Sheherezade 14 opened last weekend and while, I’ve loved every year’s production, I feel like we’ve been on a trajectory toward a vision I’ve had for the show since I took it over six years ago. This year there is a sense for all of us that we’ve arrived . It is with pride and elation that I watched the show unfold on Saturday night. The knowledge that the very intelligent and talented actors performing these 8 pieces will continue to develop and refine their performances and make the plays that much richer over the next couple of weeks brings me a level of contentment I can’t quite describe. I’m a fan of short plays and short fiction in many forms and genres. I’ve had an idea that it’s possible to take a series of short plays that are wholly unrelated to each other and create a mainstage worthy production. This means work and commitment to shorter works that usually get less attention; from writing to rehearsing to design. I have to acknowledge first and foremost Quinn Cayabyab, Wesley Cayabyab, and Jennifer Roberts whose passion for this show is only second to mine in minute proportion. They have pushed and pulled and coerced and held steadfast for my vision and made it reality in ways that most people would never know. We were so fortunate to have the collection of playwrights and their works to build upon with considerate and attentive direction from Wes and Amy, brought to life by a group of performers who humble me daily, and a design team (from music to sets, costumes, lighting) who took the idea of putting that much energy into “a short play festival” as seriously as I could have hoped.
Each play provides a layered diversity of voice, subject, and content and I love watching the actors inhabit each with the grace and ease of talented performers who are comfortable and experienced on stage. In DISSONANCE Terry Anderson has given us the perfect introduction to the ensemble (using the whole cast) and challenges the nature of reality; asking the questions “How do we break through each other’s bubbles to connect in some meaningful and authentic way? Is it even possible to do it?” I love watching the cast play together in this piece, whether it’s the earnestness of Cat Luedtke’s Woman, Gareth Tidball’s bemusement, Cameron Galloway’s slightly cantankerous Old Woman, Rick Homan’s busy busy Man, or the delightful slow motion pantomime from Jason Jeremy and Leontyne Mbele-Mbong and Philip Goleman “just lies there” amusingly as well. ALMOST LIKE BEING ALIVE by Steve Koppman pushes through those barriers and gives us a look at what it’s like to truly connect with a stranger in a setting that tries to manufacture those connections and usually fails. Gareth and Rick made a commitment during rehearsals that they would truly listen to everything the other was saying and conveying and that connection comes through with a touching sincerity in every performance. Madeline Puccioni gives us a look at a woman who is still fighting for survival with THE INTERVIEW and finds an unlikely ally. Cat’s Margaret is the perfect mix of vulnerable, determined, and no bullshit that makes her both relatable and exasperating at the same time. Phil does a lovely performance with Darren, conveying well how losing his mother has impacted him, the responsibility of running the family business, and the challenges of going back to school with dyslexia. Cameron is immediately recognizable as the bar’s regular, a tough woman with a heart of gold, but keeps from falling into the cliche by infusing her with a fantastic sense of humor and playfulness. Jennifer Lynne Roberts’ play PHOTO DYNAMIC THERAPY is a stunning, funny, touching moment between two would be lovers finding their way through grief. Watching Jason and Leontyne discover new moments with each other has been beautiful, with moments of completely relatable awkwardness, tenderness, vulnerability, and mutual admiration. Norman Rockwell is given the once over in REFRAMING ROCKWELL by Jim Norrena; as director Amy Crumpacker put it Rockwell is a piece about “muse exploitation and artistic vampirism”. The struggle for sanity is delicate, sympathetic, and at times ugly and Cameron and Rick inhabit those moments completely. For one of the line-up’s lighter pieces we get a little taste of unrequited romantic adventure in Madeleine Butler’s THE BOX. Gareth and Phil get to show off their physical comedy skills and Jason his character-actor chops with amusing results. (The designers also get to play with this and Wes’ brilliant inclusion of security lasers that Gareth has to disarm in the beginning is hilarious). THE DUCK by Vonn Scott Bair, about a retrograde amnesiac who must come to terms with her identity whether she wants to or not, has what we’ve been referring to as The Aria that actress Leontyne Mbele-Mbong breaks our hearts with and Cameron and Rick support with equal aplomb as FBI agents investigating a decades old murder. Rounding the night out Bridgette Dutta Portman puts her characters through a time-continuum loop and thereby puts the lens on day-to-day life in BREW, DRINK, REPEAT. One of the best comedic pieces we’ve ever done, the nuance and comedic timing that Phil and Cat achieve is, I believe, the perfect way to end the evening.
A special treat for me has also been getting to work with Antonia Lucas and a few of her colleagues at VSA-Global — Lucy Clarke, Solnce Vera Ostrova, Slimmie (SlimGirlFat) — on the music that takes us from pre-show, through each of the plays, to intermission and post-show. Amazingly talented four women vocalist/songwriter/musicians who give us the perfect backdrop to the show. That they’ve gifted us the music royalty free and in some cases pieces that haven’t been released yet (all are produced working musicians with fan bases of their own in the international house/progressive/trance world) is extra special. I love that theatre can incorporate and build community across artistic disciplines. I’m a music lover and each year one of the few creative ways I get to contribute to the show is with that element. It is usually almost completely unnoticed by the majority of the audience, but this year we’ve been getting plenty of notice and compliment. Knowing that the musicians are also engaged and enthusiastic about the project makes me so happy.
So now comes the hard part, getting people with so many choices before them and limited resources to take a chance on coming to see the show. If audience response to opening night is any indication, we have delivered on the promise that this is an extraordinary short play festival and I’d love nothing more than to give this company the well-deserved big audience turn-out we’re hoping to see!