BARBARA’S BLUE KITCHEN at Aurora Theatre’s Our Stage Onscreen Digital Series

An Experimental Production of Barbara’s Blue Kitchen Kicks Off The Our Stage Onscreen Digital Series at Aurora Theatre

BWW Review: BARBARA'S BLUE KITCHEN at Aurora Theatre's Our Stage Onscreen Digital Series
Chloe Kay
Photo by Casey Gardner

News flash: We’re in the middle of a pandemic. That means there are no benches and chairs to sit on in your local Barnes & Noble. Baseball patrons are made of cardboard. And the theaters are closed. This last one stings the most, but the best Atlanta theaters are adapting to fill the void left by the absence of live theater. We’ve got drive-in cabarets. We’ve got outdoor opera. And we’ve got a variety of online stream-from-home offerings, including the new Our Stage Onscreen Digital Series at Aurora Theatre, a series that brings performing arts to homebound season supporters and new audiences while providing a safe workspace for Atlanta theatre artists. The inaugural offering, streaming now through October 4 for a hefty $30 rental fee, is Barbara’s Blue Kitchen, a fun – if slightly underbaked – musical with a book, music, and lyrics by Lori Fisher. The small-cast musical works hard to conjure up a slice of homespun Southern life through portraits of workers and customers in a small Southern diner. A brave Chloe Kay, the actor who plays all of the characters in the beautifully rendered diner, works hard to deliver an engaging evening of for-the-screen theater, but this first outing is hindered by technical challenges and, regrettably, by the fact that producing theater specifically for the screen is a tricky tricky business.

The musical tells the story of Barbara Jean, the owner of the small-town diner that serving up more than just their famous Mudslide pie. It’s also serving up all of the gossip in the small town of Watertown, Tennessee. We learn that Barbara Jean’s on-again-off-again hairstylist boyfriend, Lombardo, beloved if only for the fact that he’s been able to cover Barbara Jean’s bald spot, is taking another girl on a Bahaman vacation. We learn that little Tommy Lee’s stomach hurts on the outside from the 23 stitches he got after his dog, Killer, bit him and that it hurts on the inside from eating almost three hamburgers. And we learn that Miss Tessie’s husband died from botulism after eating spinach dip at the Happiness Home retirement community even though he didn’t like vegetables.

There’s a lot to like about the 2002 musical. Some of the quirky songs like “I Want My Kidney Back” and “Women Aren’t Supposed to Go Bald” showcase, as the titles suggest, wonderfully inventive lyrics. That’s the greatest strength of the musical. The homespun flavor of the news that travels through the diner is also fun, though, as often happens with Southern comedic dramas, it’s peppered with words like “critter” and “ain’t” that feel overdone. The book features a radio host, played here by a second actor, who is integrated in an interesting and atmospheric way as he offers up small-town advertisements, jingles, and apologies.

The biggest problem with the musical is that it doesn’t manage an actual

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Aurora streams musical ‘Barbara’s Blue Kitchen’

Musical director Ann-Carol Pence’s band features Skyler Brown on guitar, Maurice Figgins on acoustic bass and Hayden Rowe on violin. Brown also plays second fiddle, as it were, with a couple of bit parts (as the diner’s cook and as a radio DJ). Neither he nor Kay is a member of Actor’s Equity, but both of them are Aurora apprentice-company alums.

Kay is fine delineating her many roles, which also include a mousy new waitress, a lonely old widow and a sensible nurse, as well as Barbara’s volatile sister, her precocious little nephew, and even the amorous Italian hairdresser who is her boyfriend. Fischer specifically intended the script to be performed by one actress (she herself did it off-Broadway), not unlike those “Greater Tuna” comedies in which two actors play all the bumpkin stereotypes of a Texas town.

For Aurora’s purposes, the on-camera format makes the character transitions fairly seamless, while also eliminating the on-stage shtick of a lot of quick entrances and exits and costume changes. But it also prompts more than a few awkward moments, where Anderson alternates between close-ups of two people having a conversation and then cuts to a wider angle of one or the other simply talking into thin air. (One scene contains a nifty visual effect, where we actually seem to glimpse two of Kay’s characters interacting in the same shot.)

Running just 80 minutes, “Barbara’s Blue Kitchen” is harmless enough, if not very intellectually stimulating. Dealing in such hokey Southern idiosyncrasies isn’t for all tastes. For example, one invisible customer orders a pulled pork platter and then wants to “hold the pulled pork.”. Surely, there must be countless one-set, two-actor shows that are much better formulated on the whole.

Even so, there’s no mistaking the pleasure of streaming a performance that’s the closest thing we’ve seen in months to an in-person theater production — with or without the live audience.

THEATER REVIEW

“Barbara’s Blue Kitchen”

Available for streaming through Oct. 4. $30 per view. 678-226-6222, auroratheatre.com.

Bottom line: A keen idea that’s slickly produced, if somewhat impaired by its middling material.

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Denver Urban Gardens Doubles Size of Aurora Community Garden

“I tell everybody about the garden,” says Donna Moody, co-leader of Sanctuary Community Garden. “I told somebody today and somebody yesterday, and people just smile and just love to hear about it.”

The five-year-old Denver Urban Gardens project in north Aurora provides a space for families and individuals to grow food for themselves and their community. The spot currently comprises fifty garden plots, but it’s set to double in size on Saturday, September 19, thanks to financial support from Tito’s Handmade Vodka and the Colorado Garden Foundation.

The gardens allow families to supplement their groceries with freshly grown produce.

The gardens allow families to supplement their groceries with freshly grown produce.

Courtesy of Denver Urban Gardens

Moody became a leader at Sanctuary Community Garden three years ago, but she grew up on a farm between Eaton and Greeley and has always loved digging in the dirt. “That’s how I got into gardening, because it’s kind of my second nature — my first nature, actually,” she explains. And her farming background is something she has in common with many DUG members.

Sanctuary’s members are predominantly Nepali and Burmese immigrants and refugees. Moody says that many families are from the countryside and like to grow what they like to eat: vegetables such as water lettuce, ugli fruit, chin baung and kin poon (two herbs used in Burmese cooking) — produce that’s expensive or hard to find in Denver.

The garden is also located in a part of Aurora that’s considered a food desert, though there were once supermarkets like King Soopers and Safeway in the neighborhood. But those are now closed, so the garden helps families fill a need for fresh, healthy food.

Sanctuary Community Gardens will build fifty new garden beds this weekend.

Sanctuary Community Gardens will build fifty new garden beds this weekend.

Courtesy of Denver Urban Gardens

Nessa Mogharreban, manager of construction volunteers for Denver Urban Gardens, says that food access is key to the organization’s mission to make safe, sustainable gardens. “We work really closely [with community members] to make sure the space is going to be sustainable for years,” she notes, by teaching and emphasizing the importance of planting organic, conserving water and using compost.

That long-term relationship between DUG and the Aurora garden’s members is what drew Tito’s to contribute to Sanctuary Community Garden’s expansion project. Lisa Huddleson, director of strategic philanthropy for the Texas-based distillery, says that through the company’s Block to Block program, Tito’s often “works closely with nonprofits and charity organizations that exhibit active engagement in their neighborhoods…by growing or expanding community gardens and farms.”

Ultimately, it’s all driven by neighborhood gardeners, and by volunteers such as Moody. “It is my passion,” Moody says. “I’m really supposed to be working for a living, but sometimes I just get into this volunteer stuff and forget to go to work.”

But she knows it’s also an equal exchange. She’s found Sanctuary to be a place that’s meant for sharing knowledge, food and culture. “We’re all there for the same purpose,” she says. “Most gardeners truly do love each other, because they have that same good purpose in mind.”

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Aurora Gardener Founds Rebel Marketplace Farmers’ Market

James Grevious had never planted a garden before, let alone run a farmers’ market. But this 38-year-old father of three is successfully doing both and plans to keep the momentum of good, clean food going in his Aurora neighborhood.

“As far as Aurora goes, people actively need access to healthy food,” he says. “I spoke to Mo Betta’ Green [Marketplace], and I wanted to bring something like that to Aurora and follow in her footsteps.”

So Grevious founded his own business, Rebel Marketplace, a monthly, seasonal farmers’ and local wellness market that opened this past spring in Aurora’s Del Mar Park at 312 Del Mar Circle.  Under the slogan “Feeding our community, one garden at a time,” this small market started with a lot of gumption on Grevious’s part after his several years running his own urban farm project, Rebels in the Garden. But between COVID-19 and an initial permit denial from city officials, the public market almost didn’t happen. 

Rebels in the Garden urban farm in Aurora.EXPAND

Rebels in the Garden urban farm in Aurora.

Linnea Covington

“You can’t tell James no,” says Desiree Fajardo, Grevious’s girlfriend and a fellow gardener. “I think they are going to say no and if you just except that no, you won’t get anywhere,” she say about the city agencies in charge of licensing and permitting.

As she predicted, Grevious did not take no for an answer and asked for a meeting with the city to discuss the issues they had with starting an outdoor market at the park. He found out that there weren’t any restrictions he couldn’t overcome, and they were all able to work together to set up a plan. Then the pandemic hit and the rules became trickier to navigate, but still Grevious pushed on.

“If we didn’t have COVID I think it would have taken off, but then I wouldn’t have all of this without COVID and staying home,” says Grevious, gesturing to his vast garden. “Also, the market drew people who might not have come out if it wasn’t for the pandemic.”

Grevious can plant long rows of vegetables in his spacious back yard.EXPAND

Grevious can plant long rows of vegetables in his spacious back yard.

Linnea Covington

The seeds for Rebel Marketplace were planted in Grevious’s own back yard with Rebels in the Garden, a project he launched to engage his kids, nephew and a family friend in 2015. The idea, he says, was to do something meaningful in response to the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. At first it was mostly just good reason to hang out, grow food and have healthy snacks together at his home in Montbello. But the gardening and socializing went well enough that Grevious decided to continue his urban farm the next year. Unfortunately the timing was off and the the Air Force master sergeant and F-16 mechanic got deployed to Japan. So, the garden had to be put on hold.

In 2017 he moved to his current location in Aurora’s Highland Park neighborhood. His large back yard was perfect for the new farm, and by

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