David Lee Nelson was standing up for stand-up comedy in Skinny White Comics last year at Piccolo Spoleto when Keeping Watch, Thomas Ward's meditation on life in Sweet Home Alabama, was wowing them in Atlanta.
Nelson knew Ward, of course: the two of them had Alabama in common. Nelson, a College of Charleston grad who has performed everywhere from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival to the Gotham Comedy Club in New York, has a knack for keeping tabs on folks with talent who are not afraid to use it.
Nelson got in touch with Ward, and the pieces just snapped into position: Gather a tribe of College of Charleston theatre alumni currently living in New York, truck them all down to the Holy City, put them in from of a Piccolo Spoleto crowd at the Chapel Theatre, and see what happens.
The idea of made-good talent returning to their alma mater is a great fit for the play. After all, reunion and remembrance are a big part of what Keeping Watch is all about.
The meaning and marketing of religion, both to itself and in the context of the lives of the people brought up in it, is a key theme explored in this tale of small-town Alabama. The characters explore their own histories, the growth from adolescent myth to adult meaning and from tragedy to a renewed sense of being alive, and, along the way, acoustic guitar, lettermen jackets, and Waffle House are stirred into the mix. This is the stuff of your life, the play asks of its characters, now what are you going to do with it?
The playbill is, by design, a virtual Who's Who of CofC-bred stars: David Lee Nelson, Mandy Schmieder, Matthew Crosby (a familiar face from Charleston Stage and Footlight Players, and a previous Best of Charleston Best Actor winner), Atlanta-born Blaire Brooks, James Heslop (recently seen off-Broadway in The Awesome 80s Prom), and Paul Rolfes.
The play is directed by S.C. native Adam Knight, a founding member of Slant Theatre Project in New York City.
The early buzz on the mood of the players, according to David Lee Nelson, who is both producing and acting in Keeping Watch (in addition to Skinny White Comics, also running this year in Piccolo Spoleto's Stella di Domane series), is just shy of bursting (Heslop mentioned a little something about A.C.'s Bar and Grill).
The play itself promises to run both funny and deep, tackling both the strange sense of reassessing one's own place in the world and the stories and memories that bond people who have grown up with one another.
The cast being who they are and this being Charleston, maybe there will be a bit of that off-stage as well as on. — Jason Zwiker
Keeping Watch • Piccolo Spoleto's Stelle Di Domani Series • $20, $15 students/seniors • (1 hour 30 min.) • May 26, 27, 30, 31, June 1, 2 at 8 p.m.; May 27, June 2 at 3 p.m.; May 28 at 6:30 p.m.• Chapel Theatre, 172 Calhoun St. • 554-6060