Each year at the Colorado New Play Summit I make my picks for full productions by the Denver Center Theatre Company, and I had a perfect record, until 2016. The year included American Mariachi by José Cruz González. The reading was wonderful, but It wasn’t chosen for production that year. But now a full production has finally arrived! The world premiere is produced in association with The Old Globe. (the production continues in tact at the Old Globe March 23 – April 29)
This production directed by James Vásquez lets this talented company play our heartstrings as much as the fantastic Mariachi music in the story. Now it’s not a musical as much as it is a highly stylized story of memory, family, love, hope, and music.
When American Mariachi wasn’t produced right away I hoped there would be another chance to see it come to life in a full production. It was certainly worth the wait. This is a funny, and heartwarming story deftly told. Beautiful performances and production values capitalize on the magic unique to live theater.
The E-Ticket is Eden Lane’s Top Pick
By José Cruz González
Directed by James Vásquez
Produced in association with The Old Globe
This is the best opportunity to hear your play with great artists, in a great location and in a great environment. This is a place where audiences really come to experience something new.” – José Cruz González, Playwright of American Mariachi, Part of the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit
It is billed as an exploration of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre. The new look at the 1847 Charlotte Brontë story features original songs by Teacup Gorilla and Dameon Merkl (Lost Walks, Bad Luck City). The creative team behind the hybrid play/concert adaptation is author/musician, Miriam Suzanne, and former director at The LIDA Project, Julie Rada. They describe it as a dark and often humorous look at the early feminist novel — bringing a contemporary, queer perspective to Jane’s story.
My email Q&A with Miriam Suzanne
EL: What was is about Jane Eyre that inspired you to create this as your first full-length show?
MS: Julie has loved Jane Eyre since she read it in school. When she proposed it as one of several options, Miriam had to do some research to get caught up – and fell in love quickly. (Julie Rada clarified: “I didn’t read it in high school. I read it a few years ago for fun.”)
We were excited by the first-person, internal perspective of a woman growing up – a format that jumps quickly between exposition, private emotional ruminations, and cutting political statements. This is complex woman, trying to find independence in a world that won’t allow it. She’s acutely aware of power, privilege, and class in every moment – and willing to step outside the story to address it.
Meanwhile, she’s just a kid growing up: falling in love, experiencing heart-break for the first time, and pondering death, religion, and forgiveness. She’s in the action, and also looking back on it. This wild mix of personal and political, action and reflection, is how life feels to me – and I find that interesting to explore. We highlight it in production by having two Jane’s on-stage, passing the story between very personal moments, and outside commentary or narration. Lindsey Pierce plays in the action, with Miriam commenting as she provides underscore with the band.
For the second edition of the novel, Charlotte Brontë (as Currer Bell) writes a scathing preface – a defense of her character against pious critique – and then suddenly wanders off into a tangent about her favorite author: William Thackeray. The books has an attitude, and an agenda, in addition to an interesting character. We love the tangents as well as the layered authorship – Brontë writing as Bell, who writes as Jane, narrating from 10-20 years in the future. So we put Brontë on stage as well, played by Julie – sometimes defending her work, and sometimes commenting on it from a more contemporary perspective.
EL: How would you describe the music for anyone not already familiar with Teacup Gorilla?
MS: Teacup Gorilla was once called “too moody for pride” – and that seems
appropriate. We merge instrumental “post-rock”/”indie-rock” aesthetics with poetry, and story-telling – for a sound that is both moody and cinematic, even when we play at bars. We enjoy big dynamic shifts, and carrying the audience along on a journey from one song to the next – shifting musical genres as necessary to get where we’re going.
According to Tom Murphy in the Westword: “Teacup Gorilla’s amiable creative approach, unorthodox roots and sense of community have resulted in a sound that is difficult to pin down: part instrumental rock, part glam, part psychedelic, part jazz-inflected. And it sounds like nothing much else in this highly imitative era.”
On a more practical level, we’re often compared to early Modest Mouse, Explosions in the Sky, and Velvet Underground. For this piece we’ve also taken inspiration from Django Reinhardt, Parlement Funkadelic, Mark Knopfler, Anglican hymns, and elsewhere.
EL: You described the project as “bringing a contemporary, queer perspective to Jane’s story.” — there are many intersections of identities that can be encompassed in ‘contemporary, queer perspective’, can you describe what queer perspective(s) are at work in this adaptation?
MS: Julie and I are both “contemporary queers” – so on a very basic level, our own perspectives fit that description, and we’ve gone out of the way to include our perspective in the piece: adding ourselves to the authorial stack: writing as Bell, as Brontë, as Jane. And we’re not alone: there are queer women in the band, and playing music before some performances.
But we also bring an understanding of queer history, queer theory, intersectionality, and contemporary thought to a story that is both feminist and problematic at times. When Brontë writes about Jane’s close, physical relationships to Helen Burns or Diana Rivers, we can read those as queer relationships – written before “lesbian” or “bi/pansexual” identity-groups had formed. So we dig into that un-named queerness and draw it out. Suddenly Mr Rochester becomes one of several love interests, treated on equal footing with the others.
We say “queer” with a sense that it is different from a more descriptive “lgbtqia” – a way of understanding fluid identities, sexualities, and labels – concerned with intersections of the political and personal. Queer theory starts from questioning “normal” – what is it, who decides, and what power dynamic is behind it? That’s the same foundation that Jane seems to work from: constantly questioning what she’s been told about gender, class, religion, mental health, and so on. Sometimes that provides problems for us, when Brontë’s understanding of race and colonialism fall far short – brushed to the side without much thought. How can we as adapting authors comment on that, and critique the story as we tell it?
Cherry Creek Theatre Company launches their second season as a resident company at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center with a regional premiere RESPECT: A Musical Journey of Women. The show is a musical review written by Dr. Dorothy Marcic based on her book, RESPECT: Women and Popular Music. For the Cherry Creek Theatre production director Shannan Steele and the company draw an original image of the show and create a gathering of friends celebrating one of the women’s book release. I asked Steele about how the concept developed.
EL: RESPECT is often produced as a revue and your production really creates a setting and Character/storyline. How did this approach develop?
SS: After reading the script, I felt there were personal elements for each of the characters that could easily get lost in the traditional review formula where the show is more presentational in nature. I wanted to see if the piece could land in a structure where women felt strong and connected enough to share their stories of struggle with each other, along with discovering the joys of how certain songs helped describe those pains…and then how other songs helped release those pains to allow real JOY to surface.
SS: For a show about the journey of women, I wanted the audience to observe 5 strong women (the show is actually written for 4…I built in the presence of the piano player as a true addition to the room, a fellow woman/friend/support) share their vulnerabilities, inside and out of the context of the music AS WELL as within the actual text. I wanted our journey over the last century not only to be shared through the songs of the time, the political and social achievements, but also through the triumphs available to all of us TODAY. The personal, emotional, perspective enhancing TRIUMPHS we all can find with each other.
SS: This concept required an intimate setting…a place welcoming enough to facilitate the kind of safe space where true sharing can occur. Hence the living room set design.
SS: The piece had windows for this concept to work, and I trusted my cast and crew to dive into the challenge with me. All those WOMEN rose to the challenge and I couldn’t be more proud.
Cherry Creek Theatre description of the show:
From “Someone to Watch Over Me” to “I Will Survive,” from the codependence of “I Will Follow Him” to the anger of “These Boots are Made for Walking,” to the cynicism of “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” and finally to the strength of “Hero,” “RESPECT: A Musical Journey of Women” is told through Top-40 music in this timely off-Broadway new musical production. Combining excerpts of 60 songs with women’s own stories about finding dreams, lost love, relationship issues, entering the workforce, gaining independence and more.
The company proudly highlights this is an all female company:
cast Sharon Kay White* (Janet), Rachel Turner (Samantha), Sarah Rex* (Eden) and Anna High (Rosa).
Along with producer Susie Snodgrass and directors Shannan Steele and Traci Kern, the all female crew includes Kortney Hanson (Stage Manager), Tina Anderson (Scenic Designer), Star Pytel (Lighting Designer), Steffani Day (Costume Designer), Morgan McCauley (Sound Designer), Beki Pineda (Prop Mistress) and Gloria Shanstrom (Publicist).
The audience on opening night, including the male identified attendees, seemed to enjoy the show in equal measure. While the evening unfolded I found myself responding to the music of course, after all they include so many great songs, and I also realized I wanted to know these women. It would be great fun to be part of this group of friends, and join in for one of these gatherings, and in a way, for this night, we all were.
Cherry Creek Theatre Company presents the Regional Premiere of
RESPECT: A Musical Journey of Women
Written by Dr. Dorothy Marcic
Directed by Henry Award Nominee Shannan Steele
Musical Direction by Traci Kern
February 1 – February 25, 2018
performances are:Thursdays and Sunday, February 18 & 25 at 7:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:00 p.m.