People’s Branch Theatre’s Cross-Dressing in the Depression Defies Expectations

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Those who say that the theatre scene in Nashville is stagnant and uninteresting have likely never seen a production staged by the People’s Branch Theater, an independent company based out of the historic Belcourt Theatre who specializes in the kind of professional grade thought-provoking, yet highly entertaining pieces that theatergoers in Nashville will be hard pressed to find anywhere else. The People’s Branch Theatre’s latest offering Cross-Dressing in the Depression by Erin Cressida Wilson in no exception.

Cross Dressing in the Depression is an adult fairy tale of sorts that tells the story of a young boy named Wilder growing up in the 1930’s while living in the attic of a brothel after his father is jailed and his mother starts working as a maid to survive. Told though the voice of the older Wilder’s somewhat fuzzy memories years later, the show is somewhat surreal and dreamy in nature and relies heavily on what is brought to the table by not only the players and the director but by the audience as well.

Throughout the production one is struck by the quality of the performances onstage. Matt Carlton and Matt Mellon playing old and young Wilder respectively both do an exemplary job as the main character; Carlton’s powerful and compelling delivery an aged and wistful man taking the audience on a tour of the playing fields of his memories while Mellon manages to win more than a few hearts over with his skillful portrayal of the wide-eyed wonder of youth and innocence even as they are forced to fall away by circumstance. Finally, rounding out the trio is Anitra Brunmagen who is smolderingly stunning as Melora, the object of Wilder’s desires and the refuge to which he turns in the troubled times in which he lives.

If the principles in the show are the structure of the piece, then Matt Chiorini is the carpenter who pulled them together as a whole with his direction. It is only the best of directors who is able to allow a piece to take a life of its own while still guiding it’s path and this is clear in every aspect of the production from the lighting design (also by Matt Mellon) to the sparse props and scenery right on down to the often anachronistic, but still subtly placed sound design.

Interpretive in nature, much of the show is spent by the audience trying to put it all together in their heads while still enjoying the story unfolding before them. Then, little by little…one by one the audience begins to catch on. Slowly each person has a light go on and the final piece of the puzzle falls into place in the mind of the viewer, but when all is said and done each person’s puzzle looks completely different than those of his comrades in the seats nearby and therein lies the genius of Cross-Dressing in the Depression. Every expectation that the audience takes into the show is shattered as the story unfolds and one is left to see a reflection of what lies within oneself as the crux of the show as Wilder becomes a part of the world around him in order to change the world. The People’s Branch Theatre’s production of Cross Dressing in the Depression is a study in nuance that is not to be missed by any who like challenging and innovative theatre that entertains the mind and the soul equally.

People’s Branch Theatre presents Cross Dressing in the Depression Thursday though April 16 at the Belcourt Theatre in Hillsboro Village. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. There’s also a matinee at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 10. Tickets ($15; $10 for students, seniors and Actors’ Equity Association members) may be reserved through 846-3150. For more information, visit www.peoplesbranch.org. A $1 Belcourt service charge ($1.50 for phone orders) will be added to each ticket. Discounted group tickets are available through 254-0008.