I wanted women who could move more. The little boy [Royce Mann] was fantastic. The actor who played [Dan Christopher L. Morgan] was phenomenal. The adult Joe [Shuler Hensley] was really good. The woman [Emily Skinner] who played the mother was soooo good. She was dynamic and commanding. Her voice was to die for. The pipes on all the women were amazing.
S: They could all sing.
Did We Care?
S: I’m a huge Stephen King fan.
M: Me too!
S: I read him before I go to bed to wind down.
M: I don’t do that.
S: He doesn’t often write traditionally likeable characters. He doesn’t write drippy sweet protagonists. So I wasn’t cheering for any character in particular. The story took precedent over the characters. Even Stephen’s characters who aren’t written as endearing in the beginning become endearing over the course of the story. He makes me care about them. I just didn’t care about the characters on stage.
M: The playwright gives you the bones; you fill in the guts. But these performances were really lackluster. In the terms of acting choices, specificity and intention, the actors collectively missed the mark. Had they played it more dynamically you would have identified more with their characters.
S: I agree. Overall, the cast did a disservice to Stephen’s work. The performances didn’t have heart and soul. They didn’t breathe life into the story.
M: They rested on the story. It’s an easy trap to fall into. They had an amazing set, music, visuals and script, so all they had to do was show up and remember their blocking and lines.
On a glitter scale of 1 to 5, we give this production a 3. But they earned that 3 with the costumes, music, vocals and the set. We would have awarded a 4 if the actors had done more with the playground they were given.