Before his untimely death in 1972 at age 47, eccentric Lexington, KY photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard was famous for transforming ordinary street scenes and rooms in derelict buildings and factories into surrealistic compositions by shooting them from unusual angles in which the lighting appeared almost supernatural. But Meatyard is, perhaps, best known for peopling his photos with family and friends wearing masks. The masks not only hid the faces of his amateur models, but also made his photos creepy.
Japanese-American playwright Naomi Iizuka’s At the Vanishing Point, playing May 30-June 3 and June 6-9 at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC, was inspired by the almost mythical ambience of Meatyard’s shots of the rundown Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville, KY. This provocative multimedia production, superlatively staged by Manbites Dog artistic director and Theater Studies at Duke faculty member Jeff Storer, employs a striking series of Meatyard-style photographs by Alan Dehmer to punctuate a series of tragic and comic stories told by Butchertown’s edgy Southern Gothic residents, who have fallen on hard times as their neighborhood factories and homes have gone into a decline while their neighbors' standard of living seems to be steadily improving.
Derrick Ivey, who plays an optician-turned-photographer like Meatyard, starts the show with a slide show that he uses to illustrate the importance of point of view and the optical tricks a photographer employs to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Ivey gives eloquent voice to the explanation of arcane matters related to photography, such as the importance of focus and framing, what the human eye sees and what it misses that photos can reveal, how photos stimulate ideas in the brain, etc.
Marcia Edmundson adds a quartet of gritty performances, but is perhaps most memorable as two sisters, Maddy and Maudie, who took decidedly different paths in their pursuit of happiness. Michael O’Foghludha is most effective as Pete, a highly strung tour guide at the Edison House, where the famous inventor lived while he worked for the telegraph company in Louisville. David Berberian gives a pair of gritty performances as a two rough men who slaughter hogs, Madeleine Lambert adds a poignant portrait of a plucky blind girl named Nora Holtz, and singer and violinist Eliza Bagg provides haunting musical accompaniment during the show’s dramatic scenes.
Child actors Garrett M. Stein-Seroussi, Jonah Klever, and Claire Catotti play younger versions of some of the adult characters, as well as other youngsters whose hopes and dreams are forever stunted by the decline of Butchertown.
Director Jeff Storer and his highly talented cast and team of designers make the Manbites Dog Theater presentation of At the Vanishing Point a winner by artfully interweaving the stories of the Forgotten Men and Women of a rapidly deteriorating neighborhood in Louisville. Photographic designer Alan Dehmer, set designer Jonathan Blackwell, lighting designer Chuck Catotti, and costume designer Dierdre Shipman give Butchertown the gritty look of a down-at-the-heels section of town that has already seen its best days and will never see the like again, and musical director Julie C. Oliver and sound designer Adam Sampieri create a complimentary soundscape with choice snippets of folk, jazz, and even classical music that underscore the emotions expressed by the various characters in this unforgettable play.
Manbites Dog Theater presents At the Vanishing Point Wednesday-Saturday, May 30-June 2, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, June 3, at 3:15 p.m.; and Wednesday-Saturday, June 6-9, at 8:15 p.m. at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $10 Wednesday and Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday, except $8 Student Rush tickets. 919/682-3343 (telephone reservations for MDT voucher holders only) or http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/168/. Naomi Iizuka: http://www.dramadance.ucsb.edu/people_facultyprofile.php?ResearcherID=140 [inactive 11/08] and http://www.newdramatists.org/naomi_iizuka.htm [inactive 11/10]. Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925-72): http://www.masters-of-photography.com/M/meatyard/meatyard_articles1.html [inactive 2/08] AND http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/17/arts/design/17meat.html?ex=1180497600 &en=7946fb3bf093fcd3&ei=5070.