Sister Act Interview (video)

Dramatic stage performers: Regina Marie Williams and Stephen Yoakam

It starts with her eyes, transparent and luminous windows to her emotions. Whether with a baleful stare, or a mask of aching grief, Williams fills a character with a fierce authenticity. Then there is her voice, which can scorch with intensity or sing like an angel. Williams is always interesting to watch, even in small roles, because she makes her presence so enjoyable. Among her signature roles have been the lead in "Dinah Was" and the tragic heroine of "Ruined."

BY DWIGHT HOBBESSOUNDING OFF ON SOUND

Regina Marie Williams doubles as first lady of Twin Cities theater and the Twin Cities’s finest jazz vocalist

Williams turned a strong showcase, Syl Jones’sDaughters of Africa for Mixed Blood Theatre, into an incredible career, stunning Penumbra Theatre Company audiences opposite James Craven in Gus Edwards’s Louie & Ophelia, staking claim to prominence with an extended Penumbra run and starring role in Oliver Goldstick’s Dinah Was as Dinah Washington. On the heels of which she releasedRegina Is ... The Songs of Dinah Washington, for which music lovers can be profoundly grateful. It is nothing short of masterful. Followed by the equally compelling Feel The Spirit, spirituals and hymns sung with galvanizing heart and soul. It’s hard to hear Regina Marie Williams not rare back, hollering, “Git it, girl!  Wear that song out!” Now, she’s releasingWhen a Woman Loves a Man, a tour-de-force turn on jazz standards. 

When a Woman Loves a Manis a triumph by which Regina Marie Williams establishes mesmerizing authority. “When a Woman Loves a Man” leads the album, putting listeners on point: Williams has an uncanny ear for phrasing, possesses arching range and is powerful beyond reckoning. The song receives a fine rendering, alluring. Seductive. “My Funny Valentine” showcases this premiere vocalist’s originality as well. The blues classic “Stormy Monday” virtually is reinvented. It gets a barrelhouse, tinkling ivories arrangement backing uncanny singing. This artist, in one song, spans a fascinating gamut from playful to sexy to lowdown nasty and all the way back, stopping off at the bridge to absolutely blow your mind. “Moonlight” is a mischievous romp, fully airing Williams’s fluid chops. For the closing cut, you have yet to experience how an extraordinarily gifted artist can interpret genius until you listened to Regina Marie Williams sing Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life. 

When a Woman Loves a Man is produced by Sanford Moore. Backing Williams are Moore (piano), Dave Karr (sax, clarinet, flute), Steve Jennings (drums), Gary Raynor (bass). Heavyweights all around.  This is one of those recordings that definitely will make a difference in your collection. And you don’t have to be a jazz enthusiast to enjoy it. Regina Marie Williams sings with a world of feeling you’d have to be deaf not to hear.  And, at times, she’s so strong it’s scary. When a Woman Loves a Man: Don’t sleep on it.

Might not get out of this one alive: Regina Marie Williams in "Pa's Hat" ​After speaking with playwright Cori Thomas a day before the opening of Pa's Hat: Liberian Legacy at Pillsbury House (see this earlier Dressing Room post), I thought I had a pretty good handle on the subject it tackled: a return to Africa for an elderly father and his daughter, a good bit of trouble once there, and a scary escape. Now that I've seen it, it turns out I was only partly right. Pa's Hat is a truly compelling show, but only the first act is the wholly white-knuckle experience I had been expecting. Thomas's stand-in Cora (Regina Marie Williams) is every bit the enraged American protesting her and her father's imprisonment on spurious grounds; in one very long scene, she does verbal battle with military commander Mambu (CP 2007 Best Actor Ansa Akyea). Cora is out of her depth, and there's a real sense that the unthinkable might take place. In the second act, events veer in an unexpected direction, with surprisingly fascinating results. Without spoiling things, Cora's father (a courtly Bruce A. Young) calls upon a past connection, and the context of their jailing takes a U-turn. The ensuing dialogue is a trip back into Liberian history, and the enduring value of friendship and goodwill even when times have turned dire. Thomas intended her play as a documentary of a trip to her father's homeland that ended up truly frightening. In creating this work, she plays out a web of complex social and historical realities while rendering a human drama that is both hard-edged and laced with sweetness. Here's a production that does justice to all of it.

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Resident Play - 2008

Regina Marie Williams Redshirts  Round House Theatre  

Sister Spokesman on Facebook (l-r) Celeste Jones, Regina Marie Williams and Bruce Young Credit: Photo by Ann Marsden Ruined will break your heart, lift your soul by Dwight Hobbes Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder Originally posted 10/27/2009 It’s great when a prestigious honor goes to a play that actually deserves it. With today’s penchant for the politically correct, valuing sentiment over skill, it is also rare. This makes Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Ruined a true find. At Mixed Blood Theatre, Ruined receives a production every bit worthy of the splendid script. It stars local luminary Regina Marie Williams and television and film veteran Bruce A. Young, with Aimee K. Bryant leading a strong supporting cast. Aditi Kapil’s directing is flawless. In short, you couldn’t ask for a more rewarding night of theatre. Set in the Congo amid today’s raging warfare, this is a saga of just how cruel a toll is taken on the humanity of women and girls when men decide to kill one another. Mama Nadi, a spirited, pragmatic soul, runs her modest but successful brothel, catering mainly to miners and soldiers with the only place for 50 miles around to stop in for a drink, have a bite to eat, and indulge in pleasures of the flesh. She has seen and suffered through man’s inhumanity to woman, surviving by growing a hard veneer and a very sharp tongue. As Ruined unfolds and reveals, over the course of few days, the trials with which she and her girls contend, a portrait is drawn of the broken lives these women determinedly strive to salvage and of the strength to which they turn in the indomitable person of Mama Nadi. It is masterfully crafted play, an experience that will both break your heart and lift your soul. Regina Marie Williams shows why she is the leading lady of Twin Cities theatre. Her trademark of incredible range and depthless subtlety is wholly evident. You can follow Williams’ career through countless outings and never see her repeat herself. Every time she takes on a character, she completely reinvents. As with the best of actors, there is not so much as a tick or gesture carried from, say, her breakthrough vehicle, Gus Edwards’ Louie & Ophelia (Penumbra Theatre), to her leap to area stardom in Dinah Was… (Penumbra Theatre), to this, her latest triumph. And she brings to Mama Nadi a richly complex, elementally forceful world of presence. Bruce A. Young, who did Enough with Jennifer Lopez and has done nearly a hundred screen roles, is wonderful as Christian, an affable salesman who comes through, now and again, replenishing Mama’s stock of varied sundries of the working girl’s trade. In an understated, beautifully crafted turn, Young (who also did the fight choreography) brings to vibrant life this sensitive man stuck making a living in a hard, stark world. Accomplished and gifted veteran Aimee K. Bryant gets a chance to show her range, too, as Salima, a tribal chief’s daughter who fell from favored status to disgrace when she committed the crime of being raped. Bryant gives Salima strong dimension. Ericka Ratcliff is a delight as the saucy, snake-hipped Josephine. Josephine is a wry, calculating sort who takes life as it is and doesn’t make any bones about it until the prospect of latching onto a rich trick and being delivered into luxury turns her into a desperately dreamy-eyed rube. Ratcliff pulls the whole thing off with consummate skill. Celeste Jones works well as the neophyte Sophie, a brutally deflowered maiden holding on to the hope that she can get to a doctor and repair the damage done to her by a gang-raping at the hands of soldiers. Also in the cast are Paul Meshejian, Irungu Mutu, Gavin Lawrence, Namir Smallwood, Payton Woodson and Eric Mayson. Aditi Kapil turns in a fine directing job. She understands the power of this play and doesn’t get in its way. Smart directors know how to let a script breathe. Kapil is very, very smart. Lynn Nottage (Intimate Apparel, Fabulation) is a playwright’s playwright. She doesn’t waste a word of dialogue, draws fully realized characters, and takes you through a true journey. Ruined is not to be missed. You will thank yourself for buying a ticket and find yourself recommending to friends, family, pretty much anyone who’ll listen. Lynn Nottage’s Ruined runs through Nov. 22 at Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 South Fourth St. on the West Bank in Minneapolis. Tickets: $14 - $28. Box office: 612-338-6131. Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to dhobbes@spokesman-recorder.com.

+ Share This Article + Add to Collection + Printer-Friendly Format by Quinton Skinner October 28, 2009 Theater critic Quinton Skinner weighs in on Mixed Blood's new production, Lynn Nottage's "Ruined", directed by Aditi Kapil. He calls it a "play of startling intelligence and acuity," a powerful story of survival in extremity. Article Image Gallery Expand slideshow "Ruined" written by Lynn Nottage, directed by Aditi Kapil On stage at the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis through November 22. HOWEVER FAR-FLUNG OUR ADVENTURES INTO THE ETHEREAL REALMS of idea and spirit, we never entirely escape the conditions of our physical incarnation: legs, arms, senses, permeability, strength and weakness, sex. This is, after all, where we live, the source of pain and pleasure, fear and transcendence. Lynn Nottage's Ruined is a play of startling intelligence and acuity; at its heart, this is an unflinching story of survival in extremity. The play's cognitive power lies in its exploration of the boundaries of force and harm, telling a story of the basest motivations--and what possible amelioration can be found by way of response. The action takes place in the Congolese rainforest, where Mama Nadi (Regina Marie Williams) runs a full-service outpost. With the country wracked by interminable civil war, Mama Nadi's is an oasis in which miners, soldiers, and traders can procure food, drink, and access to young prostitutes. Our moral compass spins from the opening scene, with the arrival of Christian (Bruce A. Young), a regular guest from the city who plies Mama Nadi with lipstick in exchange for cold Fanta orange soda (and who, it is increasingly clear, is smitten with her). As the scene unfolds, it becomes apparent that he also has a history of bringing girls to work there; this time, Christian arrives with Salima (Aimee Bryant) and Sophie (Celeste Jones) in tow. Jones's Sophie is furtive and painfully shy, which Christian proceeds to inform Mama is the result of the girl being "ruined": that is, so severely sexually abused as to be permanently disfigured. Salima, who in this scenario endured a lesser trial, was sexually enslaved by soldiers over a period of months and subsequently shunned by her husband and family upon return to her village. Mama Nadi takes in the girls, reluctantly, and for a time the rhythm of the story falls into that of commerce. Nottage makes a conscious nod to Brecht's Mother Courage, and Williams is convincing as a self-possessed scrapper with her own, idiosyncratic ethics (not least when Mama Nadi proclaims, "I put food in the mouths of eight women."). Aditi Kapil's direction accommodates well-wrought scenes in which action is taking place all over the stage at once -- small vignettes of exploitation and desperate pleasure-seeking. In time, though, this tenuous peace cannot hold. Mama Nadi's homely sanctuary, self-consciously forged as a bulwark against chaos and the tides of brutality, succumbs to the forces at work outside its walls. The nation's civil war encroaches closer and closer, with soldiers from varying factions appearing, one after the other, all sides convinced of their righteousness -- and all thoroughly prepared to commit acts of objective evil in order to prevail. One faction is helmed by a rebel leader called Kisembe (Gavin Lawrence), whose forces stalk, and are stalked, by those of Osembenga (Irungu Mutu). When each takes a break from the war, they appear separately with their cohorts at Mama Nadi's with attitudes of cocksure aggression and barely stifled violence. Each progressive scene grows more fraught, and Williams, from time to time, lets her character's façade slip for just a moment; she lets us see how much effort it takes Mama Nadi to balance the demands of each side and to maintain her neutrality. ______________________________________________________ "The mess is outside," Mama Nadi announces at one point, though by then her proclamation amounts to wishful thinking. The air is redolent with malice and murder, and even old hands are getting out of Dodge. ______________________________________________________ Tom Barrett's scenic design puts the main room of Mama Nadi's at the forefront, while a cutaway sector depicts the cramped, Spartan private space that the young women share. Katharine Horowitz's sound work juggles ambient rainfall with bursts of radio noise and stretches of live music (the recalcitrant Sophie becoming the place's chanteuse), in a sonic palate that enhances the show without imposing distraction. Distraction, though, is the order of the day as events heighten. Christian takes his first drink in years at virtual gunpoint, and promptly goes into a state of emotional collapse. The cool, icy prostitute Josephine (Ericka Ratcliff) has a compressed breakdown of her own while ostensibly dancing for joy. Salima's husband, Fortune (Namir Smallwood), makes an ill-timed appearance at Mama Nadi's, a soldier looking for his wife; when she rejects him, he stands alone in the night, staring into the middle distance, a world of hidden thoughts churning turbulently within. "The mess is outside," Mama Nadi announces at one point, though by then her proclamation amounts to wishful thinking. Instead, the air is redolent with malice and murder, and even old hands, such as mineral trader Mr. Harari (Paul Meshejian), are getting out of Dodge. When death does indeed make an appearance, it naturally strikes one of the most vulnerable characters. Although Nottage makes a forgivable misstep in lending Salima a line toward the end that crosses the border from the suggestive to the didactic, the heartbreaking events arrive with an air of inevitability. And then, this wrenching narrative turns on its heels and becomes, in appropriately understated fashion, a love story of sorts. The waters are too deep here, and so muddied with blood, for there to be anything as pat as redemption for these characters. But Williams and Young, after sparring all night, infuse light into the gloom with a shared moment of transcendence. Mama Nadi, for all her complexity and unapologetic ruthlessness, allows the slightest hint at what lies beneath her stony veneer. It's a hard-won moment, and it works. Mixed Blood has crafted a satisfying, harshly elegant work here, discomfiting from the start but constantly engaging. The realm of Ruined feels like the space in which imagination is of no use, where dreams are an unthinkable luxury. The reality is, there are lives stained by such violence, exploitation, and atrocity. Ruined offers no answers for why this is so, but it lends real dignity and insight into the very notion of surviving the unspeakable. ______________________________________________________ Performance details: Ruined, written by Lynn Nottage and directed by Aditi Kapil, will be at the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis through November 22. Visit the theater's website for ticket details, show times, and additional background on the play.
  • Regina Marie Williams, Outstanding Supporting Actress
  • Dr. Charlene Bigelow in Redshirts, Round House Theatre

The character

Dr. Charlene Bigelow is mild mannered, educated and smart.  She reads, she thinks and KNOWS the power of education. She is not stodgy and actually has a sense of humor but is a bit self righteous because she can be. She checks her facts. She dresses classically and comfortably but well. Being a professor is not just a job but a vocation. It is partially her way of giving back. There was no doubt she had compassion for the boys she caught cheating. She did not let them get away with it because she cared.

Connecting

In reading a script there are some obvious clues to who our characters are, where they are from, their relationship to the other characters etc., a costume designer can envision how the character may dress or a set designer how they might live.  Director Lou Bellamy gave me a few thoughts but there was one that unfolded and answered all the other questions about Professor Charlene Bigelow. “She’s southern” he said. That one fact informed my thoughts, my feelings, opinions, personally, politically, religiously etc., how she walked, even. Profound. I immediately saw a Toni Morrison or Alice Walker. I always need to see the person before I can be the person. They are not always famous either. My characters may be conglomerations of people I know. Usually my aunts, sometimes the lady I saw at the grocer the other day, or the woman who walks her dog by my house everyday while smoking her cigarette.

Surprise

“My nosegays are for captives…” The first line of an Emily Dickenson poem and a line from “Redshirts“…My children’s father is a poet and he could not get them to read Emily Dickenson but after seeing the play and hearing the hoots and hollers from the locker room in Dana Yeaton’s play “Redshirts”, my eleven year old recites the poem and keeps the book of poetry next to his bed.

Favorite performances

I love that even with as busy as I have been I have found time to go to and see theater. This past year at the Fringe Festival in Minneapolis I was pleasantly surprised by “Same Difference” , a two hander written by Samuel Roberson.  Powerful and quite humorous the play addresses racial and human issues from the perspective of two college roommates from two different sides of the tracks. I also lapped up a performance by Sally Wingert in Private Lives at the Guthrie Theater. How is it an actor can be on stage for less than seven minutes, say as few words and garner more applause (quite deserved) than the main characters. I think about that performance often. She wasn’t performing for us or anybody. She was just being the French maid.  A French Maid to aspire to.

Stephen Pelinski’s performance was stunning. He was so precise without being stifled. I enjoyed watching him and listening to his every word. (I have had a note to call him for coaching).

One of my favorite performances in the DC area was Women of Brewster Place.  I saw the performance with my thirteen year old and we talked about the individual performances for weeks. We still talk about it. There a scene where a woman is attacked by a gang. There was no gang or anyone else onstage but the actress who tossed herself about like I have never seen. I think her name is Harriet Foy. There was that great moment in the kitchen where the two women are listening to Billie Holiday and they start dancing. The delightfully warm actress for whom I could not take my eyes or ears off would later perform “Ella”. I also remember the surprisingly moving scene of one character being bathed by a sea of women to help bring down her tears. My stoic thirteen year old cried with me. But I must not forget there was the hilarious day at school. Once again only one actor onstage (Harriet Foy, and NO I don’t know her) and you could see an entire class room of children.

I think I saw more great performances than great plays. It is always a pleasure watching an actor spin their magic or simply do their work. 

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Resident Play

Naomi Jacobson, The Unmentionables, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Susan Kellermann, 33 Variations, Arena Stage
Sarah Marshall, As You Like It, Folger Theatre
Kate Eastwood Norris, She Stoops to Comedy, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Salma Qarnain, Macbeth, Synetic Theater
Regina Marie Williams, Redshirts, Round House Theatre

"Bud, Not Buddy" matures and shines at Children's Theatre Company. By ROHAN PRESTON, Star Tribune Last update: January 23, 2008 - 10:05 PM BUD, NOT BUDDY What: Adapted by Reginald Andre Jackson from Christopher Paul Curtis' novel. Directed by Marion McClinton. When: 7 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Fri., 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sat., 2 and 5 p.m. Sun. Ends Feb. 16. Where: Children's Theatre, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls. Tickets: $22.50-$37.50. 612-874-0400. In "Bud, Not Buddy," which opened over the weekend at the Children's Theatre Company, the first act offers a lot of perfunctory exposition. It dawdles a bit in setting up the plot and establishing the play's flashback storytelling style. But the second act, in which the hopes and dreams of a searching 10-year-old orphan meet the realities of the world, is simply sublime. Poignant and elegant, it made my eyes misty. Adapted by Reginald Andre Jackson from Christopher Paul Curtis' Newberry-winning book, "Bud" is about a boy in an orphanage, played by Nathan Barlow, who runs away to find his father. The father may or may not be famous bandleader Herman Calloway (Shawn Hamilton as a hurt and truculent taskmaster). When Bud finds Mr. Calloway, he is not received like he thought he would be. But wise and indefatigable, the young man with the potential to flower perseveres. The play takes place during the Depression, not today, when Bud's search would be a TV special. Staged with style and sophistication by Marion McClinton, "Bud" is ostensibly a show for children. Children's Theatre recommends it for ages 9 and up. But McClinton has directed a fierce work with some swinging jazz composed by Victor Zupanc -- not the bright musical underscoring that you might expect for youngsters. In other words, this production, which uses real-looking weapons, does not do too much nodding to children. The performances, by a very capable company whose members play multiple parts, are all admirable. Barlow, a Children's Theatre veteran, is clearly in a growth spurt and his voice is changing (getting lower). Still, he invests Bud with verve and hard-fought hope. "Bud" features a lovely turn by Regina Williams as the warm, sensitive singer in Calloway's band. In voice and body, Williams' radiant character wraps the orphan boy in warmth and love. Hamilton is deft and in the pocket as the leader of the jazz band. He moves with stylized syncopation as if he is walking on music. Kevin West, Payton Woodson and the always stellar Marvette Knight join Gerald Drake, Samuel Roberson, Traci Allen, Namir Smallwood and Max Tojtanowicz in this lyrical production that is as apt for adults as it is for children. It might be at Children's Theatre, but adults could ditch the kids and go to this one for themselves. It's a thought. 

 

Spirit of Holiday channeled at Stackner Intense internal energy fuels Williams' organic performance By DAMIEN JAQUES Journal Sentinel theater critic Posted: March 19, 2007 Mesmerizing is a word critics should use very judiciously. It's a term that carries big expectations and responsibilities. ''Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill' Regina Marie Williams uses nuance and exquisitely subtle shadings to portray jazz singer Billie Holiday in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production of "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill." If You Go What: "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" When: Through May 13. Where: The Stackner Cabaret at the Baker Theater Complex, 108 E. Wells St. Tickets are on sale at the Milwaukee Rep's box office in the complex's lobby, by phone at (414) 224-9490, and online at www.milwaukee rep.com But I can't think of a better way to describe Regina Marie Williams' performance in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill," the new show the Milwaukee Repertory Theater opened in its Stackner Cabaret over the weekend. Williams plays the late jazz singer Billie Holiday in Lanie Robertson's well-written theater piece, a monologue-concert hybrid. Actually, Williams channels the troubled singer to a degree that few performances attain. She toys with something that seems beyond acting. It's more visceral, organic and almost ghostly. No wonder the lone act flies by as if time is standing still. Playwright Robertson used the conceit of placing "Lady Day" in a Philadelphia jazz club near the end of Holiday's short life. She died in 1959 at the age of 44. Billie is out of prison and has a new boyfriend-piano accompanist. She is on stage at the intimate Emerson's Bar & Grill to entertain the smattering of fans and jazz aficionados who have shown up. Holiday sings 17 songs, and between numbers rambles on, talking about her life. The star was a poster child for the crushing price of racial bigotry exacerbated by bad personal choices. She was raped at 10, then handed over by her mother to a brothel madam as a teenager. He first husband introduced her to heroin, begging her to sample it as a sign of her love for him. Billie had a knack for being attracted to the wrong men. Holiday's career was short-circuited by the double whammy of prejudice and her frequent conflicts with the law. The best jazz songs were often restricted to white singers to record, and Billie talks about the indignities suffered by black touring performers in the first half of the 20th century. The club appearance we are witnessing is lubricated by the constant sipping of alcohol as Holiday sings and talks. Her stability gradually slips away. A different route Most singer-actresses portray an increasingly inebriated Billie sloshing through her final songs. With her intense internal energy, Williams takes a different route. She exudes the instability using nuance and exquisitely subtle shadings. That makes the character's descent more harrowing. Williams also underplays her performance of "Strange Fruit," Holiday's signature song about lynching. Broadway composer E.Y. (Yip) Harburg called the number a "historic document." In Williams' interpretation, she sings "Strange Fruit" without a great deal of drama but with impeccable clarity, demonstrating that less can be more. The singer-actress employs a remarkably expressive face and physicality to suggest a compelling presence despite faded glamour and an erratic spirit. Vocally, Williams has a distinctive style that offers a velvet purr sometimes punctuated with a hint of spunky squawk. Pianist William Knowles ably handles the keyboard and the few lines of dialogue he has with Williams.

REGINA MARIE WILLIAMS

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