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Oh For a Muse of Fire
by Anthony Chase
Chautauqua Theater Company 2015 Season
> by ANTHONY CHASE
Vivienne Benesch, artistic director of the Chautauqua Theater Company, has an exciting line-up of plays planned for this summer.
“Our three main stage productions this year invite audiences to use their imaginations,” she explains.
Benesch does not merely mean that Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, William Shakespeare’s Henry V, and Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel call audiences to use their imaginations in the way that all cultural experiences do. The three plays pointedly evoke the idea of imagination.
Our Town is set on a bare stage, no curtain; a “Stage Manager” enters to evoke the town of Grover’s Corners entirely through words. Henry V boldly opens with Shakespeare’s immortal plea for “a muse of fire” and for the inspiration to cram the vast world of the play into the “wooden O” of a theater.
This idea pleases Benesch.
“We realized we had the bookends of Our Town and Henry V, and with them, a call to light the imaginations of our audiences and the company. Between them we have Lynne Nottage’s play, Intimate Apparel which fills in that with a different story of the imagination. Lynne was going through her great grandmother’s belongings and realized she knew very little about the woman except that she was a seamstress and that she had married a Barbadian immigrant. Starting with these clues, she imagined the world of early 20th century New York and a life for this woman. She constructed a story that was never told set in New York of 1905.
“I think that is so important,” says Benesch. “Giving voice to untold stories and to characters on the margins. People who have been erased from the public record and bringing them into view.”
As Benesch talks, the elegant logic of the Chautaqua season comes into focus.
“Most people are somewhat familiar with Our Town,” she notes. “Maybe they read it in high school. But it is so worth revisiting. In fact, I think Our Town is the opposite of dated. It is very timely. The play tells the little stories of small town lives that are so easily forgotten. And Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire and our town, Chautauqua, New York, actually have much in common!”
Our Town opens this weekend, on July 3rd, and will run for two weekends, through July 12th.
“In the casting of our production, we are highlighting the changes in our country since the play was written. It is a diverse cast. Manu Narayan (star of Bombay Dreams on Broadway) is playing the Stage Manager. Michael Potts (television’s True Detective and Broadway’s The Book of Mormon, Grey Gardens, and Lennon) is playing Dr. Gibbs. In the arts, if we are not diversifying, being more inclusive, we are not making the best theater.”
And speaking of leadership, Benesch loves the idea of doing Henry V, the most jingoistic of Shakespeare’s plays and a play that examines the idea of what good leadership is, during an election year. The play will be performed from August 14 to 21.
In addition to the main stage offerings, CTC continues its commitment to new plays with the New Play Workshop. Engine of Our Ruin by Jason Wells is a comedy about the misinformation and misunderstanding that occurs when a “routine trade agreement nearly escalates into a declaration of war when a team of American diplomats meet with delegates from an unnamed Arab nation and diplomacy is literally lost in translation.” Afterlove by David West Read tells the story of “a troubled young doctor, struggling with the loss of a patient [who] finds unexpected tenderness when he’s visited by an enchanting female ghost.”
Tickets for the 2015 season are on sale now. Tickets to Our Town, Intimate Apparel, and Henry V are $35; tickets to The New Play Workshop Signature Staged Readings are $20. For more information, visit www.ctcompany.org.
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