Jamie Ann Romero and Quincy Dunn-Baker read “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at the 2013 Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by Kyle Malone.
By John Moore
The Denver Center Theatre Company’s 9th annual Colorado New Play Summit will include a reading based on the novel Benediction, completing author Kent Haruf’s trilogy of rural Colorado tales, all adapted for the stage by Eric Schmiedl.
The Colorado New Play Summit previously introduced Haruf’s “Plainsong” in 2007 and “Eventide” in 2009, both of which went on to full productions on Denver Center mainstage seasons.
Although only 10, Charlie Korman (Tiny Tim) is about to perform in his fourth “A Christmas Carol” for the Denver Center Theatre Company. Photo by John Moore.
By John Moore
Tuesday was the first day of rehearsal for A Christmas Carol, which is being staged for the 21st time by the Denver Center Theatre Company. It opens Nov. 29 in the Stage Theatre.
This version, adapted by Richard Hellesen, again stars Philip Pleasants as Scrooge, with Mike Hartman (“Death of a Salesman”) as his understudy. The cast includes John Hutton as the ghost of Jacob Marley, Phamaly Theatre Company veteran Leonard E. Barrett Jr. as the ghost of Christmas Present, Charlie Korman as Tiny Tim, Leslie O’Carroll as Mrs. Fezziwig, and familiar names including Kathleen M. Brady, Douglas Harmsen, Stephanie Cozart, Jeffrey Roark, Michael Bouchard, Jake Walker and Benjamin Bonenfant. (The complete list follows.) In all, the cast numbers 37.
Bruce Sevy, Associate Artistic Director of the Denver Center Theatre Company, is tackling one of George Bernard Shaw’s most unusual plays, the mysterious HEARTBREAK HOUSE. The brittle wit and clever ripostes are there, but there is also an air of rue about this piece. With World War I on the horizon, it is, on some levels, somber. See what Bruce has to say…
Denver Center: In what way does this play differ from Shaw’s other work?
Bruce Sevy: Heartbreak House is a sort of culmination of Shaw’s earlier work. Traces of Misalliance and Man And Superman (and other early pieces) are easily seen here. But I also detect Shaw breaking out of the usual structure and tone and exploring some new theatrical ground.
DCPA: Set as it is in pre-World War I England, how is this play relevant today?
BS: I’m not updating the play. I feel it is tied to the Edwardian period and the place in which it is set. However, I’ve chosen to move it up to 1916, with the war underway. As for relevance, we’re almost a century later, and still wondering—as the characters in the play do—what this new century will bring.
The American Empire has supplanted the British Empire. Are we now in “decline”? The question is certainly discussed; war is still with us, as is anxiety for the future and an apocalyptic fear rumbling under a compulsively trivial and intellectually impoverished popular culture. The play does speak to us; that’s what excites me.
DCPA: What do you make, if anything, about the parallels between Heartbreak House and Masterpiece Theatre’s currently popular Downton Abbey?
BS: I think it’s great—and fortuitous for us—that Downton Abbey and War Horse are capturing the imagination of the American public. Heartbreak House gains resonance and depth when viewed in the context of England before, during and after World War I. I hope the audience has those images in mind as it watches this production, It’s an important lens through which to view the play.
Of course, the manor house in Downton Abbey is much more formal and regimented than Shaw’s Shotover-Hushabye house. This household is looser, more imaginative and impulsive. All of the guests are thrown by the apparent lack of rules and schedules. Even the burglars don’t behave as expected! There are no plans for meals and not much of a plan for where invited guests will stay. The effect is disorienting—or delightful, depending on your point of view—and the source of quite a bit of comedy.
DCPA: Many parallels have been drawn between this play and Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Do you buy that analogy?
BS: Shaw was a big fan of Chekhov and of The Cherry Orchard, and he did subtitle his play A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes. Some parallels can be found between Shaw’s burglar, Billy Dunn, and the tramp who shows up in The Cherry Orchard. Certainly the outdoor evening ruminations of Shaw’s characters in Act III have a Chekhovian feel.
But the play remains pure—and wonderful—Shaw. Even he conceded the point after a successful performance in England in 1923, when he humorously addressed the audience at the curtain call: “This has been one of the most depressing evenings I have spent in the theatre. I imagined I had written a quiet, thoughtful, semi-tragic play after the manner of Chekhov. From your empty-headed laughter, I appear to have written a bedroom farce!” The audience applauded.
DCPA: Some people have called it an allegory. What do you call it?
BS: I like Shaw’s term, “Fantasia,” with all that the word implies musically and in terms of the compositional approach. I love the almost surreal aspects of some of the episodes and I hope to highlight them as a counterpoint to the seemingly realistic tone and nearly Feydeau-like, bedroom-comedy spirit of the early part of the script.
DCPA: Is this a play about the beginnings of the decomposition of society as Shaw knew it and almost certainly as we know it today?
BS: I think so. And while Shaw certainly reveals the businessman, Mangan, to be without ethics and hardly the bulwark of the country that he initially presents himself to be, Shaw spends the bulk of the play exposing the vacuous and wasted lives of the Bloomsbury-esque liberals at its center.
Parallels really can be drawn between the state of our contemporary American public life and the state of England’s as represented here. The Mangans and the Utterwords are ascendant; the educated, creative, leisure class is infantilized and marginalized (or have they marginalized themselves?), while the ship of state sails into decline and pointless war. Familiar? What begins as nearly romantic comedy ends with a threat of apocalypse. Shaw wrote to a friend about this play: “All truly sacred truths are rich in comedy!”
DCPA: How prophetic would you say it was?
BS: I think it was incredibly prophetic for England. I hope it remains only a cautionary tale for our country.
HEARTBREAK HOUSE plays The Space Theatre March 30 - April 29. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact us at 303.893.4100.
A packed house of 500 patrons just saw the final reading at our 2012 COLORADO NEW PLAY SUMMIT. Based on the novel by JANE AUSTEN, with Book & Lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow and Music by Neal Hampton, SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL was a lovely conclusion to our three-day new play festival.
If you haven’t seen the interviews, please tune in to get a glimpse at what happened during this extraordinary event:
BRUCE K. SEVY, Director of New Play Development, Denver Center Theatre Company
Mark your calendar for next year’s Summit Feb 8-10, 2013.
Wow! A combined 125 hours of rehearsal have been put into preparing for our COLORADO NEW PLAY SUMMIT, which begins tomorrow! Plus we are officially SOLD OUT. (If you want to come and don’t have a ticket, you are still encouraged to head down and check for available seats.) But at this point we have DOUBLED the number of “industry” representatives over last year.
PLAYWRIGHTS who are expected to attend include: Jeff Carey, Steven Cole Hughes, Terry Dodd, Richard Dresser, Lauren Eason, Lauren Feldman, Marcus Gardley, Judy GeBauer, Kirsten Greenidge, Jeffrey Haddow, Neal Hampton (composer), Samuel D. Hunter, Luciann Lajoie, Carter Lewis, Leslie Lewis, Felice Locker, Lisa Loomer, Robert McAndrew, William Missouri-Downs, Michael Mitnick, Steve Moulds, Henry Murray, Philip Penningrot, Max Posner, Theresa Rebeck, Eric Schmiedl, Helen Thorpe and Karen Zacarias.
DIRECTORS expected to attend include Hal Brooks, Sam Buntrock, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Mike Donahue, Pam MacKinnon, Art Manke, Christy Montour-Larson, Ethyl Will (music) and Justin Zsebe.
THEATRES represented include Actors Theatre of Louisville, Arena Stage, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Contemporary American Theatre, Creede Repertory Theatre, Curious Theatre Company, Dallas Theatre Center, Indiana Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Lincoln Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, New Dramatists, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Primary Stages, Page 73, Soho Rep, South Coast Rep and Third Law Dance Theatre.
Our New Play Summit is relatively new compared with others around the country. Now in our seventh year and under the leadership of Artistic Director Kent Thompson and New Play Development Director Bruce Sevy, we have quickly created a new play festival that is attracting attention. National Public Radio is continuing its interest. American Theatre magazine will cover the festival. And we’re delighted that the American Theatre Critics Association will once again hold its Winter meeting to coincide with our event.
Despite the long days and intense work, there is a feeling of anticipation as everyone gets ready to welcome our local and national guests. The excitement is palpable! We will see what tomorrow brings.