Bloody Good: Little Shop of Horrors

I had my doubts that he could pull it off. But he did. Robert Reid Goodson, Director of Tift Theatre for Performing Arts, scores big time with Little Shop of Horrors. The casting is spot-on and the talent is rousing.

The musical of dark comedy and sci-fi revolves around a slew of people, all in need of some intense psychiatric counseling. 

Young nerdy Seymour, played by Johnny Fletcher, is swoony in love with Audrey (Alena Phillips), a ditzy blonde whose boyfriend is a sadistic, narcissistic, biker dentist. Audrey and Seymour share pathetically low self esteems and work for the same loud, craggy florist, Mr. Mushnik (John Fletcher).

A spicy, sassy, hip-swaying trio of Tomekia Reese, Alyson Ireland, and Jaida Hickey struts their stuff and pulls out the vocals as the street urchins. They are downright sultry.

In the shadows of the stage, Greg Millette, Jon Randall, Garrett Newell, and Clay Sanders perform rocking music with unbelievable ease, the kind of music that causes a rhythmic itch to run up and down the leg.

Patrick Ireland as Orin the dentist is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Johnny Fletcher is a darned good actor. John Fletcher is perfectly cast as the shop owner. The urchins are grooving. BUT, BUT, BUT—I suppose there is always a “but” in a review. But . . . the standout performance goes to the blood-hungry plant, Audrey II. Antonio M. Jones rocks the house as the lungs behind the plant. His voice is earth-shattering, mighty, and powerful, a blended sound one might imagine coming from Samson of the Old Testament Bible, an inner city thug, and a dynamic singer of spirituals. Audrey II—the plant— will give you the shivers and make you long for more.

Ask the cast and crew what they think of working with Director Robert Reid Goodson and they will tell you he is a professional who aims to put on the best show possible while having fun doing it. He is a giver, not a taker. And he expects all his cast to give their best. The result is a jamming production in downtown Tifton.

Show times are Friday, July 25 through August 2, 7:00 PM. Sunday’s performance is 3:00 PM. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door.

Fletcher, J - Seymour
Fletcher, John - Mushnick
Ireland, Patrick - Orin Scrivello, D.D.S.
Jones, Antonio M. - Voice of Audrey II
Phillips, Alena - Audrey 

The Urchins

Hickey, Jaida - Chiffon
Ireland, Alyson - Crystal
Reese, Temekia - Ronette

Wino I - Cathy Harrison
Customer 1 & 2 - Judy Hutt Thomas
Bernstein & Skip-Snip - Ryan Norton
Mrs. Luce - Beverly McClain
Patrick Martin - Brian A. Ray

Rhythm Guitar - Garrett Newell
Bass Guitar - Jon Randall
Drums - T Clay Sanders

Stage Design
Susan Saye

Front of House
Bonnie Young

Technical Crew
Lighting Technician - Garrett Roberts
Spotlight - Caleb Curry
Audrey II Construction - John Fletcher
Seamstress/Draper - Maureen Cadden White
Audrey II Puppeteers/Crew - Kaylee Brooke Morgan Stokes,
Audrey Conner & Trinity Holton

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The Memory of Catfish

Our nephew Sam Phillips at the pond.

The things I must capture from my childhood often come to me in liquid form, streaming through the fingers of my mind quicker than I can grab for them, memories swimming, teasing, luring, before disappearing in the dark waters of the past. Now and again, though, I catch a memory, reel it in, fiddle with it, and spread it out, alive and twisting, to inhale, taste, hear, and feel.

Today, I caught the scent of fried catfish.

My daddy often brought home a mess of fish for my mother to fry for supper. With seven children to feed, he relied on nature—gardens, lakes, ponds, livestock, and fruit trees—for food.

Catfish were not prepared for cooking like bream, because they had no scales to remove. I watched my father, memorizing the movements of his hands, recognizing the brilliance and skill of a common man, cleaning all manner of fish.

With my brothers nearby, he laid a catfish on an outside table, on a piece of plywood supported by two sawhorses, or on the tailgate of his truck. He didn’t waste any time; the cleaning of our supper was done swiftly, with the precise movements of a sharp knife and inherent skill. We did not own a filet knife or any specialty knives, so Daddy used what he had.

I went from her to my father, from inside to outside, watching my parents prepare our meal.  

Inside, my mother cooked stone-ground grits in a pot on the stove. The grits had to simmer for an hour or so until they were thick and creamy.

In a bucket of water fresh from the outdoor spigot, my father rinsed a catfish and held it against the board while slicing under the gill, circling the head with the blade. With pliers from his toolbox, he gripped the skin and peeled it down, repeating the stripping until all the skin had been removed.

Mama sifted flour for biscuits. 

With the knife under the gills, Daddy sliced straight down the belly, then opened it up to remove the insides, gutting the fish. Next he cut under the bone of the head and forced it back until the backbone snapped.

My mother hollowed out a crater in the flour, stirring up white dust. She dropped lard into the well and cut it into the meal. 

At last, he rinsed the fish inside and out with clean water. When all the fish had been prepared, he sent them into the house for my mother to fry while he cleaned up the mess he’d made.

My older sister, Debra, added salt and pepper to the fish meat, lathered it in cornmeal, and dropped one fish at a time in an iron skillet of hot grease. 

Mama poured milk into the crater and worked the mixture until it was sticky. Then she pulled dry flour into the wet ingredients, building on the dough, kneading it, drawing in meal from the sides, folding from the top, from one side, from the bottom, from the other side, her hands kneading, folding, pulling, and folding again.

The grits simmered and the catfish fried.

At last, we gathered around the table and ate grits with butter; homemade biscuits with golden edges dipped in cane syrup; and fried catfish for supper.

It’s not a perfect memory. I worked with it, untangled it, and spread it out as best as I could.


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Sleeping on Paul's Mattress

This is a link to my short story, Sleeping on Paul's Mattress, published in Volume 23 of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change.  The story deals with poverty, love, and survival. Although I took many liberties and dug up words to use from the garden of fiction, "Sleeping on Paul's Mattress" is based on a true story.

Sleeping on Paul's Mattress

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(I wrote this poem about my mother, after her death.)

With red clay between my toes,
and the sun setting over my head,
the ghost of my mother blows in,
riding on a honeysuckle breeze, oh lord,
riding on a honeysuckle breeze.
Her teeth, the keys of a piano.

I play her grinning ivory notes
with cadenced fumbling fingers,
splattered with paint, textured with scars.
A song rises up from the belly of my past
and rocks me in the bosom of buried memories.

My mama’s dress bears the stains of her life:
blueberries, blood, bleach, and breast milk;
She cradles in her arms a lifetime of love and sorrow;
Its brilliance nearly blinds me.

My fingers tire, 
as though I've played this song for years.
The tune swells red, 

dying around the edges of a setting sun.
A magnolia breeze blows in strong, 

a heavenly taxi sent to carry my mother home. 
She will not say goodbye.
For there is no truth in spoken farewells.

I am pregnant with a poem,
my life lost in its stanzas.

My mama steps out of her dress
and drops it, an inheritance falling to my feet.
She stands alone: bathed, blooming,
burdened with nothing of this world.
Her body is naked and beautiful,
her wings gray and scorched,
her brown eyes piercing the brown of mine.

I watch her departure, her flapping wings:
She doesn’t look back, not even once,
not even to whisper my name: Brenda.

I lick the teeth of my piano mouth.

With a painter’s hands,
with a writer’s hands
with rusty wrinkled hands,
with hands soaked in the joys,
the sorrows, the spills
of my mother’s life,
I pick up eighty-one years of stains
And pull her dress over my head.

Her stains look good on me.

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A Poem: Road Trip to Snow

Road Trip to Snow
published by Flycatcher Magazine.

I swear we will never find the place. A right off
Highway 41 South. South, you tell me, nearly 
pleading, softly praying, always south.
We cruise past corduroy fields,
freshly plowed,
grooves, ridges, rows,
pressed, creased,
like brown school pants across a summer landscape. 
And I ask you
when will we arrive.
    Too late, you tell me,
                        too late.

Take a right on this dirt road,
Curling into a day splattered among four colors
and no sign of a mailbox.
By startling the crows
we paint the sky black.
This is the place,
oh God, this is the place.
Look at the birds, you say,
look at the birds.
      I look, I stare,
                        I shudder.

I follow your footprints
to the back yard and watch
you peer inside where
a door is torn away
to reveal your childhood.
Floors collapsing, boards rotting:
A room, red as liquid guilt.
A boy, a brother. A father.
A pair of brogans.
A sister (you),
a daughter (you)
praying under this starving,
broken porch.You. You. You.
The 1930s turned into the 1940s, you whisper,
    The depression
                        wouldn't let go. It wouldn't let go.

You tell me it snowed one day
and you tasted the miracle of the color white,
a handful, scooped up,
melting like hope in your mouth.
You called for your brother
who pulled himself from the silence of death,
snow dripping from his warm mouth,
a smile lifting his face, and came to
you one final time. He told you,
his little sister, a secret:
Angel's wings melt into snow.
Together, you ate handfuls of the stuff.
You tell me,
             I never tasted snow again.
                     It would never feel as good as it did that day.

Did you feel hope melting icy in your mouth
when I dampened your dying lips?
Did your son's voice cool your fevered flesh?

Did you dream of a snowy day in the 1940s
before you wore gray in your hair, and did you
savor the color white as you drifted away?
These thoughts come
storming at me like falling
angel wings after we
blanket you in the ground.

I brew, knowing the answers will not be found here.

I slide my car into reverse
but I can’t turn around;
                   I am stuck in a snowstorm.

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A Poem: The Cracks and Chips in My Soul

Look closely.  You will see a trail of footprints
leading deep into the heart of the forest
near the Alapaha River and another set
leading out, far from the first.
In search of my soul I
travel to the center of sacred life
to examine those things called righteous
and those things that are right.
I come here where death gives
birth to life to uncover the difference.

I walk so deep in these woods
the sun loses me under canopies of green.
I wander into the interior, so far from my own self
I feel wildlife inhaling my scent while
staring at me with the haunting eyes of ghosts,
ghosts who have captured this fair skinned woman
in a mason jar, dropped carelessly by a hunter,
and placed me in a nest to study
the cracks and chips in my soul.
I go so deep my footprints seem to find their own way,
though I’ve never walked this side of the river before.

And you may ask what’s so damned important about
my study of righteous and right.
Why do I soak myself in questions
and come here to wring out the answers?
Well, the urgency of this calling
has left its footprints soggy across my heart.
These thoughts are mine and I will
remain in this sanctuary where the trees breathe
with each whisper of wind; I will stay
until I grasp knowledge true to me.

I curl into myself while three squirrels watch in silence
and a deer trots near the water. My eyes
pursue a snake, splattered with colors
of tobacco spit, slithering
near the trunk of a pine tree
not two feet from where I sit
cross-legged and worn and determined,
my heart swollen with unanswered prayers.

Did I pull the delicate wings from butterflies
when I was a child, when I was nothing
more than an unhatched egg of a person?
I hope not, but I remember catching fireflies and bees,
holding them captive, my prisoners
in a fairytale war.

When the trees in these woods go mute 
and no longer whisper or rustle or dance 
or weep, I crack the egg to separate
the white of righteousness
from the yolk of what is right. 
If I must choose—and I know one day I must—
I must be strong enough
to take up the yolk.

I resist the urge to retrace my steps 
as I leave the forest.
It is good to make a different path.

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