New Works at Theater Works in Peoria: Push Delivers Laughs, Tears, Respect
The setup: Peoria's Theater Works is right in the middle of their first annual presentation of New Works, so we can't complain there's almost nothing to see this month. (Phoenix Theatre has moved its Hormel New Works Festival up to March for 2014, so we didn't get to enjoy the vicarious torture of 24-Hour Theatre Project, etc., this spring and summer.)
courtesy of Theater Works Mike Duhame tells Silvia Morales' story (and 19 others) in Push.
Most of TW's current series is being presented in staged-reading format, which can still be pretty gripping when solid actors and directors are involved. One play was selected for a full black-box production (so the performers aren't holding scripts, and there are specific costumes and set pieces, a lighting design, etc.). That's Mike Duhame's Push, a one-person show that presents vignettes of about 20 characters based on interviews with real people. It promotes itself as being about conception, pregnancy, and delivery.
Under the Gun at Phoenix Theatre's 24-Hour Theatre Project
Curtains: Powerful and Engaging, Actors Theatre's No Child Hits Home -- and School
Lynch Burg: Actors interviewed the people of Laramie, Wyoming, where a gay student was killed, and then became them
We've gotten to see quite a bit of really good documentary and ethnographic theater in the Valley over the years, but I'd never really thought about these shows, which are all based on documented events and/or verbatim first-hand accounts, as a distinct social or political force. But they are -- audience members are much more prone to engage and discuss after something they believe was fundamentally true.
It takes more craft than it appears to stitch the multiple sources of such work together. Sometimes there's no action or plot running through the script, while sometimes there's a chronology one can, ideally, follow, and often there is just one powerhouse performer onstage, or a handful who typically play 15 to 20 people each. Making it all make sense is quite an achievement.
Anna Deavere Smith, who visited Phoenix to create a play about local women's relationships to the justice system that she presented here in 2008, is a renowned practitioner of documentary theater, but back when I was in college, Smith was still playing Hazel the shampoo girl on All My Children. So I still had no idea, at the time, why everyone was so excited about her visit. I missed out.
No one knows whether Push, which Duhame self-published last year, is going to be a big thing or whether the rest of his theater career will carry on in a similar vein. But this production is your opportunity to check it out now and get in on the ground floor.
The execution: Though Duhame plays only two men in the show, he portrays women in a straightforward manner, not trying to impersonate them or act like he has something to prove as a performer. This seems to make the audience comfortable and keep the focus on the stories the characters have to share.
courtesy of Theater Works Duhame as eight-days-overdue Pamela Evans, another character in Push.
Though there are plenty of vignettes about getting pregnant and a few that involve labor and delivery (and those latter are, for the most part, not the horror stories people tend to feel compelled to tell pregnant women), the theme that ties the play together seems to be more like the diversity of parenthood: how children come into people's lives (and, sometimes, depart). The families and individuals depicted are from a variety of generations and cultures, and we get to see same-sex parents, surrogacy, teenage pregnancy, adoption, people with disabilities, stories of choosing abortion and not choosing abortion, a midwife's fascinating work gossip, and a quirky fellow who appears to be teaching what's now called "human development."