REVIEW: All’s Very Well in Shoestring Players’ Original Performance Piece ‘Tapestry’

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BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

All’s well in the idyllic town of Allswell. Or is it?
Lies, corruption, intimidation, extortion, denial, bribery, corporate greed and much more are interwoven in this “Tapestry” of a small community controlled by the all-powerful Chem Corp.

This award-winning original devised piece by the Shoestring Players at USC Upstate is the collective brainchild of Director Lee Neibert and 10 theatre students who received rave reviews in the United Kingdom this summer when they performed at the prestigious International Youth Arts Festival in greater London at the Rose Theatre Kingston.

The story follows a podcaster’s quest to the quaint town of Allswell as he investigates the disappearance of a young man named Cameron White and encounters the town’s diverse citizenry, one delightful character at a time.

Ingeniously embodied by each of the 8 cast members at some point throughout the piece (like Todd Solondz’s “Palindromes” or Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There”), the unnamed podcaster (John Gibbs in the lead-off), interviews Melody Foster (Savannah Hall), a concerned friend of Cameron whose email piqued the reporter’s interest. Melody is a wheelchair-bound former dancer whose Julliard hopes were dashed and obviously has a romantic interest in Cameron. She provides the investigator with clues about her friend’s last sighting nearly a month before.

And along this allegorical journey, we are treated to a coterie of eclectic personalities like Carter Baran’s neurotic and paranoid pizza restaurant owner, Jeff.

Then there’s Chantel Brown’s oppressed factory worker, in addition to her dubious executive who uncovers the podcaster’s motives as the trail leads right to the offices of Chem Corp.

Gibbs excels again as the Mayor of Allswell in a cheesy campaign ad, one of several accompanying videos that enhance this production and most often with a hearty splash of humor. And Douglas Yates provides a compelling portrait of corruption as the sheriff, while Hall is downright, spot-on menacing as Rose, the CEO of Chem Corp.

Gabrielle Sassone’s blatant, horny and highly-phlemgmatic line worker Patty is just as hilarious as her Sheryl (Cameron’s foster mother who has a child with special needs) is disturbingly complicit.

But the sharpest executions are derived from gracious scene stealers Kacy Winterhalter and Brandon Mimnaugh. Winterhalter’s countrified exterminator is a hoot, and so is her perfectly-germane, fast-talking germaphobe.

Mimnaugh gets pleasantly dopey as a local pot farmer an dealer, but he doubles-down delightfully as Amber, the headliner drag queen at the local gay bar, Richard Bag’s. In the most developed and finessed character in the show Mimnaugh gives life, acerbic wit  and a credible backstory to this young performer, and says more with his eyes that most actors can emote with a two-page monologue.

And one cannot escape the charm of the cute couple (Gibbs and Baran) who visit Amber’s dressing room, making googly eyes and finishing each other’s sentences in between there jealous bickering.

In addition to Faculty Technical Advisor Barry Whitfield, the other two students collaborators in the momentous theatrical piece are Elijah George as Technical Director and Alyssia Chaplin as Stage and Company Manager.

I actual caught a workshop production of “Tapestry” before these young men and women embarked on their trans-Atlantic adventure of a lifetime. It was excellent then. Although the opening music track and voicemail recording audio are a bit muffled and difficult to decipher, the troupe has polished “Tapestry” immensely and tightened up the pacing into an engaging and highly-unique performance piece.

Bravo and congratulations to the Shoestring Players!

“Tapestry” continues tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the USC Upstate Studio Theatre in the Performing Arts Center, 800 University Way in Spartanburg. For tickets, email boxoffice@uscupstate.edu.

For more information visit http://www.uscupstate.edu/shoestringplayers/

And don’t miss any of these shows in the Shoestring Players’ 2017-18 Season:

Let The Right One In 
By: Jack Thorne
Directed by: Jimm Cox
Dates: October 5 – 7, 2017, 8 p.m.
October 8, 2017, 3 p.m.
Auditions: August 28, 2017, 7 – 9 p.m.  

Moonlight’s Pillow 
Original Shakespeare theatre piece
Directed by: Stephen Unwin
Dates: November 16 – 18, 2017, 8 p.m.
November 19, 2017, 3 p.m.
Auditions: September 5, 2017, 7 – 9 p.m.

Mr. Burns, a post-electric play 
By: Anne Washburn
Directed by: Lee Neibert
Dates: March 1 – 3, 2018, 8 p.m.
March 4, 2018, 3 p.m.
Auditions: January 18, 2018, 7 – 9 p.m.

Spring Musical TBA
Directed by: Jimm Cox
Dates: April 12 – 14, 2018, 8 p.m.
April 15, 2018, 3 p.m.
Auditions: January 23, 2018, 7 – 9 p.m.

The Golden Shoe Awards Show
Date: April 29, 2018, 7:30 p.m.

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