When was the last time you attended a play written by, directed by, and starring a 15-year-old? That’s impressive.
Longleaf School of the Arts student Sacred Swindell wrote, directed, and starred in Splendid Notions: An Actor’s Ascent. With the help of fellow students, he produced it on March 11-13 at Sonorous Road Productions in Raleigh. In fact, the entire cast and crew are also students at Longleaf — that’s really impressive.
Swindell plays the central character, Maxwell Donegan; and the play is a retrospective of his career as an actor. The play also gives us glimpses into Donegan’s relationships with friends, family, fans, and industry contacts.
We were impressed by the opening vignette in which the now retired Donegan appears to be signing letters to fans. The lighting for this scene was especially appropriate. Donegan begins to reminisce, and the retrospective begins to be acted out. We soon become flies-on-the-wall at key points in Donegan’s career, we meet family members and decision-makers, and we are there as he rises to stardom and deals with the inevitable changes in his life.
As Donegan, Swindell was very “audience-friendly,” both when he was addressing us directly and when he was performing in the plethora of short scenes that make up the story. The actor is quite charismatic, and so is the character. He also connects very well with the other characters.
Other actors in the show are: Stephan Patterson, Samantha Cassedy, Kayla Reardon, Lainey Griffith, Ariana Holly, Rebecca Douthart, Anthony Celia, Benjamin Nicholas, and Chase Peiletier. All deserve applause for their part in this rigorous undertaking. We do need to mention, however, that, at times, it was difficult to hear and understand a few of them — sometimes volume was too low; sometimes delivery was too quick. Both are easy to fix (and probably were) with a bit more practice.
The show makes good use of the space; lighting and set pieces designate different acting areas as specific settings. There were, however, shortcomings in both of these. With the enormous number of scene changes necessary for the scope of the story, there was a correspondingly enormous number of blackouts and shifting of set pieces. We were wondering if it would have been possible to use selective lighting and cross-fading to eliminate the need for some of these blackouts, thereby decreasing the frequency of the need to carry furniture on and off the stage. Doing so would also help retain the pacing which was overall good except when interrupted by these breaks. All of that said, it is worth noting that the set changes were well-choreographed and generally well-executed.
A couple of suggestions from the Department of Picky-Picky:
- Put paper in a typewriter in the scenes where typing is being simulated
- Find a way to muffle the “clomp-clomping” of high-heeled shoes worn by some of the actresses who are far more accustomed to walking in sneakers. Extra practice? Carpet the stage? Ankle straps?
- Fine-tune the interface between lighting design and blocking — too many times actors were speaking in the darker sections of an otherwise well-lit stage.
(We suspect that these points were probably ironed out in performances subsequent to the one that we saw.)
Once again: we found the show to be impressive, interesting, and fun. In a brief discussion with the playwright, we learned that he plans to add to the script for future productions.
The show ran just over 45 minutes without intermission. And it supplied ample fodder for post-show conversation.
SPLENDID NOTIONS: AN ACTOR’S ASCENT, written, directed, and performed by Sacred Swindell (Longleaf School of the Arts, March 11-13 at Sonorous Road Productions in Raleigh).
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AKaZk2Tv18.
PRESENTER: http://longleafschool.com/, https://www.facebook.com/longleafschool/, and https://twitter.com/longleafschool.
VENUE: http://www.sonorousroad.com/, https://www.facebook.com/sonorousroad, and https://twitter.com/sonorousroad.
Sacred “Charlie” Swindell (writer, director, and performer): https://www.facebook.com/sacredperformer (Facebook page) and https://twitter.com/thesacredactor (Twitter page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.