Fresh visions of America
A July story for Minnesota Women’s Press (below).
Fresh visions of America
Works in progress in the Fresh Ink series
by Anna Pratt
“Too often, women roles are put aside. They’re not at the center,” said Bonnie Morris, producing director at the Illusion. But that’s not true this summer.
Three “in progress” plays, with a woman-focus, will be on stage at the Illusion Theater in July. The plays present stories of Bohemian immigrant experience on the Nebraska prairie in the 18xxs; an African-American family tragedy in Harlem in the 1920s, and a Jewish family’s value struggle in current Midwestern setting. All are filtered through women playwrights, actors, musicians and others, as part of the Fresh Ink Series.
Works in progress
However, admits Morris, the woman-focus is purely coincidental. Adaptations of Willa Cather’s novel, My Antonia, and Toni Morrison’s novel, Jazz, and an original play A Great Miracle Happened Here came to fruition around the same time. “In some ways, they came to us through our relationships,” she said, explaining that many of its key players are familiar faces in the local theater scene.
The idea behind “Fresh Ink” is to give dramatists the opportunity to try out new material continued Morris. Sometimes a play’s ending changes at the last minute and actors read from scripts during a performance. It’s more of a workshop than a polished production. Benefits are twofold: Audiences gain insight into the process, while creators are able to see what does and doesn’t work, Morris explained. Attendees are invited to share their feedback in post-performance discussions.
The three plays offer different visions of America in periods of transition, “They tell us about where we come from,” said Morris, adding, “It’s great working with these giants of literature, transforming [their stories] for the theater. It’s challenging and exciting.”
First in the lineup is local playwright Allison Moore’s adaptation of Willa Cather’s novel, My Antonia, with a musical score by composer Roberta Carlson. My Antonia takes the audience back to pioneer days on the Nebraska prairie. During a train ride back to his hometown, narrator Jim Burden reflects on his childhood friend Antonia Shimerda, a Bohemian immigrant girl who taught him important life lessons.
The show contains vivid descriptions of the Midwest landscape. Morris believes it will resonate with modern audiences. “[Cather’s] passion for our landscape sucks me in, with the prairies, feel of the grass and openness of the sky. It’s something that Midwesterners have experienced. This script captures that,” she said, adding, “It has sensual writing and complex characters.”
Next is playwright Jenna Zark’s original play, A Great Miracle Happened Here. The story revolves around an American Jewish couple who fret when their high school-aged son, who is studying in Jerusalem, decides to join the Israeli military. While they wanted him to soak up the language and culture in Israel, they never imagined that he’d take their teachings that far. “It’s the idea that he is putting himself in harm’s way. He takes what they taught him and acts on it. There are repercussions,” said Morris. “It’s a lot to wrestle with.”
Marion McClinton’s adaptation of Toni Morrison’s book Jazz, with music from Sanford Moore, wraps it up the series. Jazz takes theatergoers to 1920s Harlem for a provocative narrative about jilted love. A black man shoots his teenage lover, driving his jealous wife to commit an unspeakable act at the girl’s funeral. “It’s the hopelessness of love that jazz and blues music championed,” said Morris.
The play, Jazz, literally borrows rhythms from jazz, a music genre that is uniquely American. “[This play] isn’t linear … It’s reeling with poetry and passion,” said Morris.
These three works in progress reflect the Illusion Theatre’s mission to use the power of theater as a catalyst for personal and social change. “Plays can be entertaining, inspiring or a release,” said Morris. “We want to illuminate myths and realities of our time.”
If you go:
What: My Antonia
When: July 9-12,
What: A Great Miracle Happened Here
When: July 16-19
When: July 23-26
Where: Hennepin Center for the Arts, 528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Cost: $15 per show or $30 for a pass for all three
FFI: 612-339-4944 or http://www.illusiontheater.org