Ladies' Night

"Talking With" continues Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 29-31 at 7:30. Tickets are $10. Members and JFP readers get in for $8; just mention the JFP when you buy your ticket. Info: 982-2217.

Fondren Theatre Workshop is damn good theater. Helmed by Diana Howell and a bevy of enthusiastic volunteers, FTW has already established itself as an innovative theater for the people, offering monthly workshops ranging from scriptwriting to improv to Shakespearian acting. Their debut of "Through The Looking Glass" and December's excellent "The Lion In Winter" were held at the Duling School in the heart of the Fondren Arts District, both to loud praise.

Nestled in the confines of a cabaret-type setting at The Artery coffeehouse on State Street last Wednesday, I received a birthday treat: the final dress rehearsal of "Talking With." I'd seen this 11-women, 11-monologue compilation some 15 years ago over at New Stage, so I sort of knew what to expect. However, I didn't expect most monologues to be better than the New Stage version.

FTW's "Talking With" is a bold step in giving new directors (and several new actresses) a shot at trying their hand at stagecraft. Seven men and women, among them actors and stage techs, were selected to direct up to two monologues each. The final product, even for a final dress, was performance quality. Alyssa Silberman, fresh from her role as Mina in last Halloween's "Dracula," opened the show with "15 Minutes," channeling a bit of Fran Dresher as a Bronx-y actress about to perform for a small-town audience.

Local writer John Webb chose Kathy Palmer to play a lady lost in Oz in "Scraps." Kathy's outrageous costume and very realistic psychosis leaves the audience chuckling while feeling a bit uneasy. Also on Webb's plate was "Lamps," featuring Joanne Prichard Morris, widow of literary great Willie Morris. For a first timer, Morris walks at ease among light and shadows, rearranging the room with each twist of a lamp.

The show stealer is Beth Kander, whom audiences will remember from Millsaps' "Fiddler On The Roof." Her manic and entrancing rendition of "Audition" left me wanting more. Just wind her up and let her go! I'll give you the part, just don't whack the kitty with the hammer.

Then there was Karen Longo as a down-on-her-luck cowgirl in "Rodeo," and 15-year-old Caroline Turner showing us the real side of a "Twirler." Torsha Marie convinced me she was having a baby, even though the actress has yet to do it in the real world. Rhonda Webb scared me; she was riveting as a religious snake handler in "Handler," directed by Jaymee Vowell. I believed! Webb makes it a family affair as mom to Caroline and Katie Turner, both in the show.

Julia Phyfer finished this evening of chats with "Marks." Even with a nagging cough that blended in with her character, Phyfer made her cuts and tattoos seem all the more real and sad. Another great job from Gary Silberman.

With all 11 actresses, I felt the tangible realism of each character. Directors were astute in picking out music, costumes and props as well as the right lady to do the job. "Talking With" is prominent entertainment in an area of "done it to death" plays. Grab a cup of warmth at The Artery and have a great night of talk.


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