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All the pretty little ponies at theatres gallery production

BY KELLY DIGGINS | APRIL 02, 2009 7:52 AM

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On any given Sunday, religious services are prevalent on some television channels. And many people buy “spiritual” music and listen to faith-based radio talk shows.

The première of University Theatres Gallery Production The House of Grateful introduces a new style of religion.

Written by Sheela Kangal, the play addresses the lengths people go to when pursuing success. The House of Grateful will open at 8 p.m. today and continue through April 5 in Theatre Building’s Theatre B.

The House of Grateful follows Lavinia Mae Bot, a preacher developing a new kind of religious support system, the teleministry. Soon, Lavinia’s methods raise her profile and garner followers, or, as she calls them, “pretty little ponies.” As Lavinia’s teleministry expands, she is prepared to do anything to maintain her status. In this unconventional congregation, nothing is as it seems.

“It’s a safe place, and yet, the House of Grateful is not safe,” Kangal said. “[Lavinia Mae] is attempting to build this ministry, and she destroys others in doing so. It counteracts what she’s trying to do.”

Kangal, an Iowa alumna, lived in New York for 17 years before moving back in 2008 to enroll in the Iowa Playwrights’ Workshop; she is in her second year.

The House of Grateful is the culmination of four years of writing and rewriting. When she began the piece, she pulled material from the curiosities and experiences in her life.

“At the time, I was really interested in preaching,” she said. “In conversion and conveying spirituality in others.”

As the deceptive Lavinia, Brooke LeWarne, a senior theater student, recognizes her character is a villain, yet she appreciates Lavinia’s other characteristics.

“What I really like about it is the amount of strength in the character,” LeWarne said.

She is happy about how the show has turned out, especially with the different interpretations by the artists involved, including director Anthony Nelson, who, she said, serves as “a guided artistic vision.”

Kangal hopes audience members will understand the various personalities in the play.

“I hope they find a character they can identify with and think about it afterwards,” she said. “Like rooting for a ball player.”

Stage manager Morgan Gire said viewers should expect an original, unusual, and intriguing drama.

“It’s a very intense show. A mysterious drama,” she said. “It’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.”


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