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'Battered But Not Broken' an 'inspirational stage production'

WANT TO GO?

"Battered But Not Broken"

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Civic Center Little Theater

TICKETS: $26.50 and $31.50

INFO: 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.comCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Battered But Not Broken" deals with domestic violence, but it's much more than a play on the subject, said director Shelly Garrett.

"It's an inspirational stage production. There's singing in it, a lot of comedy, and drama."

The play, written by Charleston resident Cynthia Wilson makes its world premiere at the Civic Center Little Theater Friday. The three performances this weekend are the only ones in Charleston; starting in late September, the production will begin a national tour that's set to run through May.

"Cynthia was very adamant about starting the show in Charleston because she's the hometown girl. That's her city," he said. 

However, he added, "We absolutely will not be coming back to Charleston."

Garrett's theater career has spanned 26 years and 18 plays, including his most successful, "Beauty Shop," which has generated a number of sequels. He became involved in "Battered" after being contacted by Wilson's camp.

The subject matter resonated with him because his mother was a victim of domestic violence. Wilson was also abused, and her niece, Na'lisha Gravely, was 19 when, in 2008, her boyfriend shot her to death as she hid from him in a West Side Taco Bell.

The play is the story of a woman who grew up seeing her mother abused and later becomes a victim of domestic violence herself. Unlike her mother, though, she finds the strength to leave the relationship. 

"It goes through the whole thing about how she did it. It's very, very dramatic. It will make you put your hand over your mouth and gasp."

Be warned, it will also get some audience members even more involved than that. 

"In my plays, I like to use the audience a lot, so there's some audience participation," Garrett said. "They're going to be very surprised."

In addition to the unwitting audience members, there are 19 people in the cast. Some are from Atlanta and Dallas; others are from Charleston.

"[Cynthia] was very adamant about using some Charleston people. She wanted West Virginia folks in the show. It's her city; it's their city."

Most of the local actors will only appear in the Charleston performances, though. It's not only a matter of expenses, but also the ability to travel. Garrett said many of those actors have full-time jobs and wouldn't be able to travel even if the budget allowed it.

On the road, there will be 12 cast members, all of whom will be seen in the Charleston performances. Renee Jones of Dallas and Byron Mims of Atlanta, both of whom Garrett has worked with previously, star as Justina, the woman at the center of the story, and Sebastian, her abusive husband.

"Those are the two major parts of this show; that's when it gets very, very dramatic," he said. "And I know in certain scenes that the delivery of the line is extremely important. The audience has to believe what they're saying on stage. I know for a fact that these two people can pull that off."

Also, Garrett hopes to get celebrity actors for some cities on the tour. Two names he mentioned were R&B singer Johnny Gill and gospel singer Chianti, who have previously appeared in Garrett's productions. 

The tour begins in smaller markets: cities like Huntsville and Montgomery, Ala.; Augusta and Macon, Ga., and Hattiesburg and Meredian, Miss. Then it will progress to larger cities, including Birmingham, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Cleveland.

The biggest cities will be Philadelphia, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, the Oakland-San Francisco area and Washington, D.C.

"We are trying to end in New York," he said.

The touring show will be slightly different from the one Charleston audiences will see. Some parts of the script will have to be cut or reworked to accommodate the smaller cast. 

"It was important to have everybody we could in the script for Charleston, but Cynthia understands [the need for changes]. You've given Charleston an apple pie, but you're going to have to cut some of that pie when you go out on tour."

That's OK, though, he said, "just as long as it tastes just as good."

Reach Amy Robinson at flipside@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4881.


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