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'Theater at its most vulnerable'

BY MICHAEL KADRIE | MARCH 05, 2015 5:00 AM

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Even the pope needs someone to love, according to one of the more vivacious members of his flock.
A loyal parishioner, played by actress Cory Johnson, is ready to make the case for an all-out match-making campaign. The search for the Holy Father’s earthly love is the focus of Rex McGregor’s “A Bride for the Pope."

McGregor’s script, straight from New Zealand, is one of 13 monologues performed by nine actors in the 16th iteration of Riverside Theater’s “Walking the Wire” series.

Monologues offer a unique experience for both actor and audience, said Jody Hovland, the “Walking the Wire” director and Riverside artistic director.

 “It’s theater at its most spare and vulnerable — one actor, one story, an audience to share it with,” she said. “It’s a theatrical high-wire act — no warm-up, no other actor to share the responsibility, no place to hide. The actor needs to make an immediate, personal connection with the audience — and then keep them intrigued.”

“Walking the Wire: Classified” will run Friday through March 15 at the Riverside Theater, 213 N. Gilbert St. All shows Thursday through Saturday begin at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday’s performance beginning at 2 p.m.

A post-show talkback featuring cast members will be held March 8.

Originally created by Riverside Theater artistic associate Michael Sokoloff, “Walking the Wire” quickly became a popular event, Hovland said. The theater receives more than 100 submissions a year from playwrights across the country and internationally.

Prospective writers are tasked with working around a particular theme when composing their submissions. This year’s performance, “Classified,” embraces mystery and secrecy.

Once monologues are selected, Hovland selects the performers.

“My job is to match the monologue with an actor who I feel can bring that voice to life,” she said.

Johnson said she has performed at several shows and loves the atmosphere of the event.

“[Hovland] is kind enough to reach out and get me back on the stage now and then,” Johnson said. ”I love meeting new artists, reconnecting with the Iowa City theater scene, and discovering new writers.”

She said she particularly enjoyed preparing for this year’s performance. 

“I love the ardent passion that my character has. There is no sense of blasphemy, but there most certainly is questioning of man-made rules as they pertain to religion. And, if I do it right, it is particularly funny,” Johnson said.

Her role plays with the physical and emotional needs traditionally associated with the Pope, a celibate religious figure. Johnson, who works at a Catholic university, said she enjoyed sharing her preparations with coworkers.

“It is fun to let some of the priests on campus read this and respond to it. I have received nothing but laughs and well wishes,” she said.

Janet Schlapkohl is a local participant who is also familiar with past performances. This year she wrote and will act in “Vampire Bunnies,” which she said is about her time teaching special education. She will also act in “Redacted.”

Schlapkohl said she particularly enjoys the storytelling aspect of monologue, and the chance to interact with other’s creative work.

“It is exciting to be with all the other actors and hear the great variety of pieces, all connected through [a common] theme,” she said.

Hovland, who is also a veteran performer, said she meets with actors to help them individually and to work the performance into a cohesive whole.

“I meet each actor several times for coaching sessions, and then we all come together as an ensemble to create the entire evening of work,” Hovland said. “It’s like putting together a circus train of fascinating individual cars."

“Walking the Wire” and other shows like it play an important role in Riverside’s creative mission, she said.

“[We are] part of a very exciting national movement, and ‘Walking the Wire’ is a microcosm of that ongoing effort,” she said. “Sometimes a monologue is an end in itself — a perfect story that is fully satisfying in 10 minutes or less. Other times, we hear that a monologue that got its start in ‘Walking the Wire’ eventually transformed into a full-length play. So anything is possible.”


THEATER
“Walking the Wire: Classified"
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, March 12-14; 2 p.m. March 8 and 15.


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