News Column

Futuristic, supernatural plays get fresh productions

November 7, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 07--The calendar may say the second week of November, but it feels almost like summer with so many shows running on the same weekend. See the stage listings at left: Off-season? Ha!

Two of the new shows -- "Clue, the Musical" at Harwich Junior Theatre and "'Night, Mother" at Cotuit Center for the Arts -- had delayed openings due to illness in the cast. I'll talk more about the other big musical opening, "The Sound of Music" at Barnstable Comedy Club, in next week's column. But here's a look at two shows by Cape writers that both premiered years ago but are being restaged now in somewhat different forms, plus the latest playwrights festival in Provincetown:

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Playwright Gip Hoppe's "Ruby Tuesday" is set in the future. But his idea of a "smart home," with appliances that make decisions and the inhabitants wrapped up in all that technology can do, probably sounded more far-fetched when the play premiered in 2000 at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater than in its new incarnation at Cape Rep Theatre in Brewster.

Cape Rep describes the play as "funny, irreverent and frighteningly true."

Hoppe and the Cape Rep folks had been talking for a while about working together -- Hoppe says he loves the theater's space, location and people. The timing unexpectedly worked out this fall and he says "it's great" to collaborate there.

Although Hoppe says he's "not big on revivals," his new plays weren't ready for staging when this opportunity arrived, and he suggested "Ruby Tuesday" because he thought its ideas might sound different these days.

"It was science fiction when I wrote it," Hoppe says in a phone interview. In 2000, the play "could be dismissed as a goofy look at the future, but now it feels different. I thought it might resonate with people."

Hoppe has written more than 15 plays, all of which premiered on Cape Cod, and many of which have gone on to productions at regional theaters, off-Broadway and Broadway, and in Europe and Asia. He is also an actor and director, usually directing his own plays and traveling the world as director of touring productions of Nickelodeon and Dreamworks shows, such as "Blues Clues Live!" and "Madagascar Live!"

His "Ruby Tuesday" has a theme of technology, and a world gone somewhat awry with it, but Hoppe emphasizes that this story of a couple and their baby at home one night is more about estrangement and not listening.

It's about the cost of technology that in the past could just have easily applied to the telephone or the automobile.The play is more about what "technology suppresses."

"I think there's a price to pay for being so focused on screens," he says. "I think we all know what it feels like to not have someone's full attention. And there's so much information out there. It's not all useful, but it comes at you anyway."

Hoppe acknowledges he uses technology, too, of course, but says, "I'm looking around and seeing the effect it has on people (and thinking) 'Why not explore it?'"

For Cape Rep, he's done some, but not a lot of, rewriting on the 13-year-old script, and set designer Dan Joy has made some changes, too. The house this family lives in is almost a character in the show, and the longtime friends and collaborators have had fun coming up with a new, completely different version of this house so key to the story.

"The house has a voice, it has a character, and Dan is doing more than just creating a space for the play to live in," Hoppe says. "The house is almost a living thing."

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Nick Lazott was a senior at Billerica Memorial High School when he wrote the one-act "Medium: Rare." The story was about a young man who gets lost in a graveyard, discovers he can talk to the dead, and meets unusual beings who need his help. The play featured characters written for his friends to play, and they had just one week to rehearse and set up all the technical aspects of the show before taking it before an audience for two nights.

People liked it enough that Lazott tried to interest the drama department at his first college in the play, but when that didn't work out, he put the script away. Then, a couple of years ago, Lazott turned on a computer in a math class at Cape Cod Community College and saw a notice seeking original plays by amateur writers for the school's "Play With Your Food" staged reading series.

Lazott submitted "Medium: Rare," it was chosen and read before an audience. He participated in a talk-back and was gratified to hear how much people enjoyed his characters and story -- enough, in fact, that they wanted more. He was asked to make the play full-length, so he turned the existing play into Act 2, "retaining quite a bit of what made it special," then expanded the dialogue, added characters, and changed the ending.

"There's a lot more merriment and a few more touching scenes," he says. "I'd like to think I found ways to make it a little more human even while it remains personal."

The fleshed-out script got a second "Play With Your Food" reading, and the response was strong enough that college theater director Vana Trudeau suggested the play become the program's first original show to move from reading to full production.

"Medium: Rare" is now this semester's project for the college's Rehearsal and Performance Class. Led by director/teacher Jeffrey Billard, all the students are involved with either acting or backstage work, with three of 12 roles filled by community actors.

Lazott says he's "very flattered" by the opportunity. "I want to thank everyone involved with it. All the people here have helped me and nurtured me."

Billard has found the chance to premiere the play -- "a dark comedy, a funny, funny show" -- exciting for him and his students.

"We've worked really hard and really long on this play, and (the actors) have been able to originate their roles, which is very empowering for them," he says. "As we've figured out the characters and motivations, it's nice to have the author there to ask 'What was your intent when you wrote that?' " and we could work it in."

As a teacher, Billard is glad to have the three-quarter thrust stage in the Studio Theater at Tilden Arts Center to teach students a less-typical, three-dimensional way of staging theater in an intimate space that draws the audience in. He also values the play because while it entertains, it also meets his goal of using theater to get people to think about the human condition, in this case, about that "the connections we make in life matter and that everything in our life has meaning."

Looking ahead, the college is entering "Medium: Rare" into consideration for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, which it will host again in January. And Lazott has tentatively started a new play, this time about heaven, acknowledging with a laugh that death, the supernatural, and the metaphysical seem to be common themes in his work.

"Medium: Rare" will run at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Nov. 15-16, 22-23 and 2 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 17 and 24 at the Studio Theatre, Tilden Arts Center, Cape Cod Community College, 2240 Iyannough Road, West Barnstable. Tickets are $15 general admission, and $10 for CCCC students, faculty and staff, plus pay-what-you-can for Sunday matinees. Reservations: 508-362-2131 ext. 4044.

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Provincetown Theater will present its 2013 Fall Playwrights Festival this weekend, featuring two one-act plays and eight 10-minute plays by New England and New York writers, with local directors.

The scripts include what the theater describes as "diverse theatrical storytelling, including comedies about the modern relationship in love and war, fancy technology gone awry, the creation of man and his idiocy (and) religious dating."

All shows are at the theater, 238 Bradford St., with a $10 suggested donation for admission. Box office is 508-487-7487 or www.provincetowntheater.org. Performances are divided into two programs.

At 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, featured plays will be the 10-minute plays "Tennis, Anyone?" by Candace Perry of Wellfleet, a comedy of modern relationships about a man who uses the title line to pick up women at a train station; "Recalculating," by Stephen Eimert of Boston, about a man's relationship with his GPS, which turns out to have insight into his heart; "Terminal Gate," by Lucy Blood of Amesbury, about a straight-laced businessman meeting an emotional train wreck at a busy airport gate; and "First Confession," by Stephen Fruchtman of Northampton, a comedy about what happens when an Agnostic Jew goes into a confessional booth for the first time. The one-act for those shows will be "Three Cigarettes Before Breakfast," by Bragan Thomas of Provincetown, about a couple learning a new way of survival in New York City.

For performances 7:30 p.m. Friday and Sunday, and 2 p.m. Saturday, the program will include the 10-minute plays "A Bloomsbury Proposal," by Carl Rossi of Boston, based on a true 1909 Bloomsbury incident when homosexual Lytton Strachey proposes to Virginia Stephen (the future Virginia Woolf) and she accepts; "Another Day in Paradise," by Joe Starzky of Troy, NY, a spoof on the Adam and Eve story; "Deceit," by Bob Cohen of Wellfleet, about what happens after a woman puts an ad in a Jewish-centric magazine seeking a man; and "Inheritance," by Jan Maher of Plattsburgh, N.Y., about two characters left on an island, unsure of how to live with or without each other.

The one-act play will be "What To Throw Out," by Kathleen Warnock of Astoria, N.Y., about a college professor whose mover has a lot more to offer than expected.

Actors will include Thomas, Kevin Shenk, Catherine Graciano, Cindy Harrington, Bob Junker, Alison Hyder, Michael Walzack, Mark Weinress, Heather Egeli, Robert Chauvette, Atte Kekkonen, Sasha Curran, Brian Carlson, Sunie Pope, Fred Biddle, Michelle Peletier, Spencer Keasey, Cindy Wegel, Sarah McDonell and Dana McCoy.

For more theater news and commentary, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com / stagedoor and follow KathiSDCC

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If you go: What: "Ruby Tuesday." Written by: Gip Hoppe. Presented by: Cape Rep Theatre. When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays (and Nov. 30), with no performances Nov.10, 27 and 28. Where: Cape Rep's Indoor Theatre, 3299 Route 6A, Brewster. Tickets: $25, with student rush tickets available. Reservations: 508-896-1888 or www.caperep.org.

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(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

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