Thursday, December 14, 2017

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Center Stage

We’ve never seen such ‘choices’ like this

10/4/2017

World premiere at Des Moines Playhouse

Glamour onstage begins with sweat in the rehearsal room. Left to right: Sarah Lewis (stage manager), Karen Schaeffer, John Viars and Josh Visnapuu (assistant director). Photo courtesy of Isenberg Photography.

Through playwright Karen Schaeffer’s productive pen flows a rare wit and a penchant for comedy. She epitomizes the saying, “The harder I work, the luckier I get,” as the Des Moines Playhouse playwright-in-residence prepares for the world premiere of her latest stage work, “Choices.”

“I’m blessed to be part of this community. This is about the Playhouse’s extended family touting its own,” says Schaeffer, referring to her long relationship with the Playhouse and the Greater Des Moines creative community. She has worked on both sides of the curtain at the Playhouse, earning her a reputation for talent, energy and drive. These elements were the foundation for her first play produced at the Playhouse, “Girls Weekend.” This farce played to enthusiastic audiences and served as the springboard for this comedy being selected for other theaters to produce across the country.

“(‘Choices’) is about ‘what ifs,’ ” she continues. “This play starts with a woman, then uses the ‘what if’ trigger for each new element — she starts dating again, first one guy, then a second guy.”

The layers intertwine into a compelling tale.

Ames Chamber

For those who understand Schaeffer’s process, they know that what manifests on stage is the product of a long, arduous creative process. The seed for this play was planted early in 2014. Many drafts, rewrites and modifications later, “Choices” began its journey through several readings, where the play truly begins it auditory life. This was in January of 2016, and “Choices” was one of several of Schaeffer’s works in progress that John Viars was considering to produce at the Playhouse. The table readings grew, the play developed, finally reaching a point where “it needed to be produced.”

“This (‘Choices’) is completely different (than ‘Girls Weekend’),” says Playhouse Artistic Director Viars, who is directing “Choices.” “If it was the same, we wouldn’t have considered it. This is a comedy of situation: conflicting situation, spatial relationships. It’s about women in charge.

“Even though the paint is mostly dry, we can make minor changes. This is a more malleable situation (working with the playwright),” Viars continues, talking about the unique, collaborative process with the playwright for fine-tuning “Choices.”

The Playhouse is producing more musicals in response from its patrons and audiences. This means that non-musicals must be carefully analyzed regarding how they balance a season’s diversity. This season features four musicals and two plays. And, anticipation for Schaeffer’s newest offering is definitely growing.

Viars has been at the helm of the Playhouse for 35 years, guiding this nationally recognized community theater operation to national prominence. Playhouse alums who have blazed successful careers include Cloris Leachman (Oscar, multiple Emmy Awards), Peter Hedges (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”), Kristina Valada-Viars (“August: Osage County” Broadway), Tanner Stein (Nickelodeon, “NCIS”) and Drew Minard (as Billy Elliot in “Billy Elliot”). Schaeffer’s success may get her listed with these creatives.

That legacy-building environment continues with “Choices,” where audiences can support an Iowa-created comedy in its premiere.

“This play is a modern, different take on relationships,” explains Viars. “It is crisp, funny and from a proven playwright. It is not so much pratfalls as relationships.”

Both playwright and director agree that “Choices” is “an escape; it’s about women in charge.” This all adds up to an excellent choice to make.

Overheard in the Lobby

Artistic Director Serkan Usta brings this year’s great tradition for Ballet Des Moines, “Triple Bill,” featuring three new works of international power, to Hoyt Sherman Place on Oct. 20. “On Golden Pond” opens the Tallgrass Theatre Company’s 2017-18 Season Oct. 28 in the Rex Mathes Auditorium. ♦

John Busbee is a creative project developer, critic, playwright, author, producer and media professional. He has produced his weekly show, The Culture Buzz, on KFMG since 2007.

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