A version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
Oklahoma City Theatre Company embraces diversity with 2014-2015 season
The Oklahoma City Theatre Company faced controversy last year surrounding its production of “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” but that hasn’t stopped the community theater group from selecting more provocative works for its 2014-2015 season, which includes the musical version of Stephen King’s terror tale “Carrie,” the classic French comedy “Tartuffe” and Terrence McNally’s often-protested drama “Corpus Christi.”
Oklahoma City Theatre Company is diving into its 16th season focused on its continuing mission to bring an eclectic mix of plays to the community.
And controversy isn’t going to knock the company off course.
“We don’t play to themes as much as we do trying to give something for everyone, or almost everyone as much as we can. And diversity is a new major focus for us,” said Artistic Director Rachel Irick.
“My feeling as artistic director is if we don’t have several things on our season that people don’t raise an eyebrow to, then I’m not doing my job. I want people to be talking about what we’re doing, and I want people to have some sort of passionate feeling toward what we’re doing. If it’s positive, I hope it is, but if it’s negative, that’s OK, too.”
Last year, local pastors and at least one state legislator campaigned against the company’s staging of the comedy “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” at the Civic Center, where it is one of the resident companies. But that controversy hasn’t stopped the OKC Theatre from selecting more provocative works for its 2014-2015 season, which includes the musical version of Stephen King’s terror tale “Carrie,” the classic French comedy “Tartuffe” and Terrence McNally’s often-protested drama “Corpus Christi.”
“As theater artists, if we’re not reacting to the emotional landscape and to the literary landscape of our own community, then we’re irrelevant. We have to stay relevant to what people are thinking and talking about,” Irick said. “I’ve had faithful patrons say to me, ‘That particular show wasn’t my favorite, but I always know the next show’s gonna be completely different with you guys. I never know what to expect and that’s what I love.’”
Starting with sharks
The community theater’s new season officially opens Aug. 8 in the Civic Center’s CitySpace Theatre with “Glengarry Glen Ross,” iconic American playwright David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story of “sharks in suits” real estate salesmen. The production will reunite OKC Theatre Company with its founding artistic director, Rick Nelson, who will play the role of play James Lingk, a timid client who ”comes into this tank of sharks to try to get his check back and a contract canceled.”
“It’s really David Mamet’s masterpiece … these one-liners, these zingers, these thoughtful comments, there’s so many of them,” said Nelson, who teaches theater at Rose State College and frequently acts in local productions. ”It’s probably been two years since I’ve been in any way officially connected with the company, so it’s been nice to be back and be in rehearsals at the Civic Center after spending at least nine years there. And rehearsals have been a blast.”
King of scares
The company often stages something spooky and sinister around Halloween, and the group will apparently be rolling out the pig’s blood this year for “Carrie.” Irick said OKC Theatre Company production manager Kory Kight-Pagala has long championed the musical version of Stephen King’s famed horror novel. which has been adapted many times in movie form, most famously in the Oscar-nominated 1976 Brian De Palma film.
“He has been hounding me for years, ‘As soon as the rights for “Carrie” are available, we gotta do it,’” she with a grin. “He believes so much in this show … and theater and Halloween just go hand in hand.”
Irick will make an emotional return to the stage Jan. 8-18 to stage in “Wit,” Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning one-act drama about a hardline literature professor dying of ovarian cancer. In 2001, “The Graduate” director Mike Nichols adapted it into an Emmy-winning HBO movie.
“‘Wit’ is going to be a very personal project for me. I’m going to appear on stage in the lead role, and I have not done that ever as artistic director,” Irick said, adding she last acted she played one of the daughters in the company’s 2010 production of “King Lear.”
“But this is just something I have to do. My mom passed away from cancer in 2008, and seeing that production helped me really cope with losing her. … And my father is an English professor, so I grew up in a very literature-focused family.”
Playing up diversity
In February, the company will present Moliere’s 1664 comedy “Tartuffe,” aka “The Imposter” or “The Hypocrite,” a tale told in rhyming couplets about a family man who is deceived by a seemingly pious con man. Native Frenchman Fabrice Conte, who co-starred in “The Most Fabulous Story” and previously directed the company’s productions of “Frankenstein” and “Madea,” will helm the French farce.
“Making fun of religious hypocrisy really never gets old. Even people that are very conservative religious Christians or whatever can connect with that. It’s a comedy – it’s broad, funny, silly, witty,” she said. “We’ll be updating it to … a more modern setting to have a more televangelist feel for our ‘Tartuffe.’ Like, picture Tulsa in the 1980s.”
OKC Theatre Company will end its 2014-2015 season with two projects with diversity in mind. From March 19 to April 4, the company will stage Terrence McNally’s 1998 drama “Corpus Christi,” about a gay man named Joshua who is brutalized and ostracized in his native Corpus Christi, Texas.
“He leaves Corpus Christi and travels, gathering followers along the way, preaching his message of love and acceptance. And when he returns to Corpus Christi, Texas, he’s martyred for his beliefs and for his sexual identity,” she said. “It’s based on the story of Jesus. And the knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘Oh, this is making fun of Jesus’ or ‘Oh, this is to be a blasphemous play.’ It’s not at all. It’s to just maybe communicate to people in a very personal, real way.”
The sixth annual Native American New Play Festival will close the season next May with staged readings, cultural events, panel discussions and more.
The festival annually includes dramatic readings of three new, unproduced works, and each year, the company selects one to be fully staged the following year during the event. This year’s featured production will be “Hoop Jumper,” by Oklahoma native and New York-based playwright Vicki Lynn Mooney, who is Cherokee.
“Vicki actually researched her own family’s history in Oklahoma and their evolution. She’s writing a trilogy of plays based on her own family’s story,” Irick said, adding the festival a few years ago included a staged reading of Mooney’s previous biographical play “Broken Heart Land.”
Irick said it one of only two festivals in the country showcasing new works by American Indian writers.
“Our name is Oklahoma City Theatre Company; to me says that we should be doing something that’s uniquely Oklahoma. Our state (slogan) is ‘Native America,’ and what better group, what better place to be encouraging Native writers,” she said. “We’re almost a Mecca for Native American art … and storytelling is a very integral part of Native culture. And these plays, they do have a unique style and a unique voice that you won’t hear anywhere else.”
Although he no longer is artistic director, Nelson praised the eclectic approach OKC Theatre Company continues to take.
“Rachel has really continued that tradition of it being a repertory company, which means you don’t do one thing all the time. You intentionally try to have a plethora or smorgasbord of different types of plays to keep your audience interested, to keep them off their game a little bit so they’re not sure what’s coming up next,” he said.
“This season especially is really good at that, with so many different genres and different types of plays.”
Oklahoma City Theatre Company 2014-15 Season
“Glengarry Glen Ross”
When: 8 p.m. preview Aug. 7, 8 p.m. Aug. 8-9, 14-16, 21-23 and 2 p.m. Aug. 17 and 24.
“Carrie: The Musical”
When: Oct. 16-Nov. 1.
When: Jan. 8-18.
When: Feb. 5-15.
When: March 19-April 4.
Sixth annual Native American New Play Festival
When: May 7-17.
Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.
Information: 626-6605 or www.okctheatrecompany.org.