Friday, April 29, 2011

"Great Falls" stirs up the mysteries between love and fear

I've been a fan of Lee Blessing's writing for a long time. When I saw the Essential Theatre's production of his play, "Down the Road", back in 1994, I told Peter Hardy (who directed it) that it was a play that disturbed women in ways they wanted to think about and disturbed men in ways they didn't want to think about. Blessing's plays tend to stir things up and make you think about stuff you feel, but don't usually look at.

"Great Falls" stirs up the mysteries between love and fear, men and women, youth and middle age. Think Creon and Antigone on a road trip.

It's funny and awful in the way that family is funny and awful. It's about painful separation and undeniable connection and confused loyalties and transformation or, anyway, the possibility of transformation if you're willing to go down in the dark and wrestle an angel for it, if, like Monkey Man in the play, you're willing to walk 50 miles for it. 

It's my favorite of Lee Blessing's plays so far.

I can't wait to start rehearsal.

Ellen McQueen

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"A Sleeping Country" Directors Notes

Peter Hardy, Artistic Director
When I first started reading Melanie Marnich’s A SLEEPING COUNTRY, I knew that we were looking for a comedy to help round out the 2011 Essential Theatre Play Festival – or, at least, something lighter than the two fairly heavy dramas we had already decided to do (Lee Blessing’s GREAT FALLS and Theroun D’Arcy Patterson’s A THOUSAND CIRCLETS).  Right from the start I was pleased with how funny A SLEEPING COUNTRY was, even while it dealt with some serious subject matter (a woman who may be in danger of dying from insomnia).  It had a magical, imaginative feel as its heroine, Julia, left New York City for the much older city of Venice, Italy – a place of ancient mysteries and fairy tale romance.

But I wasn’t prepared for how deeply the play would delve into the heart of its sleepless heroine, even as she encounters some hilariously eccentric Italians that she may or may not be related to.  In trying to find a way to finally fall asleep, Julia learns how to become truly awake, emerging from the hazy dream that her life has become.  Has that ever happened to you?  It has to me, and the truth of that experience gives this funny and fanciful play an unexpected power and depth of feeling.  In the end, it’s a play about hope, and embracing life in all its terrifying wonder.

I love to direct plays like this, when the challenge is to try and make them work on all their different levels – to bring out the humor, and the fairy-tale magic, and the heartache and love and hope and fear.  To make something that’s both truly funny AND beautiful.

I’ve got a wonderful cast that I’m so looking forward to working with – the phenomenal Kelly Criss as Julia, the woman who might be dying (but learns how to live).  Kelly appeared in the Essential’s productions of FOOD FOR FISH (playing about 9 different characters) and QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT (only one …).  You may also have seen her at Theatre in the Square, Georgia Ensemble Theatre, Aurora and a number of shows at the Shakespeare Tavern.

My old pal Megan Hayes will be playing Julia’s best friend (and psychiatrist) Midge … along with a gondolier and a sleeping princess.  I worked with Megan in one of my favorite Essential productions, THE MOST FABULOUS STORY EVER TOLD, and she’s been seen at just about every theatre in town, including the Alliance, Horizon, Jewish Theatre of the South, Georgia Ensemble Theatre, Aurora and Theatre in the Square, plus a bunch of TV and online comedy stuff.

I’m looking forward to working with Matt Myers for the first time, playing Julia’s bewildered fiancĂ© Greg (plus the Italian super-servant Franco and the Italian dreamboat Carlo).  Matt’s been seen at Dad’s Garage, Theatre in the Square, Aurora, Georgia Ensemble and Theatre Gael.  And we’re lucky to have Holly Stevenson (whom I’ve known for years, have acted with, but never directed before) playing the grand and mysterious Isabella Orsini, the woman who just might have the key to Julia’s fate.  Holly’s been seen all over town, at the Alliance, Theatre in the Square, Theatre Gael, Jewish Theatre of the South and Stage Door Players.

This week I’ll be meeting with designers to talk about how we’re going to create the weird and wonderful world of this play.  Rehearsals start in early June, and we’ll be opening up the Festival on June 30.  We hope to see you there!

Peter Hardy

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Support Essential Theatre - Buy Your Essential Flex Pass Now

If you are anything like me, you wait until the last minute to decide when to see a theatre production and expect to find a discount ticket as well. We've figured out a way to offer just that. Essential Theatre's new Flex Pass gives you flexibility and discounted ticket prices while helping us raise funds before the summer festival opens. What's more, the earlier you purchase, the larger the ticket package, the greater your savings will be. Each week as the festival opening approaches, these packages will cost just a tiny bit more. Just a small twist of the arm so that you might please consider buying your tickets now. So, how does this work, keep on reading.

When you purchase a three, six or ten ticket Flex Pass you can to use those tickets however you wish. You can even have a big party or bring a small group of friends to any performance of any of the three festival plays. To redeem your FlexPass got individual tickets, you simply visit OvationTix online and you may choose one or more tickets to any performance for any of the three shows until you use up your Flex Pass tickets. And, you will not need to select all your tickets at a single visit. You just use them when you need them. For example, if you buy a ten seat Flex Pass, you can see one performance, and select to use your remaining tickets come back with eight friends on another night. Or, whenever you want simply go online and choose up to your remaining number of tickets for whichever show you want to see. There are no blackout dates or restrictions. The earlier you purchase, the greater your savings, and you can even wait until a few hours before a performance to get your tickets online.

Simply sign in at OvationTix to redeem your Flex Pass. Flex Pass tickets can only purchased online and can not be redeemed at the box office. For more information, please contact

Buy your Flex Pass early, you'll help Essential Theatre and save more.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lauren Gunderson's SILENT SKY opens at South Coast Repertory

And yet another new opening for Essential Theatre playwright Lauren Gunderson: SILENT SKY at South Coast Repertory in California:

“She stared at the heavens, and what she saw there changed the course of astronomy. But when Henrietta Leavitt arrives at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s, she isn’t allowed to touch a telescope or even express an idea. Instead, she joins a group of women “computers,” charting the stars for an astronomer who calculates projects in “girl hours” and has no time for Henrietta’s probing theories. But as she measures the light of distant stars, she must also take the measure of her life on Earth, answer questions of love, family and the hope of heaven in this exquisite new play—an homage to the beauty of the Earth and the glory of the skies.”