November 2008

Redheaded Robbie’s Christmas Story

26 NOV 2008  •  by Zack Smith

Redheaded Robbie’s Christmas Story: The Musical
Ride Again Productions, Tar Heel Tale Tellers, UNC Department of Communication Studies @ Studio Six Theatre, UNC Campus
Nov. 20-23

Redheaded Robbie’s Christmas Story is a hard play to evaluate; it’s a 45-minute “synthetical performance” adaptation of a children’s book. What that means is that it’s a bare-bones production with minimal props and a standard piano accompaniment. That said, kids will find it charming, parents will find it painless and the proceeds go to UNC Health Care’s DooR to DooR program, so it’s for a good cause.

The plot is your standard children’s story conundrum—Redheaded Robbie (John Peterson), a tongue-tied elementary schooler who spouts gibberish when he’s nervous, is chosen by his teacher, Mrs. Wallace (Dayna Bowers), to write a Christmas story to read at a school assembly. (This premise reminds me of several “confidence-building” exercises my teachers inflicted on me over the years, which I’d rather not talk about.) Robbie’s three best friends, Outgoing Emma (Amanda Clark), Cool Katie (Lydia Rogers) and Munching Mona (Tina Lazakis), all help him workshop his story, offering various flawed takes on Christmas that Robbie helps correct. And of course there’s a touching twist ending.

The adaptation of Bill Luttrell’s picture book (which is sold at performances) uses college-age individuals playing both the child and adult roles, and has been performed regularly since 2005. It features some musical numbers that don’t always work, such as a rather inane song about snowflakes and fruitcakes (on the other hand, the children at the sold-out perfomance I attended like it, so I’m obviously not the target audience). But the pacing is brisk, and kids should enjoy the sweet-natured message. It’s not in the league of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, but Redheaded Robbie is a harmless and diverting tale for small children.

Reprinted from the Independent Weekly


Reprinted from the Independent Weekly

Lewis Black

Durham Performing Arts Center—Lewis Black became famous for his hand-waving, hair-pulling apoplectic rants on the “Back in Black” segments of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. On the phone promoting his upcoming appearance at the DPAC, he’s calm and polite, though he admits people often ask him to demonstrate his famous stage persona. “What they do is ask me to do the thing with my fingers,” Black says. “And if I’m at a bar, there’s no telling what they’ll ask.”

Black is one of the most high-profile comedians around—in the past year, along with his Daily Show work and touring, he’s published a bestselling book of essays on religion, Me of Little Faith, released his seventh CD, headlined the History Channel documentary History of the Joke with Lewis Black, and hosted the now-defunct Comedy Central series Root of All Evil.

Black says he’s not certain what the topic of his DPAC performance will be, but “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be about alternative energy and the economy and the election.” Despite the results of the presidential race, Black suspects that he’ll still have plenty of material to rant about: “This administration will keep pumping stuff at us long after they’ve left office.” And of course, there’s Sarah Palin. “In the tradition of American Idol, where those who came in second and third continue to perform, and sometimes become as big as those who became No. 1, she’ll be around. She’s not easy to shake. That one is not easy to shake.”

A UNC grad, Black keeps a house in Chapel Hill, where he wrote most of Me of Little Faith. “I liked my time [in Chapel Hill]—I always felt like that was where I would come back to.” He’s keeping up his busy schedule, including a new film for the History Channel, Surviving the Holidays with Lewis Black. How does Black really survive the holidays? By leaving the country, “to take a break from the psychosis.”

Black’s not worried about slowing down: “The worst-case scenario is that I get to keep wandering around, ranting and raving. You can’t beat that.” As for his performance in Durham, does he think the sound system at DPAC will be a problem? “I doubt it.” —Zack Smith

Black performs at 8 p.m. Tickets are $38-$58. Visit for more information

Note: This interview is a good five months old; I just realized I never posted it on this site after it ran in the Indpendent Weekly

Thursday 6.19

18 JUN 2008

Carlos Alazraqui
Goodnight’s—On the phone, Carlos Alazraqui has about the most gentle, calm voice you can imagine. As a performer, it’s a much different story. Best known for his role as gun-crazed, ultraviolent Deputy Garcia on Comedy Central’s Reno 911!, Alazraqui brings a manic, intense physicality to his work as a comedian, whether it’s describing a bout of road rage or doing a video of his Reno character catching a crook while skydiving.

This weekend, Alazraqui brings his act to Goodnight’s for what promises to be a high-energy show. How does he find his material? “That’s stuff that comes out in therapy—good old-fashioned bottled-up rage,” Alazraqui says, speaking recently by telephone. “As a comedian, you realize you have to be stronger than the audience—you have to be in control. It’s not an absolute for being a comedian, but it helps—it’s like fighting your ghosts.”

Those who don’t know Alazraqui as an actor probably know his voice—he has an extensive list of voiceover credits that include the titular characters in Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life and Cartoon Network’s Camp Lazlo, effeminate boss Mr. Weed on Family Guy and, perhaps most infamously, the Chihuahua who uttered the words “Yo quiero Taco Bell” in a series of commercials.

Alazraqui cites Tom Kenny, the voice of Spongebob Squarepants, as a model for his voiceover performances. “I used to just sit there and read my lines, but I saw Tom perform—he really makes it a physical thing, doing lots of gestures and acting out his roles,” Alazraqui says. “So I do a lot of that myself—you become animated with your body to make your voice move.” His work has brought him a unique fan base—at college comedy performances, he’ll have fans quoting lines from shows he doesn’t even remember. “Voice actors live in relative anonymity in the Hollywood world,” Alazraqui says. “The best are like these really good jazz musicians who perform in these out-of-the-way speakeasies—you’ll see all these people on American Idol and then go to one of these clubs and go, ‘Oh, that’s how it’s done!'”

In his voice acting and live-action performances, Alazraqui has one rule: “Keep it real.” And where does he find things to be angry about for his act? “A lot of it comes from watching cable news.” —Zack Smith

For more information, visit www. or

Reprinted from the Independent Weekly


19 NOV 2008  •  by Zack Smith

FATE (Free Association Theatre Ensemble)
@ Common Ground Theatre, Nov. 13-15
@ Market Street Books, Nov. 20-22

Being trapped in a car together can often bring conflicts to a boil, resulting in hundreds of miles of yelling and awkward silence. In my experience, such conflicts usually end after everyone laughs it off at an Applebee’s, but it remains a rich source for drama. Unfortunately, the visual confines of such a scenario mean that there haven’t been many plays exploring this beyond Driving Miss Daisy.

Free Association Theatre Ensemble has taken this challenge head-on with its production of Neil LaBute’s autobahn, which plays in multiple locations throughout the Triangle (the production I saw was at Common Ground in Durham; the next is at Market Street Books in Chapel Hill). Constructed as six short plays all taking place within the confines of a two-seat car set, autobahn‘s vignettes show the range of conversations (or lack thereof) that can take place within a car, with results ranging from the comic to the disturbing.

Several of the pieces function more as monologue, with one person ranting while the other silently reacts. The best of these is the titular piece, with a wife (Lisa Levin Klein) dwelling on the aftermath of an unsuccessful attempt at foster parenting as her husband (Philip Semanchuk) grimaces. Other pieces are built on back-and-forth interaction, with the best of these the disturbing “road trip,” about a teenager (Miranda Day) headed cross-country with a much older man (Lewis Caviness). As the unsettling nature of their relationship is gradually revealed, the audience gets a picture of what led to this moment, and what will happen next, and neither prospect is very comforting. It’s the highlight of the evening, along with the last segment, “bench seat,” about a college-age couple where the guy picks the wrong make-out spot. Noelle Barnard does some great comedy work as the increasingly unhinged girl (and makes impressive use of the limited space), while Allan Maule does a great job of conveying the man’s increasing discomfort.

Even if autobahn weren’t very good, I would still have to give major props for presentation to the playbill, which is done in the style of a foldout road map. But thankfully, this show is an entertaining and sometimes provocative evening about being stuck in the same car with the hell that is other people. Fortunately, this is the theater, and we’re only trapped with them for a half-hour at a time.

Getting Into ‘The Graveyard Book’ With Neil Gaiman

By Zack Smith


One of comics’ most popular and acclaimed creators, Neil Gaiman has earned a new wave of acclaim for his lasted children’s novel, The Graveyard Book, published by HarperCollins. It’s the story of Nobody “Bod” Owens,” a young child who survives the murder of his family, only to find a new family of protectors among the ghosts of a nearby graveyard. Filled with terrifying creatures, action, humor and heart, Gaiman has called The Graveyard Book one of his favorite works.

We were granted a few minutes out of his crowded schedule to talk about The Graveyard Book, his creative process, and his upcoming projects. And yes, we tried to get a hint about his upcoming Batman story for DC…

Read the full interview here!

Partying with Doom – Tobin on Dr. Doom & the Masters of Evil

By Zack Smith

Doctor Doom and the Masters of Evil #1

Doctor Doom and the Masters of Evil #1

“Everybody needs somebody sometime,” goes the classic song. And perhaps that’s true for supervillains as well. But what happens when Dr. Doom, the armored monarch of Latveria, decides to team up with the other supervillains of the Marvel Universe?

This January, prepare to find out in Dr. Doom and the Masters of Evil written by fan-favorite Paul Tobin (Age of the Sentry and many Marvel Adventures books) with art by Patrick Scherberger. Tobin gave us the 411 on Doom’s latest scheme and what’s coming up with his Marvel Adventures books (hint: insanity). We also entered into a lively debate as to our favorite Marvel supervillain.

Let the madness commence…

Read the full article here!

Before All Star – Grant Morrison on Kill Your Boyfriend

By Zack Smith

“People said we were evil, but they missed the point again.

“It was just high spirits.”

Because we at Newsarama know you can never get enough of Grant Morrison, we’re following up our long look back at his recent All Star Superman series with a look at one of his older and lesser-known works.

First published in 1994 as part of the abortive “Vertigo Voices” line, Kill Your Boyfriend remains one of Morrison’s most fun and quotable books.

And now, we have a look back at it, just in time for the new reprint.

Read the full interview here!


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