Stillwater Theatre Company, the professional-theater-in-residence at Meredith College, will present the regional premiere of Ether Steeds, a play by Manhattan-based dramatist by Jason Williamson, who has Eastern North Carolina roots, on May 26-29 and June 2-5 in the A.E. Finley Foundation Rooftop Garden at N.C. State University’s J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC. (For an interview with the playwright, click http://stillwatertheatre.com/uncategorized/jason-williamson-interview/.)
“I first read this play about a year and a half ago,” remembers Stillwater co-founder and artistic director Steven J. Roten. “I was immediately interested in the play; and unlike some plays that capture my interest from an acting point of view, this play captured my director’s imagination.”
He adds, The play was submitted as a new work to Stillwater, and I immediately identified with the elemental aspects of the production. You can almost smell the play right off the page.
“I have loved the Outer Banks of North Carolina since I was a child,” Roten confesses, “and I spend a part of every year there. I have lived in Manteo during the summer months, and love the mystery and magic of the North Carolina coast. There is a history there that the rest of the country has covered up; but out there on those barrier islands, there are still many areas where you can still feel as if the past is lingering just out of sight.”
Roten notes, “I mentioned the elemental nature of the play earlier, and I cannot stress enough how large a part of the world of the play the elements function. The ocean is quite literally a character.
“The other aspect of the play that grabbed my attention was the focus on storytelling and myth,” says Roten. “The play is, in a way, about the search for self and the compromises we make in that search. It is a play about seeking our own history and the stories that connect us to our past.”
Director Steven Roten says, “The story follows Skeeta (Jess Jones) as she struggles to assemble her life story, and forces us to bear witness to the major events in her life that have lead her to where she is now. We begin the play in the present, and quickly double back to capture the tragic and magic moments in a non-linear format.
“Skeeta’s deceased Daddy (Douglas Boxley) still occupies the play as a powerful force from the past,” Roten explains, “as does Skeeta’s Mom (Marilyn Gormon). Her love interest Emory (Bryce Davis), another damaged soul, helps Skeeta to realize that true union is not possible, and that compromise is needed to survive in the world.”
Roten says, “The plot begins when Mom invites Emory to an evening at the family home where Skeeta and Emory meet for the first time. Things don’t go well for Mom and Emory, but Skeeta soon makes advances towards Emory for herself. The tragic death of her mother and Emory’s absence force Skeeta to do some growing up over a year, and Emory’s return is clouded by a tragedy of his own. Together, the two are able to heal somewhat and find an unlikely alliance that helps them both face the world.”
“Throughout the play,” Roten points out, “a Greek Chorus of two (Julie-Kate Cooper and Stephanie Byrd) help Skeeta remember the past and give life to the fondest moments of her youth. Moments when Mom and Daddy gathered round to tell Skeeta the old myths that help her sift through the wreckage of her life.”
In addition to director Steven Roten, who also serves as the show’s technical director and set designer, the Stillwater Theatre Company creative team for Ether Steeds includes assistant director and costume designer Jordan Jaked, lighting designer Shannon Clark, and stage manager Michelle Henderson.
Steven Roten says, “The set consists mostly of pieces that help tell us where and when we are at any given moment. [That’s] A challenge since this play is non-linear in format. Most of the set-pieces for the play were constructed specifically for the play, and almost all of them are created from driftwood. A boat, a bean row, and ocean, a horse skull, box of sulfur, etc., are all created using driftwood and lend the play a coastal unreality — a temporariness that works well for the play. The idea of using materials sculpted by the elements was very appealing to me since the environment is such a character in the play.
Roten adds, “Shannon Clark’s lighting design will be based on three distinct ‘systems’ that will help keep the audience in the know as the play shifts back and forth from the present, the past, and moments of mythology. [There will be] Ocean colors for the cooler qualities and fire colors for the warm will color the light. We will also play with the angle and position of the lights to create the different ‘systems.’ …
“Jordan Jaked’s costumes are simple, rustic, and working class,” says Steven Roten. “The color palate is based in blues and many characters are barefoot throughout the show.”
Roten notes, “The space itself should be a main draw for this production. I hope that we introduce a whole lot of new folks to the Arboretum. It is one of my favorite places here in Raleigh, and is just exceptionally beautiful.
“The play fits nicely in the rooftop garden, and is strengthened by the surroundings,” claims Roten. “I hope that the audience will feel like they are a part of the world of the play while they enjoy the warm spring nights.
“Since we are outside,” Roten says, “audience members should be prepared with a light jacket if we get a cool snap in the weather ([which is u]nlikely looking at the forecast). Otherwise, we have all the bases covered. We will be selling concessions during the performance (think lemonade, sweet tea, water, roasted peanuts) and will offer individual mosquito repellent wipes for a nominal donation….
Steven Roten says, “The play presented many difficult challenges to us. First off, performing any show outside nearly quadruples the amount of work and energy required to pull off the performance. This production has been no exception. We spent many hours atop the Science and Math building at Meredith College and retreated many evenings to the safety of an indoor space once the spring thunderstorms arrived. Being outdoors just requires more energy from everyone.
“The play forced me to answer some difficult questions in terms of staging,” says Roten, “creating a boat on stage, an ocean, and many other ‘environmental’ needs.
“At one point,” he declares, “several of the actors form a horse, and Skeeta rides into the surf to save a drowning Emory! The play is also extremely poetic at times blending the past, present, and myth into a beautiful theatricality.
“While poetry still exists in play these days, it is rare; and tackling the language and owning it from the actors’ standpoint is a challenge,” Roten emphasizes. “Having a short window of rehearsal time also made us hunker down and get the work done. The design elements were also fun, but challenging, as all the set pieces are created from driftwood and had to be built for the show.”
Stillwater Theatre Company presents ETHER STEEDS at 8 p.m. May 26-29 and June 2-5 in the A.E. Finley Foundation Rooftop Garden at N.C. State University’s J.C. Raulston Arboretum, 4415 Beryl Rd., Raleigh, NC 27606, on the NCSU campus.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 students, seniors, Meredith faculty and staff, and Arboretum members).
BOX OFFICE: 919/760-8757 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHOW: http://www.ncsu.edu/jcraulstonarboretum/calendar/event_details.php?ID=379 (May 26-29) and http://www.ncsu.edu/jcraulstonarboretum/calendar/event_details.php?ID=380 (June 2-5).
The Playwright: http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsW/williamson-jason.html (Doollee.com) and http://www.dramaticadventure.com/staff/jason.html (Dramatic Adventure Theatre).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.
To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.