Alice Berry (left) and Jenny Odle Madden (right) in "Mississippi Stories"
If you’re not paying attention to all the new theater taking place in Memphis, you’re missing out. Memphis has always been a theater town, but the strong performance scene has matured, and more and more we’re seeing strong original work by local authors and companies. Two works with deep Memphis roots have been causing theatergoers in New York and Chicago to sit up and take notice: Byhalia, Mississippi by Memphis actor/author Evan Linder and Eudora Welty - Mississippi Stories by Voices of the South founders Jenny Odle Madden and Alice Berry with narrative theater guru Gloria Baxter.
Linder’s company, The New Colony, is based in Chicago, but Memphis artists have been key players from the get-go. The company’s current production of Byhalia, Mississippi at the Windy City’s famous Steppenwolf Theatre is a revival of New Colony’s original production starring Linder, a former Playhouse on the Square actor, alongside beloved performer/director Cecelia Wingate, and Liz Sharpe who wowed local audiences in shows like Hot L Baltimore and Angels in America.
Byhalia, Mississippi, which explores race and relationships in the modern south, had an auspicious debut opening in five cities at once, including Memphis. Wingate received a best supporting actress Jeff Award for her performance in the original Chicago production.
Mississippi Stories isn’t exactly new. It’s a piece that takes Madden, Berry, and Baxter all the way back to the earliest days of Voices of the South with narrative productions of works by Southern authors. It is being presented by the Summoner’s Ensemble Theatre, which has another strong Memphis connection. The SET is best known for presenting an annual one-man production of A Christmas Carol starring former Playhouse on the Square regular, Kevin Jones.