Rex reigns at Encore and Cumberland

Bonnie Bucy • Updated Apr 24, 2016 at 10:00 AM

As part of its 10-year anniversary, Encore Theatre will present “Nice Girls Don’t,” an outrageously witty farce in the tradition of Oscar Wilde. 

The play is filled with misunderstandings, mistaken identities with unplanned bedlam leading to true love in the end.

“Nice Girl Don’t” opened Friday and runs weekends through May 1. It cites the perils of just what happens when someone falls in love with a person and they aren’t who they claim to be and hinges on the consequences young people face when rebelling against family pressures. Then, the night before marrying that person, a soul mate comes along.  

From there, it’s all a case of mistaken identities and one comical turn after another.

The comedy is written and directed by Michael Rex, a professor at Cumberland University. It is the second venue to feature the play, now making it eligible for registration, licensing and marketing. Rex has had four additional plays see production up to now.

The fascinating, creative thinking, humor-filled, red-headed Rex was born in England and grew up in Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia where his dad worked for construction companies in those countries to build airports. So, he was a world traveling young man from the beginning.

“When we were transferred to Saudi Arabia, that’s when my mother packed me up and whisked me off to England where I went to school. We came to the States in the early ’90s, around ‘93 I think,” said Rex.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in English with academic distinction at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas; his master’s degree in British literature and rhetoric from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas and his doctorate in 16th-, 17th- and 18th-Century British literature from Wayne State University in Detroit.

“I had taught at all the universities mentioned and finished my PhD teaching at the University of Detroit when I became an academic gypsy and was applying everywhere,” said Rex with a grin. “This phone call came out of the blue and wanted to know if I wanted to interview for this job. I didn’t even remember applying for it, but I said sure. I did the phone interview, and then they asked if I would fly to Nashville for a personal interview and look Cumberland over.  There was a plane on Thursday, and would I please be on it.

“I flew down, met everybody and finally got to Dr. Harvill Eaton. I told him about all the traveling I’d done around the world and then pulled out all the literature and started quoting things to him, some in actual Anglo Saxon.”

Rex went back to Detroit. The phone rang Monday morning, and he was asked if he would like to teach at Cumberland. He agreed to do it. That was the fall 2006. In addition to British literature courses, he teaches courses in women’s literature, queer theory, classical and early modern world literature, linguistics, science fiction and fantasy, as well as the Legends of King Arthur.

“You have to read a lot, but it is a massive amount of fun. The waistcoats and kilts keep things interesting,” Rex chuckled in reference to the costumes he’s liable to pop into class wearing to emphasize the era, people or circumstances he’s teaching at the time. His students love him.

Dr. Rex’ prestigious bio reads like a top-ranking entry in Who’s Who. He serves as advisor or co-advisor to Cumberland’s newspaper and its chapters of Pride Alliance and Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honour Society.

In fall 2011, he started the creative writing programs at Cumberland, which offers courses in writing poetry, songs, fiction, creative non-fiction and drama; hosting poetry slams, local authors and Cumberland’s 10 Minute Play Festival. In addition, Rex and a group of students launched the Phoenix Pages, an imprint of Cumberland University Press, which specializes in publishing fiction by local Middle Tennessee authors.

Besides appearing in numerous plays as an actor, serving as director and producer, Rex as a playwright has had three of his plays locally produced, “Letters To God,” “Bully This!” and “Nice Girls Don’t.” the latter played to sold out houses for three weeks at Lakewood Theater.  As part of several theatre companies, Rex has won awards for best supporting actor, best ensemble and best costume design, plus others.

His scholarly works were included in several book collections and publications. He has done essays and presented papers at regional, national and international conferences.

For fun and relaxation, Rex plays viola, collects antique books and gemstones and makes quilts and miniature furniture. He also collects flintlock pistols and antique swords, among other things.

“Another good thing about Cumberland is they had a place for my wife when they hired me,” said Rex. “Her name is Laura Redmond. She got her masters of art in English at Oakland in Michigan and is a candidate for her PhD at Wayne State University. Currently an adjunct instructor in English at CU, that puts us in the same department which is something few universities will do, but it works for us.”

Rex said he would love to make his living in the theater, but common sense has told him to hang onto his day job(s) while having fun with the theatrical side of his life. 

Now, back to “Nice Girls Don’t.” The cast consists of Nathan Franklin as Duncan; Paige Moore as Julia; LeDaveon Igonash as Josh; Andrea Coleman as Katherine; Sara Dhom as Bev; Perry Poston as JD; Holly Smith as Mae and Katherine Ray filling in the parts of Amber/Law Clerk/ Rita and Beth.

The characters of Duncan and Julia star as the love smitten couple. Franklin tells something about himself.

“I’m having a blast. I’ve been acting since I was nine years old when I appeared in a production of the Best Christmas Ever. However, I’ve primarily been doing stand up around Nashville for the last while because I think it’s good practice, so it feels good to get back into acting and Duncan is a fun role to play,” he said.

Josh and Katherine are best friends and co-conspirators of the couple above. Igonash (as Josh) lives in Lebanon and was one of the founding members of Encore. This, however, is his first time on the Encore stage and his first major acting role. A marketing man, he designed the Encore logo, designs websites, creates and produces videos, etc. 

Coleman (as Katherine) lives in Hendersonville and says theater was her major in college. Even though college was a little while back, she still looks young enough to still be in school.

“I’d love to make acting a living because it’s my passion, but right now I’m working in a bank,” she said with a laugh. “This is my first Encore performance, and I’m having a ball.”

Perry Poston plays Julia’s father, a small man with a feisty attitude. Asked to describe his J.D. character, Poston said, “He’s angry most of the time. You would be too if your daughter, who had been raised right, met this guy, knew and slept with him in 12 hours time and then wants to marry him. He smells like a skunk and is down playing his status in life because he wants to break his contract so he can inherit. What he doesn’t realize is, he’s doing to Julia what Julia is doing to him. It’s a great play and I’ve got a great role.”

Smith plays Mae, J.D.’s wife and Julia’s mother. Holly describes her a “comic relief, although since she’s Julia’s step mom, she’s rather nurturing too. Mainly, I try and keep J.D. calmed down. I live in Hermitage, and this is my acting debut. I was at Lakewood as a costumer and stage manager when they did this play there. This role spoke to me. When this performance was posted at Encore, I decided to try my hand at acting. I’m glad I did, because I’m having a blast with it.”

Sara Dhom, a founding board member of Encore 10 years ago, plays Bev, Duncan’s sarcastic aunt. Hardly recognizable in her blonds wig, Dhom screws up her face and emits a funny vocalization of her character.

“Bev is an added character and not an intricate part of the show. She brings some additional life and humor into the plots. She’s fun,” said Dhom. “I also asked Mic if I could serve as assistant director and stage manager on this play. I’m having a tough time deciding if I want to act or direct. Both forms of the theater leave you with such a reward of accomplishment. I’ve directed a couple of other plays and I just want to be more involved in the overall.”

Paige Moore plays Julia.

Catch it, and get a funny bone tickled.

 “Nice Girls Don’t” opened this Friday, and runs through Sunday this weekend and then next weekend. Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors 60 and older and $10 for children 12 and younger.

Visit the website at encore-theatre-company.org or call 615-598-8950.

A nonprofit community theatre serving Wilson County and the surrounding area, Encore is at 6978 Lebanon Road, just west of Highway 109.

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