Ashley on the Arts

By Dottie Ashley

The other night, upon attending “Brooklyn Boy” — a superb, Off-Broadway-quality play produced by Midtown Productions theater on James Island — I felt it a shame it was that only half of the seats in this quaint, but technically top-of-the-line, theater were filled.

“Many people don’t know about us, since we are tucked away on James Island, in a parking lot at the corner of Folly and Camp Roads, behind Walgreen’s,” explained director Sheri Grace Wenger. Wenger, a native Charlestonian, first exploded onto the local theater stage dancing in shimmy lace in the musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” at the Footlight Players. A student at St. Andrew’s High School at the time, Wenger has been involved in directing, producing and performing in local theater for more than 30 years.

For years, Wenger ran a successful black box theater at the corner of Calhoun and King streets. However, as downtown rents soared, Wenger and her son, actor and director Ryan Ahlert, were forced to change venues. Luckily, they located two unused stores on Folly Road. Relying upon myriad friends and connections and the strong support of Wenger’s husband, Steve Wenger, Ahlert and Sheri Grace created a 75-seat theater, using discarded pews from a local church, for seats. They also changed the adjacent store into The Charleston Acting Studio, a school for teaching acting to young students and adults.

Although Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Marguiles’ “Brooklyn Boy” has ended its run, an entire season lies ahead.

Next on Midtown Productions’ agenda is Amy Herzog’s play,“4,000 Miles,” a 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama. Named the number-one play of 2012 by Time, “4000 Miles” will be performed Nov. 13-30 at Midtown Productions, 915 Folly Rd.

For dates and ticket prices, call 795-2223 or go online to www.midtownproductions.org.

The Village Rep on Woolfe

Another shameful example of lost opportunities to savor first-class theatrical talent occurred when the Vilage Rep on Woolfe theater opened its 14th season with Nicky Silver’s Tony Award-nominated play, “The Lyons.”

More than 10 years ago, Keely Enright and David Reinwald, a couple of theater enthusiasts whose business obligations had taken them to the Lowcountry, ventured over the bridge and into the middle of Mount Pleasant, where, bit-by-bit, transformed a former exercise facility into The Village Playhouse.

Enright — who studied theater at UCLA — and her husband, Reinwald — a native of New York and a talented carpenter and set builder — took a “hands on” approach to converting the stark space into a cozy theater with a thrust stage.

The Village Playhouse was definitely well received. However, three years ago increased rents led the couple to pack up, cross the Ravenel Bridge towards the peninsula and locate a vacant building at 34 Woolfe St., off East Bay.

In a year, the run-down building had been renovated into a 200-capacity seat space, replete with an elegant bar.

Those who missed the Village Rep on Woolfe’s scathingly funny production of “The Lyons,” lost an opportunity to see a Broadway-caliber play at a third of the usual ticket price. Let’s just say that local theater veteran Samile Basler ripped through the rafters in her exceedingly challenging starring role. Although nearly filled, the Village Rep should have been bursting at the seams.

Certainly other examples of missed chances to see top-flight acting without having to board an airplane could be given. However, the main point is that directors of theater companies, given the hordes of newcomers sweeping into town, feel that far more information should be made available regarding upcoming productions. Additionally, increased knowledge of the backgrounds of the actors, directors, choreographers — many of whom have acted with Second City in Chicago, or Off-Broadway or in national touring companies of musicals — is needed. Actors from all over are hearing about the rising quality of Charleston theater.

Emily Wilhoit, executive director of Theatre Charleston, noted that for the past season, the combined total operating budget for member theaters has pumped $2.7 million into the local economy. Although the 12 members of Theatre Charleston are considered non-profits, only the Flowertown Players in Summerville and the Footlight Players downtown, are actually “community” theaters, where all of the actors are volunteers.

“However, the remainder of our members are considered to be in the professional or equity category of theaters because each theater pays at least something to their actors and directors,” Wilhoit said. She added that the operating budget for the Theatre Charleston group would be “much higher” if the largest theater in the state, Charleston Stage, was also a member.

Art of Mary Whyte

Titled “More than a Likeness: The Enduring Art of Mary Whyte,” a biography of Charleston artist Mary Whyte has been written by Martha Severns, former curator of the Greenville County Museum of Art. A reception honoring the publication of the book and Whyte’s achievements will be held from 5-6:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Coleman Art Gallery. Whyte will sign copies of her book, which will be for sale.

Last year, Whyte was only one of ten watercolor painters outside of China invited by the Chinese government to participate in an exhibition at the Nanning Art Museum in the province of Guangxi. Not only was Whyte one of three American watercolorists to have their artwork displayed at the forum, but she was also invited as the lone female artist whose artwork was selected.

“I had to prepare 10 new paintings to be sent to Nanning, a large city near the Vietnam border,” explains Whyte in a phone interview. “Since this was an eight-day forum which included Chinese art students, fortunately, we had a wonderful translator, who expressed my thoughts very well.”

“Once, I got lost in the subway and people could not have been more helpful to me,” adds Whyte. “Artists, especially watercolorists, are treated rather like rock stars,” she said.

Further enhancing her international reputation, in July, 2014 Whyte was invited to participate in the World Watermedia Exposition at the Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Center in Thailand. “I decided to pass that trip up, but I did send some of my paintings over.”

Dottie Ashley, a longtime performing arts writer with two of South Carolina’s largest newspapers and winner of the 2003 Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award for her statewide coverage of arts events, is the arts columnist for the Charleston Mercury. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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