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January 26, 2006

Stage Matters

From Inge to 'The Iliad'


Winner of a Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar, with plays and screenplays made into hit movies starring Marilyn Monroe, Burt Lancaster, William Holden and Natalie Wood, William Inge was a major presence in the 1950s. But he suddenly became dated and invisible in the decade before his suicide in 1973, and his plays were seldom performed.

Then, early in this decade, a few small productions of Inge's Bus Stop in Manhattan and at the Williamstown Playhouse (in Massachusetts) seemed to spark new interest, including a 2005 50th anniversary production by the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. "Plays seem to go through cycles," said Gene Cole, who directs Bus Stop at Ferndale Repertory Company starting tonight. "Maybe it's Inge's turn. He's always been one of my favorites."

Right: cast of "Bus Stop"

Cole thinks Bus Stop may have been neglected because "it's not flashy. But it's a real gem. There are eight characters, snowbound overnight in a small café in a tiny hick town. By the end of the play, every one of them has grown significantly in some way."

Cole, a 10-year veteran, acting and directing at Ferndale as well as NCRT, directs a cast of Humboldt County favorites plus a few newcomers, at least to local audiences. Nathan Pierce plays Bo Decker, the cowboy who falls for Cheri, the nightclub singer played by Theresa Ireland. Other characters are played by Gloria Montgomery, Christen Whiesehunt, Jerry Nusbaum, Josh Kelly and Albert Martinez. "It's the best cast I've ever worked with," Cole said. "They're all well-matched to their roles."

Bus Stop is known mostly for the 1956 movie with Marilyn Monroe. How does the play compare? The Marilyn role in the movie "is probably increased a little," Cole said, and the older character, Dr. Lyman, is significantly diminished (Inge himself played Lyman in a later production.) "Other than that," Cole said, "it's pretty much true to what happens in the play."

Inge said its subject was love, both innocent and tainted. Cole believes that the interactions of these characters -- how they treat each other, what some are willing to sacrifice and why -- will connect with audiences. "That's what I like about theater," he said. "It isn't just what you see, and it's gone. It's what you take away. What you talk about and think about afterwards. Bus Stop lends itself to that very well."

Guilio Cesare Perrone was a designer in Milan when he fell in love with an American opera singer, Ann Victoria Banks, married her and followed her back to the US. Since his three-year stint with Dell'Arte earlier this decade, he's been working in the Bay Area as a designer and director, for both theater and opera. He's returned to the North Coast to collaborate with 2nd year MFA students at the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre on his script of what some believe is the greatest war epic of all, Homer's The Iliad. It plays this weekend, beginning tonight, at the Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake.

While Americans may be familiar with The Iliad mostly from bad swords-and-sandals movies (old and new) about Troy, its Helen and its horse, in Italy Perrone grew up with Greek mythology on the page and on stage. "This is a project I've wanted to do all through my life," he said, "and especially at this moment, with the wars going on in the world, this was an opportunity to do an adaptation of Homer's text."

The conflicts of invaders and the people invaded are issues he said the play emphasizes, obviously relevant to Iraq now, but to other conflicts as well. "In The Iliad there are so many agendas," Perrone said. Besides the Greeks and Trojans, the various heroes and the pantheon of gods all have their separate goals and strategies. The role of the gods, and how mortals relate to them, may suggest the role of religions in war.

Perrone wrote his adaptation specifically for nine actors, because that's how many MFAs there are. "Because at Dell'Arte we consider actors as also creators, my adaptation also uses the lives of the people who work and study here at Blue Lake, who come from all over the world."

Within the linear story, dance and other movement uses contrasts in motion and physical relation to "focus on the relationship of humans and gods," according to choreographer Yong Zoo Lee. While the production explores time and space to define relationships, linking the mythological world with contemporary physics, Perrone stressed that the work is not abstract, but grounded in the reality of war.

"It's an ensemble piece," assistant director James Peck summarized, "to create something of a truly unique nature, and to expand the limits of how physical theater can be expressed. We're pretty excited about the results."

Ferndale Repertory Company presents Bus Stop by William Inge, Jan. 26-Feb.19 at 447 Main St., Ferndale. Preview tickets on Jan. 26 are $10, otherwise $12, $10 students & seniors. Gala Opening on Jan. 27 is a benefit for Fortuna Sunrise Rotary, and Feb. 16 is Actor's Benefit Night, with all proceeds going to the actors. Call 786-5483 for reservations.

The Illiad is presented by the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre at the Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake this Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 26-29, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $7, $5 students and seniors, with a pay-what-you-can preview Thursday. Call 668-5663 x20, for tickets and reservations.


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