Their Town

 

THU 2/12

The Dominguez High School in Compton, California, is the kind of institution where, as student Ebony Norwood-Brown says in the new film, OT: Our Town, “everything comes out crappy or not at all.” What happens when the high school puts on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town as its first play in twenty years is the subject of Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s moving documentary, screening Thursday in the Kansas City Filmmakers Coalition’s Indy Film Showcase. The winner of several awards at major film festivals, OT finds Kennedy filming in the Dominguez cafeteria, where the kids rehearse. Part of the drama is also in whether they’ll pull it together to perform the show.

Though the school is in the middle of an embattled neighborhood, there’s a new gymnasium and accolades aplenty for the athletes — but no theater or auditorium. Most of the kids cast in the show are certain that nobody will be interested in their play, but teachers Catherine Borek and Karen Greene aren’t deterred. They’re dedicated (but hardly saintly) educators who believe that the school and the kids crave the esteem that comes from seeing a show to fruition — even if the teenagers don’t know it.

Wilder’s take on small-town values has been staged more than any other American play, which is exactly why it’s not the obvious choice for Dominguez students. “I had the feeling they wouldn’t relate to this old, white, country play,” says Kennedy, who visits the Westport Coffee House (4010 Pennsylvania) for a discussion at 6:15 p.m. “But even if the play was a train wreck, it was a great story.”

Kennedy’s probing but unobtrusive camera discovers, often accidentally, eerie parallels to what he says are Wilder’s universal themes. Act Three, for example, is titled “Death.” And as students are chatting in the parking lot about the show, there’s the unmistakable pop of a nearby drive-by shooting. But Wilder’s reverence for patriarchy rings hollow for most members of the cast, who haven’t had the best (if any) relationships with their fathers. But rehearsal goes on. After the performance, one parent in the audience makes the point that schools need whopping increases in funding for arts programs, not hatchet jobs. As Kennedy says, “The arts are beyond important. They’re absolutely necessary.”

The Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee shows OT at the Tivoli Cinemas (4050 Pennsylvania) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $6. For more information, call 913-649-0244.— Steve Walker

Aerosmith Valentine

Celebrate love in a pink elevator.

SAT 2/14

Some like romantic dinners shared by candlelight over fancy white tablecloths. But for those who want to keep it real, nothing works better than a freight elevator. Culinary mastermind Beth Barden has a table in the service lift at her River Market restaurant, and it’s decorated in pink and red — making it the perfect spot for Steven Tyler serenades this Saturday. Valentine dinner seatings at Succotash (15 East Third Street) are at 6 and 8 p.m. Call 816-421-2807.— Gina Kaufmann

Quite Contrary

WED 2/18

Writer Mary Gordon, recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, is a witty and gloriously unapologetic feminist — and a Catholic. If those last two seem irreconcilable, UMKC offers two opportunities to broaden your perspective. The first is a reading at 7 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a reception and book signing at the Kauffman Foundation (4801 Rockhill Road). That event’s free, but you’ll have to register by calling 816-235-6222. Gordon teaches a master class the next day at University Center (50th Street and Rockhill). It’s too late to submit a manuscript, but it’s just $10 to observe. If Gordon lectures as articulately as she laments the vilification of the term feminist, that’ll be ten bucks well-spent. For details, call 816-235-6246.— Kelly Sue DeConnick

Wedding Bells

SAT 2/14

This Valentine’s Day, you can finally say those three words your significant other longs to hear: “We’re number six.” From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Unity Temple (707 West 47th Street) marries more than 100 couples in free 20-minute ceremonies complete with minister, chapel and recorded music. Admittance to the love parade requires a Missouri marriage license and advance registration, and couples are expected to be dressed when their numbers are called. Everyone will find happiness and great wedding photos under Unity Temple’s infamous carved-stone penis. For details, call 816-561-4477, extension 117.— Christopher Sebela

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