McGivern and Fiestaware come to Renaissance Theaterworks

By - Apr 19th, 2010 06:19 pm
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Fiestaware pieces c. 1940 from the Morrison Family Fiestaware collection of the Smithsonian Institution. Photo courtesy of

John McGivern, Milwaukee’s humorist and storyteller, will make his Renaissance Theaterworks debut in Steven Tomlinson’s one-man show, American Fiesta, on April 23. Fiestaware is that colorful line of plates, cups, mixing bowls and serving vessels that the Homer Laughlin China Company started manufacturing in 1936. (The company is still very much in business.) Collectors prize early Fiestaware.

Tomlinson’s play, directed by Jenny Wanasek, is about more than crockery. TCD’s Paul Masterson recently spoke to McGivern about the upcoming show.

TCD: Tell us how the production came about.

John McGivern: American Fiesta was staged in New York City with great success. Renaissance contacted me about doing it a few years ago. Then the rights were released. But I still had to read in front the women at Renaissance.

TCD: And, you got the part…

McGivern: Yes, I think I was the only one who auditioned.

TCD: It’s obviously about a collector’s obsession with that all-American icon of pottery, Fiestaware. I sense a metaphor.

McGivern: It’s one big metaphor about the hunt. Steven, the gay boy from Oklahoma, lives with his Mexican-American partner, Leon. They go to Canada to get married. Then it’s back to Oklahoma and the odyssey begins. His mother rejects the notion of her son in a gay relationship. She says, “why do you come home and talk about things we try to forget?” As they leave town, they discover a size 7 Fiesta bowl for $500. The dealer refuses to sell it to them and gives them a Bible instead.

TCD: Then the hunt for Fiesta continues…

McGivern: Of course. But Steven only looks for red or blue pieces. Now the metaphor refers to the red and blue states. The play is about Steven and Leon’s experiences in those states and the people they meet as the journey progresses. The whole process is that journey from discovery to recognition.

TCD: For the collector, the psychology varies. The obsession is in the hunt to find every piece of a set or every pattern. American Fiesta is about that sense of purpose, isn’t it?

McGivern: Some collectors find solace in damaged goods. Others, like Steven, pursue perfection. There’s a scene in which he gets a piece from eBay.  He finds a flaw and rejects it completely. His partner, Leon, says “I’m glad we didn’t meet on eBay.” It’s heart wrenching. Another character is a blind woman who takes damaged pieces and repairs them. Ultimately, it’s all about our relationships and memories.

TCD: You’re a storyteller. How does the show fit your performance style?

McGivern: American Fiesta is…. a story worth telling. It’s a good theatrical piece because it takes different perspectives.  I play around 20 characters – some are women, such as Steven’s mother. The piece is sweet… lovely… (it speaks) to so much. It’s much more than a simple story.

TCD: Gay marriage is a hot political issue – especially given the circumstances here in Wisconsin. It sounds like American Fiesta avoids confrontation.

McGivern: Not at all! Yes, it’s political. It’s incredibly political. It’s about the right to marry but not as a constitutional issue. Steven spells it out when he says exactly that: “Everyone deserves the right to marry. How else can you get your mom to release you?” People will walk out of the show with a clearer sense that it’s not solely about blue and red politics but an inalienable human right… an inherent rite of passage for everyone.

TCD: Is there a happy ending?

McGivern: HELLLOoo!

TCD: I guess they’ll have to buy tickets to find out.


American Fiesta opens April 23 at the Broadway Theatre Center Studio Theatre, 158 N. Broadway in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Tickets are $32; call the BTC box office, 414-291-7800, and online right here.

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Theater

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