It's not unusual for the Nightingale Theater and its in-house writers collective to tackle a topic as grave and profound as death.
It is unusual, though, for them to be asked to do so by the executive director of a local hospice.
But in February when Grace Hospice Executive Director Otis Eversole commissioned a play from the 50 Swats Writers Collective addressing the topic of death, the group accepted the challenge and will present part one of "The Grace Project," titled Government Death Cheese: A
Decomposition On Dying American, Sept. 18-19 and 25-26.
Government Death Cheese is an original shadow puppet show, written and performed by John Cruncleton and Joseph Gomez, with lights and sound by Jeff Whitlatch.
Part two of the project, the play written by 50 Swats members and performed by Midwestern Theatre Troupe, will be staged sometime in January and address the more weighty topics associated with health care, hospice and death.
Government Death Cheese, though, is more of a timely farce because Cruncleton and Gomez poke fun at the current health care reform debate in the show.
"We touch on all of the hot topics," Cruncleton said. "We use them as a spring board, but the heart of this thing is a ridiculous puppet show. This is not in-depth political analysis; this is us taking jabs. We point out the idiocy of both the conservative and the liberal sides. There are no sacred cows. But I guess you could say we lean more toward the left side of the spectrum."
The story is about Fuzzpot, an average Joe on his way to a town hall meeting to vehemently protest any kind of government-run health care program. During his rant, he has a stroke and ends up on life support, where the hospital charges him a fortune to keep him alive. In the end, he begins to explore a means to an end, struggling with the morality of death and euthanasia.
In preparing for the project, Cruncleton and the other 50 Swats members researched topics like death, health care, hospice care and others and sought answers to many of their questions through the staff at Grace Hospice.
"Death is a really broad topic, and when you start to pin it down, you realize most everything relates to it anyway," said Cruncleton.
Cruncleton called part one of "The Grace Project" a "prelude" or "appetizer," saying, "There will be a more thoughtful, serious piece in January, a more proper theatre piece."
Tickets to Government Death Cheese are $5, and the show starts at 8pm each night. Nightingale is at 1416 E. Fourth St. More information is available at www.nightingaletheater.com.
More on Death
Heller Theatre will open the doors to its new home at Henthorne Park, 4825 S. Quaker, by staging David Lindsay-Abaire's 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, another play dealing with issues of death, tragedy and recovery.
Directed by Erin Scarberry, the play tells the story of Becca (Cassie Hollis) and Howie (David Lawrence), whose 4-year-old son has been killed in a car accident.
As the two struggle to deal with their grief, Becca's well-meaning mother (Susan Apker) and off-kilter sister (Sadie Boren) attempt to lift their spirits, while Jason, the driver of the car that killed their son (played by Sean Harris), also contacts them, seeking closure of his own.
Scarberry said she chose the play to present to Heller's play selection committee, and when it was chosen for the 2009-2010 season, she jumped at the chance to direct.
"This playwright is one of my favorites," she said. "He's kind of known for creating a lot of zany, off-the-wall characters that usually end up in some kind of extreme situation.
"This is the first play he's written where he's departed from that. It's a straightforward drama. The characters are all very real and easily identifiable with anyone."
Scarberry said she had to take care, as a director, not to let the play turn into a melodrama worthy of Lifetime television.
"There's a fine balance in dealing with the emotional content of the play and still keeping it truthful," she said. "(The playwright) is really gifted at natural dialogue, and there's a lot of humor in this play, which balances the rest of it quite a bit."
Rabbit Hole opens at Heller Theatre at Henthorne Sept. 18-19 at 8pm and continues Sept. 24-27. More information at www.hellertheatre.com.
In Full Swing
Theatre Tulsa, too, opens its 2009-2010 season this weekend, with Hot L Baltimore, Lanford Wilson's 1970s-era, off-Broadway show about a group of misfits living in the Hotel Baltimore, a decaying property once considered a jewel of a hotel.
The play is directed by Randall Whalen, who last directed it in 1989 as a joint effort between Heller Theatre and The Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges, staging able-bodied actors alongside those with physical limitations.
"It's one of my favorite shows I've ever done," said Whalen.
Boasting a cast of 15, the play follows a group of people facing eviction when their crumbling residence is condemned. The hotel's manager struggles to keep order in light of the chaos that ensues.
"The people are misfits, cast offs, much like the hotel itself," Whalen said. "But, through the hotel, they find each other. They find strength in each other. The play is full of humor, tender moments and some sadness."
Theatre Tulsa's production opens Sept. 18 at 8pm in the Liddy Doenges Theatre of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Second St. The run continues Sept. 19-20 and 24-26. Tickets are $15, and additional information is available at www.theatretulsa.org.
Here They Go Again
Also at the PAC this weekend is Mamma Mia!, presented by Celebrity Attractions, which opened Sept. 15 in the center's Chapman Music Hall.
The Broadway hit, starring ABBA's most famous songs, continues through Sept. 20. Tickets range from $20-65, and show times vary. Tickets and other information are available at www.tulsapac.com.
At the Galleries
On Thursday, Sept. 17, Joseph Gierek Fine Art, 1512 E. 15th St., celebrates 10 years of business with its "Decennial" exhibition.
The exhibition, which opens with a reception from 5-8pm on Thursday, features recent acquisitions and new works by gallery artists. Gallery artists include Ruth Armstrong, John Gary Brown, Patrick Gordon, Kevin Hardin, Jeffrey Hogue, Diane Howell, Michael Kessler, Matt Mitchell, Dorothy Moses, Robert Motherwell, James Andrew Smith and Kelly Vandiver.
The exhibition continues through Oct. 3, and both it and the reception are free and open to the public. More information at www.gierek.com.
Opening Friday, Sept. 18, at Lovetts Gallery, 6528 E. 51st St., is "Metal: An Oklahoma Legacy," featuring work by metal smith and jeweler Chris Ramsay.
Ramsay, who is also a professor at Oklahoma State University, will present a demonstration and discussion on Friday from 5-7pm about the environmental and social aspects of his metal work. His work is composed, he said, with objects he has collected and arranged to represent his interests in conservation, life cycles and man's relationship with nature.
The event is free and open to the public. More information is available at www.lovettsgallery.com.
Also on Friday, beginning at 8pm, Living Arts, 307 E. Brady, presents "Earth Rhythms," an evening of poetry, drumming and dance featuring spoken word artists Deborah Hunter, Tony B., Claire Collins and Tony Henley.
In addition, percussionists Leslie Brown and Dianna Burrup and hip-hop dance company Triple Threat will perform. The event is $5 for Living Arts members and $7 for non-members. For more information, go to www.livingarts.org.
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