“Providence Gap” at Triad Stage: My Thoughts and Review

I just got home from the longest night I have ever spent in a theatre.  I hate to be negative, but friends don’t let friends see bad theatre.  I have seen hundreds of shows in my life and nothing prepared me for the mess that is “Providence Gap”at Triad Stage here in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Let me start by saying I love Triad Stage.  We have been season ticket holders since they first opened.  We have seen every production they have ever mounted.  I donate money to them.  Often, they do wonderful work.  But when they miss, they miss big.  “Providence Gap” is a huge miss.

Let me also say Preston Lane, who I do not know personally, can be a wonderful director.  “Picnic”, an old warhorse of a play that I was dreading, turned out to be a magical evening in the theatre– largely due to his direction.  He has created magic many times in the past at Triad Stage.  Just not when he is writing/adapting and directing at the same time.  Starting with “Julie’s Dance”, most adaptations or new works I recall that he has both written and directed have been, at best,  tedious.  I couldn’t even look him in the eye as we left tonight I was so embarrassed for him.

Let me also say that Laurelynn Dossett wrote and performed some beautiful music.  However, it was lost in this mess of a show.  In every collaboration she does at Triad Stage, her music is always the high point.  The book of the show is always the low point.  And usually the Direction.

For the record, I also simply hated their previous collaboration “Beautiful Star”.  I know it sold well for Triad Stage, but it was still, at best, mediocre.  It seemed to me to be more appropriate for the Barn Dinner Theatre than a professional company like Triad Stage.  “Bloody Blackbeard” had great music and a wonderful set, but seemed like a rough draft of a show.  “Providence Gap” has beautiful music, but seems like, at best,  a very rough first draft of a show.  Laurelynn’s music is usually the only saving grace of these collaborations, but even she couldn’t save this mess.  I would have bought the CD, but I didn’t want to risk mental flashbacks to the show.

I felt sorry for the very talented actors.  Most of them are from UNCG-G’s Theatre program.  They were all extremely talented and did the best that could be done with what they had to work with in “Providence Gap.”  The best thing I can say to them is to be grateful that they learned early in their careers what it’s like to be part of a really bad professional show.

There were about 4 or 5 plays in “Providence Gap.”  It could have been a fascinating story about how “hillbillies” came down from the mountains to work in the cotton mills.  It could have been a fascinating story about mountain people.   But, Mr Lane was overly ambitious.  We did not need a 2 and a half hour allegory.  It did not work.  We did not need to hear it as representing the 20th Century changes in lifestyle for mountain people.  If I had heard the phrase “Twentieth Century” from the narrator/ MC one more time, I think I would have climbed over the seats and beaten him with my program.  The woman character “representing” the 20th Century was confusing, annoying and should have been cut.  The Radio Show format simply did not work.

The characters were poorly developed and, as the man behind me said, “turn on a dime”.  These were sketches, not characters.  They were not “real” people.  And, while I know what he was trying to do,  the character names seemed  more appropriate to a Jackie Collins novel than mountain people in the early 20th Century.  The plot was both obvious and contrived.  It was totally predictable and the prediction was not good.

As I said, I felt sorry for the actors and appreciate their fine work in making these characters as honest as they could.  They did not have a lot to work with in the script.  I hate to say it, but there really was not a book here.  At least not a coherent one.  Especially not one worthy of Laurelynn Dossett’s music.  I hope she steps away from this type of collaboration before her reputation is tarnished by association.  She deserves better than this…She and her fine musicians were misused on stage in this show.  They were neither fully integrated into the show nor appropriately featured to “comment” on the action.  This was part of the weakness in both the book and the direction.

Usually, one can at least love the set in a Triad Stage production.  Even that did not work tonight.  It was boring and depressing with no focal points.

I really hate to be so harsh in this review, but I look at it as “tough love”.  Triad Stage needs to stop this foolishness before they hurt their reputation even further. I did not hear one positive word from anyone in the audience tonight.  I’m sure there were some people who liked it, but I didn’t hear it.  All I heard walking back to the car were comments similar to mine.

I must say, it is admirable that they are trying to feature North Carolina History and music but, frankly, this is not working.  I can’t be an enabler.

I beg Triad Stage to end the Appalachian saga while they are behind, but before they further damage their reputation.  This was, frankly, abysmal.  They don’t need this kind of word of mouth when they are trying to build and retain an audience during tough economic times.  They are too important to us in the Community for me not to call them out on this–even if no one there reads it.

But then, who am I to judge?  I’m just a guy who sees a lot of theatre, in a lot of places, who won’t be seeing anything else in this genre at Triad Stage.  You couldn’t pay me enough.  I can’t even think of anyone to whom I would do the disservice to give them our season tickets for something like this show.  I was embarrassed for them that they put this on their stage.

As a supporter of Triad Stage, I’ve had my say….I just hope we can move on to bigger and better things next season.  I wish Laurelynn Dossett and all the talented actors all the best.  Triad Stage and Preston Lane can and should do better…

17 Comments

Filed under Entertainment, Greensboro, North Carolina, Theatre

17 responses to ““Providence Gap” at Triad Stage: My Thoughts and Review

  1. Aunt Lily

    If you miss it you are Lucky and have good Fortune,any Chance the playwright will stick to directing? My rowan berry wish could come true, I swear by the twentieth century,blue lines on white paper ,I do.

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  2. Scott,

    I saw this production last night and agree with your analysis. This formula, stereotypical Southern characters, and mediocre writing has run its course for me. Our group however loved the superb music and would have been happy to see the talented trio of musicians sans the play.
    Gorgeous divine music that stands on its own.

    I too am a supporter of the Triad Stage and a season passholder. I wrote a glowing review of Picnic on my blog in September 2009. I love the Triad Stage but enough is enough.

    Triad Stage should have taken a cue from its name and stopped at three with this trilogy of sorts. I’ve grown tired of the collaboration, the allegorical stories, and even the old time mountain music is starting to feel watered down to me. This was a very special collaboration and theatre genre that doesn’t need to go on and on … Thanks for writing what I did not have the heart to write on my blog.

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    • Thanks, Donna….I just couldn’t help but be honest after I saw that show last night. I’m glad you agree and we’ll both hope the folks at Triad Stage have learned their lessons and are ready to move on…

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  3. Preston Lane

    Since I founded Triad Stage with the hope that our theater would provoke dialogue, I think it is always exciting to see people writing about our work and I am always eager to join in the conversation. Artists too often remain aloof from their audience, as if they pay no heed to the opinions of their patrons. I have never wanted to be that kind of artist. I am delighted that you enjoyed PICNIC. I am also deeply disappointed that you did not enjoy PROVIDENCE GAP or my other works as a playwright. And I am disappointed that during our nine seasons in Greensboro any patron would be embarrassed to meet my eye as they leave the theater. Rich and I stand at the door to put a human face on Triad Stage, to respond to our patrons and to listen to praise or criticism. I hope you will always feel free to express your ideas, disappointments, anger or delight any time you visit our theater. I also hope you will not be dismayed if sometimes I disagree.

    The work that Laurelyn and I do together is written out of a passion for story, music and region. Some love it, some tolerate it and some hate it. Any writer must be able to suffer the outraged calls for him to stop writing. It isn’t easy to do. After all, I pour my heart, my soul, my deepest longings and most secret desires into my work as a writer. I am never more exposed as a human than when I put words on paper. I put the world as I see it into theater because I know no other way to express it.

    Being told that I should not write, that I fail as an artist, and that I am destroying my theater’s reputation by expressing my artistic vision, is of course extraordinarily painful. Of course, there are many others who jump to their feet at the end of the show and praise it. My work with Laurelyn continues to garner critical praise, succeed at the box office, create dialogue within our community, be published, be produced at other theaters, and raise Triad Stage’s reputation as a national leader in exploring the interaction of music, theater and regional storytelling. From one extreme of criticism to the other, I have to try to keep my own balance as an artist. I could easily become suicidal if I only believed the people who say I have no talent. I could just as easily become arrogant if I believed only those who praise me for creating works of genius.

    I believe neither extreme is true. I just try to create work that is filled with my passion for storytelling. I try to keep on working, flailing, failing and hopefully succeeding from time to time. I want the work to engage an audience. But I am realistic enough to know that some in any audience will not like it. I am so passionate about my desire to create work that is in dialogue with our community that the knowledge that I can’t please everyone is painful and difficult for me. I don’t want anyone to feel as if they were assaulted by abysmal work when they come to Triad Stage. But some sometimes will.

    PROVIDENCE GAP is not a perfect play. It is also not an easy play. It is complex, allegorical, plays with form and style and seeks to move beyond realistic storytelling as it struggles to explore the yearnings of my storyteller’s heart. It doesn’t seek to comfort or to explain. One of Triad Stage’s core values is Artistic Risk. Every artistic risk involves the very real potential of failure. But without that risk, our theater and its dialogue with our audience is not alive. Whether the risk of PROVIDENCE GAP is a success or a failure must be left up to each individual who encounters it.

    I do appreciate your comments. I so wish I had been more successful at letting our audience know that they could be comfortable sharing their opinions with me at the theater, but I am delighted that your blog provides this platform for discussion. I read your blog with an open mind and an open heart. I search, as with all criticism, for lessons to be learned to make me a stronger, better artist. I know you will probably not be surprised that I don’t intend to stop writing the work that expresses who I am. I am disappointed that who I am, how I see the world, and how I reflect that vision in my work should so deeply aggrieve you. I hope that as I continue to create work within this community, you will not always find me so lacking of talent and worth and that my goal as a writer to captivate you with a story might one day be realized. If not, I apologize for our inability to communicate through my work and respect our right to amicably disagree.

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  4. Preston:

    Thank you for responding. I am honored that you read my blog and chose to respond to my comments.

    First let me say, as I said above, that you and Triad Stage often do excellent work. I just do not believe “Providence Gap” is one of them.

    I stand by my comments and will be glad to discuss them at any time.

    I do not mean this to be a personal attack on you or your talent. You are a very talented man. However, like all of us, some talents are stronger than others. You can be a masterful director, but I do have some issues with your adaptions and, especially, the Appalachian creations. I encourage you to keep working on your writing, but also to continue to solicit feedback prior to and after productions.

    On my blog I express my own personal opinions. “Providence Gap” was something I felt very strongly about. This is because I feel strongly that Triad Stage is important to our community. I expect more from Triad Stage than I do any other local theatre company.

    Since so few outlets here review local productions anymore, I also felt it was important that I let my friends and readers know what I thought. I plan to do more of this in the future.

    Frankly, I’m glad you and Triad Stage read my blog and accepted my feedback with such grace. I think it is important that your audience tells you their thoughts and that Triad Stage avoids becoming “theatre by the numbers” based on gross receipts being the primary measure of success.

    I will also add that many, many people have told me they agree with my comments, but don’t feel like they would be appreciated or accepted by Triad Stage. Thank you for proving them wrong. I hope they will also share their honest feedback with you and the management team at Triad Stage.

    Greensboro owes you and Rich a debt of gratitude in founding Triad Stage. Part of the way we theatre goers should repay that debt is by offering up our honest feedback–praise as well as criticism.

    Theatre is a dialogue. If it was just something thrown out there for mass consumption without thought for quality, structure or message and without respecting the audience and their intelligence, it would be network television.

    Regards,
    Scott

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    • Preston Lane

      Thanks for feeling strongly. If theater doesn’t provoke strong reactions, positive AND negative, it isn’t doing its job. Every time artists attempt new things, challenge old forms and reveal their hearts in their work, others will condemn. This back and forth is a part of how art changes and grows.

      I hope that you and your friends all will come to know that Rich and I are always open for dialogue. Like many in the theater, I am painfully shy and can come across as aloof. But I’m mostly an open, heartfelt and friendly guy once I get over the initial shyness. I yearn for dialogue with the community where I make my artistic home. PROVIDENCE GAP had a process of sharing and listening unlike any other new work we have presented, from a reading at Appalachian Summer Festival to numerous other eyes throughout Greensboro and the American theater. And the play changed as a result of the feedback. I have tried to be as open to comments as possible.

      It isn’t always easy. Words can wound. What seems witty can be cruel. What seems provocative can do great harm. Critics delight in the ease of commenting on a work not realizing that those comments can stop artists from creating. Donna T has a great entry on her blog- “Be kind- And sing anyway!” that can serve as an excellent reminder to us all that the voice inside us should not be silenced even when a chorus of many is urging it to cease.

      Again, I am sorry some do not like PROVIDENCE GAP. I wish everyone liked everything I did. I don’t make art to make people unhappy. But I know that some will be. I try to listen and learn from all criticism that is constructive. And I will respect the right of others to not like the kind of work I am making. But I also will continue to write what is inside my heart. I will do so not because it sells tickets or increases our national reputation, but because it is who I am as an artist and to do otherwise would be a disservice to my theater and its audience.

      I’m glad we’ve had an opportunity for dialogue. I hope we will have other opportunities to speak about theater. I am sorry that I will continue to make theater you do not enjoy but hopeful I will also make some that you do.

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  5. Hi Preston!

    Let me take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of me and my family for the many wonderful years of theatre experiences. Priceless.

    My daughter who has been going with us to Triad Stage since the sixth grade is now headed to Carolina. She is so sad to be missing The Glass Menagerie and hopefully can come home for that one. We exposed Kelly to all of those great classic plays performed at Triad Stage and I believe it made a great impact on her both as a person and as a student and especially in her writing and her broad perspective. So again thank you!

    I don’t think I need to add to my comments except to say this:

    You had me! You really had me with the first three wonderfully-written and produced plays:
    Brother Wolf, Beautiful Star, and Blackbeard.

    I would love to see you and Laurelyn take this in another direction. Something more contemporary combined with that old time music would be killer!

    But alas I am not you! And you must be true to yourself as a person and as an artist. I get that …. Plus who can argue with your success so far.

    As I said on my blog, “People have alot to say. It’s not always nice. So grow the skin of a rhinoceros … ”

    You not only have the skin of a rhinoceros, your courage and talent far exceed the size of a rhinoceros. That has never been in question for me or the people I know.

    By the way, the upcoming season looks fantastic and is right up my alley!

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  6. Raymond S.

    I am not a season pass holder, nor do I give money to Triad Stage or serve on their board of directors. However, my wife and I try to see at least two or three of their production’s a season. We wish we could see more, but we live in Asheville, and a night at Triad Stage for us means 5 hours of driving. We attended PROVIDENCE GAP on Saturday night. To us, the show perfectly summed up why the drive to Greensboro is ALWAYS worth it. You will not find this caliber of original theater being done anywhere in the country. I can assure you. High production value. Top tier acting. Fine tooth directing. And in the case of ALL of the Lane/Dossett collaboration’s…a captivating and inventive story, mesmerizing musical score, and an all-around pleasurable, emotional, and memorable experience in the American theater. We moved to North Carolina from New York City in 2004, leaving behind our board positions with one of the city’s highest regarded Off-Broadway house’s. The moment we were introduced to the work of Triad Stage, we knew we had found an “outlet” for fulfilling our lingering artistic desire’s. I sure hope Greensboro appreciates the efforts of Triad Stage and recognizes what a gem they have in their own backyard. This company is taking bigger risks and, seemingly, having more success than any of the New York City theatrical organizations we were associated with during our 30+ years in the arts. Please keep up the good work, Preston. Something tells me Scott will “come around” again once your production of STEEL MAGNOLIAS is mounted next season.

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    • Raymond: I think you mis-read me. The one show I am not looking forward to next season is “Steel Magnolias”. If you read further on my blog, you would see I have seen hundreds of shows- both on, off and off-off Broadway in New York. I have attended a lot of theatre in London and as well as in Paris, Chicago, Washington and many other cities. Don’t be so quick to dismiss. While your credentials are impressive, you are not the only educated theatre goer in NC. If you read my review accurately, you would see I praise most of Triad Stages work, just not the abysmal “Providence Gap”. I have yet to talk to anyone who has liked that show. Most of Triad Stage’s work is quite good, but I believe one needs to provide feedback both good and bad. I also encourage invention and trying new things in the theatre. Round 4 of the Appalachian series is no longer new. At this point, it’s the weakest retread of the formula. It just shows they have taken the concept as far as they can and it’s time to move on…That’s all I’m asking.

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      • Preston Lane

        When I received email notification of two new comments on this blog, I was working on typing notes for a site visit for a theater I am working with as they seek to improve their artistic quality. I found myself enjoying the process of looking for ways to praise what needed to be praised and to question what I didn’t like. Seeking to be constructive forced me to not settle for the easy insult or the broad generalization. That is the responsibility of a good critic. It is far too easy to make sweeping statements, to not back them up, to imply that everyone had the same experience I did.
        Scott, your reaction to PROVIDENCE GAP was obviously quite strong—the longest evening you’ve ever spent in a theater, abysmal, bad theater. Sorry that, in your eyes, I failed. Sorry that no one you have talked to like the production, but we have people coming back to see it twice or more, people who are deeply moved and people who are fascinated by the story and its questions. I know you aren’t one of them. But perhaps rather than saying we don’t need two and a half hours of allegory, you might write what it is about allegory, or my use of allegory, that so displeased you. Perhaps you might provide some guidance as to why I need to stop my Appalachian series.
        As it is, cruel insults and unconstructive criticism do nothing to help me understand the point of your argument. They make you feel smart and clever, they make someone not see the show but they don’t help anyone—artist or audience—to better understand the work or your reaction to it.
        I’m fine with the fact that you don’t like the work. I just wish you would respond to the work in a manner that wasn’t merely designed to wound by demonstrating how awful you found it to be.
        After all, the strong audience response we have seen for this show and the fact that I take great joy in this kind of work pretty much guarantees that Laurelyn and I will write another one. And my belief that realism has run its course in the American theater means that it will probably be an allegory. So, if you have constructive criticism, please feel free to share with me in public or private. I welcome it.

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  7. Vicki N

    Let me preface this by saying I will no doubt be judged cruel and overly critical for my comments. That’s fine. I have a healthy ego, if little patience for poseurs.
    Mr. Lane: I did not find Scott’s posts to contain cruel insults and unconstructive criticism. Rather, he stated his opinions (it is, after all, HIS blog) in a reasonable manner, I believe.
    I found, however, your reactions and repeated, defensive posts rather sad and tedious. You obviously can’t take criticism and seem to have a fragile ego, traits I find contradictory considering your oft-stated playwriting experience and haughty opinions of your own abilities. Let it go; you’re making yourself look small and pitiful.
    Raymond S: Whereas you and the other people who have posted seem to love theater and writing, I love the English language. You were careful to let readers know of your past affiliations and qualifications, otherwise known as bragging. So please learn the difference between possessives and plurals and understand that there is no need for quotation marks around quite ordinary words used as they were intended.
    No point in blaming Scott for my comments. I suspect Vicki N is a foreign name to him.

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  8. Preston Lane

    rWhat a remarkable skill to be able to completely shut down a conversation. I envy Vicki N’s use of the English language she so loves to stop dialogue and communication. After a decade of working in Greensboro I have learned not to engage in such back and forth with such people. I’d be more than glad to continue conversations with those who think criticism and dialogue is more than name calling and faux intellectual arrogance.

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  9. Daryl M.

    My suggestion is that there be an open forum for discussion following one of the final performances of Providence Gap this week. I enjoyed the production, but would love to hear what others have to say about it. Anyone can cower in the safety of their own home and spew unjust criticism. I invite Preston, Scott, Vicki, Ray, Donna, and others out from behind their computer screens and into a forum of constructive opinions. If everyone has so much knowledge…let us see it put to the test.

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  10. Preston–To take this conversation in another direction. I wonder why you say that realism in American theatre is dead. I’ve been away from the New York theatre scene for quite some time and admittedly just don’t have the time to keep up. I don’t proclaim to be a theatre expert. I’m just a humble social worker and theatre lover. But if that is true, it makes me sad …

    Where I am going with this is that I would love to see a play revolving around Laurelyn’s beautiful song Leaving Eden. That would make for some compelling drama, social commentary, strong characters, and interesting music. And talk about regional. I gather something like this would not be your cup of tea, but then again who knows? So I throw this idea out to you …

    Just some reactions and thoughts. Enough said.
    See you in the new season!

    donna tessitore

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  11. I plan for this to be my last comment on this post. It is clear to me that Preston Lane does not want to accept my criticism-which is specifically and clearly stated in my original post- or my right to criticize his work. He seems more intent on playing the wounded artist. So be it.

    I’ll just move on with my life and other interests. There are a lot more things I want to write about on this blog than Preston Lane.

    But I already have my season tickets for next season and will continue to post my thoughts and reviews on the shows at Triad Stage– whether Mr Lane thinks I am qualified to do so or not. As I’ve said repeatedly, I am a big supporter of Triad Stage and will continue to offer my honest feedback on their work as well as other artistic works and events I might attend.

    You all are welcome to continue this dialogue, but I’ve said all I have to say.

    Regards, Scott

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  12. Dave

    I just sat through the final performance of Providence Gap. Let me preface my comments by saying that I think Triad Stage is one of Greensboro’s gems and I consider Preston Lane, Dick Whittington, et. al. to be true local heroes for their work here.

    But in my opinion Scott Michael’s comments are, unfortunately, 100 percent on target concerning Providence Gap.

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  13. Katie Elkins

    I would like to preface this comment by saying this weekend was my first time ever entering the Triad Stage. I can say I’ve never left a theatre so undecided about a production. No doubt, the show displayed some beautiful acting, and some wonderfully colorful characters. I agree with Scott that the story got ambitious, but I don’t think that it necessarily speaks badly of Preston Lane. It says to me that he is an artist who has a lot of talk about, the best and hardest kind of artist to be. No show is ever done. No production is ever at it’s end. Having said this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d like to see Providence Gap again, directed by someone else. A fresh eye on the script might really bring Preston Lane’s writing to life in a different way. And to Triad Stage, I’ll definitely be back! Nothing better than theatre that keeps me thinking and reforming my opinions about the nature of the theatre itself.

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