Thursday, April 23, 2015

Four actors, two readings – Visual Liberties

Alec Clayton with wife, Gabi, at a reading of Return to Freedom at Kings Books in Tacoma

It was a few years back, I had done a few readings in a couple of bookstores and a library and thought I had done it fairly well, when it dawned on me that professional actors could make readings a much more dynamic experience; and since I am a theater critic and know a lot of actors, it was not hard to find actors who were willing to read for me. The first time was a revelation. It was ten times better than me reading my own stuff. The actors seemed to love doing it, and the audience reaction was terrific. That first reading with actors was from my book, Reunion at the Wetside with Dennis Rolly, Jim Patrick, Jennie Jenks and Chris Cantrell breathing life into my made-up characters.
Friday, May 1 at Orca Books in Olympia, Michael Christopher and Heather Christopher will read from my latest novel, Visual Liberties, and then on Tuesday, May 12 at Kings Books in Tacoma a different pair of actors, Scott C. Brown and Syra Beth Puett, will read the same selections. Each of these actors has read for me before. Scott C. Brown read the part of Pop Lawrence and directed the full movie script from The Backside of Nowhere in a reading at Lakewood Playhouse. In that same performance, Syra Beth read the part of Pop Lawrence’s wife, Shelly. Later she read multiple parts in a reading of selections from all three books in the “Freedom Trilogy” at the Tacoma Library. Michael and Heather, a married couple who have often acted together, were mesmerizing as the married couple Malcolm and Bitsey Ashton in Return to Freedom in readings at Orca and at the Olympia Library. When they read the part with the couple arguing I thought they were going to draw blood.
These four actors are highly skilled professionals. Whether acting in full-length dramas or comedies or standing behind a music stand reading brief selections from a novel, they immerse themselves in the parts. In these readings they will not be in costume, and they may not be called on to physically act the parts beyond facial expressions and maybe posture or a hand gesture, but they attack the roles in a professional matter, studying and rehearsing and getting to know the characters; and when they read their parts, you in the audience will feel what they feel.
Heather Christopher with Tim Hoban in How I Learned to Drive. Photo by Elizabeth Lord.

Michael Christopher at an Olympia Stobists meetup. Photo by Martin Kimmeldorf. 
Whether playing the parts of one of the witches in Macbeth (Heather Christopher) or McDuff in the same show (Michael Christopher) or “Blonde” and “Pink” in all-male and all-female versions of Reservoir Dogs, the Christophers have the kind of chemistry you would expect of professional actors who have been married for almost two decades. It’s exciting to see them play off each other like jazz musicians improvising while being different people (in this case Molly Ashton and Francis Gossing among others).
Scott C. Brown (center) as R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at Lakewood Playhouse, with Randy Clark and Julie Wensel
Scott C. Brown is a triple Best Actor selection in my “Critic’s Choice” column in The News Tribune, once as Salieri in Amadeus and once as Randle McMurthy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, both at Lakewood Playhouse, and as Bobby in Sins of the Mother at Harlequin Productions. He’s also been in more than a dozen Feature length films, and a number of TV/New Media series and in well over 30 local plays since 2000. Expect him to read Red Warner and Freight Train Taylor with humor and gravitas.
Syra Beth Puett in The Lion in Winter, with Kat Christensen. Photo by Dean Lapin.
Syra Beth Puett, among other attributes, does a great Southern accent. She’s a Southerner by birth. Local theater goers might have seen her in Driving Miss Daisy at Dukesbay Productions. Tacomans will also remember her for her commanding performances as Queen Eleanor in The Lion in Winter and Mousetrap at Lakewood Playhouse and in On Golden Pond at Tacoma Little Theatre.
The readings at Orca and Kings Books will be brief, but with such fine actors they should be memorable. Each reading will be followed by a discussion and book signing.
Visual Liberties is the final book the “Freedom Trilogy,” the saga of the little Bayou town of Freedom, Mississippi. It all started with The Backside of Nowhere and was followed by Return to Freedom.
In this final book of the series, Molly Ashton is now a college student majoring in art. She is trying hard to grow up, find her way in the world, but it seems she does nothing but make bad choices ... until she makes friends with Francis Gossing.
Francis is socially awkward but an artistic genius, and he is haunted by a frightening vision of his mother and a man with a gun. He can’t tell if the vision he’s obsessed with is a memory or a nightmare from long ago.
Struggling to find their way in the world, Molly and Francis find an unexpected ally in the person of Travis Earl Warner, the once famous artist known as Red Warner who has abandoned the world of art to live a hermit’s life at a fishing camp on the Mary Walker Bayou.

Orca Books, Friday, May 1, 7 p.m., 509 4th Ave. E., Olympia
Kings Books, Tuesday, May 12 at 7 p.m., 218 St Helens Ave, Tacoma

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