City Circle Acting Company pushing the edge

BY KATIE HANSON | APRIL 02, 2009 7:52 AM

Let’s think geometrically for a minute.

If the entire American playwriting canon existed in a giant circle, Oklahoma would be smack-dab in the center. It’s clean and happy, the embodiment of “wholesome family fun.”

On the other hand, David Lindsay-Abaire’s play Rabbit Hole would rest much closer to the outer line. No, it’s not Girls Gone Wild: Onstage, but Rabbit Hole packs a heavier emotional punch less risky plays cannot muster.

The City Circle Acting Company will perform Rabbit Hole, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, and readings of Sarah Shattered for the group’s first Circle’s Edge Repertory Festival. The plays open Friday and continue through the weekend, and then run on April 10-12 and 16-19 at the Iowa Realty building, 327 Second St., Coralville.

“These aren’t your typical City Circle fare,” said Joshua Beadle, the director of Rabbit Hole. “They push the edges a little bit more. It’s no Hello Dolly.”

Rabbit Hole, which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, tells the story of husband and wife Howie and Becca. Their life is rocked when Jason, a 17-year-old, accidentally runs over their young son. Becca’s mother and sister attempt to help the couple cope, but they are thrown when Jason seeks closure and contacts the family.

“Eventually, [Becca and Howie] get to a place where they know they’re not completely better, but they can at least go on,” Beadle said. “They realize Jason is just a 17-year-old boy who got into a car accident.”

Despite the production’s heavy topic, he said, the script contains a surprising amount of humor, especially in Becca’s sister, Izzy.

“It’s like the couple down the street who just happened to lose their son,” he said. “It’s easy to relate to that kind of experience.”

Sarah Shattered, written by UI theater department head of acting John Cameron, also explores family dynamics. Director Chris Okiishi said that while the work is fiction, it is based on events that happened to Cameron’s mother and have characters that mirror him, his father, and his brother.

“It’s a pretty extensive family history and family drama,” Okiishi said. “It’s a dysfunctional family in an epic sweep.”

He placed Sarah Shattered in the tradition of August: Osage County, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award. Although he wouldn’t give away specific events, he said audiences will find part of themselves in the production.

“The rule in playwriting is the more specific it is, the more universal it can be, and this is very specific,” Okiishi said.

While it is not a family drama, Picasso at the Lapin Agile also contains serious subject matter, a surprise considering comedian Steve Martin is the playwright.

Kehry Lane, the play’s director, said Martin’s name is what led him to pick up Picasso at the Lapin Agile from a bookstore when Lane was in high school.

“It really knocked me off my feet,” he said. “It’s very, very funny, as you’d expect from Steve Martin, but it also has a philosophical commentary on the nature of art, beauty, and genius.”

Set in 1904 Paris, the play revolves around the chance meeting of Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso, right before Einstein publishes the Special Theory of Relativity and Picasso paints Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. At the end of the play, a man known only as the Visitor enters. His identity is never revealed, but Lane hinted that the man is an anachronism and a grandfather of pop culture.

“It’s part of the fun of the trick Steve Martin wanted to pull,” he said. “Here’s Picasso, here’s Einstein, and then [the Visitor] shows up in 1904.”

While the Circle’s Edge Repertory Festival may not have a unifying theme, Okiishi said, audience members can connect elements of each play.

“They’re plays that look at family and relationships in three different ways,” he said. “And what’s great is you could see them all in one weekend.”

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