Local playwright takes ‘Stand’ on homelessness
- Amy Stumpfl in The Tennessean
August 27, 2012
Some plays were written simply to entertain. Others were designed to inform or educate an audience. Jim Reyland's remarkable new play, "Stand" manages to do both on a level that is rarely seen.
Inspired by Reyland’s own experiences as a volunteer for Nashville’s Room In The Inn. “Stand” tells the true story of Johnny “JJ” Ellis – a man who spent three decades on the streets of Nashville, battling addiction and homelessness.
Reyland has crafted an excellent script, finessing complicated social issues with skill and grace. Too often, such material comes across as trite or preachy. But thanks in large part to Reyland’s obvious gift for dialogue; “Stand” manages to connect with audiences on an intellectual and emotional level.
Barry Scott is tremendous as JJ, exposing the very essence of human frailty and misfortune. A decidedly robust stage presence, he seems to shrink before our eyes, fading into the fabric of his character. And shuffling about the stage, he draws us into the hopeless world of addiction and mental illness.
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Chip Arnold also offers a sincere portrayal of Mark, a Good Samaritan who steps in to help JJ even as he struggles with his own insecurities and disappointments. He carefully walks the line between devotion and frustration, allowing each of JJ’s setbacks to register fully on his face.
Together, the two veterans share a nice chemistry on stage, alternating between gentle humor and genuine tragedy. Their exchanges are sharp and believable, but each actor makes the most of individual moments, as well. One particularly effective scene features the two men delivering overlapping soliloquies. As they simultaneously describe JJ’s trip to the dentist, they reveal a tremendous disparity in perspective.
David Compton provides thoughtful direction ensuring the steady flow of this powerful one-act play. The stripped-down scenic design serves the piece well – not only in terms of seamless scene changes, but also in addressing the stark reality of JJ’s world.
Just as art often serves as a reflection of our society, Reyland is hoping it also can spark social change. “Stand” represents an unprecedented effort by local theatre companies to work together to raise awareness about Nashville’s homeless. The play will be presented in various venues throughout the area, with proceeds benefiting the JJ Ellis Foundation at Room In The Inn.
It’s a unique theatrical experience, to be sure. After each show, the cast will lead a brief talk-back session. And with story telling of this caliber, you can bet that the conversation will continue long after you leave the theater.