Theatre Knoxville Downtown takes us to Forbidden Knoxville
by Kevin Crowe
You just got to go—
Downtown, where the streets are closed/ And the bridges have all been bulldozed/ To a hole-in-the-wall where they present their shows/ Then you’ll be at TKD!
Downtown, where the buses run/ And you’re safer when you bring a gun/ But the danger just adds to the fun/ Wait and see at TKD!
Theatre Knoxville Downtown was in a bad way, back when the Gay Street viaduct was dynamited, leaving the charmingly cozy, hole-in-the-wall theater isolated from downtown proper. Today there’s a new viaduct, but orange cones and leftover gravel and other construction debris still linger at the intersection of Gay Street and Depot Avenue, right in front of the theater.
But, because these are professional thespians, the show must go on as always, downtown—
You wonder if it’s safe to be there after dark/ A hooker may mistake you for an easy mark/ But still we hope you’ll come and see us on a lark!
It is, after all, TKD’s one-year anniversary on the stage that was previously occupied by the defunct Theatre Central. Onstage, Jason Hull invokes the spirit of Rod Serling, mastering that deadpan demeanor and slow, syncopated voice that we know so well from The Twilight Zone . But it’s not really an impersonation. It’s far too hyper-exaggerated, far too over-the-top to be realistic. We don’t see Serling onstage; we see an actor. Maybe that’s the point. Where imitation ends, however, the humor begins, and Hull’s intentionally hyperbolized deadpan presence sets the— ahem —stage for TKD’s trip into a weird, parallel universe, a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to Knoxvillians, a space as timeless as infinity, the middle ground between light and shadow. This is Forbidden Knoxville , a comedic tour through just about every what if and could be that writer/musical director David Eilart could craft into song.
Eilart’s concept was a simple one, to craft his own version of Forbidden Broadway , the iconic musical from Gerard Alessandrini that’s been an off-Broadway hit for over 20 years.
In Eilart’s parallel universe, local politicians, celebrities and even other theater troupes are fair game. Cue the Shakespearean swagger of the Tennessee Stage Company’s Tom Parkhill:
We’re actin’ in the rain/ But pray it will refrain/ ’Cause iambic pentameter/ Goes down the drain/
Yes, we’re Tennessee Stage/ And Shakespeare is our rage/ So we’ll bring down Ole Will/ From the page to the stage
And the Actors’ Co-Op gets a little ribbing, too:
Super Calloused Fragile Egos/ We are so licentious/ Even though our bawdy shows/ Can sometimes seem pretentious!
We’ll keep doing dirty plays/ Until we’re wearing denchas/ Super Calloused Fragile Egos/ We like when we’re mentioned!
The musical is divided into three parts: 1) The Dead KAFC Awards 2) Little Knox of Horrors and 3) The Wizard of Knox.
David Keith, Greg “Lumpy” Lambert, Victor Ashe, Pat Summitt, Patricia Neal, Johnny Knoxville, Dolly Parton and a talking sinkhole all make appearances. The sinkhole, in a parody of Little Shop of Horrors , coerces Victor Ashe to feed him—er, fill him—with all local politicians, leaving Ashe as the only surviving mayoral candidate.
In “The Wizard of Knox,” David Keith hopes to get his career back; Johnny Knoxville seeks some common sense; Patricia Neal, the Tony Award-winning actress who grew up in Knoxville, just needs a cigarette. And Dolly… well, she’s in the market for a “big-ass theme park.”
The humor, which usually shuns sophistication in favor of just having a good time, may not be for everyone. Two ladies in the audience chatted after the show. “‘Suddenly Sinkhole’? That was bad,” one lady said.
“The Wizard of—?” asked the other.
“Knox. ‘The Wizard of Knox.’”
“Like The Wizard of Oz ?”
TKD had originally hoped to license one of the many versions of Forbidden Broadway , such as Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit . When that plan fell through, Eilart stepped up to write an equally zany musical about our city. It may not be what TKD had in mind in the beginning, but it’s a charmingly whimsical tour through Knoxville’s politics and theatrics, especially when you consider that this is Eilart’s first writing venture.
If there’s some truth to the old saying that we only mock those we love, then TKD must really love Knoxville—they must, because they’ve waited patiently for construction to end. And now, once again conveniently connected to the city, the homey theater hopes to reconnect with Knoxville’s would-be theatergoers. The self-described avant-bards , the Wild Thyme Players, staged Cyrano last month at TKD, and did it quite successfully.
Now, with Forbidden Knoxville , the stage opens itself up to something a little more whimsical, a musical that can be unabashedly sophomoric and, at the same time, incredibly heartfelt, all while demonstrating a love for this city in spite of its problems. Like all decent comics, they only make fun of those they love.
Who: Theatre Knoxville Downtown