Take a close look at the 2016-2017 McPherson College theatre season, and a particular detail may jump out that speaks to the quality of the shows.
Every single script was written by a Tony Award winner – the most prestigious award in the realm of theatre.
The season will include “Well” by Lisa Kron, “Blithe Spirit” by Noël Coward, “Godspell” with music by Stephen Schwartz and book by John-Michael Tebelak, “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf” by Ntozake Shange, “Barefoot in the Park” by Neil Simon, and the Kansas premiere of “Love and Information” by Caryl Churchill.
Dr. Rick Tyler, professor of speech and theatre, and Jd. Bowman, associate professor of theatre, said the lineup is notable not only because of the prestige of the shows’ creators, but also because of a unifying theme of “family.”
“When we look at the theme of ‘family,’ we are also looking at our own participation in a family structure,” Bowman said. “How do we each play our own part in our ‘families’?”
“Godspell,” for example, talks about spiritual families. “Well” and “Love and Information” look at how individuals contribute to the definition of family, and “for colored girls…” considers how to define family.
To see all the shows, experience a special a student-produced dinner before each performance that is themed to the production, and to receive advance notice of other performance events through the year, theatergoers will want to consider a First Nighter’s Membership.
A membership costs $75 for an individual, $150 for a double membership and $225 for a family membership and provides critical support for high-quality performances at McPherson College.
Kicking off the season is “Well” showing in Mingenback Theatre Sept. 8-10. The play premiered in 2004 Off-Broadway with the playwright – Lisa Kron – portraying herself in a story about her mother’s chronic illness and issues of health on a personal and community level. The work breaks the conventions of theater, with the performers frequently breaking out of character to comment on the play itself. Of course, the college’s performance will go to a new level of “meta” art because an actor will be playing Kron, playing herself.
Up next is the college’s Homecoming production of “Blithe Spirit” in Brown Auditorium Oct. 7-8 and 14-15. The classic comedy from the 1940s follows Charles Condomine – a novelist who invites a medium to conduct a séance at his home, hoping to gather material for his next book. The attempt goes better – and worse – than Charles had planned, as the séance successfully summons his deceased first wife. She, in turn, attempts to wreck his marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who can’t see the ghost.
The only musical on the season’s lineup is the popular retelling of the Gospel of Matthew – “Godspell” showing in Mingenback Theatre Nov. 17-19. First performed in 1971, the MC performance will use the 2011 Broadway revival book, for which Stephen Schwartz revisited the work – creating new arrangements, making some changes to lyrics, and reworking instrumentation and musical keys. Songs range from deeply emotional ballads to a silly softshoe number to sultry nightclub blues. The casting scheme is also unique – with only the part of Jesus remaining constant. Apart from that, one actor starts by portraying John the Baptist and turns to become Judas Iscariot by the end and everyone else is part of an ensemble.
The first performance of 2017 will be “for colored girls..” in Mingenback Theatre on Feb. 2-4, and should prove an interesting challenge – not only for the actors but also for audiences. The cast calls for seven African-American women who are identified in the play only by the colors of the rainbow that they wear – Red, Blue, Purple, Yellow, Brown, Green and Orange. Rather than a traditional plot, the performance is in the form of “Choreopoetry” – a blending of poetry, dance and music. The poems’ subjects are challenging and difficult – including rape, abortion and domestic violence. The original 1976 production on Broadway received the Tony Award for Best Play and was adapted into a book, a television movie, and a theatrical film.
Contrasting that heavier material will be a wild and bawdy comedy – Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” showing in Brown Auditorium on March 10-11. A favorite with audiences for decades, the show was nominated for three Tony Awards in 1964 when it premiered. The quintessential “bedroom farce,” the play follows Corie and Paul Bratter – a newlywed couple in New York City just moving into their first apartment. Corie is a free spirit who tries – to comedic effect – to get her more straight-laced husband to loosen up… to traipse shoeless through the park.
The final performance will be a special treat for Kansas audiences, as it’s the first production of the unique “Love and Information” in the state. Showing in Mingenback Theatre April 20-22, it’s unlikely this show will be seen anywhere else afterward, either – at least, not in the same way as on the McPherson College stage. That’s by design. Caryl Churchill wrote “Love and Information” so that there are five sections, each consisting of multiple scenes that may be performed in any order, which opens up tremendous flexibility by allowing the scenes within each section to be re-arranged however a particular director desires. Churchill also includes a number of short vignettes that may be dropped into the play at any point… or not used at all. The arrangement of these vignettes can dramatically change their meaning. The ensemble cast portrays more than 100 different characters – often of vague gender and with the potential for actors to play multiple characters… or for multiple actors to play the same character. In scenes that rarely extend more than a few minuses, the work explores flawed and beautiful relationships and personal communication.
All shows start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets to all shows cost $5 for adults and $3.50 for children ages high school and younger as well as seniors. Reservations may be made by contacting the theatre box office at 620-242-0444 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.