Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company is presenting the regional premiere of Guards at the Taj by Rajiv Joseph with the tagline: ‘Brotherhood, brutality, beauty, and blood. Lots and lots of blood.”.That is certainly an apt description. Charles Isherwood titled his New York Times review of the 2015 Atlantic Theater Company production ‘Guards at the Taj,’ Two Ordinary Guys Ordered to Do the Unthinkable. BETC tells the story as well as any New York production might. The audience at the Dairy Center sold out opening kept the lobby buzzing discussing what they had just witnessed during the post show reception.
I followed up with the director Stephen Weitz via email.
EL: How did you become familiar with Guards at the Taj and what made it the right fit for this BETC season?
SW: Rajiv is a writer I’ve long admired so I was immediately interested when a colleague forwarded me a copy of the script. We found the script to be everything we look for in a story: profound, funny, strong characterizations, and very timely as well. A lot of our content this season has to do with difficult conversations and bridging (or not bridging) schisms between loved ones. With the many difficult conversations happening in our country at the moment, this seemed like a natural fit in that landscape.
EL: This show may be unfamiliar to many, how do you describe it?
SW: It’s a bit difficult to encapsulate the plot without giving away some pretty important spoilers. But at it’s core, it’s about a deep friendship between two men and how that friendship is tested and ultimately splintered by being caught up in a truly horrible series of events. It’s challenging and thought provoking (and more than a little gory in places), but it’s also beautiful and sweet and funny. So I guess I would say, it’s a lot like life.
Sam Gilstrap and Jihad Milhem star in BETC's production of Guards at the Taj by Rajiv Joseph (photography: Michael Ensminger)
EL: What is the importance of presenting a Regional Premiere for a company like BETC?
SW: We’ve now presented so many (30+), that producing Regional Premieres is just part of our identity. But it does demonstrate our commitment to scouring the country to find the best new plays and presenting work that our audiences can’t see anywhere else in the area. It also allows us to give voice to contemporary playwrights who we feel are on the cutting edge and saying important things with their work.
Jihad Milhem and Sam Gilstrap star in BETC's production of Guards at the Taj by Rajiv Joseph (photography: Michael Ensminger)
EL: Every production has unique challenges and discoveries during rehearsals, what stands out for this production of Guards at the Taj?
SW: This play has some really unique technical challenges. Without giving away anything, I’ll just say that it has definitely tested our abilities onstage and backstage. But that’s part of continuing to grow and mature as an organization. You always have to stretch yourself to keep moving forward.
Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company presentsGuards at the Taj
Director: Stephen Weitz
Stage Manager: Rick Mireles
Assistant Director: Jenna Moll Reyes
Set Designer: Ron Mueller
Costume Designer: Katie Horney
Lighting Designer: Jacob M. Welch
Sound Designer: Daniel Horney
Fight Director: Benaiah Anderson Crafts Artisan: Anneke Ciup
It shouldn’t surprise many to hear me say I LOVE most things Disney. Movies, Theme Parks, and Musicals. The special wonder of my childhood is given freedom to squeal, giggle, and dream. If you share that affection for the big, splashy, earnest shows Disney is known for then you wont want to miss Disney’s ALADDIN while the tour is bringing Agrabah to life at the Buell.
For me the three wishes granted in this tour are Michael – James – Scott.(Well, also the costumes…and the sets…and the music…and the company…okay, they granted several of my wishes.) Michael James Scott (he plays the Genie) is a Megawatt Showman.
Michael James Scott Photo By Deen van Meer
Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, the show features music by Tony Award and eight-time Oscar® winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Sister Act), lyrics by two-time Oscar winner Howard Ashman (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid), three-time Tony Award and three-time Oscar winner Tim Rice (Evita, Aida) and four-time Tony Award nominee Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), with a book by Beguelin, and is directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon).
Aladdin, adapted from the Academy Award®-winning animated Disney film and centuries-old folktales including “One Thousand and One Nights,” is brought to fresh theatrical life in this bold new musical. Aladdin’s journey sweeps audiences into an exotic world of daring adventure, classic comedy and timeless romance. This new production features a full score, including the five cherished songs from the Academy Award-winning soundtrack and more written especially for the stage
Please be advised that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts – denvercenter.org – is the ONLY authorized ticket provider for Disney’s Aladdin in Denver. Ticket buyers who purchase tickets from a ticket broker, or any third party, run the risk of overpaying or potentially buying illegitimate tickets. If they do, they should be aware that the DCPA is unable to reprint or replace lost or stolen tickets and are unable to contact patrons with information regarding time changes or other pertinent updates regarding the performance. Patrons found in violation of the DCPA Ticket Purchase and Sale Terms and Policies may have ALL of their tickets cancelled.
And Toto too Theatre Company is presenting two one act plays THE WAY STATION & THE SOUTH STAR by Colorado Playwright Rebecca Gorman O’Neill.
THE WAY STATION is the story of three strangers from different places and times, each pulled out of their travels and dropped off at a mysterious way station. At this surreal crossroads, no excuse, lie, or self-delusion holds up to scrutiny, and each person must find the strength to face his or her own dark secret, only then may they move on.
SOUTH STAR is set seven years in the future, during the second American Civil War, South Star is the story of a survivor, an inspiration, a reluctant hero who wishes she could just stop running. Stel finds herself in the company of two people – one an apparent victim, and one an apparent predator. What commences is a figurative game of three-card-Monty; the stakes are Stel’s life.
Here is my Q&A with Playwright Rebecca Gorman O’Neill
The Way Station and South Star are one act plays that share a few elements but do not seem directly related. How do you describe them, and did you conceive them as companion pieces?
I would describe the Way Station as a mystery, and South Star as a suspense story. The two of them do share some elements that I always find intriguing: 1 – a space that doesn’t belong to any of the characters – a space that is on the way to another space and 2 – a trap: a reason the characters can’t leave. In The Way Station, the trap is physical, in South Star, it’s psychological. Also, I love a 3-person play. They provide a great opportunity to keep shifting alliances – one person is always against two, and you can keep shifting that dynamic around.
I didn’t specifically conceive them as companion pieces – South Star is much more clearly a companion to my full-length, The Greater Good, which And Toto Too was the first to produce – but I love the way that they’re coming together under Susan’s guidance. The actors, I hope, get to have fun showing some range, and, like any 2 pieces of art when you put them side-by-side, one gives a different context to the other.
After reading these plays I first thought of Rod Serling, (like you he also taught writing) not as a direct comparison, but simply as a salute. Is there any connection to his style for you?
Oh absolutely! The Way Station is very much inspired by The Twilight Zone, which I think is a classic of American Literature. I think that Rod Serling, (and Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King) are strong influences on my writing. They are giants. So if you see the salute, I’m more than flattered. South Star a little less directly inspired. That idea came from an immersion in literature about the WWII French Resistance movement.
What drew you to writing one act plays?
One-Acts are how I learned to write plays. I started writing plays in college, and took the (two) playwriting classes my college offered. My mentor, Peter Parnell, encouraged us to write for the One-Act Festival my school hosted, which is how I got my first productions. The length and the limit of the one act suited me – I like compact stories. One acts were all I wrote until grad school, because it’s all I thought I knew how to write.
On the New Play Exchange you write that you are “bored of cynicism and I appreciate cleverness.”, how did that point of view develop for you?
Thank you for reading my NNPX page! I sometimes think I’m whistling in the wind on that one. OK, so, I teach, and I’m a judge for a couple play contests, and the result is that I read a ton of plays. (I also watch a lot of TV and movies) a ton, mostly by beginning writers, who tend to lean comfortably back into being cynical about the state of, well, everything. But then I sometimes get to see cleverness – innovation – something I haven’t seen before. That’s so, so exciting. Cynicism is a place where one can rest. Cleverness is like a call to action, innovation, and movement.
It’s straight-up wonderful working with And Toto Too. Susan and I figured out that we had been working together in some capacity since the first Play Crawl, 2010. They produced a reading of, then a full production of The Greater Good , which went on to be published. Susan takes such good care of her actors, designers, and playwrights. She’s professional and focused, and what’s really lovely, is I always feel in very good hands. I trust And Toto Too with my work, and I have always been treated with care and respect. I’m really very grateful for this opportunity.
Anything else you would like to share?
The actors are wonderful! The set design is exciting! The Lighting designer is talented! I’m very much looking forward to seeing how And Toto Too brings the plays to the stage, and I am really, very proud to be working with And Toto Too again.