is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hightower on Kaffee: Sarcasm R US

One of the first plays I ever covered was Tim X. Davis' DANCING WITH DANI.  TimX and I had met through some theater friends, but really, I am not an actor or performer, so I am never going to be a critic.  However, he had read my arts coverage and sent me an email, wondering if I was the same Kim Thomas he and Joy had met at the AGL Smitty Awards years prior.  He was now the Theatre & Film Coordinator at Bluegrass Community & Technical College, and wondered if I would be interested. Of course, I jumped at the chance, not sure if my article would ever make it to print, but I wanted to see what was up with X and his new students, so I asked Tom Eisenhauer to bring his camera along and we traveled out to Opportunity Way to watch the tale unfold. That, lambchops, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between me and BCTC's theatre department. They restored my faith not only in actors, but also in education and the youth of today. 

I  say all that to say this:  
I do not review, I preview. My parents were not condescending opera wonks, but they supported the opera; they encouraged a sense of community and volunteerism in us and fostered a love of all who take a risk and bare their souls, whether that be in the form of writing, music, lecturing, acting - and they did not just talk the talk.  They sang, they played piano, they wrote, they raised money for many non-profits like the Cincinnati Fine Arts Fund, took us to choir practice, and made us pick up musical instruments ... like the bass clarinet ....oh yeah, and they expected us to excel at everything we did. They weren't stern about it, they simply never let us think we could do otherwise. 
Giddy up.

So just so I am clear about my purpose here and elsewhere, I am not a snarker. You do not have to advertise with me in order to have a voice here in KimmyVille.  I like to think that I am the "man in the stands." (Except I am not a man...and I'm not in the stands ;-)

Sorry...I digress, but it IS Father's Day and by golly, every once in a while, I feel as if I have something to say about how I got here...(thanks for reading all that , though).

Back to BCTC -- when I first came to a rehearsal at Bluegrass Community & Technical College's campus, I was a little nervous, took a lot of notes (still do that, never can read them afterward, but they serve as mini-reminders of what I think is important), but I soon realized that while I knew none of the players, Tim's claim that the cast was front loaded with talent was absolutely true. DANI is a tale told by a fellow (played by Zack Hightower) who is looking for answers to the future by delving into his past. The guy has lost his wife, turns to an old flame, Dani, and pretty much has a working monologue, a conversation with the audience throughout the entire play, which is peppered with the pop culture references that TimX is famous for knowing.  

So it was then that I first came to see the work of Zack Hightower in action. Hightower delivers comedic lines in ways that are sometimes surprising, but you never doubt that he's telling a joke. There's nothing nebulous about the messages he carries when he's onstage. After DANI, he followed up by playing the Mayor in MIDDLE AGED WHITE GUYS, and it, too, killed me softly with laughter as Zack, Jared Sloan and Kevin Greer mixed it up with Leah Dick and Rosa Paulin, two more of Davis' students who I hope to see again on stage soon. 

Oh, and in re: MAWG, I can't forget to mention one of the most supportive forces in Lexington theatre, Natalie Cummins who as her character blew me away when she came back from the dead to haunt and taunt her boys into doing the right thing in MAWG. Can't remember who played Elvis in that play, but everyone involved was fantastic - under the direction of TimX, though, I've come to expect nothing but good things from BCTC's theatre program.

Back to why I'm babbling on about all that, though - thus it was that my curiosity was more than piqued when I heard that A FEW GOOD MEN is yet another chance to see Zack Hightower in action. He plays, once again, the ultimate smartass and volleys his lines at the other players, hitting the bullseye every time.  Hightower is so good that from time to time, he even cracks up veteran actors like Hayley Williams, who is wowing everyone in the cast with her command of her character, JAG attorney Jo Galloway.   

Zack explains his character's role and why he wanted to audition for it. "Well I'm playing Daniel Kaffee. He's a JAG lawyer that's detailed to represent the Marines who have performed the code red that went wrong. The thing that drew me to the character is, to put bluntly, he's a sarcastic jerk. He's good at his job, but he doesn't exactly know it yet because he's never had to flex those muscles. Now he's thrown into this situation and chooses to fight for the defendants, even though his every instinct is to run. It's an interesting turn.  Plus I love Tom Cruise. I don't care what the man does in his personal life. I like his movies, always have. So when I saw auditions for this, I immediately started thinking about the possibility of playing the same role he had. In all honestly that was probably the main factor in my decision making...besides the fact that I wanted to work with Tim X. Davis and my friends again. Working with them is always the best part of my day."

Hightower believes there are a lot of redeeming qualities in the role. "Kaffee has a chip on his shoulder but he's definitely devoted to his clients once the trial begins. Even to the point of risking his career, he'll do anything to help them beat the charge. ... I'm gonna be honest with you and it sounds like a lie, but I don't dislike anything about this character. The way he carries himself and the fact that he's clever appeals to me. I like clever."

Asked the same question I've asked TimX, Jared Sloan, and others involved in Aaron Sorkin's quick witted play, what can we learn from A FEW GOOD MEN? Hightower has a different take on what the message is from his perspective. "I think the theme is you have to help people who can't help themselves."  

 "It's a different kind of show because of the language for me. Now, it isn't Shakespeare, but to me it's just as foreign. Like I said, I play a JAG officer, a lawyer, and the hardest things for me to remember are courtroom procedures and languages. Everything is SO technical. I could be talking about the mortality rate of lactic acidosis or the function of the marines in RSC Windward. Either way, it's a different way to speak than I normally do. It's a challenge, which I like, but it's still hell sometimes."

Most recently, Zack was involved in the Student Showcases at the downtown Library where he wrote and directed one of the acts. As to the future, he is keeping everything on the down low. "Right now, I'm just focusing on work and theatre. I have a couple of ideas about what I want to do in the fall but I think I'm gonna keep that quiet just a little bit longer. Hopefully it'll all work out."

[photos of Rosa Paulin, Kevin Greer, Leah Dick and Hightower from rehearsals for Middle Aged White Guys are courtesy of Tom Eisenhauer Photography] 

With his ability to act as if he knows what he's doing, despite his lack of expertise in legal matters and foreign languages, A FEW GOOD MEN exploits his skills and Hightower is sure to impress anyone who gets to sit back and watch him play.  


Everyone is doing such a fine job, I hate to name names, but I will. I love a few of the new kids on the BCTC block, like Charles Bruin, who plays Kaffee's fellow attorney and friend. Charles tell me, "I play Sam Weinberg, who is a really good friend of Daniel Kaffee. He is one of the lawyers detailed to help with the case at Gitmo. I was happy to get the role because honestly, I haven't done very much theater and I was just honored to be able to be in a play with this cast. I like that Sam always stands for what he thinks is right and never tries to compromise, but I think the his lack of compromise can make a bit too anxious and irritable. That would be the only I dislike about Sam."

Bruin gives a more structured view of what lessons he gleans from A FEW GOOD MEN. "I think the message of the play is built around the importance of striving for justice and what is morally right even in the most complex and confusing situations. It's this struggle that made this play my favorite play I have ever been in." Charles also adds that although he's relatively new to the acting scene, he's ready for more. "I don't really have any plans at the moment , but I would like to get more involved in theater because it is incredibly fun."

[Biggest thanks to Katie Cox for taking photos at rehearsal of A FEW GOOD MEN, on the same weekend she moved, and also whilst enduring internet snafus during her upload of the many great shots she took onto her facebook page, wherefrom I pinched the shots you see here...kjt]


Another newcomer who plays a nervous Marine and convinced me so much of his anxiety during interrogation in the courtroom scene is Alex Saunders. He just made my tears flow - opened the floodgates, actually - in the closing courtroom scene. 

He has a small part, but does a fine job with it. I think his star will rise much like other BCTC actors Carlos Pelayo, Katie Cox, Zach Dearing and Jeremy Gillett. He seems to be greatly affected by being onstage, perhaps in an anxious way, but it's valuable. He brings a refreshing energy as a newbie in the midst of those who are more well seasoned, and I hope that like BCTC's other up-and-rising stars, he continues to pursue other roles.


Co-Directed by Tim X. Davis and Jared K. Sloan

A Few Good Men, written by Aaron Sorkin, tells the story of military lawyers at a court-martial who uncover a high-level conspiracy in the course of defending their clients, United States Marines accused of murder.


Cpl. Dawson- Kevin Greer
Pfc. Downey- Jared Sloan
Lt. Sam Weinberg- Charles Bruin
Lt. Daniel Kaffee- Zack Hightower
Lt. Cmdr. Jo Galloway- Hayley Williams
Capt. Whitaker- Katie Jo Cox
Capt. Matthew Markinson- James Brown
Pfc William Santiago- Carlos Pelayo
Lt. Col Nathan Jessup- Tim X Davis
Lt. Jon Kendrick- Jeremy Gillett
Lt. Jack Ross- Ryan Hastings
Cpl. Jeffery Howard- Alex Saunders
Judge Randolph- Vincent Harris
Dr. Walter Stone- Bret Ripley

“Swing” players
(playing multiple MP’s/ Marines/ Lawyers/etc…)
Christina Duong
Angel Beltran
Chris Webb

Stage Manager - Aly Miller
Assistant Stage Managers - Laura Burton, Leah Dick

Ticket prices are $12 for general admission
LexArts Box Office
Downtown Arts Center (DAC)
141 East Main Street
Lexington, KY 40507

Performance Dates:
June 24th - 26th at 7:30pm

Matinee performance on Sunday, June 27th at 2pm

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