"If you go to the theater to have your soul uplifted, experience the magic that great productions create or watch first-rate talent on stage and off, you'll get it all in Life is So Good."
-Roy C. Dicks
News and Observer.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
'Life is So Good' entertains
By Roy C. Dicks - Correspondent
Raleigh News & Observer
Published: Thu, Oct. 16, 2008
HOLLY SPRINGS -- If you go to the theater to have your soul uplifted, experience the magic that great productions create or watch first-rate talent on stage and off, you'll get it all in "Life is So Good."
EbzB Productions, collaborating with actor/playwright Mike Wiley, adapted its show from the book of the same title about George Dawson, a descendant of slaves who lived through the 20th century.
His experience of turmoil and prejudice was magnified because he was illiterate. Despite harsh treatment and poverty, he enjoyed life and rose above institutional racism in his Texas town.
When Richard Glaubman read an article about Dawson's learning to read at 98, he befriended Dawson, interviewed him about his life, then published the book when Dawson was 101. The book also covers Glaubman's journey gaining Dawson's trust and overcoming rejection from publishers.
With Wiley in the cast, it's a given that entertainment and thematic values will be equally high. As in his riveting performance in EbzB's "Dar He: The Story of Emmett Till," Wiley not only plays Dawson at all stages of his life, with appropriate vocal quality and body language, but a range of characters: black, white, young, old, male, female. Wiley can take your breath away with spot-on changes in accent. He can make you see a white man or a pea-shelling black grandmother with a tilt of the head and a change in pitch.
Wiley is given fine support by David zum Brunnen, who plays Glaubman and a similar range of characters. Zum Brunnen's range is more restricted, but he's convincing as a ladies' man riding the rails or as an aristocratic woman.
Director Serena Ebhardt endows the production with humor and emotion; the pace is tight yet never rushed. She makes clever use of five sawhorses that turn into chairs, doors, horse corrals, train compartments or lynching platforms. Eric Ketchum's lighting helps deftly divide the past from the present, while Kevin Leonard's detailed, affecting sound design adds defining ambience to every scene.
A tendency to snap back and forth between scenes can be confusing, verging on showy effect, and scenes are often short, preventing a strong narrative thrust. But such quibbles don't lessen the overall impact. See it for Wiley's estimable gifts and its object lesson in engaging presentation.