Yanna Lantz, right, rehearses with Matt Gorby and Vanessa Sterling

Director Yanna Lantz, right, rehearses with Matt Gorby and Vanessa Sterling as the sub-shack set goes up around them.

    Tomorrow night, on Thursday, Aug. 22, The Spot will officially kick off its fifth consecutive theatrical season. The Ketchum theater has carved out a distinct role in the valley’s vibrant artistic landscape, routinely producing plays that diverge from the norm, challenge their audiences and provoke critical thought.

    The fifth season looks to continue that trend, but the plays tend more toward the comedic. The first play of the season hammers home this intention in truly appetizing fashion.

    “We often produce darker material at The Spot, but this time we wanted to go with something lighter, something sweet and upbeat to really give people a pleasant night out, with plenty to think about still,” director Yanna Lantz said.

    The season begins with “American Hero,” a comedy by Bess Wohl. The play follows the struggles of three newly minted “sandwich artists” at a toasted sub franchise in a mall.

    Sherri (Anik Zarkos), a teenager supporting her debilitated father, Jamie (Vanessa Sterling), a single mother recently fired from her hair salon job for stealing mousse and Ted (Matt Gorby), a recently displaced midlevel bank employee, have all fallen on hard times following the recent economic recession.

    When the franchise owner, Bob (Kevin Wade), mysteriously vanishes ahead of the grand opening, the unlikely trio must band together to keep the fast food joint alive, exercise a modicum of creativity and grasp at the loose straws of the American Dream before it slips from view entirely.

    In a snappy script replete with laugh-out-loud gags and moments of genuine absurdity, Wohl nonetheless keeps her story and her characters firmly grounded in reality.

    That reality is something the cast and crew of this production hope to get across to their audience.

    “There’s a lot to relate to in this play,” Lantz said. “We’re in a post-recession world where misfits are forced to band together and make the best of a difficult situation. These people have every reason to give up, but with the right outlook and the right attitude and a little creativity, they’re able to solve their problems. It’s a great reminder not to give up.”

    That universal message about persevering through difficult times or working hard at a loathsome job is something most, if not all, audiences could benefit from seeing and could find relatable, but it is not the play’s only theme.

As Natalie Battistone, The Spot’s creative director of advertising, said, “In our world of convenience, we’re so accustomed to going into a restaurant or a fast-food place and taking for granted those people who work there. My hope is that people might come away more compassionate and more empathetic after watching the play.”

Matt Gorby, who plays Ted and has, incidentally, won Best Bartender in the annual Best of the Valley contest nearly every year it has run, allowed as how this play speaks to him in particular, and that there really is never any need to be rude to someone in the service industry.

    To bring the characters’ plight to life, the crew of The Spot has designed a full sub franchise from scratch, since Wohl provides sparse details about uniform, branded color scheme, menu or ingredients. The production will also use real food throughout to help create a proper atmosphere.

    “American Hero” will run nightly at 7 p.m. from Aug. 22 through Aug. 31, with a bonus 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Aug. 25, and no performances on Monday, Aug. 26. The play is appropriate for audience members 12 and up.

    Tickets are available for $25, or $13 for those under 30. Visit spotsunvalley.com for tickets and details.

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