is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Project SEE Theatre's Lonely Planet Revolves Around Friendship

Tim Hull,  Nick Vannoy & Evan Bergman - the two actors'
talents are showcased under Bergman's direction
in Steven Dietz' 2-man play Lonely Planet.
Lonely Planet, a play by Steven Dietz, one of America's most popular playwrights, tells the tale of two men, Jody and Carl, and their relationship to each other as well as to the world outside the map store that Jody owns.  

When I dropped in on last night's tech rehearsal, I immediately felt as if I had dropped into a map store of sorts, as Project SEE Theatre's Ellie Clark immediately welcomed me and began showing me the layout of the show that opens tomorrow night at the Downtown Arts Center.  Artwork by various local artists lines the walls of the black box set as well as the entranceway.  In particular, the images by Georgia Henkel are haunting, images of those who suffered the ravages of the big disease with the little name.  

The play was written in 1993, and the clever script dances the tarantella with the subject matter of AIDS.  Although the audience knows at the onset of the opening act what the work is about, it's easy to forget the gravity of the topic as Nick Vannoy artfully portrays Carl, who sometimes reminds me of myself, having more than one job, all of which he describes with daydream-like imagination as Tim Hull's Jody nods knowingly with an ironic smile.  

The two -- both Hull and Vannoy as well as Jody and Carl -- challenge each other, and it's easy to see why the actors and their characters meld in such a compelling way - there is a common respect, a willingness to indulge yet not suffer foolishness, and at the heart of it all, the two men realize the importance of friendship in its purest form, and that is in the best definition of friendship as I know it: A friend is someone who knows us very well, yet loves us anyway.

Back to my visit to the DAC last night, though -- as I viewed the doors designed by Pat Gerhard, Georgia Henkel, Phillip March Jones, Kristen Murphy (who has added several striking portraits that are larger-than-life and appropriately so), John Ridener and Althea Wiggs, my eyes filled with tears as emotion had its way with my mascara as I found myself profoundly moved by the reality of their characterizations of the victims of the epidemic which many have forgotten in the last several decades.  Pat Gerhard's door is particularly subdued yet subliminal, one side of her door is in muted pastels, and the other side is covered with what appears to be paper mach√© rosettes dipped or painted in black and representative of how the shroud of death  can cover a vibrant and still-blossoming life.  Ellie told me that there will be spotlights over the doors during the breaks of the play, and so I was not surprised to find Ellie's mother, who I like to describe as the emotional voice of reason, Trish Clark was describing some of the portraits of AIDS victims created by Georgia Henkel during the intermission.  
Trish Clark and me - and Ellie in the background ;-)

Trish is a much beloved mentor of scores of students and grads who count her as one of their major influences, and in her return to the stage at this past year's SummerFest, received ovations every night as soon as she made her entrance in Pride and Prejudice, in which she shared the stage with Ellie.  During Lonely Planet intermission last night, Trish was speaking to some Transylvania University drama students about the show, the artists and the art that will be displayed in this fantastic new project.  Trish has the ability to beam with pride and shines when she does so, it's always a joy to hear how she shares and imparts her wisdom.  

Trish Clark describes Henkels' portraits to Transylvania
University students who attended as part of their studies

So my sneak preview of this newest theatrical company and the manifestation of its mission was not without  tears, but it was also one of laughter and appreciation of all that these rather artistically philanthropic dreamers will soon bring to Lexington stages as well as in the future.  It was sweet to see Ellie and Trish again, and speaking of sweet, Sully White saw me and came over to hug me just before the show began. When I mentioned that she smelled wonderfully of peppermint, she hurriedly fetched and brought me a candy cane.  I thought it appropriate to be enjoying such a treat while also watching the painful drama unfold.  Life is like that, isn't it?  We often find it easier to enjoy what is immediate and present, despite its short-lived, ephemeral pleasures, all while there is longlasting suffering and agony that goes on all around us.  However, Dietz delivers the message that our joy doesn't have to be fleeting, that our spirit lives on when we take the time to relate to each other in meaningful ways.  
Evan Bergman and Sully White

The rocking chair has special meaning...

The many maps and chairs used on the set were provided by those who answered the call for such props that went out to folks in the artistic circles.  

There are a good 40 or 50 chairs, chairs of all sorts: armless, wing-backed, ornate, simple - chairs, velvet, plastic, cushioned and un-cushioned, some that appear to be heirlooms and made of cherry, oak and walnut - some overstuffed and some without upholstery at all - and some that are simply sturdy enough to have withstood the test and ravages of

time and usage.  How much like those who suffer from AIDS the chairs are - they come in all sizes and walks of life - and they can be young or old - and the final testament of their usefulness is where they were when they last provided comfort and rest.  

So it is that the thread that runs through the play also runs through the collection of chairs, and maps, for that matter ... but I will leave it up to you to chart that out yourself when you go "SEE" this production. It opens tomorrow night and runs through December 19 (I think Mondays are excluded, check below for more information) - and it's an opportunity to give yourself food for thought both from the stage and from the perspective of the visual artists who have participated in this project.

This photograph taken by the Apollo 17
astronauts is referred to in LONELY PLANET 

Director Evan Bergman tells me Lonely Planet has been a favorite play of his for about ten years. "Plays with human stories and beautiful relationships are what move me. Go figure. Frankly, I've always wanted to play one of these roles and have used Carl monologues for auditions, but when we moved here, I knew it was a play which I thought we could produce rather easily, and because of my lasting relationship with the piece, I hoped I'd be able to bring something to it. However, we have of course learned there's nothing easy about producing, no matter the piece -- and then there's the simple fact that Lonely Planet is an actor's piece. There's no point in even bothering if you don't have the right two guys."

Bergman says his admiration of both grew over this past year. "I worked with Tim Hull in the Summer of 2009 on KCTC's Big Love which Sully directed, and from the first read, through the last performance, Tim pretty much blew me away. He's got the wonderful combo of being crazy grounded but quirky as hell. I just find him so damn interesting to watch. He's like a vortex that sucks me in and then takes me on a ride."

"This past Summer, I taught Meisner Approach to acting at KCTC (now just KCT) and that's where I got to spend time with Nick Vannoy.  He did the first week, an intensive for college students and adults, and I had heard he was good, but then you get to spend time watching a person work, and I quickly realized he was more than good. It's like Tim was saying the other night, he's got it all and he's like 22 years old!! What?! His sensibility on stage is beyond his years. For example, he has a big bag of tricks which is always dangerous, which can be a way to take the easy route, if used by the result-oriented minded person, but Nick is after process and working toward an experience on stage, and that's what I'm after too. So the three of us are constantly pushing ourselves, and consequentially, each other."

"The biggest challenge for me as a director is how to help guide these two men in a way in which they feel free to make everything their own. The first couple of weeks were sheer joy. They discovered so much of the humor early on, but something kept telling me, 'this is too easy.' So then began the digging.  We set after the pathos, the love ... and with this came the hurt, the embedded helplessness in the play. This is hard to 'work' for every day, because it's exhausting and depressing, but we all knew that it was a must if we were to do the play any justice.  So as the inherent pain in the play becomes more and more revealed to us, the challenge is not to become a slave to it, to allow it to be in you, but fight it with everything you've got, because ultimately, the play is about fighting to live despite of how impossible it is to do so in the world Steven Dietz creates. It's a celebration of the perseverance of the human spirit."

Ellie Clark - one of the founders of SEE Theatre - holds artwork
by Georgia Henkel which will be displayed at the show

Evan says that the production's route to the Downtown Arts Center took a bit of a u-turn along the way.  "Back in the late summer, Nick suggested we check out Bellini's Grand Ball Room, and were all very taken. To me, it was too grand, and I wanted to use an intimate room on the same floor, but grandness of that ball room across the hall kept tapping me on the shoulder, saying 'hey, why would you not use me?' And once we had decided to reach out to the visual arts community (amazing work to be seen by the way), it became clear to all of us that the ball room was the option, and we were full steam ahead until we had the wonderful fortune of having KCT become our fiscal agent.  Because of their mission, which is 'theatre for all' themed -- something you can't really argue with if you have a soul -- we had to move venues since the ball room isn't wheelchair accessible.  When the Downtown Arts Center became a real option, it was a no-brainer. It is only because of many people's genorosity that this transition to the DAC was able to happen. We feel quite lucky."

Evan Bergman and Ellie Clark

So Project SEE Theatre came about over the last year when Ellie and I decided to leave New York, coupled with the prospect that Sully White was being considered to chair the Translyvania theatre department. The three of us were like little kids in the days leading up to Christmas, waiting for Sully to hear back, waiting for our NYC apartment leases to run out, waiting to drop that last plate at the restaurants where Ellie and I worked...waiting to drive over the Tapanzee bridge in a rented truck with all our belongings and kiss the NYC skyline goodbye for a spell, and Lexington has welcomed and re-welcomed us with open arms."

When I asked if Evan Bergman has a secret talent, he replied with good humor:  "Ah, so a special talent. Well, the fact is I can make a police siren sound better than anyone on the planet. This has nothing to do with tapping into a personal experience of being chased by the 5-0, but just something that came out of me once in high school when I playing with a microphone at our senior talent show. My high school friends still think it's funny, at least if we've had a couple beers," he laughs.


Hull plays the role of Jody, "owner of the map store in which the play takes place." He says the reason he wanted to participate in this production is that "It is a very interesting script, and I wanted to support Project SEE."

The biggest challenge, according to Hull, is that "It’s a very emotionally painful script- it’s been really tough at times going through it."

What is special about SEE Theatre and its production? "The rehearsal process also incorporates training. This helps all of the actors develop artistically, regardless of experience; I have certainly found this training to be a great help to me personally, both with Lonely Planet and with previous productions with KCTC."

Finally, even though Tim has answered this question for me before (scroll down and look for the question mark in previous posts), I had to see if he should happen to have yet ANOTHER secret talent...and he shot me this answer:

"I used to score as an Expert with a 9 millimeter handgun - I probably don’t anymore, though!"


Lonely Planet opens this Thursday at the Downtown Arts Center. Performances dates & times

December 9-12, 2010 @ 7:30
December 14-18, 2010 @ 7:30
December 19, 2010 @ 2:00

Please buy your tickets in advance...

To purchase tickets for Lonely Planet call
LexArts Box Office: 859.225.0370

Jody has ceased going out into the world. Jody's only connection to his community is his friend Carl, who has resorted to bringing the outside world inside, to Jody's Map Store.

As AIDS rapidly takes their mutual friends, Jody continues to hide in self-imposed ignorance, yet Carl forces him to confront his deepest fears. Lonely Planet reveals to us that true friendship is the safest place to be, and as the world around us spins out of control, a single human being may be the only fixed object to hold onto.

Project SEE is reaching out to Lexington's well-known local artists to create an exhibit of painted doors for Lonely Planet. They include...
Pat Gerhard (Third Street Stuff)
Georgia Henkel
Phillip March Jones (Institute 193)
Kristen Murphy
John Ridener
Althea Wiggs

There will be a silent auction on the doors through the run of performances.

$20 Adults
$13 Students
(additional fees may apply)

Tuesday, December 14th will be a pay-what-you-can performance.


project SEE theatre - a fellowship of artists dedicated to engaging our community through redefining the theatrical experience for artists and audiences alike; to make theatre that is visceral, provocative, inspirational, and accessible to all. Our goal is to explore the human condition through theatre that captivates mind, body and soul; theatre that entertains and electrifies; theatre that soothes and unsettles; theatre that is bold, intoxicating and fearless. 

As educators and artists, we are unwavering in our commitment to ongoing theatre training in order to enrich our work. This will not only nurture our community but will help build a new generation of theatre artists and cultivate ground for a new and more diverse audience.

Core Values

Collaboration:  Theatre is never done in isolation; its very nature is collaborative. We are a process driven group that believes the most exciting and affecting theatre is created among and within an ensemble of artists working together to tell a story.

Education/Training:  We educate through training. Training is an ongoing process through which we flex, stretch, and hone our artistic and creative muscles through exposing and being open to different methodologies and training techniques.

Innovation:  We constantly seek to redefine the theatrical experience. We use multi-disciplined arts training with an ambition toward developing and telling stories in new and exciting ways.

Sully White
Evan Bergman
Ellie Clark


I finally figured out what the name of this project stands for when I realized that the three founders' initials comprised the title word -- SEE stands for Sully (White), Ellie (Clark) and Evan Bergman (at least I think that's where they got the name :)  What a good moniker for these young upstarts and their ideas of entertaining inclusion - and they've chosen a challenging chalice from which to pour their fruition in Steven Dietz' Lonely Planet.  

See you at the show!
pray for peace,
The rocking chair pictured above was given to me by this
dear lady, Mayme Hamby years ago when I moved into a new
place and didn't own a stitch of furniture.
Mayme and I met in Chancel Choir, and she has rescued me
musically, spiritually and emotionally time and time again.

  Although Mayme's  health is beginning to fade, our friendship is as young
and vibrant as the day is long.  When I was asked if I had a rocking chair
to loan for the production of LONELY PLANET, I was at first hesitant
to hand Mayme's beloved rocker over, but then I talked to her about it,
and Mayme was more than tickled to hear it would be used in such
a way - for the enjoyment of others and to help deliver a message
of hope and kindness and justice.