Theater In The Ground

Last night Kish and I joined Dr. Science and the GV Jogger at the Franklinton Playhouse for the world premiere performance of Dirt, a play by Creighton James.  Dirt tells the story of two brothers who return to the structure where they killed and buried their father, needing to dig up his remains to avoid their discovery when an immediately impending construction project requires tearing down the structure and excavating the area.  The two brothers clearly have been affected by the killing of their father, and let’s just say that, as the play progresses, they end up discovering a lot more than dear old Dad’s bones.

But the purpose of this post isn’t to discuss the curious psychological journeys of Rusty and Jimmy in Dirt, but rather to note what interesting and flexible performance space is afforded by the Franklinton Playhouse.  When we last visited the Playhouse, for a play featuring a debate between Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy about Christianity, the theater was configured so that patrons sat around a small, spartan, raised stage.  For Dirt, the former stage had been torn down and a completely different, much bigger and more elaborate stage and set had been constructed.  Instead of the former theater in the round, you might call the current configuration theater in the ground.  The stage and set included doors, windows, and an area where the characters could dig, patron seating on three different sides of the stage, and dirt — lots and lots of dirt.  (In fact, one of the “special thanks” in the program went out to Kurtz Bros. Mulch & Soils.)

Red Herring Productions, which is presenting Dirt as part of its ambitious, 10-play production schedule for 2019, tore down the prior stage and built, and then dirtied up, the current one in only 18 days.  That’s pretty impressive, but the fact that the theater itself could be so radically reconfigured is pretty impressive, too.  It makes you want to come to a future Red Herring performance of a different play, as much to see what the theater looks like as to watch what’s being portrayed on stage.

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Red Herring

Last night, Kish and I joined Dr. Science and the GV Jogger for a night at the theater.  We ventured out into the ongoing snowstorm — without water, mind you — to head over to Franklinton for dinner and then a play presented by Red Herring Productions at the Franklinton Playhouse.

Red Herring Productions is a little theater company with big ambitions.  It seeks to add a significant local resident professional theater company to the mix of Columbus art and entertainment options, and its efforts toward reaching that goal are equally ambitious:  for its 2019 season it is putting on 10 plays at the Franklinton Playhouse.  The Playhouse is located on Rich Street a few blocks west of the Scioto River, in the heart of the renovation and building efforts that are changing the face of Franklinton.  The Playhouse looks to be a commercial building with large, high-ceilinged interior spaces that has been refurbished to serve as a theater.  It’s a small venue — as configured for the play last night, I’d guess it could seat about 40 or 50 people on three sides of the stage — and it provides a very intimate theater experience.  The photo of the set accompanying this post was taken from our seats, which were directly next to the stage, so close that the actors brushed past our crossed legs during their performance.

The play we attended last night, The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, & Count Leo Tolstoy:  Discord, by Scott Carter, was the first play in the 2019 series.  In the performance, Jefferson, Dickens, and Tolstoy each go through a door immediately after their deaths, and find themselves in a spartan, gray room, equipped only with a metal table and three metal chairs.  They arrive within instants of each other, even though their deaths were almost 100 years apart.  After trying unsuccessfully to leave, they have to figure out who they are and why they are in the room together.  Eventually they realize that during their lives they each developed their own version of the Christian gospels, and in the play the characters, guided by a drawer in the table that mysteriously opens and closes, debate their significantly differing views on who Jesus was and what his actual message and teachings.  I won’t spoil the play for those who might be going, but let’s just say the discussion, and their ultimate confessions about how they didn’t live up to the ideals their different gospels espoused, is related to their ability to finally leave the room and presumably get on with their after lives.

It was an interesting play, with lots of laughs as well as thought-provoking discussion, and was well performed by the actors who played the three characters.  (We particularly liked David Allen Vargo, who portrayed a very flamboyant and conceited Charles Dickens.)  And sitting within inches of the stage gives an immediacy and decided punch to the experience.  As anyone who has seen ancient Greek and Roman theaters knows, you don’t need lots of gilt and fancy trappings — just a few seats, a few actors, and an interesting story will do just fine.

We enjoyed our snowy exposure to Red Herring Productions, and a look at the 2019 season shows there are some other intriguing offerings coming up.  We’ll be back.