On Sunday, March 1, 2020, local actors Chris Carwithen and David Janeski performed a reading of a work-in-progress play by MacArthur Genius Grant-winning, Idaho-born playwright Samuel D. Hunter. A couple dozen people—including Hunter—attended the reading of “A Case for the Existence of God,” presented by Sawtooth Productions in the small, upstairs black box theater of The Argyros.
That was the last live theatrical performance residents in the Wood River Valley could enjoy in-person before heading into lockdown less than two weeks later.
Fast-forward 14 months, and with Blaine County leading the state in vaccination rates and local governments inching toward easing restrictions on gatherings, the arts community is eager to bring back live, in-person, large-scale theatrical productions. Jon Kane, artistic director of Sawtooth Productions, is spearheading a show to mark live theater’s triumphant return—and rather nicely bookend the challenging months since last March.
In late June and early July, theatergoers can return to live drama with a full-fledged production of that same play, “A Case for the Existence of God.”
Though certainly a scaled back, almost minimalist piece—Hunter described it as a “tiny drama with the grandest possible title, a tiny moment in an impossibly grand world”—the production is anything but minimal. Set for open-air performances at Reinheimer Ranch just south of downtown Ketchum, the workshop production of “A Case for the Existence of God” is a joint undertaking of Sawtooth Productions, Laughing Stock Theater, Field Daze and the Argyros Performing Arts Center. Hunter is closely involved, celebrated director Paul Lazar has signed on and the two characters will be brought to life by actors Aaron Shipp and Pete Simpson, the latter of whom recently won the prestigious Obie Award for Sustained Excellence.
It’s a congregation of giants from the New York City theater scene, nestled against the backdrop of the Idaho landscape (incidentally, the play takes place in Twin Falls), bringing world-class drama back to the forefront of the Sun Valley arts community.
“It’s indescribable,” Kane said. “For all of us, it’s a dream come true that we’re getting back. Theater for us is our family and we’ve been separated for over a year.”
The play was commissioned by the Signature Theatre in New York, where it will have its official world premiere in 2022. The presentation at Reinheimer Ranch, a workshop production, effectively offers local audiences a rare sneak peek as Hunter sees his work performed and adds whatever little finishing touches may be needed.
For the big names attached to the project, the opportunity is just as exciting a prospect as it is for local audiences.
“For me, personally, it’s so meaningful,” Hunter said. “Intellectually, we’ve known theater will come back, but it’s been really hard to believe that sometimes.”
Outdoor performances will be presented nightly at 8 p.m. from June 30 to July 2 and July 6-10, plus a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, July 10. Tickets will go on sale June 1 online at theargyros.org and fielddazesunvalley.org.
Check back with the Idaho Mountain Express in the coming weeks for a full feature preview, including additional insights from Hunter, Lazar and the cast.