Tuesday, March 20, 2012

theatre notes. holy days. 

I think I first encountered the New Century Theatre Company through ACT's Central Heating Lab program. I'd missed their first two productions - they only put on one play a year - and found them in their third year, with On the Nature of Dust. Then, last year, came O Lovely Glowworm, which I saw twice because it was so moving and enthralling (and confusing). They are a company of actors, who get together once a month for readings at a bar in Seattle's theatre district. The brevity of their one-play-season is mostly due to economics, probably, and perhaps time - whatever can be fitted in between other projects. But they are very clearly an ensemble, a repertory, a close-knit company within the already-close-knit theatre community that is Seattle.

Holy Days is a quiet story that takes place in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, when you could either leave and face the great unknown, like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, or you could stay on and hope for things to change. Two brothers and their wives are struggling through the dust storms that are sweeping their land, the black dust that seeps through every crack and corner. There is the unbearable weight of grief that comes with the loss of a child, and there is the waiting for a new life to be born. It is a shockingly tender play, and it says something about the closeness of the four actors onstage (two of them are married to each other in real life) that it almost feels like it was written specifically for them.

It's with some surprise I realize that this is the first time I have seen these four members of NCTC together, although I have seen them all so many times before, Amy Thone and Darragh Kennan in particular. They and Hans Altwies and Jen Taylor feel so much like a real family that I can hardly believe it when we are told that Holy Days was produced with just two weeks of rehearsal, tech included. (I gather that this last detail is a big deal). I think this is what happens when you go in with a group of people who really know and love each other and have worked with each other before (and Hans admits that they may have snuck in some reading time beforehand). This is what you get with a repertory company, with a tight circle of people who really love what they do.

There was talk of doing more productions like this, in the future. Sort of "pop-up theatre," with barely any sets or costumes - although they were pretty fully costumed and made-up and the set was pretty detailed - and a very short rehearsal period, with only three performance nights. It is more polished than a staged reading, but with a few bumps and stumbles that might be otherwise smoothed out with more preparation time. It could work, too, with such a intimate theatre company and a more minimalist play. You couldn't have done it with, say, O Lovely Glowworm with its complicated sets and cues, but a simpler work like this one works perfectly. I am so looking forward to more.

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