is the grass any bluer...

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

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wilkeson Duo Brings Comedic Chemistry to Midway Play Festival

Jim & Melissa Wilkeson first met at Burt Reynolds Insitute of Theatre

Tonight, tomorrow and Sunday will be your last chances to see the feast of plays that will be presented at Midway’s Thoroughbred Theatre, and if you’re looking for an entertaining array of works sure to dazzle and delight, this is The Ticket.  “The shows run the gamut from the comic to the serious, the topical to the twisted, with a little supernatural spookiness slipped in for good measure (we have our final matinee on Halloween, after all),”  advises Artistic Director Bob Singleton.

Artistic Director Bob Singleton (I just love this pic from Run For Your Wife :)
I had the pleasure to go to Midway and see all 7 of the works this past weekend, and was delighted by each and every piece.  One of my favorites, Violating Uncle Piggy, has a hilarious premise and delightful interplay between the actors, Dunbar student Wilson Shirley (who you will definitely see and hear from again, he's marvelous) -- and a couple whose chemistry is palpable when they are on stage - Jim and Melissa Wilkeson. 

It’s a real treat to see these two perform together, so I wanted to find out where Melissa and Jim have been, and what they’re all about, how they met, and and they were nice enough to let me in on a few secrets…so here goes:

Melissa says she Jim and I met “when we were students at the Burt Reynolds Institute of Theatre Training (BRITT). We were there September 1993 - May of 1994, a 9-month process that all of us in the class lovingly refer to as the year we ‘gave birth.’ We worked on several things there together but the one we both remember the most was a black box production we did directed by a fellow class-mate called The Problem (I think) where we played a married couple and I was very pregnant. Lots of bickering ensued in that show ... people ate it up!  Other shows we did together that year include The Crucible, Anything Goes, and original musical called Bodo (don't was horrible!), and I remember directing him in a children's production called The Invention.”

Not surprisingly, their journey to love didn’t take long, but the road eventually led them to the Big Apple.  “We had a very short courtship (he proposed on Christmas Eve Eve ... the night before Christmas Eve if that wasn't clear ... less than two months after we became a couple) and a long engagement (two years). We were married on October 21, 1995 (just celebrated our 15th anniversary) and moved to NYC 4 days later. I had never even been there before. We were there 3 years before we moved to my hometown, Lexington. He's originally from Pittsburgh (Go Steelers!).”

Melissa as Louise in Always...Patsy Cline

Melissa has oodles of memories of New York, and although it was tough to choose her favorite she offers one up, explaining “Okay, we had many adventures in NYC, but one of my favorites was when we got to know the cast of the Broadway production of A Dolls House with Janet McTeer (it came over from London that year and practically swept the Tony was a fabulous production...I saw it 3 times). A friend of ours, who was in a previous BRITT class to ours, was a production assistant on the show so that's how we got acquainted and I remember we would go and hang out with them after performances at a French restaurant next door to the theatre called Cafe Une, Deux, Trois . They were a hoot! Then we invited them all to a cookout one day that summer, the hottest day on record in fact, and we all went to see the Mets play a game at Shea Stadium. It was hilarious watching all these British people trying to understand baseball. Then, the night of the Tony's that year, Jim, our friend Courtney and I lined up on the street a block from Radio City Music Hall and when their limo went by they all started hanging out of the windows waving and yelling hello to us. Then we caught the subway home and got there just in time to see them all win their awards. It was great!”

As far as the Midway Festival, Tonda asked us to be in her show as replacements for the original actors who, as it turned out, had to be out of town one of the performance weekends. We are working with Tonda on Christmas Belles  (opening November 18 at Studio Players) so we just rehearsed after those rehearsals for about a week. I have enjoyed the experience so much. I think the Festival is a wonderful recognition of new works, and I always look forward to opportunities to support my fellow theatre peeps. Some of my favorite moments during this Festival have been hanging out backstage with the other actors. There are a lot of very talented people in our little theatre community and I feel blessed to have this opportunity to be involved in this Festival with them!”

MELISSA’S SECRET TALENT:  “As far as a secret talent...I don't know. I play guitar...but that's not really a secret. I juggle...that's fun! I used to have a juggling routine with one of my fellow BRITT buddies...he used to be a Ringling Bros. clown. We would do some pretty fancy stuff, too. Ah, memories. Also, even though I am not really a cook, I make a mean pot of chili and one of the best steak marinades you'll ever eat.”

I have no doubt that Melissa can still juggle – she does it all the time with her busy schedule!  Please come see Melissa and Jim and Wilson in this delightful show, which is preceded and followed by other excellent works by some very talented writers and performed by some of the Bluegrass’ best performers in the intimate but casual setting that is the Thoroughbred Theatre.


JIM WILKESON:  When I asked Jim to tell me his side of the story of how he and Melissa of the Wonderfully Curly Hair met, he gave me his version, in his words: “We met in 1993 at the Burt Reynolds Institute for Theatre Training in Tequesta, Florida. It was basically a 9-month conservatory program where you ate, drank and (never) slept theatre pretty much 24/7.  We started in September, I believe. I shortly dated another classmate (and one of Melissa's roommates) before hooking up with Melissa. I mean, two Leos with Type A personalities who never think they're wrong about anything -- who would ever think that wouldn't work? :-) But - we dated for only two months before I popped the question. Shockingly, she said yes.”

Jim says he and Melissa worked on five plays at BRITT together, “but not really together except for a black box piece that I honestly can't remember the name of. That was the only one that we actually had real interaction with each other. Since then, circumstances have just happened to work out that we hadn't done a play together until now.

The Wilkesons’ stories of New York are plentiful, but Jim says finding a home was one of the most memorable. “We moved there four days after we got married on October 21, 1995 in Lexington. A friend of mine said we could stay with him until we found a place, but said his apartment, located in a building right next to the New York Times building just off of Times Square, but that his apartment was ‘kinda small.’  We had no concept what ‘kinda small’ meant in New York-speak, and were shocked when his entire ‘apartment’ was smaller than the bedroom I had at my mother's house growing up. And - we had brought boxes. Lots of boxes, which ended up stacked to the ceiling and everywhere else we could to fit them in!”

“We eventually found a nice little third-floor walk-up apartment in Long Island City in Queens, and it was nice by the standards of some of the other rat-infested dumps we looked at in Manhattan.”

“Three things stand out for me about our 3 years in New York - the blizzard of 1996, when we went into Manhattan and were standing at the entrance of Central Park at The Plaza, and it was total silence, since no vehicles were moving. That, and the guy cross-county skiing down 5th Avenue were about the weirdest moments in my life.  Second thing that stands out is, of course, theater. I was never a big fan of musicals, until I saw Rent on Broadway - four times. And three of those times, with the original cast in the first two rows (they had a thing back then that they sold the first two rows for $20 per seat, but you had to wait in line overnight for them …  In the Winter … it was amazingly fun to do.)”

Finally, Jim says, “The third thing that stands out is how glad I was to finally move from New York. Unless you're wealthy, you don't live in New York - you survive in New York. I was tired of just surviving.

Jim echoes his lovely wife’s thoughts in regard to the reasons of how and why  the pair become involved with the Midway Play Festival: “Tonda asked Mel and I to do it after her original couple had a conflict. We got the scripts less than two weeks before it opened, and had a four-day trip to Florida in the midst of that. I was terrified, and it showed, as I completely went Actor's Nightmare during the final (and only) tech we had the day before we had an audience. We had to restart. I was mortified…and haven't come close to missing a line since!”

JIM WILKESON’S SECRET TALENT:  It's not much of a secret, per say, but - I'm one of the best cooks you'll ever come across. My mother is a chef, and I paid attention. I can make Baked Ziti, BBQ ribs, jambalaya, etc, that I could make a fortune off of - that is, if I were willing to have anything to ever do with running a restaurant ever again. And I'd rather go homeless than to ever work in a restaurant ever again for even one minute for the rest of my life,” he laughs.

Midway Play Festival
Describing the lineup as a real murderers’ row, Singleton adds, “The directors are some of the best and most well-known around, and represent area high schools and colleges, as well as many of the local theatre organizations.”

Paul Thomas (SCAPA)
Jeremy Kisling (Associate Artistic Director of Lexington Children’s Theatre)
Tonda-Leah Fields (directed at numerous local theatres, college and high schools)
Beth Kirchner (Executive Artistic Director, Woodford County Theatre)
Evan Bergman (KCTC instructor, Dunbar High School)
Tim X Davis (BCTC, Director of Film & Theatre program)
Eric Seale (Artistic Director, Actors Guild of Lexington)

“We have some of the top acting talent, designers and crew members in the region involved in the show, as well as Natalie Cummins as our Stage Manager extraordinaire…so, the audience is in good hands!”
Singleton led the read-through of plays before the panel of judges

“In every way, this festival is a showcase of the great talent we have here in Central Kentucky, and the playwrights that ply their craft all across the US. We’re all devoted to our craft and we’re looking forward to the run of shows, and many future returns for the Midway Play Festival.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Thoroughbred Theatre
127 East Main Street
Midway, Kentucky

October 22-24 & 29-31

8:00 p.m. Friday & Saturday
2:00 p.m. on Sundays

Tickets are $12 in advance / $15 at door

Senior Citizen & Students (with ID): $12 at all times

Reservations: 859.846.9827 /

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

No Sugar by Philip Hall (Longboat Key, FL)
Directed by Eric Seale
Debbie: Sharon Sikorski
Barry: Tim Hull

The Test by Paula Caplan (Cambridge, MA)
Directed by Tim X Davis
Cleveland: Dmetrius Conley-Williams
Bradley: Emanuel Wright

Saddam’s Lions by Jacob Juntunen (Chicago, IL)
Directed by Jeremy Kisling
Sharon Sikorski & Tim Hull sweeten up the stage in No Sugar, directed by AGL Artistic Director, Eric Seale
Rashida: Stephanie Radford
Jon: Clenton Hollinger

Taken For A Ride by Jan O’Conner (North Hollywood, CA)
Directed by Paul Thomas
Susan: Hayley Williams
Samson: Jordan Pruitt

Violating Uncle Piggy by Judd Lear Silverman (Brooklyn, NY)
Directed by: Tonda-Leah Fields
Mummy: Melissa Rae Wilkeson
Daddy: Jim Wilkeson
Investigator: Wilson Shirley

The Test, directed by Tim X Davis is not a pop quiz...but it's fantastic!
Blood Grass by J. Stephen Brantley (New York, NY)
Directed by Beth Kirchner
Mary: Martha Bernier Campbell
Guy: Nick Vannoy

It’s Impossible to get fired from Thrifty Drug Aid by Jessica Juhrend (Spearfish, SD)
Directed by Evan Bergman
Nancy:  Jan Hooker
Caroline:  Annie Barbera
John:  Tim Hull

I hope you get the chance to drive out to Midway tonight, tomorrow and/or Sunday afternoon (hell, go all three times, you will LOVE this great line up of plays) – and see this show.  Save your program and take it to the Grey Goose Midway for half-priced bottles of wine, which is just two doors down on Midway's charming Main Street :)

I must say, all the shows are very well done, well directed, well acted, and well written – in fact, I wish there was another word for the word “well,” because this festival is just cooler than cool – it’s a good time that will delight and haunt you, I guarantee it! 

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