Familial Dysfunction and Poetry Abound in Long Day

by Chloe Loos

You have three options when reality is too painful to face: you can lose yourself in the past, you can worry about the future, or you can live in the present, on your own terms. The family of four presented in The Rogue Theatre’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s 1956 magnum opus Long Day’s Journey Into Night do all three. Sometimes different ones, and almost always at separate times. Where the text truly shines is in those moments of misbegotten allegiance when two people are finally in the same space. Of course, this doesn’t happen often, and we instead watch people pass like ships in the night, unable to see each other clearly.

Joseph McGrath as James, Theresa McElwee, Ryan Parker Knox as Jamie and Hunter Hnat as Edmund. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Joseph McGrath as James, Theresa McElwee as Mary, Ryan Parker Knox as Jamie, and Hunter Hnat as Edmund. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

The play, directed by Cynthia Meier, takes place over the course of a single dark day in the summer home of the Tyrone family. Secrets are kept, secrets are shared, and the truth is not as simple as it might seem. Mary (Theresa McElwee) is still recovering from treatment for morphine addiction, of which husband James (Joseph McGrath) supports her wholeheartedly. Things are complicated by Edmund’s (played by Hunter Hnat) sickness and his bullheaded brother, Jamie (Ryan Parker Knox).

With a runtime of 2 hours and 50 minutes, the play is certainly long. Still, despite the fact that the text was cut down to shorten it, I felt that the performers were constantly battling the clock in order to tell the story. As a play about an incredibly dysfunctional family (of which they are aware, thanks to some lovely breaks of humour), there are rapid tonal shifts throughout that I felt often never quite reached their full intensity. When you need to get through that much material, even the pauses are filled with movement. But there wasn’t enough time to breathe; to sit in the weight of the poetry and sadness; to really hear what these people were trying to tell each other. Those times where we were allowed to sit in moments were absolutely breathtaking.

Hunter Hnat as Edmund and Theresa McElwee as Mary. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Hunter Hnat as Edmund and Theresa McElwee as Mary. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Each performer had moments of strength – particularly when their characters were being honest with themselves, but I was particularly impressed by Hnat’s laser-like intensity throughout the piece. Performing illness and strength is not easy, but Hnat executed it so well. A stand-in for O’Neill himself, we can see him react to and internalize all these moments in such a way that he felt the most solidly real out of all the performers. I believed this play was Edmund’s story, and as O’Neill recreated moments from his own life, it’s easy to see how he became the person he did. 

Staged in the round, the sitting room set featured ramshackle furniture underneath a hanging chandelier, off of which light glinted beautifully. A large set of stairs wound up into the black curtains. Across from it, a blue door. The message was clear. You can stay or you can go. The tension between those dominating pieces worked well, especially when characters ascended and disappeared into the blackness. As the play progressed and we got closer to night, the lighting and sound design helped us to feel like we just as trapped in that house as Mary was. Special shout out to the piano music by Russell Ronnebaum, who underscored the sense of longing implicit in the script.

That said, in a play about how the past, present, and future can all come back to haunt us, there were some indications this play is definitely of a time since gone. Some of the slang was hard to track, and there were some fatphobic jokes that weren’t entirely necessary. Surprisingly, it does pass the Bechdel test. There is a conversation between Mary and maid Cathleen (played by a subversive Holly Griffith) that was a nice break in the male-centric tragedy. I also appreciated the realistic handling of generational addiction, which is a conversation as important to have when the play was written as it is now. The play is what it is: an autobiographical piece about people being awful to each other while trying to make up for it and thus has value as a historic piece of American theatre. 

Yes, it’s long. But it’s so worthwhile if you’ve ever felt out of touch or out of reach of your community, humanity, or even reality.

Long Day’s Journey into Night is playing Thursday through Sunday at The Rogue Theatre (300 E. University Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85705) through September 29th. Tickets are available by calling 520-551-2053, at the box office one hour before the performance, or on the web at theroguetheatre.org.

The Profoundness of the Ordinary

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

Summer in Tucson and many are trying to escape, just as many try to escape their daily lives when they go to the theatre. The play Middletown, written by playwright Will Eno, tells us to embrace these moments and see the profound beauty and awe that mark them. The entire performance of this production impressed me. The Rogue’s reputation for excellence is more than well deserved!

Middletown is a comedic drama that follows some very ordinary characters in a very ordinary town. The cop in the first scene, played by Aaron Shand, speaks to the audience and tells us, “Things are fairly predictable. People come, people go. Crying, by the way, in both directions.” These simple thoughts really speak to the plot. Various characters come and go, and intertwine with each other, and with us, the audience, to push us to examine those moments between our initial and final tears on this planet. We are left to question our own existence as we follow the lives of the citizens of Middletown. As the theme for the Rogue’s season is obsession, the audience becomes obsessed, as do the characters, with the existential questions that haunt all of us.

Bryn Booth, Holly Griffith, Kathryn Kellner Brown, Ryan Parker Knox and Hunter Hnat in Middletown. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Bryn Booth, Holly Griffith, Kathryn Kellner Brown, Ryan Parker Knox and Hunter Hnat in Middletown. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Many actors take on various roles, effortlessly switching back and forth. The characters are so different and so believable that you forget that minutes ago that actor was portraying someone else. Kathryn Kellner Brown played the librarian and the female doctor. Her portrayal of the librarian had the entire audience in hysterics, and her compassion and caring was evident as the doctor. As I too am a female actor of “ a certain age,” I am happy to see other older women be represented in theatre. 

In the script, playwright Will Eno asks the actors to speak in everyday pacing, even though much of the dialogue is philosophical and poetic. That was done masterfully by all. Director Christopher Johnson not only thoughtfully cast the show, but ensured the interactions with the characters showed true emotion and vulnerability, which lead to the authenticity of their performances.

Eno does not want the fourth wall to exist in his plays. He names the audience in the list of characters. He invites us to have a participatory experience rather than a simply observational one. The actors speak directly to the audience and even come into the audience. The theater was set up in a transverse arrangement which facilitated this. Not only did you observe the actors, but the audience sitting across from you. Simple sets which were changed by the characters themselves focused all of the attention on the actors’ words and actions. 

The costumes, designed by Cynthia Meier, were believable, simple, and appropriate to echo the ordinary theme of the play. Lighting, designed by Josh Hemmo, was used judiciously to focus attention on a particular part of the stage, as well to indicate changes in the time of day. Music Director, Charles Zoll, did a masterful job of seamlessly integrating the music into the play. Primarily jazz, the music served as delicious background, but did come to the forefront with the one scene where dance was introduced. The jazz reinforced the emotional intensity of each scene, be it happiness, sadness, or joy

The dance performance by the mechanic, played by Hunter Hnat, was simultaneously mesmerizing and disconcerting. The script outlines that he is dressed as a Chakmawg Indian and that the dance is in the tradition of the Apache or the Sioux. Hnat’s character, the mechanic, brings in a headdress and then performs an interpretive dance, with seemingly no reference to Native American dances. At the finish, the nurse instructs him to speak in a stereotypical broken speech pattern, that has often been used to portray Native Americans as they speak English, when he goes in to perform the dance for some children. I have no idea why Mr. Eno placed this scene in the play and why he used such jarring speech. The play was first performed in 2005 when one would hope that the issues regarding non-stereotypical portrayals of ethnic groups would be addressed. I applaud The Rogue, but the disconnect between the thoughtful, beautiful dance and the seemingly insensitive dialogue in this scene was jarring to me.

Middletown was a delightful treat for me. I left with a renewed feeling of hope and appreciation for the simple everyday pleasures of ordinary life. All of us appreciate the feeling of awe that we have in new or peak experiences, but I now want to pay attention to those middle of the road, everyday wonders.

Middletown is playing at The Rogue Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm through July 21st. Tickets are $38, with student tickets available for $15, if available, 15 minutes before curtain. For tickets contact the box office at (520) 551-2053 or via TheRogueTheatre.org. A discussion with the director and cast follows all performances.

Bringing Literature to Life On Stage at The Rogue Theatre

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

Touring the golden cage with The Rogue Theatre’s Joe McGrath and Cynthia Meier.

by Leigh Moyer

Rogue logo“What we’ve managed to do is build a golden cage for ourselves,” said Joe McGrath, Artistic Director of The Rogue Theatre, with a chuckle. “Our audience wants us to do the plays that we want to do. So we have to keep doing the plays we want to do– not the plays that we think will sell, or that we think people want to see.”

Cynthia Meier, The Rogue’s Managing and Associate Artistic Director, added, “And they really are plays that we want to see and that we want to work on. We keep this ongoing, long list of plays and we’ll look at it throughout the year and say, you know, it’s about time we did Brecht. Or, it’s about time we did this play. And these are plays that we want to see and spend time with.”

This season is focused on stories about obsession; it will have shows that make you think, make you laugh, make you cry, and — if they do their job right — make you reconsider how you look at a piece of literature or a cultural phenomenon.

The Rogue is generally known for doing classic pieces. For example, they do a Shakespeare play every season. “It’s a touchstone for us. Our mission is doing challenging pieces of great literature in an ensemble way; Shakespeare is the epitome of that,” Meier explained. They usually do an adaptation of a novel as well, often adapted for the stage by Meier. They do plays that make you think and plays that make you feel deeply and… plays where usually at least one character dies. 

I teased McGrath and Meier about that. Meier laughed and commented that she should have done research on how many characters had died on their stage when she looked at the diversity of casting and the playwrights.

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Joe McGrath and Cynthia Meier. Photo courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

McGrath pointed out that while it is a funny unifying theme linking The Rogue’s plays, “Death is something that makes us human and unless we’re conscious of mortality and unless we bring it up, we’re not really dealing with what is important and even what is beautiful. The brevity of life is what makes beauty. There is no precious moment without the passage. So I want to stand up for death as being a good thing. So let’s hear it for death.”

Looking at this season and the major moments that the array of plays will present, it seemed to me Moby Dick was going to be the most challenging. I had one big question. There have been gods, snakes, dogs, and a bear on the Rogue stage, but all those things are smaller or more manageable. I wanted to know how exactly they were going to present the great white whale Moby Dick. That whale. Their answer: they don’t know yet. They have ideas, but how it will actually come together is still somewhat of a puzzle. 

“The interesting thing about this enterprise is making sure that we’re doing live theatre, not doing plays that are live television,” McGrath said. “That’s one of the reasons we like to go more theatrical. It’s all in the language. Film and television don’t like to just dwell on the language without visuals.” 

Maybe that is the answer. Moby Dick is a book, adapted for the stage in this instance by Meier and Holly Griffith. While theatre is a visual medium, for McGrath and Meier it is equally as much about language. “We usually do an adaptation because we believe that great literature deserves to be heard and seen, not just silently read,” Meier said.

Aaron Shand, Holly Griffith and Hunter Hnat in the 2018-2019 season production of The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Aaron Shand, Holly Griffith and Hunter Hnat in the 2018-2019 season production of The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

McGrath jumped in to add, “And the interesting thing about great literature is that it is only great literature because of the words, because of the language. We think of Moby Dick as having whales and boats and the sea but it only lives because of the way it was conjured in language.”

He mused on how the audience feels and about The Rogue offers: “I’m guessing that a good percentage of audience members who stay after the show for the post show discussion just want us to tell them what to think. But that’s the nature of the plays we do; they don’t tell you what to think, they leave you grappling.”

The whole season is listed online and below, including a summer production. Come to see how they get a whale in a theatre, but come more to see how you relate to the whale; what your obsessions are and how they have shaped you. Season tickets start at $195.00 and single tickets can be purchased during the run of the show for $42.00 (preview performances are $32.00) with $15.00 student rush tickets available fifteen minutes before the show (depending on availability). Tickets for the summer performance of Middletown are $38.00.

The Rogue Theatre’s 2019-2020 Season:

Middletown by Will Eno (Summer Production)
July 11 – 21, 2019
Metaphysical musings on life and death bubble up from the “common folk” on the streets of contemporary Middletown, USA. Comic and prosaic lives show cracks of poetic existential despair. Directed by Christopher Johnson.

Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill
September 12 – 29, 2019
A masterful image of a day in the Tyrone household, struggling with alcoholism, morphine addiction, and regret, as they reflect on love, dreams, and roads not taken. One of the most lauded of American plays, this deeply personal play received both the Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize. Directed by Cynthia Meier.

Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward
November 7 – 24, 2019
The novelist Charles Condomine invites the spiritualist Madame Arcati to hold a séance in his home. Arcati inadvertently summons the ghost of Charles’ first wife, Elvira, who Charles can see, but his present wife, Ruth, can’t. A jealous ghost, Elvira tries to upset the marriage. Directed by Joseph McGrath.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville, adapted by Cynthia Meier and Holly Griffith
January 9 – 26, 2020
The obsessed Captain Ahab assembles a whaling crew to pursue the albino sperm whale, Moby Dick, that took his leg in a prior voyage. Regarded by many as the great American novel, Moby Dick is Homeric, biblical, and Shakespearean in its breadth of expression. Directed by Cynthia Meier.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh
February 27 – March 15, 2020
In a rural Irish cottage of the aging Mag and her spinster daughter Maureen, their comic and appalling lives are brought to a head as a romance develops for Maureen that Mag resents. Directed by Christopher Johnson.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
April 23 – May 10, 2020
The shipwrecked Viola dresses as a boy for protection and is employed by Duke Orsino to woo Olivia for him. Olivia falls in love with Viola-in-disguise and Viola herself falls in love with Orsino. Meanwhile, the pranksters of Olivia’s household dupe the puritan Malvolio into falling in love with Olivia. Directed by Joseph McGrath.

The John and Joyce Ambruster Play-Reading Series:

Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen
October 6, 2019, 2:00 pm
The story of a man who dares to speak an unpalatable truth and the devastating consequences.

Madagascar by J. T. Rogers
December 1, 2019, 2:00 pm
At three different periods in time, three Americans find themselves in a hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome confronting the haunting mystery that connects them.

Molly Sweeney by Brian Friel
February 2, 2020, 2:00pm
Told in a riveting series of monologues, a blind woman living in Donegal, Ireland undergoes a revolutionary operation to restore her sight.

The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca
March 22, 2020, 2:00pm
Following the funeral of Bernarda Alba’s second husband, the tyrannical matriarch announces to her five daughters that their period of mourning will last eight years.

Editor’s Note: This is the forth in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season. 

The Crucible Was Skillfully Chaotic

by Leticia Gonzalez

Now, I must admit that Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, directed by Christopher Johnson, is the first show I have seen at The Rogue Theatre. I sat down, eager to see what the play had in store. I didn’t know what to expect since I hadn’t watched the movie or read the book, but as this theater is well known in town, I had certain expectations – and they met all of them.

Bryn Booth as Abigail Williams and the cast of The Crucible. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Bryn Booth as Abigail Williams and the cast of The Crucible. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

We are in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during 1692. The scene opens with Reverend Paris carrying a limp Betty Paris, portrayed by Christopher Younggren and Flories Rush respectively, who’s passed out after being discovered dancing in the middle of the forest.  The town whispers of witches. The slightest accusations spark into a rampant fire which inevitably leaves the town scrambling and gasping for common sense and sound evidence. This show is meant to portray how quickly things can get out of hand; it is easy to be carried away by feelings. Hope hangs in the air, out of reach of the innocent. Those in power are too concerned with the preservation of self and will do anything to maintain the integrity of their current social and political standing.

This is not a tech heavy show. The emphasis is on the dynamic relationships and high stake issues between the characters. As an ensemble, they all had great energy. They fed off each other’s energy and radiated it back to one another. All of them were committed. The technical elements did not detract from that. The lighting was subtle and simple. The music added depth and emotional respite which I appreciated because there were times when I was overwhelmed by the constant yelling and high energy. The underlying music offered a pleasant escape.  

Matt Bowdren as John Proctor and Holly Griffith as Elizabeth Proctor. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Matt Bowdren as John Proctor and Holly Griffith as Elizabeth Proctor. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Matt Bowdren (John Proctor) is always a treat to watch on stage. I remember when I first saw him in Othello as Iago at the University of Arizona. I enjoyed watching the interaction between him and Holly Griffith (Elizabeth Proctor). They beautifully captured the delicate condition of their relationship. A woman who is hurt and uncertain of how to move past the pain and learn how to trust a man who is repentant but impatient for forgiveness. They were physically and emotionally distant, but you could feel that there was a yearning for things to be better by the way they looked at and spoke to one another.

Bryn Booth, who portrayed Abigail Williams, was a delight to watch as she masterfully manipulated the other characters around her. I found myself watching her even when she wasn’t speaking, curious to see how she’d respond as the tables shifted in and against her favor. And Leah Taylor’s Mary Warren is something to behold. Her ability to portray the internal flip-flopping struggle so vividly for us to see was amazing. I hated her character (in a good way), but I understood myself. There was a moment of well orchestrated possession that gave me goosebumps.The women’s shrill and terrifying screams coupled with their ruthless pursuit of Mary almost had me confessing as well. I even snuck several cautious peeks around the theater to make sure there was nothing around me or on the ceiling. You can never be too careful.

 I left wishing I had known more about what happened to Tituba, by hearing her side of the story. Brought to life by Carley Elizabeth Preston, her monologue was creepy good, but the content fell flat. What was her truth? Did Abigail coerce her? I feel that Arthur Miller could have further developed her character, but seeing that the story mostly revolves a certain demographic of people, there really isn’t room for another perspective. That’s too bad.

Crucible group

Kate Cannon as Mercy Lewis, Erin Buckley as Susanna Walcott, Bryn Booth as Abigail Williams, Matt Bowdren as John Proctor, Florie Rush as Betty Parris, and Leah Taylor as Mary Warren. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

One does not watch The Crucible to simply pass the time or for a gay evening at the theater. From the moment the play starts, the stakes are high and the actors are committed. The hysteria and chaos in the scenes are palpable. It’s no surprise that I could hear the audience gasp and feel them squirm in their seats. We were all aboard the Salem Witch Train racing down a slippery slope without any brakes.

The Crucible runs from April 25 through May 12, Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 pm, with 2:00 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday at The Rogue Theater at the Historic Y, 300 East University Boulevard. Contact the box office at 520-551-2053 or buy tickets online at TheRogueTheatre.org. Tickets are $38, though if you are a student wanting to catch this show you may be able to get a Student Rush Ticket. This ticket is $15 and only available if there are open seats 15 minutes before the curtain (Let the games begin!). There will be discussions with the cast and directors after each performance. Make sure to stay for that as well. I stayed for the discussion and enjoyed the stories some of the elders shared with everyone.

Bro-Code, Me Too, and Much Ado

by Chloe Loos

A classic comedy about mistaken identity and courtly courtship, Much Ado About Nothing at the Rogue Theatre delivers exactly what Tucson has come to expect from its ensemble of well-seasoned actors: clear language and beautiful acting.  

Ryan Parker Knox as Benedick and Holly Griffith as Beatrice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Ryan Parker Knox as Benedick and Holly Griffith as Beatrice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

The opening was clever, featuring Beatrice (Holly Griffith) and her spitfire delivery of some grade-A Elizabethan insults to her Benedick (Ryan Parker Knox), who serves them right back. The exchange really shows the audience why the duo tends to take center stage despite the main plot turning on the budding love between gentle Hero, played by a darling Bryn Booth, and Claudio, played by a striking Hunter Hnat. I was blown away by the attention given to each minute detail in the facial expressions and slight movements by each member of the cast, from Hero’s waiting ladies (Claire de la Vergne, Sarah Shannon) to the rest of the men who populate Messina. There was also an enjoyable abundance of strong physical comedy from Dogberry, played by the comical Matt Walley, and the Watch (Cole Potwardowski, Sarah Shannon, and Chris Pankratz).

While I enjoyed myself throughout most of the piece, parts of the villainous subplot surrounding Don John (Christopher Johnson), Borachio (Steve McKee), and Conrade (Dave Hentz) fell a little flat due to the liveliness of the main action. While Don John is a brooding character, the implicit pacing in these portions tended to lull me out of the rapid-fire dialogue that flowed around the home of Leonato (Harold Dixon).

I also want to give kudos to the minimal set designed by Joseph McGrath and executed by scenic artist Amy Novelli. The set perfectly echoed a classic Shakespeare piece and was unobtrusively modified throughout scene changes. The costumes were as beautiful as expected and added characterization via details such as color palette and fabric material that built the world of the play. A final element that really tied the piece together was the beautiful use of music provided by Russell Ronnebaum on piano, Samantha Bounkeua on violin, and John Keeney (as Balthasar) on guitar. Although I do feel that the idea of underscoring dramatic action could have been utilized a little more, the sounds that drifted to my ears from the balcony really got me into the mood of the piece before and during the performance.

Now, to review a Shakespeare play is an intimidating task as one needs to consider both the historic meaning of the text and explore why we are still doing his work 500+ years after the fact. Shakespeare is often done due to his “universal” themes, but I believe that there are so many specific place and time-bound constraints of understanding that we really need to examine the specific context in which current versions of his work are being done.

The central conflict of the play revolves around the question of Hero’s worthiness (read: virginity). She is set up to appear a harlot by Don John’s machinations (which, as a bastard, is an extension of his own shame and misogyny), and the play leads us to a point where she is publicly shamed – and forcefully pushed away – by Claudio. Leonato laments that he would rather see her dead than unvirtuous. We can, of course, write this off as a relic of the time, but I think it is important we witness the lines of belief and trust that come through the play, especially in today’s “Me Too” milieu. The play continues and everything ends up just peachy (as this is still a comedy) but there are no repercussions for the horrible actions of the “good guys”. Hero’s silence is also something to be aware of as in this piece she does not speak for 35 minutes (when her identity has shifted into being engaged) and does not speak more than a verse until 55 minutes into the play. The text itself seems to recognize this, however, as we see how the close friendship among men (a “bro-code”) leads to the blameless Hero’s death.

Harold Dixon as Leonato, Bryn Booth as Hero, and Holly Griffith as Beatrice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Harold Dixon as Leonato, Bryn Booth as Hero, and Holly Griffith as Beatrice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

More overt and surprisingly progressive attitudes towards gender include Beatrice’s commanding actions and fierce thoughts (her “O, that I were a man” speech was incredible) and Benedick’s transformation into a love-struck puppy upon finding out that she could love him, for instance. The first scene between two named men – Benedick and Claudio – showcases a reverse on the Bechdel test in which the two discuss the ladies of the house.

Finally, I do want to notate that there was only one person of color in the show and, in my showing, less than five people of color in the audience which denotes to me that Shakespeare is still affiliated with white audiences. I recognize that the Rogue has built its relationships with actors through the ensemble, but I wonder if the lack of people of color in the ensemble is indicative of a larger problem within the theatre community.

There is still a place for Shakespeare in modern times, and sometimes it can be surprising what these texts of yesterday can tell us today. So, without much ado, get thee to the Rogue! Tickets can be purchased online at theroguetheatre.org or by calling 520-551-2053. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm until January 27th.

Ensemble Storytelling Bring Emotion and Experience to Life in Curious Incident

by China Young

Ryan Parker Knox as Ed and Hunter Hnat as Christopher. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Ryan Parker Knox as Ed and Hunter Hnat as Christopher. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

All actors remain on stage unless prescribed otherwise. This is one of very few scripted stage directions in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Cynthia Meier, the director of The Rogue’s novel-inspired production, noted that she took that one to heart. In doing so, Meier and her ensemble of 10 performers sculpt a simple and genuine theatrical experience layered with complexity. This is a production that emphasizes the powerful storytelling potential of a well-trained ensemble in lieu of elaborate spectacle.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is the story of a young man, Christopher, who takes on a detective role in effort to uncover the mystery behind who killed his neighbor’s dog. As can happen when sleuthing, he discovers much more than he could have imagined.
This detective story is unique from others: Christopher is autistic. While autism expresses differently for different people, in this production it is his ability to interact with others that is most evidently affected. Put simply, Christopher’s social communication skills are not in alignment with societal standards. Told from his perspective, the audience can experience Christopher’s world as he does. The ensemble introduces this quality at the top of the show by disrupting the audience’s sense of normal. Christopher’s teacher and mentor, Sioban, played by Patty Gallagher, delivers dialogue that doesn’t seem to belong to her while the rest of the ensemble re-enacts memories and thoughts from Christopher’s mind. All this occurs while performer Hunter Hnat, who plays Christopher, masterfully embodies every word and action taking place around him, occasionally stepping into the scene of a memory, but only speaking when he’s commenting on his version of what’s happening. This disembodied introduction also establishes that this is a story Christopher wrote and is sharing with the audience.
Throughout the production, the ensemble enhances the experience of what it’s like to be Christopher, whether that means amplifying his emotional state, creating his environment, or portraying the people he interacts with. They disrupt other theatrical norms as they become the set, the props, and ingeniously facilitate the sound design and scene shifts. It’s a work of true collaboration that I appreciated immeasurably.

Holly Griffith as Judy and Hunter Hnat as Christopher. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Holly Griffith as Judy and Hunter Hnat as Christopher. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

Because it was such an ensemble-based show (With an equal gender distribution I might add!), it’s hard to single anyone out. Even so, Hnat as Christopher was inarguably outstanding in the role. His journey of emotional shifts within the autistic lens were raw, instinctive, and credible. Gallagher as Sioban brought warmth and gentleness that counteracted Christopher’s occasionally harsh bluntness. Ryan Parker Knox and Holly Griffith, who portrayed Christopher’s parents Ed and Judy, both brought depth to their characters as they balance the trials of parenting a child with autism and fulfilling their individual needs as human beings. I was equally as impressed with their ability to slip back into the ensemble without fixating on the named characters they played.
The remainder of the cast shifted in and out of secondary characters with similar ease and finesse. Kathryn Kellner Brown rises slightly above the rest with her presentation of Mrs. Alexander, an elderly neighbor that Christopher becomes better acquainted with through his detective work. For me, one of the most memorable moments of her performance was watching Mrs. Alexander walk in front of the stage and the moment she took the first step to rejoin the ensemble onstage, Mrs. Alexander completely disappeared, leaving just Ensemble Voice 6. Samantha Cormier also deserves honorable mention with the deft comedic timing executed during her brief moments as Julie, another one of Christopher’s teachers. These performers are incredibly skilled in their abilities to jump in and out of character and doing so all without leaving the stage further elevates their professional dexterity.
Honestly, I cannot praise the cast enough for the trust they have for one another that inevitably translates into the vulnerability they have with the audience. It’s incredibly refreshing to see this kind of work being done in Tucson and I hope more companies and performers embrace its power in the future.
Meier and her creative team definitely deserve applause for the level of artistry applied to this production. Some of that ensemble work wouldn’t be as impressive without the complimentary lighting effects and the 9 boxes that are utilized throughout as seating, storage, and more tangible amplifications of Christopher. If my descriptions seem vague, it’s because curiosity should get ahold of you and you should make every effort to see this production.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at The Rogue Theatre Theatre November 1st through 18th. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30; Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:00. You can buy tickets online at theroguetheatre.org or by calling 551-2053.