July 2008

Reprinted from the Independent Weekly

Doug Benson just did a film about smoking marijuana every day for a full month but still doesn’t consider himself a “pot comic.” The comedian, who starred in the documentary Super High Me and co-starred in the Off-Broadway hit The Marijuana-Logues plays Goodnight’s starting tonight but isn’t worried about police frisking him for illegal substances. “I don’t think any policemen actually saw Super High Me,” Benson says. “I do tend to ask ‘Is there a cop in the audience?’ It gets a laugh, but I am really curious.”

Benson, who recently released a live album, Professional Humoredian, promises a unique performance. “Pretty much every show is different—I have some set material I rely on for a while until I get sick of it,” Benson says. “Even the performance on the live CD has a lot of twists and turns and comments I haven’t made before or since—and even when you’ve heard a joke of mine before, chances are it’s not going to be told exactly the same way.”

Benson’s most recognizable as a regular commentator on VH1’s current-event-riffing Best Week Ever, which he credits for helping make it okay for people to hate mediocre celebrities. “When I was growing up, if you hated Zsa Zsa Gabor, there weren’t too many people talking smack about her on TV. Now, when you hate a celebrity, you can turn on the TV and watch us make fun of them, and it’s a bit of a release.” He admits there are some “Celebreality” shows, particularly the ones on E!, he doesn’t like. “When the point of the show is, ‘We’ll just follow them around each week and not much of interest will happen,’ those are the ones that drive me nuts,” Benson says.

Though his most recent album was recorded on the marijuana-friendly holiday April 20 while under the influence, Benson says his Goodnight’s performance will be done without the aid of chemical additives: “I don’t want anyone to show up to see some rambling mess of a person who can’t get to a point.” He does warn that he might engage in some alcohol consumption: “If it’s a two-show night, I might have some drinks after the first show. That’s something for the people in Raleigh to look forward to.”


Reprinted from the Independent Weekly

Raleigh Little Theatre’s Ozma of Oz

23 JUL 2008  •  by Zack Smith

Ozma of Oz: A Tale of Time
Raleigh Little Theatre
Through July 27

Raleigh Little Theatre’s Teens on Stage production of Ozma of Oz: A Tale of Time is a lovely piece of all-ages entertainment. Loosely adapted from one of the many sequels L. Frank Baum wrote for The Wizard of Oz by family playwright Suzan Zeder, Ozma finds a teenage, petulant Dorothy (Natalie Oliver) stuck on a ship to Australia with her wheelchair-bound Uncle Henry (Christian Phipps), annoyed by the old man’s desire for adventure. A storm takes the two to the Land of Oz, where they must help the “time machine” Tic Toc (Joey Osuna) and the titular princess Ozma (Allison Powell) battle the head-swapping Princess Langwidere (Katie Higgins) and the evil gnome king Roquat of the Rock (David Anthony Caterinicchio) with such allies as a large chicken named Bill (Laura Owens).

Though it’s far more minimalist than N.C. Theatre’s recent elaborate production of Peter Pan at Memorial Auditorium, Ozma is in some ways a more imaginative and enjoyable play, full of colorful characters and a well-developed message about growing old. Director Linda O’Day Young keeps the one-act play moving at a fast pace, with the 18 (!) different teenage performers quickly moving on and off stage. It also features some nicely colorful costumes and makeup, complete with gnomes who look like they stepped out of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. As someone who spent many days in the public library on Six Forks Road reading Del Rey’s paperback reprints of Baum’s Oz books, it suffices to say that this production brought back a lot of memories of reading the original book with a copy of The Great Brain and a Choose Your Own Adventure sitting nearby.

Reprinted from the Independent Weekly

Death by sex in Three in the Attic

Revisiting a bawdy comedy shot 41 years ago in Chapel Hill

23 JUL 2008  •  by Zack Smith

It’s Friday night, and I’ve driven from Raleigh to the Horace Williams House in Chapel Hill to watch a 40-year-old sex comedy projected onto a bed sheet from a bootleg DVD on the rain-slicked lawn. “Are you in for a treat or what?” shouts Preservation Society of Chapel Hill Executive Director Ernest Dollar, who’s introducing the movie. “Or what!” shouts someone from the audience, perhaps half-kidding.

About 50 people are out for tonight’s screening of 1968’s Three in the Attic. Only about five raise their hands when Dollar asks if anyone’s seen the film. Still, it’s understandable why they’re here; though it’s fallen into obscurity, Attic was mostly filmed on the UNC campus in 1967, with the house named for former UNC president Edward Kidder Graham serving as a key location.

Today, the house has fallen on hard times. “The termites in the walls are holding hands to keep it from falling down around them,” Dollar jokes. The screening is to help raise awareness of the house’s condition, though even Dollar didn’t know Attic was filmed there until screenwriter Nat Mauldin (Doctor Doolittle, Open Season), a fan of the film, contacted him about buying it. (“It’d cost him twice as much to fix it as he was willing to pay for it,” Dollar says.)

Judging by what unfolds on screen—um, sheet—it’s easy to see why the film might inspire someone to want to own the house. Attic is a weird little time capsule of a movie, a relic of the transitional period between the heavily scripted “youth market” studio films of the early 1960s and the more naturalistic works of the 1970s.

Attic stars Wild in the Streets‘ Christopher Jones as the wonderfully named Paxton Quigley, a lothario frat boy who “knows where it’s at” at a school that’s supposed to be in Vermont but is obviously UNC. He finds himself seriously involved with a nice girl, played by 1960s sex symbol Yvette Mimieux, whom he picks up with the line, “You have nice hair—it fits the mood of your butt.”

Unnerved by the idea of commitment, Quigley cheats on her with both 1960s black sex symbol Judy Pace and relative unknown Maggie Thrett, whose character asks, “Do you think it possible for a woman to be both Jewish and psychedelic at the same time?” When the women find he’s been three-timing them, they lock him in an attic and feed him steak while plotting to fornicate him to death.

Despite the strained premise, shoddy directing and use of every bad 1960s editing technique known to man, Attic has a certain charm from its wonderfully overwrought dialogue, including such gems as “A progressive woman’s college is not a priori a whorehouse” and “My dear, the sea of love is full of squid!”

Times have changed since Attic was filmed; the extra ingredient in the “magic” brownies available for guests are walnuts, and the only smoke I smell in the wet night air is tobacco. And not everyone who remembers the film remembers it well; Chapel Hill’s Tim Galliher, who recalls when the film crew came to UNC, also remembers his reaction to it in the 1960s was “not much” and his reaction today is “about the same.”

Attic isn’t the best-known film made at UNC—in fact, it’s not even the best-known film made at UNC with Mimieux (that would be 1965’s Joy in the Morning, which got a bigger release but seems to have far fewer fans). But it maintains a cult following and remains a unique moment in UNC history. “Durham has Bull Durham. What do we have—Patch Adams?” Dollar says. “No! We got Three in the Attic!” Indeed.

For more information on preservatio n efforts in Chapel Hill, visit www.chapelhillpreservation.com. To locate a copy of Three in the Attic, try eBay.

The Monsters of Kevin Grevioux – ZMD and More

By Zack Smith
posted: 2008-07-22 10:55:00 EST

Actor and screenwriter Kevin Grevioux made his name by reinventing vampires and werewolves in his screenplays for the Underworld series of films. While most of his comics work has been chronicling the adventures of the New Warriors at Marvel, he’s getting back to his horror roots with ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction from Red 5, a bimonthly miniseries that hits stores today. We got on the phone with Grevioux to talk monsters of all sorts – from his zombies to Underworld to his new book about cyborg monsters for kids.

You heard us.

Read the full interview here: http://www.newsarama.com/comics/080722-GreviouxMonsters.html


Who Can Save Us Now? King and McNally on Prose Anthology

By Zack Smith
posted: 2008-07-17 06:36:00 ET

Let’s face it – gas prices are through the roof, the economy’s in recession, and we’re still in the middle of a war. Where’s a new superhero when you need one?

Authors John McNally and Owen King have set out to answer this question with their new Free Press anthology: Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their (Short) Stories. The anthology features 22 new superheroes (and a few villains) from 22 different writers, all illustrated by artist Chris Burnham…and all equipped to take on the challenges of the modern world. King and McNally chatted with us about what readers can expect, their own favorite comics, and how this was all inspired by meerkats.

10 by 10 in the Triangle at The ArtsCenter

16 JUL 2008  •  by Zack Smith

10 By 10 In the Triangle
The ArtsCenter of Carrboro
Through July 20

The ArtsCenter’s seventh annual 10 by 10 in the Triangle festival is “the year of high-risk behavior,” according to the program notes. A more accurate description of the theme linking the 10 10-minute plays is “two people have a conversation where they learn something new about each other.” Though the locations range from a rooftop to a spaceship bound for Mars, many of the stories rely on the old dramatic staple of two people stuck in a space together and forced to hash things out (the Mars one even opens with a sci-fi remix of the theme to The Odd Couple).

The first half of 10 by 10 is the more predictable, starting with the Neil Simon-esque Up on the Roof, about a couple hashing out their differences on … well, see the title. Other plays in this half deal with similar issues, such as an employee and human resources manager discovering common ground (Exit Interview) or a prospective stepmother and stepdaughter scoping each other out at a ball game (Hard Ball).

The second half veers into more unpredictable territory, starting with David Guaspari’s Speed Mating, an endearingly goofy bit about insect mating rituals. Several performers stand out in multiple plays, notably veteran writer and performer John Boni, who does some soulful, restrained work in Canyon’s Edge, Off to Summer and Messages Deleted, the last of which is the only play not to contain comic elements. Barbette Hunter and Rob Jenkins also do consistently energetic and thoughtful work, often rising above the scripts’ more predictable twists, and John Allore also stands out as a stroke-afflicted writer in Struck by J and a man narrating his dysfunctional past in Dead Cat.

The more offbeat plays are the most enjoyable, but the energy level stays high throughout the entire show. Besides, knowing that each play only lasts 10 minutes means that if you don’t enjoy one, you can take comfort in the fact that it’ll soon be over.

Reprinted from the Independent Weekly

N.C. Theatre’s Peter Pan

16 JUL 2008  •  by Zack Smith

Peter Pan
N.C. Theatre, Memorial Auditorium at Progress Energy Center
Through July 20

Can a generation of kids raised on Pirates of the Caribbean‘s Captain Jack Sparrow still appreciate Captain Hook? Well, they might, at least as he’s played by Ira David Wood III in the N.C. Theatre’s production of Peter Pan. As Hook, Wood (who also plays Mr. Darling, as is traditional for the play) has a great time camping it up as the self-proclaimed “greatest villain of them all,” even sneaking in a few of his Scrooge-isms from his annual production of A Christmas Carol.

It’s the classic story of how Peter takes the three Darling children, led by Wendy (a very good Sarah Evelyn Langston) to Never Never Land for encounters with the Lost Boys, Indians and, of course, pirates. The production looks terrific, particularly the detailed sets, and everyone gives their all with the performances, particularly Wood and Gail Bianchi, who has a terrific energy as Peter, capturing his childlike joy and energy in every scene.

However, it’s a question as to whether younger children—the target audience for the play—will have the patience for the slow-paced production. This version is based on the 1954 play that featured Mary Martin and, later, Sandy Duncan as Peter; this time out, the title role is taken by Bianchi from the national tour of Pan. The problem lies with the play itself, which has always been a flawed adaptation. The scenes drag on, the songs aren’t very memorable and the scenes with Princess Tiger Lily just haven’t aged well. The Disney film is perhaps the most fun version of Peter Pan, and the underrated 2003 film is the best adaptation of the original story, but despite its flaws, this play proves there’s still plenty of life left in Never Never Land.

Reprinted from the Independent Weekly

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