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Thoughts from last night’s rehearsal of The Serpent

It gets easier as Artistic Director to come in when needed to check out rehearsals, give feedback and keep an eye on the budgets and whatnot when I’m not actively involved in a show. I know I’ve talked before about feeling weird about invading others’ processes, and finding the balance between providing QC for the company and arm-chair directing.

For what may have started as one of the hardest, most loathed parts of my job – I’ve really been enjoying myself for the past season or so. It’s wonderful to have been able to come into rehearsals for shows like The Goat, Machinal or Phyro-Giants! and see all sorts of great stuff going on up on stage. To be a spectator (even if I do have to still pay attention to the details) and just enjoy other people’s work and give the feedback I need to give without feeling like an interloper.

That was the opportunity I had last night as I attended my first rehearsal for Jean Claude van Itallie’s The Serpent. What an interesting piece it is. I think folks are really going to be surprised – not to mention impacted – by this piece.

It’s not very long – we’re estimating maybe 70 minutes at this time – and it is at it’s very core a theatrical ceremony, a ritual, not unlike our 2001 production of The Tibetan Book of the Dead in regards to format. As far as subject matter and the execution of it though – it couldn’t be any different.

Tibetan was quite literally a roadmap to the afterlife. The Serpent asks more questions, points more fingers and allows itself to editorialize a little more. It uses the Book of Genesis as it’s foundation but goes forward, backward and sideways through time and space to touch on many more aspects of the human condition, while always going back to the Garden, the Tree and of course the Serpent. It directly references the assassinations of JFK and King (current events in the ’60s when it was written) yet never feels dated. The concept of responsibility is omnipresent.

I’ve really enjoyed watching the maturation of Chris Holcom as a director. Every piece he’s created for us has been exponentially more tight, disciplined and full of vision than the last. I was most impressed with what he did a few years back with Machinal, and I think he’s well on the road to topping himself with this play.

The ensemble itself is dynamic. It’s very evident these folks have spent some time working with each other to build that rapport and kinesthetic awareness of one another – which is very necessary for a piece like this to work. They are a wonderful mixture of ages, sizes and looks.

This play can easily find itself in that hard-to-describe category, or that place where you find yourself searching for words that don’t make it sound too arty and out there. After watching last night, I think it’s best to just call it what it is – a ritual, a ceremony, a happening. Even if you’re not Christian (as I do not consider myself) you have to give the Genesis story it’s due as a defining story of the human condition, and it makes for powerful theater. You theater-nerds out there who like yourself some Jerzy Grotowski or Augusto Boal – don’t you dare miss this.

Again, it’s a very short piece with aticket price of only $15.50, and it’s not your traditional meet-this-character-who-does-these-things type of play. It’s something you’re not likely to see very often, and we count ourselves very lucky to have been able to produce van Itallie twice in the last five years. Why lucky? Because our audiences prove to us time and time again that they trust us, and that if it’s Jobsite they likely won’t be let down. Lucky because we’re already pushing 75% of our tickets for the run being sold out. You guys are unbelievable.

Now I can’t wait to see this thing with some costumes, lights and sound. You better get your tickets, folks, this one’s going to be talked about for quite a while. We can’t extend the show past Dec. 17 due to the holidays and we have a very limited seating capacity due to the stage requirements for the show.

Hope to see you out.

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