Arnold Wengrow, professor emeritus of drama at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, has launched a new blog, An Asheville Observer: Occasional Observations on Art and the Arts in Asheville.

Wengrow, who founded the theater program at UNC Asheville in 1970, has a long history of producing theater in town, and writing about it, most notably as a contributor to the Asheville Citizen-Times and as contributing editor of Theatre Design and Technology for nearly 20 years.

Here’s a link to his latest review, his take on The Submission, a play staged by Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collective at BeBe Theatre. Wengrow calls it a powerful examination of some really tough questions, such as: Can a white man write authentically about black lives? Does a gay man’s experience of oppression equate to a black woman’s?

Here’s a snippet:

Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collective says it presents works which “confront issues of social diversity in a provocative way.” With that mission in mind, Beckman, the group’s artistic director, hammers the play’s arguments rather than polishing its subtle satire of identify politics.

Still, she raises an often-debated question: Is it okay for a white writer to tell a black story? We heard that about Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel The Help. As Beckman welcomes the audience, there’s a banner behind her announcing the company’s final play of the season: Shakespeare’s Othello. Is this Beckman’s way of answering her own question? Or is it another way of asking it?

Read Wengrow’s full review of The Submission here and consider checking out the play, which runs at BeBe Theatre through Feb. 25. The play, by Jeff Talbott, is directed by Stephanie Hickling Beckman.

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3 Comments

  1. Helpful overview. Thanks.

  2. So many choices for theatre in Asheville. Any reader recommendations?

    • Last year’s shows “Jeeves Intervenes” and “Brave New World:The Musical” at N.C. Stage were amazing, so go see “Jeeves in Bloom” if you have not. It is only running for one more week. N.C. Stage is the professional theater in Asheville and I have yet to see a bad show there.

      I also enjoy the Magnetic Theater in the River Arts District. They are more amateur and improvisational, but still very enjoyable. I addition to comedies and plays, they do a live game show once each month called Super Happy Trivia Challenge which is a riot. The competitors are local actors, directors, comedians, poets and other members of the theater community, so if you go there you will get to know the players as themselves (sort of). They also do a “Magnetic Midnight” one Friday each month where each participant gets to try new acts and material within a five-minute window. Some of these five-minute segments go on to become full-length plays. Not many non-players attend this, but more should, as it was very entertaining in February.

      I also go to some shows at Asheville Community Theater, especially the small venue downstairs called “35 Below”. Last month’s production of “Almost, Maine” was excellent, the best show that I have seen there.

      Montford Park players is interesting but I will admit to not being a huge Shakespeare fan, and when the winter shows moved out of the Masonic Lodge, a favorite venue of mine, I kinda lost interest. I must put in a plug for their last two years’ performances of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, which were both very innovative.

      I would recommend at least trying BeBe Theater, which hosts several local acting troupes, including the aforementioned MPP. I occasionally dip my toe into Toy Boat theater, but they can be a little bit risque in their desire to be avant-garde. If anyone is looking for the overrated “Cesspool of Sin” that outside propaganda has painted about Asheville, this is where you might find a few shallow pools, but at least one show there got my attention without resorting to smut.

      Finally, check out Black Mountain Center for the Arts. They occasionally do plays, one of which I very much enjoyed.

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