A young play takes its first steps with World’s Stage
The company's Project: "Working Title" program returns for a second time, guiding Liz Leighton's "Learner's Permit" from manuscript to staged reading to full production, this weekend at the Underground Collaborative.
Milwaukee doesn’t see too many world premieres of local plays produced in a given season. If they’re lucky, writers get a workshop or staged reading, presenting their work before a limited audience before retreating back to revise it and continue the process of convincing companies to give it a full production, sometimes years later.
The World’s Stage Theatre Company does things a little differently. Through their Project: “Working Title” series, now wrapping up its second installment, artistic director Gretchen Mahkorn and her creative team take one of those new plays floating around the city and give it that staged reading – and then, right afterwards, put it into production for a full staging. “A lot of times, you don’t get to see [plays] come full-circle,” she says. “We wanted to find a way to nurture up-and-coming playwrights and give them an opportunity, in a safe environment, to submit their pieces, workshop it, take it to a staged reading … and then also a fully-staged production.”
This year, they’re nurturing Liz Leighton, whose play Learner’s Permit caught the eye of both Makhorn and her literary manager Courtney Stirn (whose play Professor Lonsdale was chosen for last year’s Project: “Working Title”). Leighton’s play jumps between two time periods connected by a fateful car crash; in the past, lead character Kim (Sasha Katharine Sigel) tries to grow closer to her mother (Brooke Maroldi) and cousin (Derrion Brown), while in the future her therapist (Brianna Borouchoff) finds Kim distancing herself from those relationships.
Leighton says the play is partly devoted to exploring this longing for closeness, and the alternation of scenes, each with their own piece of the puzzle to fill in, supports this aim. She initially came up with the idea for the show after dreaming about crashing her own car, and fleshed out the relationships through multiple revisions as part of a playwriting class.
Because of Project: “Working Title’s” focus on the whole play production process, Learner’s Permit has already been through internal workshops and a staged reading in December that offered audiences an opportunity both to see into the normally backstage workings of play development and also offer feedback on the play itself. Leighton says the evening was a great success, with lots of different opinions getting aired and debated among the audience itself, and helped her make the logistical changes necessary to “clean up” the play.
The finished product, opening tonight (Jan. 15) at the Underground Collaborative, is now sufficiently streamlined – in more ways than one. Mahkorn says Gerard and her design team have ensured that the set and staging have stayed as simple as possible, invisibly framing Leighton’s script. “We’ve really been trying to let the beautiful piece and the beautiful words Liz has written and the beautiful imagery speak for itself,” Mahkorn said. It’s a nice way to kick off their 2014 season (soon to include Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, getting staged at Villa Terrace in March) – with a world premiere that suitably fits their mission to re-envision what’s possible for Milwaukee theater.
Learner’s Permit runs Wednesday, Jan. 15, through Sunday, Jan. 19, at the Underground Collaborative on the lower level of Grand Avenue Mall. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. nights with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee. Tickets are $15, $12 for students, and can be ordered online.
The theater’s turned out no end of productions about its backstage shenanigans, and The Understudy might be mistaken for just one of the dozens in the herd. But there’s a few things about it that make me think otherwise. Its characters catch my eye; the woman at its core, Roxanne, is a stage manager, not a diva. (That role gets filled by both her ex-fiance and a Hollywood star “slumming” it on stage) Another is its writer, Theresa Rebeck, a veteran of the stage and silver screen who knows how to make people fight better than most writers. And then there’s the simple fact that it’s being performed by Renaissance Theaterworks, a company that hasn’t disappointed me yet – and better still, has managed to exceed my expectations every time I take a seat among its audience. I’ll be doing so again this weekend. The Understudy, directed by Mallory Metoxen (in her professional debut as a director) and featuring Cassandra Bissell, Philip Sletteland and Ken T. Williams, runs Jan. 18 through Feb. 9 at the Broadway Theatre Center. Tickets are $31.50 and can be ordered online or at (414) 291-7800.
CLOSING THIS WEEK
Greendale Community Theatre: The Full Monty, Jan. 18
ALSO ON STAGE
Fireside Theatre: Solid Gold ‘60s
First Stage: A Midnight Cry
Splinter Group: Trailer Park Prophesies