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New Play Approaches Social Withdrawal At Shadowbox Theatre

Saturday June 25th, 2022, 3:59pm


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Collaborating across borders, a local theatre group is exploring isolation with their new play.

Taking place at the Shadowbox Theatre (located at 103b – 1501 Howard Avenue,) Kari Bentley-Quinn’s Prepared is in the middle of a three week run. Performed by Post Productions, the play is a collaboration between the New York based playwright and theatre group: It also serves as the award-winning show’s world premiere.

Despite focusing on issues of social interaction, the collaboration began online.

“I came across [Bentley-Quinn] in a Twitter discussion about how hard it is to get people to read, much less produce, original plays — even if the scripts are award-winning and highly acclaimed,” said producer Michael K. Potter. “She mentioned she had an acclaimed script that had been written seven years ago but still hadn’t been produced. So I wrote to her and asked her to send me the script, which she did. [Director] Fay Lynn and I were fascinated by it and decided we wanted to produce it in our 2022 season.”

Home schooled by his survivalist mother Lydia (Niki Richardson,) a teenage boy (Caiden Finlay) is secluded from the outside world. As he continues living behind tinted windows and playing computer games, the teen and his mother become increasingly isolated and removed from social connection. Already estranged from her eldest son Trey (Alyx Magwood) and ex-husband Marshall ((Fred Krysko,) they’ll soon face the consequences for her uncompromising prepper ideology.

Although it was written in 2015, the story is even more relevant today.

“Personally I think the themes of the play are not only politically relevant — perhaps even more so now than they were seven years ago,” said Potter. “They’re also emotionally relevant in a way that is universal to most parents. I like plays with big ideas, but big ideas are best served by an intensely emotional and plausible relationships between human beings onstage.”

Of course, creating such dynamics starts with auditions. Having produced a script with someone in New York City before, Prepared was still a new experience for Post in this respect. Unlike those plays, Bentley-Quinn was involved throughout the process via Zoom. This allowed the group to get her insight and have questions about character motivations, themes and relationships answered during rehearsals. It also let the playwright workshop her script after seeing it in action.

It’s something each actor was glad to be a part of.

“It was a new experience to have script notes from the author during blocking and I was fascinated to see [Bentley-Quinn] trim the fat from her work in real time,” said Richardson. “She was using us as actors to fine tune her artistry. It was an active workshop on how to write a play and I will cherish the experience.”

Taking place at the theatre, all involved masked up to hold auditions in person. Although there were a couple options for Lydia and Marshall, Bentley-Quinn, Lynn and Potter felt the four actors who were selected had the most immediate and believable chemistry. Beyond looking like they could be biologically related, the four also brought many questions about their characters’ inner lives. This resulted in 90-per-cent of what’s portrayed coming from the actors themselves.

According to Krysko, it’s something that was bound to happen.

“The process of producing a play is very much a journey,” he said. “My experience with Prepared was no different. I felt that early rehearsals brought four actors who weren’t familiar with each other as people or actors. We all have, to some degree, different personalities, ways of working and backgrounds. That produces an environment of discovery, tensions, exploration and learning. These aren’t unlike growing up in a family. For me, as I got to know each cast member individually as people, my character became more informed of the other characters in the play. No matter what kind of character an actor is portraying it’s inevitable that part of their real persona becomes a part of their character.”

While Post tries having at least one actor who’s new to them in each play, a third of Prepared’s cast has never worked with the group. Bringing in their experiences from other companies and productions, having fresh talent allows the theatre company to grow.

As with Richardson’s performance, it benefits actors as well.

“I truly enjoy sharing the stage with actors for the first time,” she said. “It would be a lie to say it feels the same as performing with actors that you are familiar with or have a level of trust with. In this instance I felt slightly on edge, which turned out to be the best place to start with Lydia. Familiarity came through rehearsals, but I was able to maintain and use that edge when scenes required it.”

Playing someone overtaken by fear, it was crucial for audiences to understand her perspective too.

“Lydia is a survivalist — or prepper — but that’s only one detail about her,” said Potter. “She’s a teacher who was lead into this apocalyptic ideology by entirely understandable emotions and motivations. In other words, she is a devoted mother who is frightened of how the world treats her youngest son and is also frightened because of how different he seems from his brother and other children. The combination of love and fear found some refuge in right-wing conspiracies and survivalist ideologies. They seemed to provide answers to allay her fears and provide hope that her son might not merely survive the world around him, but perhaps thrive as society collapses.”

With Lydia believing Trey doesn’t need her and that Marshall’s too distracted to understand what’s required, perspectives are different from the outside as well. These biases and emotions are what drive each character to make the decisions they do.

As a voice of reason and compassion, Trey asks questions the audience might have. On the other side, Marshall wanted to provide compassion before his flaws ultimately prevented him from doing so. This leaves him unable to save his family as Lydia shuts herself off from listening to Trey.

Each voice also allows every position to be explored without judgement.

“I think it’s striking how you can see Lydia’s transformation,” said Krysko. “The flashbacks in the play allow us to see her as a ‘normal’ young pregnant mother with concerns for the health of her children, a mother of two who has bought in to many conspiracy theories and finally a full on survivalist. I hope [audiences] see Marshall’s role in this as well. It’s not overtly portrayed in the show but I feel that Marshall may have overlooked some early signs because of ignorance and denial. It’s obvious that he hasn’t bonded with [his youngest son.] As a father he doesn’t seem able to adapt to having a son who has different needs that he just can’t understand. I think it’s clear that by writing him off as “weird” Marshall can relieve himself of any responsibility.”

Potter agrees but thinks it’s up to theatre goers to decide how they feel about the story.

“I think Lydia’s choices seem wrong from certain points of view, but the play itself doesn’t really cast judgment on them,” he said. “It simply shows us what Lydia has chosen and where those choices lead. Audience members will have to form their own judgments about whether, and to what degree, Lydia’s choices are wrong. I hope that in doing so, audience members will reflect on what Lydia could have done differently, what Marshall could have done differently and whether those different choices would have lead to better consequences.”

Presented in association with Waawiiyaatanong Feminist Theatre, Remaining performances of Prepared will take place at the Shadowbox Theatre on June 25, 30; Jul 1 and 2. All shows start at 8 p.m. with doors opening at 7:30 and tickets can be purchased online for $25 each. Those attending must also be masked at all times while indoors.

Staying on brand with Post’s past shows, all involved hope it gives audiences lots to think about.

“I always enjoy either acting in or watching a show with substance,” said Krysko. “This play entertains and provokes at the same time. I believe that if a play doesn’t make you feel something, you’re wasting your time.”

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