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UI Theater presents Jenga

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | FEBRUARY 02, 2012 7:20 AM

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The classic wooden game Jenga stands in the middle of a back room of the University of Iowa Theatre Building, surrounded by multicolored fairy-wing costumes.

In this Gallery Series production, two sisters try to navigate through their dysfunctional relationship as they sit together playing the simple game.

Audience members will be transported into the world of Jenga at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Theatre Building's Theater B. The production will continue at 2 p.m. Feb. 5. Admission is free for UI students, $5 for the general public.

Deborah Yarchun, a UI second-year M.F.A. playwriting student, said Jenga came from an idea to construct a fictional world around the relationship of two sisters.

"I wanted to create a psychological thriller in which denial was the monster in the room," she said.

The play follows the story of Yelena, who decides to return to her childhood home after 12 years and finds that older sister Simone has turned the entire house into a game-room filled with fairy wings and glitter.

The two sisters battle in a series of games over whether to confront a violent memory from their past.

Jenga has some fairly dark scenes, but there are also many comedic elements in the play. Yarchun believes that when people watch the play, it won't seem dark, because of the fairy wings, glitter, Hula-Hoops, and board games.

Kristi Banker, the play's dramaturge, said the dark themes do not overpower the story.

"Channels of darkness are balanced with the humor," she said. "It forces us to see sides of our own lives that we might blind ourselves to."

The play is structured on the game of Jenga, which the two sisters play on stage.

"It made sense in the way that denial functions, because you want to save it and stack it up again," Yarchun said. "But there are also many word games and word play between the two sisters as they keep rearranging the truth. So that's another way that language is working in the play."

Director Patrick Reynolds said the theater is a great place to tell the story.

"It is about a person with a vision for possibility and magic and how she is transforming her world," he said. "It's exactly what we try to do as artists."

Creating Jenga for the stage has been a collaborative process for Reynolds and Yarchun.

"I think the richest projects are the ones that you have the most trouble finding shape for in your own imagination," Reynolds said. "It was challenging to walk into Deborah's world, [in which] we would all have a journey with twists and bends, rather than a road that was already laid bare."
Yarchun said she is curious to see what the audience's reaction will be.

"There will be people who view the ending one way, and some will view it another," she said. "Some might find devastation and some hope, but I ultimately want them to leave having more questions than answers."


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