In New York, play readings are used as an opportunity to fine-tune a script or to sell it to an actor or production company. The environment there, more workshop-like than well-oiled performance, doesn’t always lend itself to a quality night of entertainment, but it can bring about star sightings, and a lucky few can claim to have been there when the script, now playing on Broadway or interpreted for the cinema, was first incubated.
Here in the valley, audiences have been able to enjoy the polished results of that East Coast vetting process and regular star sightings from actors like Pamela Sue Martin, Jim Jarrett, Claudia McCain, Patsy Wygle and Keith Moore and others who call Sun Valley a retreat from the theatrical outposts of New York and Los Angeles.
The nexStage Theatre on Ketchum’s Main Street has hosted readings, directed by Jon Kane, for the past 12 years. On Thursday, Nov. 29, actors Andrew Alburger, Charlotte Baker, Scott Creighton, Dawson Howard and Keith Moore will gather in this tradition to read “The Weir.”
The playwright, Conor McPherson, has been hailed as one of Ireland’s premier playwrights and “The Weir” was the recipient of the Olivier Award in London for Best New Play and then played on Broadway to rave reviews.
In this tale of the supernatural, McPherson demonstrates his remarkable skill as a riveting storyteller. In a bar in rural Ireland, local men swap spooky stories in an attempt to impress a young woman from Dublin who recently moved into a nearby “haunted” house. However, the tables are soon turned when she spins a yarn of her own.
The London Telegraph wrote, “Sheer theatrical magic. I have rarely been so convinced that I have just seen a modern classic. Tremendous.” The paper called McPherson “a distinctive talent to cherish.”
It’s a classic example of what the community has come to expect, along with free wine and cookies.
“The reading series began because we wanted to explore the texts of interesting and important new playwrights in a way that is affordable to produce,” explains Kathy Wygle, founder and manager of nexStage. “We can also select cutting-edge material that otherwise would not be able to be seen in this valley.
“It also is a way for many of the great actors in this town to work on their craft and explore a variety of roles in an informal setting.”
And for novice theater-goers, Wygle says, “we have found that the readings serve as a free introduction to theater for many in our audience and a real education and introduction to the best writing in the modern theater.”
Wygle says it is the informality of the setting that entices as well, giving people a glimpse at the process of preparing a play for full staging.
It always makes for thought-provoking theater.
As was found when Charlotte Hemmings read “My name is Rachel Corrie,” the story of a young American activist killed in Gaza by an Israeli bulldozer, a reading can generate powerful emotional responses, despite the lack of props, gestures, sets and sound effects of a full production.
Controversy swirled for months after the reading, which was attended by Craig and Cindy Corrie, the woman’s parents, who turned over emails and journal entries that were cobbled into her story. Some labeled all associated with the play Palestinian sympathizers while others criticized the backlash as disrespectful and inappropriate.
At the time, in 2010, Kane responded to the vitriol with a letter to the editor of his own, which read in part, “I stand by my statements that I am neither pro-Palestinian nor anti-Israeli, and that my sole reasons behind producing the readings was to share this extraordinary play and work of art with the Wood River Valley. Rachel Corrie was an extremely idealistic young woman who chose to go to Palestine to work for human rights. The play is her story and her truths through her writings and her perceptions cannot be disputed or challenged.”
He argued that the reading was an opportunity to showcase Hemmings’ talent and said he was ashamed to have heard from the Corries, who had done similar readings around the world, including in Israel, that the audience on one of the nights “was the most contentious they had ever faced. This is not a distinction that we should be proud of in this valley.”
But as they say, the show must go on, and Kane continues to bring timely, amusing, engaging and, yes, sometimes infuriating readings to the theater.
“The reason I wanted to start the series is because I had attended a lot of readings in New York City when working in the theater there and always thought they were a lot more compelling than they appeared,” he says. “It also gave me the chance to hear great new plays in an informal setting and almost share the evening with the actors in a way that is not possible when you attend a production.
“The nexStage Theatre felt the same way that I do and were excited to launch their own series focusing on great contemporary plays and playwrights. It also has the given the chance for excellent local actors to explore a variety of roles that they would otherwise never get a chance to tackle.”
Like Wygle, he feels the setting and style has encouraged what he describes as a strong and attentive following.
“It’s a tremendous introduction to theater and great writing for those who are being exposed to theater for the first time, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to hear new, cutting-edge plays that for economic reasons would not be produced in the valley.”
Pamela Sue Martin says she enjoys being invited to read or just to attend these readings because of Kane’s selections.
“Jon Kane as an eye for the most interesting and humorous playwrights,” she said in an email from Baja, Mexico. From the dark humor of the Irish to the Palestinian crisis, I always know that I will have an amazing time at his readings. I’ve enjoyed watching them, and even been willing to appear in a few, because they are so good. Locals who know theater love to come to his readings—they are highly entertaining and the price is right!”
Where: nexStage Theatre, Main Street, Ketchum.
When: Thursday, Nov. 29, at
6:30 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m for wine and cookies and mingling before.