Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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Center Stage

Making magic with voice and imagination


“33 Variations” and  Play Reading Series. Des Moines Playhouse. Free. Third Monday, every month, 7 p.m.

“33 Variations” and Play Reading Series. Des Moines Playhouse. Free. Third Monday, every month, 7 p.m.

Onstage, drama comes in three dimensions. The players have heft and the set can trick you into thinking you see a house, a cornfield, a Metropolis. What happens, though, when all you have to go on is the words? When all you’ve got are voices and stage directions?

For instance, there were the directions given last Monday by Darca Boom at the Playhouse during “33 Variations,” this month’s selection for the Reading Series.

“All three move in unison,” Boom read, sitting over an open script. “For a moment it becomes a kind of dance.”

Got that? What’s more, a minute earlier we’d learned that one of these three, in the late stages of ALS, was using a walker. But the folks on the small lobby stage looked in good health, and they remained comfortably seated. The dance — itself a theatrical illusion — could only take place in the mind.

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That is the magic of a script reading, and Des Moines is lucky enough to host two a month, both free of charge. StageWest has the “Scriptease” (reviewed here over the summer) and the Reading series at the Playhouse. According to Playhouse Executive Director John Viars, competition is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

“It’s all one big community,” says Viars. “Nights like this feed so many things that theater can use.”

For the Playhouse, this often means developing new talent. Viars works with Katie Coons, who says much of her job is pulling in people more or less new to the work.

“People who’d like to do more, but lack the confidence,” she says.

A 17-year-old Elsa Klein, a senior at West Des Moines Valley High School, recently received what she calls “an email out of the blue” from Coons, wondering if Klein, who’d worked on Playhouse “Adolescent Anarchy” pieces, would direct “33 Variations.” Yes, it was a serious play by Moisés Kaufman, author of tragic “Laramie Project.” Yes, Klein would be giving direction to someone like Mary Bricker, far older and one of the most experienced actors in Des Moines. So why not give it a try?

The result last Monday evening at the Playhouse was a remarkably vivid give-and-take in the theater of the mind. Bricker, in street clothes, had quite a presence and German accent. Still, she never overwhelmed someone like Sean Bates, who’d only done small roles previously. Rather, the experience was all about the interplay, first among the seven onstage (six actors, plus Boom), then between them and the music, cued up on Klein’s boombox, just offstage. Dramatic parallels emerged as did the sturdiness of a well-made play. You felt close to the act of creation, the playwright’s difficult choices, yet you could picture a production in all three dimensions.

Overheard in the Lobby: On Oct. 29, Alton Brown’s “Edible Inevitable” tour, a comedy that features “culinary-science antics,” will stop at Hoyt Sherman. CV

John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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