Shirtwaists and Sharp Tongues

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Paul Benedict and Bunny Wiseman read tales from both O’Henry and Dorothy Parker at the Mesquite Fine Arts Gallery on Wednesday, July 22 as part of the Virgin Valley Artists Association’s Readers Theater. Behind the duo sits an example of a shirtwaist; a stylish, button up blouse that was the fashion wave for women in the early 1900’s. Photo by Teri Nehrenz.

Paul Benedict and Bunny Wiseman teamed up to present “Shirtwaists and Sharp Tongues”, a live performance of classic literature set in the style of a “Reader’s Theatre” which is the creation of Benedict and sponsored by the Virgin Valley Artist’s Association as part of their mission to promote arts in the community.

Benedict’s love for classic American literature is what planted the seed for this ongoing event but it’s the well-delivered way that Benedict brings the story to life that keeps the “Reader’s Theatre” growing.   The audience was quite clearly the beneficiary of the fruits of his labor as they listened, laughed and enjoyed the classic tales and characters that Benedict and Wiseman presented.

Neither Benedict nor Wiseman is a novice when it comes to presenting drama/comedy to an audience.  This dynamic thespian duo first appeared together in the Virgin Valley Theatre Group’s presentation of Love Letters, which was also set in the style of a “Reader’s Theatre” with a slight twist.  The two presented such a powerful and memorable performance that they were asked to present a private, encore performance this past Valentine’s Day for Sun City residents nearly three years after the original presentation and they were once again a huge hit with their audience.

Love Letters was Wiseman’s first stage performance but she’s very familiar with the inner workings of theatre and has been director, assistant director, stage hand and or manager and tech crew with many group productions over the years and Benedict has performed both single and multiple roles in a variety of VVTG shows for several years now after his initial role as Henry in a Day at Emma’s.

Benedict doesn’t have to rely on the words being right in front of him to set the scene or create the character but those who know him are certain he’s more relaxed in this manner of performing and quite the delight to listen to.  You could easily close your eyes and get lost in the story and the animated delivery.  In Benedict’s first role with the VVTG his main concern was remembering his lines.  He has since proven over and over again that memorizing lines may be challenging but he’s capable of living up to that challenge and creating some very enjoyable characters.

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Bunny Wiseman as Melissa Gardner and Paul Benedict as Andrew Makepeace Ladd III first appeared together on stage May 2012 in the Virgin Valley Theatre Group’s production of “Love Letters”. Photo by Teri Nehrenz

Benedict and Wiseman have a stage chemistry that was very apparent to members of the audience who were fortunate enough to enjoy these two bring to life the writings of O’Henry and Dorothy Parker.  The chemistry showed itself  right off the bat when the duo arrived dressed very similarly in black and white vertical (Benedict) and diagonal (Wiseman) stripes without having planned the “costuming” and it got even better when one saw the dress maker’s dummy dressed in …yup,  black and white with zig-zag stripes.  Wiseman staged the dummy with period clothing to demonstrate to the audience exactly what a “shirtwaist” is.

For those who aren’t familiar, a shirtwaist is a style of clothing the women wore in the early 1900’s which was a tailored shirt paired with a skirt which offered the first glimpse of women’s ankles which was considered quite bold and racy in those times.  This style of dress gave women freedom from the cumbersome, ground-dragging skirts their mothers and grandmothers wore.

The term “Sharp tongues” is pretty self-explanatory but if there was anyone in the audience who doubted the meaning, Wiseman was quick and on point in giving them a very humorous demonstration as the character of Dorothy Parker. Of course nobody’s accusing Wiseman of being type cast or anything but she did do quite an outstanding job in the role of the very cynical Melissa Gardner and she brought about out-loud laugher during her portrayal of Parker.  Some friends would say, “She’s quick with a sarcastically humorous wit and perfect for both roles.”

Perhaps this is why Benedict may have subconsciously thought of Wiseman to team up with him on this particular presentation but most who were in attendance would bet on the chemistry.  The two play opposite one another very well and with a natural flair for timing which gave exactly the right punch to the humor and had the audiences’ complete attention from beginning to end.

The VVAA is a proud sponsor of the “Mesquite Reads” program and will continue to, along with, Benedict present these “Reader’s Theatre” events free to the public.  Presentations of this style bring about hopes in Benedict and the Virgin Valley Artist’s Association that the younger people in Mesquite will attend, and after being a part of the audience might become more interested in reading some of these seemingly lost classic tales.

You, along with the entire family, can enjoy Benedict Wednesday, October 28 when the VVAA and he present “Fright Night”.  Benedict will be entertaining the audience with selections from the classic works of Edgar Allan Poe including:  The Fall of the House of Usher, Annabel Lee, Serenade, Spirits of the Dead and The Raven.

For more information on the “Reader’s Theatre” and other programs the VVAA offers, contact the VVAA at 702-346-1338.

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