Photo credit: Alan Dehmer
Durham drama kicks into high gear at Manbites Dog Theater this fall with a fresh set of offbeat productions. The frenzy begins in October with a love triangle cagefight-of-the-sexes and ends with the acclaimed Strange Beauty Film Festival in June. Fitting with its mission to produce only regional premieres that challenge audiences and experiment with form, Manbites Dog will offer a diverse, cutting-edge selection for its 2013-2014 season.
Manbites Dog will produce four shows this year, performed downtown on Foster Street. The company will also curate five presentations from guest groups as part of its Other Voices series. In addition, Manbites Dog will introduce new performance programming to fill the "dark nights"—times when the theater is unused—with shows by Durham-based artists.
The so-called Dark Matter miniseries has yet to be detailed, but Jeff Storer, Manbites Dog Artistic Director and Duke professor, described a diverse selection of local talent, including staged readings of new plays and music across genres.
The core Manbites Dog lineup opens with a raunchy romance by British playwright Mark Bartlett, entitled “Cock.” Emma D. Miller ('12) and Phil Watson ('14) both star in the four-person cast.
Storer tackles Bartlett's lewd farce—opening October 3—in a manner fitting with the Manbites Dog tradition of experimentation. Storer's minimalist vision, which uses no set, props, costumes or even miming, exemplifies what he calls Manbites Dog's "variations on realism." The entire theater space is rearranged to mimic a cockfight arena, with audience seating in a square surrounding a red showdown ring.
"I've never seen a show that's stripped so bare," noted Watson. "The play is just actors' bodies, that's all."
Following Storer's show, Manbites Dog takes a dramatic turn with “The Best of Enemies,” a stage adaptation of the book by Osha Gray Davidson. The play follows the true story of the relationship between Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis during the desegregation of North Carolina schools in the 1970s. Atwater—a civil rights activist—forms an unlikely friendship with Ellis, a KKK leader. Manbites Dog will host a benefit performance for Atwater on opening night. UNC artist-in-residence Joseph Megel directs.
"Part of Manbites Dog's mission is a commitment to political theater," said Storer. “‘The Best of Enemies’ fits."
Nevertheless, the season circles back to the comedic; Manbites Dog's final production is “Spirits to Enforce” by the Chicago playwright Mickle Maher. The play follows a group of superheroes in their daring mission to raise funds—via telethon—for a production of “The Tempest.”
Mainstage shows are just one side of the theater's seasonal output. The Manbites Dog space will host a variety of guest groups: the Other Voices series kicks off with “Measure Back,” an Iliad-inspired theatrical investigation into the horrors of war, by director Christopher McElroen and actor T. Ryder Smith.
In January, the well-loved 2012 brainchild of Chaunesti Webb gets an encore: “I Love My Hair When It's Good: & Then Again When It Looks Defiant And Impressive” will rerun at the Foster Street space. Webb's mixed media work chronicles two young African American girls as they struggle with identity, as told through their relationships with their hair and heritage.
Brooklyn-based theater company Hoi Polloi unveils “Republic” in February, the product of a two-year campus residency. Co-sponsored by Duke Performances, the work draws from the utopian ideas embedded in “The Republic,” Plato’s dialogue on justice and the city-state.
The play series finishes with a bang. Just before the Strange Beauty Film Festival in June, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern will perform a new work by playwright-in-residence Monica Byrne entitled “Tarantino's Yellow Speedo.” The name comes from the conspicuous raiment of Byrne's fictional Olympic hero, Arturo Tarantino, and the play is set in the notoriously sex-crazed Olympic Village. Tarantino's mythical golden garment symbolizes the oft overlooked "shadow negotiations" among nations during the Olympic Games.
Byrne's faux-legendary diver—who mysteriously disappeared—was no gold medalist. His real mission? Geopolitical. As Tarantino remarked, "I have come to abolish the nation-state."
Jay O'Berski, Assistant Professor to the Practice of Theater Studies, will direct“Tarantino's Yellow Speedo” next spring. In O’Berski’s words, Byrne’s play is "both sex comedy and political thriller."
One play is left unannounced in Manbites Dog's series. Storer explained that the selection committee is still deliberating.
When asked what hole could possibly be left unfilled in Manbites Dog's already eclectic collection, Storer answered, "We are looking for something small and intimate. We want to take the core tenant of realism and expand from there."
For more information, visit http://manbitesdogtheater.org/.