Theatre Cedar Rapids to do “Superior Donuts,” New Play Festival, As Part of 2011-12 Season

Back in March, Theatre Cedar Rapids announced their 2011-12 season, but listed one of the plays as “TBA.” Judging from the press release, they have announced the play that was previously listed as “TBA” and it will be Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, which will be performed in the Grandon Studio this September.

The other 11 productions—yes, 11—are 13, which will kick off the season on August 4; Damn Yankees, which will run from October 7-29; The TCR Underground Theatre Festival, which will feature new original works by Iowa playwrights this November; A Christmas Carol, which opens on November 25 and runs until December 17. In 2011, Theatre Cedar Rapids will produce The Importance of Being Earnest, which will run from January 27-February 18; Gross Indecency, which will run from February 10-March 3; The Wedding Singer, which will open on March 9 and run until the 31st of that month; Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, which will run from April 13-May 5; Alice in Wonderland, which opens on April 27 and runs until May 19; On Golden Pond, which will run from June 22-July 1; and Hairspray, which will open on July 6. 13, Damn Yankees, A Christmas Carol, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Wedding Singer, Alice in Wonderland, and Hairspray will be performed in the auditorium, while Superior Donuts, the festival, Gross Indecency, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, and On Golden Pond will occur in the Grandon Studio.

Theatre Cedar Rapids has two productions remaining in their 2010-11 season: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, which opens next Friday, and Guys and Dolls, which opens on July 8. Earlier this season, their production of White Christmas had a sold-out run and their production of Sweeney Todd was met with universal acclaim.

(A disclosure before I continue: I stage managed Still Life With Iris for Theatre Cedar Rapids last year.)

The incredible thing about this season announcement is that Theatre Cedar Rapids will be doing 12 productions next year. No other non-professional theater company in Eastern Iowa is producing 11 plays and a festival of new works as part of an upcoming season. Additionally, they’re doing a festival of new plays by playwrights that are Iowans. Judging from what I’ve read, theater companies are currently trying to figure out how to promote the development of new plays and produce those plays while reducing the amount of time spent in development. Theatre Cedar Rapids is doing something remarkable by not only doing a festival focusing on all kinds of new works, but new works by playwrights that are specifically in Iowa. While it seems as though some theaters are still sitting around trying to figure out how to produce more new works, Theatre Cedar Rapids is actually doing something.

Another interesting aspect is the decision to have the runs of The Importance of Being Earnest and Gross Indecency overlap, although briefly. Gross Indecency is a play about the trials of Oscar Wilde, which is who wrote The Importance of Being Earnest. The decision to schedule those plays to overlap is really clever because it’s as if they’re giving the audience an enticement to find out more about the playwright.

As for the final play that was announced, which prompted me to write this post, Theatre Cedar Rapids isn’t doing what is Tracy Letts’ most famous play, August: Osage County, which is what he won the Pulitzer and Tony Award for. They’re doing his most recent play, Superior Donuts, which wasn’t even nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. Superior Donuts was dismissed by critics in Chicago and didn’t receive any awards in Chicago—although I find it to be a very lovely portrait of life in Uptown. It’s probably Letts’ least terrifying play, but it still feels like a bold programming choice because it’s a very Chicago-centric play that didn’t receive any awards.

According to the press release, season memberships will be available to the general public this summer, and individual tickets will go on sale at the beginning of the 2011-12 season.

For more information, please visit Theatre Cedar Rapids website.

The Negative Connotations of “Community Theatre,” or, Theatrical Elitism

I was recently reading a Facebook status that a friend of mine in Cedar Falls posted about the low attendance at a production of The Sunshine Boys he just directed. The production was at Cedar Falls Community Theatre and since I haven’t seen The Sunshine Boys and I generally like what my friend directs, I would have been interested in seeing the production. On his status, another friend commented that “community theatre” has a negative connotation and that might be turning people away.

After living in Chicago for six months and talking with people that work in theater in Chicago, I have to agree with that point.

I know a lot of people that sneer at community theater, even though some of those people do what is basically community theater. They don’t get paid for what they do. Instead, in Chicago, these productions are called “non-Equity,” which is a term that refers to any production that isn’t unionized; a number of them do not pay their actors at all. To the people that sneer at community theater they view it as bunch of ho-hum productions of Larry Shue, Ray Cooney, and mediocre musicals. The acting is stilted and the performers are obviously amateurs. (Their ideas, not mine.) Community theaters would never encourage new work or have avant garde designs. The plays will be fun for the uncultured locals, but true fans of the theater would never enjoy them. (Again, their ideas, not mine.)

There is a huge problem in this idea: I have seen plenty of productions in Chicago at both non-Equity and Equity companies that fit this idea. Except that the actors have theater degrees, their designers have theater degrees.

But so do some actors at community theaters in Iowa and many designers that I know at Iowa community theaters.

I have seen plenty of productions in Chicago that have made me wonder why on earth I go to the theater because of the bloated, pretentious, or flatout awful productions out there. The acting can be stilted, the design poorly thought out, and the scripts are so poor that you wonder why they chose it. I’m sure Larry Shue is produced in Chicago and maybe Ray Cooney. Some would feel as though Proof might now be only community theatre worthy, but a theater company in Chicago just did Proof in September.

Listen: I spent twelve years of my life seeing plays in Iowa, four of which were spent reviewing plays. There are plenty of “community theaters” in Iowa that can go toe-to-toe with the biggest theaters in Chicago and possibly produce a better play. I’ve seen plenty of productions in Iowa that were better than the last play I saw at Steppenwolf, which generally does a lot of terrific productions.

Although a majority of community theaters in Iowa might not be representative of the community theaters in the rest of the nation, the problem is that ultimately turning up your nose at community theater is elitism. A theater company could still remove the word “community” from their name, but if they identify as being a community theater in their about section or on their home page on their website, they are still a community theater. I speak from experience after I was mentioning something about Theatre Cedar Rapids when someone in Chicago theater asked me for more about them. While I was speaking, they were looking up TCR’s website on their phone, only to see on the home page the words “community theatre.” The person sneered and told me that I needed to see more theater in Chicago since I felt as though a community theater could be so great. (It should be noted that Chicago is the same city that is hosting a symposium on how Chicago is the “theatre capital of America”)

A community theater can be great. I haven’t seen a single musical in Chicago that came close to Waterloo Community Playhouse’s Into the Woods or Buddy! The Buddy Holly Story, Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s Kiss Me, Kate!, or Theatre Cedar Rapids’ The Producers. While Animal Crackers at the Goodman Theatre was good, I still could look back and say I had seen better productions at community theaters in Iowa. (Note to self: See Porgy and Bess at Court.) I’ve also seen a lot of lousy plays in Chicago, some of which were new works, some of which were not.

But how many people would turn their noses up at a theater company in Chicago because they’re non-Equity and don’t pay their artists? They don’t identify that in their name, so for some people it might be difficult to know what is and what isn’t an Equity production. Maybe if community theaters identified as non-Equity they wouldn’t be ostracized. After all, in Iowa, you have Dreamwell Theatre, which has a similar mission as at least five theaters in Chciago. Waterloo Community Playhouse is along the same lines as at least three theaters, Cedar Falls Community Theatre about four, City Circle Acting Company about six, and the only thing separating Theatre Cedar Rapids from the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, and Court is that Theatre Cedar Rapids is a community theater. Actually, a union contract is all that separates Theatre Cedar Rapids, Waterloo Community Playhouse/Black Hawk Children’s Theatre, and Cedar Falls Community Theatre from the Equity theaters of Chicago, especially since Theatre Cedar Rapids will be holding a New Play Festival later this year.

And, no, not everyone on the stage in a community theater production is someone with a theater degree. But ultimately they’re hard-working people that want to make a production that people will love, enjoy, and remember.

I fail to see the difference between a community theater and a non-Equity theater that doesn’t pay their actors. If someone would like to make a convincing argument, please do because I can’t come up with any ideas other than the name.

Yes, community theater does have a negative connotation because of stereotypes and that there probably are community theaters in America that aren’t that great. But currently, theaters all over the nation are hurting. It might be that theaters need to work harder to draw in their audience and and connect with new people. But this problem isn’t limited to community theaters; it’s hitting big Equity theaters in this nation. So it seems as though it’s time for theaters, regardless of if they’re community, non-Equity, or Equity, to collaborate with people and the community. After all, collaboration is the heart of theater.

Not the Big Evil Corporations

By now, you are probably sick of this Chase Community Giving thing. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s currently being done on Facebook where non-profits try to get you, the Facebook user, to vote for their non-profit to receive at least $20,000. The annoying thing about this if you are Facebook friends with people that are ensemble or staff members at a theater or are a “Fan” of a theater company, particularly in Chicago, is that you end up getting your wall spammed with pleas for votes.

I will be honest, I have voted for some theater companies to receive money. However, the theater companies I voted for I would give money to and they did make a good case as to why I should vote for them other than, “Hey, we did [show x] last season and it was awesome.” I even donated money to one theater, Strawdog Theatre, long before I voted for them.

And there are problems with this approach to funding. By asking on Facebook “walls” for votes and sending messages, you can eventually alienate potential artists and patrons because someone like me might be a “fan” of several theater companies competing for this. Some have suggested that by just asking for a vote you’re not actually making a connection with the audience. (Kris Vire wrote a piece for last week’s Time Out Chicago about the pros and cons of the Chase Community Giving.)

You need money to do theater and grants help provide that money. But is it worth participating in the social media equivalent of a student council election to get that grant? I can’t deny that $20,000 is a lot of money and sometimes you wouldn’t get that with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, for example. But with a grant proposal from an arts council or from the NEA, you have to write grant submissions and try to prove to those overseeing the grant awards that your theater deserves the money. Ultimately it is up to a theater company to decide if it is worth their time to participate in this.

But while there are the theater artists that look at the Chase Community Giving as a possible nuisance to audiences, there are others that are upset because Chase is a BIG EVIL CORPORATION! (I also realize that the blog I linked to no one should be shocked by the writer making those remarks.)

First of all, everyone that is virulently opposed to this really needs to be quiet or calm down because I keep hearing about theaters trash talking those participating in the program, even referring to those theaters as “whoring” themselves out. If you have a problem with this, which a lot of artists do, including myself, that’s fine. But bashing other theater companies is not cool and when you do that, my respect for you as a an artist and/or a theater administrator significantly decreases.

Now that is out of the way, I would like to get to the main point. I realize that Eastern Iowa theater and Chicago theater are vastly different things, but in Eastern Iowa, it is not that uncommon for a production to be sponsored by a corporation with local ties. The first play I was in, Nate the Great, was sponsored by John Deere, who has plants in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. Still Life With Iris was sponsored by Quaker, who has a plant in Cedar Rapids not far from the Iowa Theatre Building. I believe a production of The Music Man I worked on was sponsored by Wells Fargo and while it might not have major offices in that area, it still seemed appropriate that Wells Fargo would sponsor that show. Target, who has two distribution centers in Cedar Falls, has sponsored quite a few productions at the Waterloo Community Playhouse and Black Hawk Children’s Theatre. Sometimes local businesses are at least one of the producers for a play. Hansen’s Dairy in Hudson, which produces dairy products from the family cows—and operates my favorite ice cream shop in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, Moo Roo—sponsors productions at the Cedar Falls Community Theatre, where one of the Hansens has performed in productions.

As a result of doing theater in Eastern Iowa for 7 years, I used to think that in order to do a play you had to have a company sponsoring the show. Does this mean that the sponsors were awkwardly worked into the play? No. They’re usually acknowledged in the curtain speech and on the posters. Sometimes at the Waterloo Community Playhouse, the sponsors will have tables set up in the lobby to let patrons know more about what they do.

And you know what? The theater companies in Iowa work really hard to get these companies to sponsor their shows. I know from first-hand experience that Danny Katz, who works for WCP, tries very hard to get sponsors and it’s actually pretty incredible to know how hard he tries.

As a result of this, if I was going to start a theater company in Eastern Iowa, I realized that I would have to court companies to try to donate money or sponsor a show. Does that mean I’m “whoring” myself out to corporate America or to even small businesses? No. It means that I’m trying to keep my theater company running. And most corporations and businesses want to do philanthropic acts. In essence, Chase Community Giving is philanthropy, even though the mechanics of the act are a bit debatable.

But as far as I know (and most of my knowledge comes from talking to Katz), these theater companies don’t just send out a Facebook message. They’re out there, meeting with businesses or at events in their city to try to get more audience members to at the very least see their shows.

Ultimately that is what theaters need to do: they need to make a face-to-face connection to get money or donations or an audience. Facebook is not a cure-all for our problems as non-profit theaters.

The Success of Lampost Theatre

While I was working in retail, I was frequently asked by customers if I was a student. I would tell them that I was going to be a student at University of Illinois at Chicago in the fall and I would be studying Theatre Arts. Their response was almost always, “Ooh, have you seen anything done by Lampost? Their work is wonderful/excellent/terrific.”

I have seen two Lampost plays that were performed at the Cedar Falls McChurch Orchard Hill Reformed Church when I attended there. I wasn’t very impressed because the writing was cliched, forced, stale and the acting was rather unremarkable. This comes from someone that has been very critical of theater since she was five. I remember that one was a play about Your Crazy Relatives During the Holidays and another one was some weird pageant play. Again, I wasn’t very impressed but the other members seemed to be entertained.

People in Cedar Falls love Lampost.

It has won the KCRG A-List award for two years (This year, The Old Creamery was the winner) and clearly has a spot in a lot of local’s hearts. They don’t spend a lot of money on advertising and unless you know where their venue is located, you would have no clue where they perform. I wouldn’t be shocked that if you asked people in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area what they thought of when someone said theater that the Gallagher-Bluedorn came first to mind, then Lampost.

But while Cedar Falls Community Theatre and Waterloo Community Playhouse advertise on TV, Radio and billboards, Lampost uses simple posters on bright pieces of paper. From what I’ve seen at Cup of Joe, they’re very simple and let you know when the play is and the title. Their venue is almost hidden. I can’t even tell you how much tickets are, but I can’t tell you how much tickets are at other theaters in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area.

How does Lampost manage to have the following it does?

Simple. The theater connects with their audience.

They know what the audience wants, but judging from Lampost’s website, they try to use their art to spread Christianity. People in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area have always struck me as being very religious. Religious drama is a niche that people will care to see. But Lampost will never do Everyman. They specialize in original works that are usually comedic.

People in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area don’t want to see serious dramas. They want to see something funny and light-hearted. Especially the old ladies that donate money to the theaters. And if it’s a musical, all the better! People love singing and dancing and light-hearted times.

Lampost made a connection with their audience and their audience went and told even lowly clerks at department stores about how utterly amazing a show at Lampost is because it manages to strike a chord with them. Lampost uses only local people, even to write their shows. In some years, CFCT went and brought in former residents of the area to be big celebrities involved.

It’s community theater. You bring in a celebrity and it loses the community feel. You bring in a choreographer from Los Angeles that most residents haven’t heard of and it stops feeling like community theater.

Lampost figured something out and it has worked for them. They’ve figured out how to program a season and how to work. It clearly isn’t that easy for all theaters to do.

Theater Passes for Summer Musicals in Iowa

The other (early) morning, I was talking/brainstorm with Zev Valancy via Google Chat. During this conversation, I remarked that it seems as though all of the theaters in Eastern Iowa have a musical that opens in July. Zev then suggested that the theaters cross-promote them as “Iowa Summer Sing” and have ticket passes called the SongBook.

As someone that has grown up in Iowa–although I proudly hail from the southwest–I can say that a lot of theaters do their annual musicals, if they do a musical, in the summertime. During this time, it is usually easier for families to go to the theater because of the lack of restrictions that school puts on them. Many theaters even do musicals that are a bit more family oriented, although some theaters don’t stick to this rule. (Theatre Cedar Rapids is doing Rent this summer.) Not all of the theaters have a musical that opens in July; Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s musical opens in June, which prevents it from competing with the Waterloo Community Playhouse’s annual musical. City Circle Acting Company’s production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown also will be opening in June.

But how would a pass work? Well, using the model of the Rogers Park Flex Pass, you buy a pass that is good for one admission to x amount of plays, like four. The pass could be $50, which would be less than buying the tickets separately. Then people just say, “I would like to get a ticket for Rent” and go and pick up their ticket at the Theatre Cedar Rapids box office.

My main thought is that this could either be all of the theaters that are members of the Iowa Association of Community Theatres or the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance. But that could also boost business because if people have to pay less, that will get more butts in the seats.

But this idea has worked and doesn’t have to be done this year. It’s just out there for anyone to pursue.

Plug: “Still Life With Iris” at Theatre Cedar Rapids


Time to plug the play I’m currently involved with. Theatre Cedar Rapids’ upcoming production is Steven Dietz’s Still Life With Iris, which is the first family show to be performed in the newly remodeled Iowa Theatre Building. It still smells like a new theater and they’ve had two shows run in that theater.

Dietz’s play is very beautiful and intelligently written; it is not the typical family show that decides to dumb things down for the kids. This manages to cleverly be accessible for children while being an enjoyable show for adults. The play is about a girl named Iris who lives with her mother in the land of Nocturno, but is taken away to live on the Great Island with the Greater Goods. Iris’ loses her memory, save for a memory that she gets when holding a button from her coat. The play follows her journey to remember who she is, her family and to try to get home.

This production, which is directed by Theatre Cedar Rapids artistic director Leslie Charipar, also has a great cast and a terrific set designed by Bret Goethe. I am stage managing the production and it is the first time that I’ve stage managed in as large of a space as the Iowa Theatre Building’s auditorium.

Come see this show, especially if you haven’t been to the renovated building. To get tickets, call (319) 366-8591 or visit theatrecr.org

Theater Ransom Notes

It was recently announced that the Iowa City Community Theatre is in debt and needs $20,000 by the end of May.

ICCT has known for a while that they were in debt; this is not news to them, they almost canceled their production of Wonderful Town because of their debt.

I don’t remember when their production of Wonderful Town was, it might have been while I was still living in Chicago. Their production of Wonderful Town went on because of some last minute fundraising. An email that was sent out by board member Kehry Lane says this:

This past year has been a struggle. We nearly canceled Wonderful Town (due to lack of funding), which was saved by the extraordinary fund raising efforts of it’s production team. Due to their hard work, ICCT was able to proceed with the show, and make some money in the process.

Unfortunately, the money made on WT wasn’t enough to bring us out of the hole. We still find ourselves in need of a substantial amount of money, or we should seriously consider closing our doors. The target is $20,000.00 by the end of May. We’re hoping for 200 theatre lovers to contribute $100.00 each. If we meet this goal, we’ll be able to retire our debt, and start next season with some cash on hand.

So, they only did fundraising to put on Wonderful Town? They didn’t raise money to pull them completely out of debt?

The email continues:

We’ve assembled a line-up of shows (and directors) for next year that we believe will enchant and delight audiences. We’re planning on pursuing grants to help us sustain ICCT over the long term. We’ve got a strong slate of candidates for next year’s board. We’re moving in the right direction, and we need some brave, generous folks to contribute.

So they’ve already planned their new season and have a line-up of both plays and directors. I would like to know why they’ve planned a season if they’re so deep in debt that they can’t go on if they don’t have $20,000 by the end of May.

I then read Kris Joseph’s post on this same issue. This is brought about by a production of Blood Brothers at Gladstone Theatre that might close two weeks early due to slow ticket sales. (Which, I do have issues with.)

From what Kris has written, it’s being made out to be that if Blood Brothers closes early, it will be because YOU didn’t buy tickets. Which is blaming the public and a future audience and only pushing them further away.

DO NOT DO THIS.

This is what ICCT’s plea sounds like: We didn’t pull out of debt because not enough people saw Wonderful Town. (I didn’t even know it happened; I must have still been living in Chicago at the time.)

That is, of course, not my biggest problem with this. My biggest problem is that ICCT has known that they are in debt for quite some time and this is the first time that they’ve really done something major about this. Someone, a managing director or a board member, should have seen this coming and said something.

I do realize that this occurs with some theaters; some theaters are genuinely caught off-guard by lost revenue from a show or a project, especially with bad weather. But if a theater does this, they have to prove to me that they will stay out of debt. If you get press and you get attention and people donate, does that mean they will come and see the plays? Not necessarily. What will you do to keep this from happening again?

Theater is a business; money has to be earned in different ways to keep the theater afloat. I can personally say that fundraising is something that genuinely terrifies me when it comes to running a theater, but I realize that by courting businesses to sponsor plays or to do joint projects, it can keep my theater open.

There is a certain urgency to saying, “We need $x by this date.” It is, as Travis and Kris put it, a ransom note. But when you provide the facts, people that don’t have bleeding hearts might seem a bit skeptical.

Ultimately, it’s not over until the artistic director chains himself to the stage door.

Theatre Cedar Rapids Actually Announces Their 2010-11 Season

Whenever it is discussed that Theatre Cedar Rapids is back and better than ever, no one is joking. Their 2010-11 season only proves that. Their upcoming season has such a great line-up that I would consider flying from O’Hare to see some of these plays. Even though they’re not doing August: Osage County, which I had predicted they would do because they have the space, the budget and the chutzpah to do that show.

Anyway, time to stop with the hyperbole and be serious.

Their first play is the musical 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, music and lyrics by William Finn (Falsettos, A New Brain, Elegies) and book by Rachel Sheinkin. The musical focuses on six contestants vying for the championship of the bee. The musical will run from Sept. 10-Oct. 2.

The second play is Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, adapted by Jason Alberty. The play focuses on a rehearsal that is interrupted by six fictional characters that demand for their story to be finished. Alberty will also be directing the play and it will run from Oct. 15-30.

Their holiday show will be White Christmas, more commonly known as Irving Berlin’s White Christmas to distinguish it from, you know, Martin McDonagh’s White Christmas. Based off of the classic film, it follows Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who have a successful song-and-dance act, that follow two singing sisters to their Christmas show at a Vermont lodge. White Christmas will be performed from Nov. 26-Dec. 18.

Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart will be the next show in the season. The play focuses on the Magrath sisters that have gathered Hazlehurst, Miss. to await news of their dying grandfather while looking at their failures. Crimes of the Heart will run from Jan. 28-Feb. 12, 2011.

In March, Theatre Cedar Rapids will be performing Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. The musical tells the tale of the murderous, vengeful barber Sweeney Todd who teams up with Mrs. Lovett, the owner of a meat pies shop, while on his quest to avenge the death of his wife. The musical will run from March 4-26. (It is also listed as being rated PG-13 for “excessive meat pies”)

The next play will be Sarah Ruhl’s play Eurydice. This play retells the myth of Orpheus through the eyes of Eurydice, who journeys to Hades to reunite with her father. Please note that there will be no giant fish on stage and that Eurydice will run from April 8-23.

In May, Theatre Cedar Rapids will be performing The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, as dramatized by Joseph Robinette. The classic C.S. Lewis story focuses on four children that walk through a wardrobe to discover the land of Narnia, currently being ruled by the evil White Witch. It will run from May 13-28.

The final play of the season will be the classic musical Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Frank Losser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. During the prohibition, Nathan Detroit tries to find a place to hold his game while his persistently ill fiancee Adelaide suffers and Sky Masterson tries to woo the uptight Sarah Brown. Guys and Dolls will run from July 8-30.

All productions will be performed at Theatre Cedar Rapids’ home, the Iowa Theatre Building, at 102 Third St SE, Cedar Rapids. For more information, visit their website at TheatreCR.org.

Update: You can read the complete press release here.

Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s 2010-11 Season

Cedar Falls Community Theatre has announced their 2010-11 season, which will be performed in the Oster Regent Theatre, which is celebrating its hundredth anniversary.

First up is Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, which is the classic musical about what happens to River City, Iowa (based on Willson’s hometown of Mason City) when “band salesman” Harold Hill comes to town. Willson’s music is complex, delightful and memorable and the musical itself brings up a bit of Americana. The Music Man runs from June 4-13. I do want to know, will the slogan for the show be, “You’ve got trouble right here in a river city”?

The next play is Kitchen Witches, which won the Samuel French Canadian Play Contest. The synopsis on Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s website says that, “Caroline Smith’s Kitchen Witches capitalizes on the publics interest in cooking shows. Two cooking show hostesses have despised each other for over 30 years, ever since Stephen Biddle dated one and married the other. When circumstances put them together on a TV show, the insults are flung harder than the food and the show becomes a rating smash as their antics top both Martha Stewart and Jerry Springer.” The premise of the play sounds interesting and it will run from July 29-August 6.

The third play of the season will be The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which will apparently have inspiration from the visuals that Gary Kelley, a well-known and award-winning artist in Cedar Falls, provided for a version of the story. I’m not too sure how that will work out with the transfer from the page to the stage, but it is very artistically ambitious and would be interesting to see. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow runs from Sept. 30-Oct. 10.

The holiday show will be Robert Fulghum’s Uh Oh, Here Comes Christmas, which will examine the commercialism of the Christmas season. That runs from Dec. 3-12.

The final show of the season is Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, which is about a great vaudeville duo known as “Lewis and Clark” that is going to be retired by CBS. I’m not familiar with The Sunshine Boys, but I would like to say thank you for not doing another production of any form of The Odd Couple. The Sunshine Boys will run from Feb. 18-27.

There are no directors listed on CFCT’s website, but it still sounds like an interesting season.

Review: “Proof” – Theatre Cedar Rapids

Disclosure: I do know one of the actors in the play and I did talk to him after the play.

Are genius and insanity connected? What is the line between the two? And how long does it take to get from the South Side of Chicago to Evanston? Those questions are brought up in David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama Proof, which is currently being produced by Theatre Cedar Rapids.

Without the right cast and director, Auburn’s script can come across as a stage version of a very intelligent Lifetime movie. But under the direction of J. David Carey, the cast of this production brings out the emotion of this play and transforms it into a moving, thought-provoking work.

Auburn’s play focuses on Catherine (Rachel Howell), a brilliant young woman that has to deal with the death of her father, Robert (Demetrios Hadjis), a brilliant mathematician. Due to the mental instability of Robert, Catherine fears that she too is crazy. As her Chicago-loathing sister, Claire (Jessica Link), comes in for the funeral, the possibility of her insanity and genius is questioned more as one of her father’s former students, Hal (Rob Merritt), makes an important discovery.

While Auburn’s script has some inaccuracies—it does not take 30 minutes to get from the Hyde Park to Evanston—the play frequently stays on the topic of Catherine’s possible mental illness, with occasional moments of discussing a proof that Hal discovers and the romance between Hal and Catherine.

But Howell’s performance is the gripping emotional center of this play. She brings feistiness and sarcasm to the role that makes her seem defensive against Claire and Hal. Howell’s performance is easy to sympathize with; she put her father before herself and stopped her life for a few years.

Hadjis gives us a very sweet Robert, enabling us to see the connection that Catherine and her father shared. With that we can understand why Catherine took care of her father, why she gave up going to college. The relationship that the two characters share is often tragic as we see glimpses of his insanity, most evident in a scene where Catherine reads a proof that he is working on.

Although Claire frequently seems like a bitch, especially if you have lived in Chicago, Link brings depth and nuance to the character. Her actions don’t always come across as a perpetual need to control situations, but at one point seems as though it might be an atonement for her previous actions. Merritt gives a great performance as Hal, notably in a flashback scene where we see a Hal, Robert and Catherine interact four years previous to the action of the play, his performance in that scene brings us a younger, less certain Hal.

One of the most striking things about Carey’s production is that the ensemble works together as one, which makes the play resonate and strike at the heart.

Bret Gothe’s set shows us the age of the house, something frequently referenced in the script, by having worn shutters and dead ivy around the porch. Haddon Givens Kime’s music for this play works well with the dramatic action of the play and often provides more emphasis.

Although it has taken a while for the play to be performed at Theatre Cedar Rapids, there is a connection that the audience has with the actors and the story, creating a heartbreaking, engaging play.

“Proof” continues through April 18 at the Iowa Theatre Building (102 Third St SE, Cedar Rapids). Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. for Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances and 2 p.m. for Sunday performances. Tickets are $20-25, $15 for students, and $12 rush and can be purchased by visiting the Theatre Cedar Rapids box office, calling (319) 366-8591, or by going to TheatreCR.org.

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminates against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I did pay for my ticket for this play.