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Television: Eisa Davis brings Kennett Square-based ‘Mushroom’ to the stage

Eisa Davis constantly has to make choices.

Known to television audiences for several performances but most notably and recently for playing Gayle Graham, the therapist Kate Winslet’s Mare consults in the Delaware County-set “Mare of Easttown,” Davis has solid credentials as a playwright and musician.

Following “Mare,” she is back in the Delaware Valley as the author of a piece, “Mushroom,” commissioned by Malvern’s People’s Light & Theatre Company to give voice and presence of to segments of local communities. It is on stage through October 16.

Adding complexity to Davis’s writing assignment is it being bi-lingual, in English and Spanish to reflect the population of Kennett Square and the mushroom industry that flourishes there.

Told during a telephone conversation that she is “diversity itself,” Davis laughs and says, “To choose or not to choose, that is always my question.”

“The important thing for me is keep a kind of balance between writing, performing, and making music,” Davis said.

“All of my life, I’ve been juggling lots of balls and hoping I can keep them all in the air.

“What I do when is not always up to me. Inspirations and opportunities don’t always come in a neat pattern.

“People don’t always understand when you have one career that uses different talents. It’s easier for them to pigeonhole. To me, it’s natural to go from one discipline to another. In an ideal world, there’s a good way to separate when I concentrate on creating or performing.

“Writing is quiet and solitary. You’re creating worlds and situations in a lonely setting. It’s an introverted activity. After a while, you feel a little isolated and divorced from the larger world.

“That’s when I have to get back my equilibrium. I have this need to be with people, be more in touch with my body and what’s happening away from my keyboard.

“When that happens, I know it’s time to do a play or a concert. It’s a matter of rhythm. My different parts are intertwined. They all need to have some attention and then some relief. So I try to do a play a year then work on creating as a playwright.”

Davis says she likes to take people’s stories and give them structure, cohesiveness, and narration. Recently she worked with hip-hop artists in Baltimore to create a musical incorporating West African myths.

“That was also bi-lingual, the other language there being American Sign Language,” Davis says.

“I look for work and material that moves me as a playwright. I am also interested in language and its authenticity. Language, after all, defines a character. It expresses that character.

“’Mushroom’ is in English and Spanish. I’m not fluent in Spanish except as a reader. I would write what I could, then turn it over to a translator, Georgina Escobar. She’d fix my gaffes. Eventually, Georgina and I would work together on the Spanish portions. People’s Light will have titles in both languages to serve the English and Spanish-speaking audience.

“’Mushroom’ isn’t a show about language. It’s about a community in which two languages prevail. People’s Light is augmenting the Latino part of the play with artwork. It shows the mix that makes a community.

“I looked specifically for the common language in a community that is known for a particular product, mushrooms, but is so much more. Everything about the production will be bi-lingual, including the People’s Light web site and the box office personnel.”

Davis says she reveled in a moment when Kate Winslet knocked on her trailer door and said, “I can’t believe you had to audition for Gayle. You’re so right for it.”

Davis has nothing but praise for Winslet, who she said never pulled the celebrity card and was as “real a person as can be” on the “Mare of Easttown” set.

“Best of all,” Davis said, “is the interest she showed in every aspect of the production and all of the people involved in it. Our scenes were scripted, but before we shot them, Kate convened a meeting with me, the writer, and the director to discuss all we could do and how to make everything the best it can be. It was thrilling to be part of that collaboration. Kate is such a great person and a complete, caring artist.”

No style at the Emmys

All I could think of while watching last week’s Emmy presentation on NBC was how much I miss Cary Grant.

It isn’t Cary Grant specifically I miss. It’s his embodiment of style and sophistication that marked the movie and television stars of a bygone era.

Cary Grant was never a jerk. He was never a fool unless playing one in a movie. He dressed impeccably and spoke with wit.

His entire generation did of celebrities did. They were trained to behave with class by MGM or Warner Brothers, and they lived up to the mark those studios set. They could entertain, have fun, bring glamor to an occasion, yet remain urbane and adult.

Try to apply any of the qualities mentioned above to the stars of today.

You can’t. They’re mostly show-offs and buffoons who prance around like football players after a sack or touchdown, try to impose their ideas on a occasion that isn’t appropriate to them, and seek attention by being oafs.

Class and wit give way give way to crass and twit. Style and elegance disappear entirely.

I hate to say it, but thank goodness for some of the British and Korean recipients and presenters at the September 12 Emmy ceremony. Mostly, it’s American performers who seem to need or command attention so much, they have to be outlandish and overbearing.

The trouble is they think they’re being cool.

Not to me. If my eyes weren’t rooted in my head, they would have rolled to Australia from all the “Oh, brother” reactions I gave to the constant barrage of dopiness I saw on the screen.

Let’s start with Hollywood.

It forgets how to be sophisticated. Everything about the Emmy show was based on brashness, a fake, forced, idea of having or providing a good time. ‘Loud’ replaces a smart tone. Low humor replaces wit. The juvenile and needy obliterates any sense of professionalism or confidence.

Do I have to tell you now how much I hated that show?

I know. “Hate” is a strong and frowned upon word today.

It happens to be the word that applies. The only thing that mildly saved NBC’s Emmy program was it was about twenty-five percent better than the execrable Oscar show ABC foisted on us in March, a show that incidentally was nominated – and lost thank goodness – for an Emmy.

The dreadfulness affected my behavior. I was glad I was watching alone as I pleaded aloud for Emmy host Kenan Thompson to stop his idiotic monologue, noted how lame the show’s opening number, and howled in contemptuous laughter at Sheryl Lee Ralph’s melodramatic and obviously rehearsed acceptance speech.

Don’t argue with me about Ralph. I’ve seen more than 100 shows, 100 movies, 20 operas, and 1,000 television episodes every year for 50 years. I can tell when someone’s acting.

From the moment Ralph pulled that emotion-ridden expression at the mention of her name as Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy for “Abbott Elementary,” I could see the diva at work, Sarah Bernhardt on the hoof.

I know Ralph’s speech, song and all, is cited as a hallmark of the Emmy show. I saw it as a different kind of attempt for attention, as crass as buffoonery, because it came across to me as phony, insincere, and badly calculated to wow the crowd. As for the most part it did.Easy crowd.

For refreshing difference that exudes the genuine and immediate, compare Ralph’s aria to the acceptances of Jennifer Coolidge from “The White Lotus” or Lizzo as creator and host of “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls.”

Both of them were touted as possible winners, Lizzo, who earned five Emmy for 2021-2022 programs a practical shoo-in. Yet they seemed truly surprised to be called to the podium and, each in her own way, earned the hearts of the audience.

Coolidge was ineluctably herself, a persona she created that is nothing like anyone else’s in movie/TV history. She was brash, but she was lively and funny while being so. More than that, when the Emmy band tried to silence her or whisk her off mid-speech with exit music, she dressed them down, saying, correctly, this was her moment and she was going to take it before catching the beat of the music and going into a hilarious dance.

Lizzo was visibly moved by the attention she received and provided for women of size who are told there’s no place for them in entertainment.

I am not a fan of the current term “represent,” but Lizzo demonstrated how representation can be positive (as opposed to self-conscious or cloying) and was truly moving in a speech she had to know she was going to have the chance to make.

One other thing I noticed when Lizzo won, as opposed to when Coolidge collected her prize, is she was allowed to go on for as long as she liked. The band never played after the allotted seconds sloppy camera work sometimes let you see counting down in the background.

Hmmm. Why was that? Lizzo was not the only performer given that advantage. How did producers decide who would and who wouldn’t be interrupted while, in Coolidge’s words, having their moment?

My answer? Popularity. The producers calculated Lizzo or Zendaya, who earned Best Actress in a Drama for “Euphoria,” would please the young audience they pretended would be watching. Jennifer Coolidge and “The White Lotus’s” Murray Bartlett, to their minds, might not.

Emmy producers may have geared their show toward youth. Ironic, isn’t it, that some of the few jokes that worked taunted “Only Murders in the Building” stars Steve Martin and Martin Short regarding their age?

There were some moments of class on the Emmy show. Two that stand out are Geena Davis’s acceptance of the Governor’s Award for her work with women in entertainment, and Jerrod Carmichael’s speech when given the Emmy as Best Writer of a comedy special.

One questionable moment is a bit in which Will Arnett dragged an allegedly drunk Jimmy Kimmel on stage to announce Best Writer of a Comedy series, an award given to “Abbott Elementary’s” Quinta Brunson. One expected Kimmel to rise once the award recipient was announced. He did not and has been accused of upstaging Brunson, which is true but unfair in that he did not know who would win. His miscalculation about the timing of his sketch was playing it through to the end instead of giving the full stage to the Best Writer whoever it may have been. Kimmel gets credit for discipline and oafishness.

Neal Zoren’s television column appears every Monday.

Source: Berkshire mont

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