By PAUL SHECKARSKI, 08/13/2008
Two cutting-edge productions are coming to theaters near you. In mid-August, Midwestern Theater Troupe will present Tape, a play about "motive, memory, truth and perception," at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. 4th St.
At the same time, Orasi Productions will present Graven Image, a combination of living and performance arts, at Club 209, 209 N. Boulder.
Sara Cruncleton, director of Tape, was "drawn to the intensity and realism of the [play's] characters," she said.
That intensity stems from the subject matter and the setting's "super claustrophobic atmosphere."
In such an atmosphere must Cruncleton's actors work to "portray [what] is unsaid, hinted at, or... never revealed."
In Tape, two 20-somethings named Jon and Vince, old friends from high school, reunite to reminisce about the salad days. Vince, however, has ulterior motives; he seeks to provoke Jon into admitting he raped a girl, Amy Randall, whom they both used to date.
Jon eventually makes that admission. That's when Vince reveals he's taped the conversation. And that Amy is coming to have dinner with them that very evening.
First produced in 2000 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays, Tape was subsequently adapted by the playwright, Stephen Belber, into a film of the same name starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard.
Cruncleton saw the film years ago, and decided she wanted to mount the stage version. She already had in mind the perfect actors for her production.
"Luckily, I was able to cast the male roles exactly like I wanted."
She went on to add, "I also met, and cast, someone that is perfect for the role of Amy."
Rehearsals have proceeded smoothly, thanks to the cast's hard work.
"John [Cruncleton], Joseph [Gomez] and Cassie [Hollis] are all absolute professionals... It is so nice to be able to work on the nuances instead of just memorization during rehearsals!"
These rehearsals have focused on characterization, which the claustrophobia indicated by Belber's script has intensified. Cruncleton made that claustrophobic effect the primary principle of the show's design.
Despite that emphasis and the show's subject matter, Tape is not stifling or cloistered. In fact, it is charged with dark humor.
"The cast have all commented on how funny the show is and how unexpected that is when you think about the theme. It is definitely a dark comedy in that it deals with some serious issues like lost love, lost friendship, trust, drug use and rape, but even so, it is most certainly meant to be funny."
One of the challenges a dark comedy faces is to find the subtle characterization required to balance the script's simultaneous gravity and hilarity. Happily, the Nightingale Theater tends to spotlight shows with strong characters.
Nightingale productions also emphasize a strong bond amongst cast and crew members in order to produce challenging works.
"I think that we have always strived to create a family of performers, writers and designers and to support that family in any project that one of us is passionate about or wants to explore."
Tape opens August 15 and runs through the end of the month. For show dates and times, visit www.nightingaletheater.com.
A "living art exhibit and performance art piece" called Graven Image will "portray pictorial representations... of classical and contemporary graven images, everything from the golden calf to George W. Bush," said writer and director Joshua Oaks.
This exhibit, which the audience will have the opportunity to explore for about half an hour, will be followed by a live performance of "a mix of dialogue, spoken word poetry and movement."
This performance will last about 45 minutes.
Oaks warned, "[Graven Image may] make you a bit uncomfortable," as it includes some aggressive audience participation.
"What I hope you glean from this show is that there are behaviors and elements that are present in our social fabric [which] affect us consciously and subconsciously."
Humans are not subject to these forces, Oaks went on to say, but can choose to reject them and follow a new path.
Human statues comprise the living art exhibit which precedes the performance.
"The statues... represent the factors that mold who, how and why we exist from religion to location to who we vote for."
Orasi Productions originated in Norman, Oklahoma, where Oaks attended the University of Oklahoma.
He studied at the theater department there, and, with some of his peers from "production side of the medium who had a hunger to push Oklahoma to step outside the norm of what they thought theatre could be for them," began producing shows.
Orasi Productions typically produces plays in the absurdism or extremism schools of theater.
"As a writer my role models include Neil Labute, Edward Albee, Sarah Kane, Debbie Tucker Green, Caryl Churchill, and so many more. As a director my role models include Julie Taymor, Joe Mantello, who directed the original production of 'Bash' by Neil LaBute, and James Macdonald, who directed the original production of 4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane."
After college, many of the Orasi members parted ways, but Oaks, upon moving back to Tulsa, sought to reestablish the company. He has partnered with Jeremy Jones, founder of Mercury Productions, a local film company. Jones and Oaks are now co-owners of Orasi Productions.
Oaks is excited to be back in Tulsa.
"It's the arts capital of Oklahoma and growing every day. This is a great city to develop new talent and is always showcasing different artists and kinds of art. This is where art is thriving in Oklahoma and we are excited to be part of that again."
Oaks intends Graven Image, the company's first production here in Tulsa, to "[make] you sick for the goal of truth. A universal truth that is sometimes hard to see or painful to see but is something we all need to deal with."
Graven Image will run two nights this month, August 14 and 15, with two showtimes each night: 8pm and 11pm. General admission is free. Visit myspace.com/orasiproductions for more details.