Power plays

Local theater companies pack fresh, courageous works into their spring lineups

UNR’s Department of Theatre & Dance has a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night starting March 2.

UNR’s Department of Theatre & Dance has a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night starting March 2.

Photos/Eric Marks

I don’t care what that old groundhog said. As far as local theatrical stages go, spring went ahead and sprung weeks ago. Take a whiff … that’s the scent of new ideas blossoming. Theater troupes around the Reno area are breathing new life into their rosters with original, uncommon and reimagined stories, along with fresh ideas about how to produce shows and present bold ideas. Here’s what to watch this spring.

Stayin’ Gritty: Goodluck Macbeth

Managing Director Christopher Daniels calls Goodluck Macbeth’s new location at 124 W. Taylor St. in Midtown “a miracle.” The GLM crew had announced their intention to vacate their previous digs on South Virginia Street in order to accommodate their growing audience and production aspirations. But with Midtown’s commercial retail inventory typically lacking the high ceilings and acoustical properties every thriving theater troupe needs, their prospects weren’t great. That is until board member/actor/director Amanda Alvey decided to take a different route home down Taylor Street and stumbled upon a “For Rent” sign at the old American Federation of Musicians building.

The new 75-person theater also features a brand-new tech booth, a new bar, new risers and a new stage, all built from scratch in the last couple of months by a community of supporters, as well as two, count ’em, two bathrooms, even!

The space was christened last month with a true Reno boxing story, The Royale, and the company’s pulling no punches with the rest of its spring lineup. Next up, starting March 16, is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the play based on Mark Haddon’s award-winning novel about a young autistic boy who comes across a dog who’s been murdered and is determined to solve the mystery.

Then, in a unique collaboration, GLM and Brüka Theatre are coming together to co-produce Hedwig and the Angry Inch, running April 20-May 12. Presented in a neutral venue—to be determined, as of this writing—this cult classic rock musical tells the story of a rock band fronted by a German singer whose botched sex change operation to become a woman has left her with one inch of penis left—the angry inch—which inspires the band’s name and describes Hedwig’s own resentment over the life of victimization she’s been left with.

“Theater in this community is changing,” Daniels said of the company partnership. “We’re all being supportive, trying to help each other build a theater community, rather than being competitive. We all want theater to thrive in this town, and that only happens when we work together.”

Bill Ware, fresh off his year in Prague, directs this two-person show, and local band Stabby Unicorn provides music. Follow the GLM and Brüka websites and Facebook pages for updates on a location.

And then, coincidentally, we have The Play About a Dick. GLM will present the U.S. premiere of this show during Artown, July 6-21. It’s the story of a woman who meets a younger man online for sex. Her chiding remarks about the size of his member provoke him to show it to her, leading to a bizarre series of events that spiral out of control.

Tickets and information: www.goodluckmacbeth.org

Transformative experience: Brüka Theatre

Since fall, Brüka has been deeply enmeshed in the idea of transformation—the theme of its milestone 25th season. The company has taken this theme to heart, choosing stories that portray transformation, initiating a “donate $25 to celebrate 25” fundraising approach and taking steps to transform the local theater scene as it grows and continues spreading its wings.

Collaboration—with other companies and artists—is one such step. Take its upcoming production of Nation of Two, the second installment in Tom Burmester’s War Cycle trilogy. Directed by Chase McKenna of Merry War Theatre Group, Nation of Two follows the lives of the Harper family as they prepare to scatter the ashes of 24-year-old Lt. Michael Harper on the anniversary of his death in combat during the Iraq War. The show runs March 16-April 7. At press time, the Brüka crew was developing a veterans’ writing workshop with the author to create community dialogue and writing around the subject of war.

This paves the way for the next collaboration with Goodluck Macbeth to jointly produce Hedwig, which opens April 20.

Next comes Abducting Diana by Dario Fo, the Italian master of political farce. This satirical play tells the story of how a publishing tycoon is kidnapped for ransom but inevitably gets the upper hand over her clumsy captors. Opens May 25 and runs through June 23.

For Artown, The Untamed returns July 13-28. Stacy Johnson, Ryan Kelly and Greg Klino bring the fast-paced fun back to the stage that first gave it life, in honor of Brüka’s 25th. Actors pass around a hat containing the names of 99 locally sourced short scripts, so the audience gets to pick each night’s lineup of 33 skits, which range from poignant to outrageous and hilarious, ensuring each night’s performance is entirely unique.

This year’s Theatre for Children production will be The Frog Prince, the classic tale about embracing differences. The play will tour local schools but also will be presented to the public on the Brüka stage March 1-4.

Tickets and information: www.bruka.org

Shaking up summer: Merry War Theatre Group

Restless Artist Theatre’s Doug Mishler, playing P.T. Barnum, holds a copy of his own biography.

Though Chase McKenna, Merry War’s producing artistic director, will have her hands full this spring directing Nation of Two for the Brüka stage, she’ll hit the ground running when it wraps to prepare for Merry War’s fifth annual summer Shakespeare production, which runs weekends throughout June on the steps of Reno’s Lear Theater and is absolutely free to the public. This year, they’ll take on the comedy The Taming of the Shrew.

For information: www.merrywar.com

Culture of change: University of Nevada, Reno Department of Theatre & Dance

There’s more than one way to get your Bard on. UNR’s Department of Theatre & Dance is also taking a turn with a comedy: Twelfth Night, running March 2-10. Conceived with a modern sensibility, this version plays with the show’s themes of freedom of expression and mistaken identity but sets the show on the Black Rock playa. Utilizing set design inspired by Burning Man’s Black Rock City, director Adriano Cabral demonstrates how the traditional script stands the test of time when set in such a radically different era and place.

The department’s all abuzz with another big change coming down the pike: a new musical theater program. Gavin Mayer is a new faculty member whose specialty is musical theater, and he’ll direct the department’s next production, a musical theater showcase entitled Turning Points: A Night in the Musical Theatre, on stage April 12-14, to drum up interest in the program. Performers will present characters from beloved contemporary musicals who all have come to terms with change.

The semester caps off with the annual Spring Dance Concert, May 3-5, featuring much-anticipated guest artists, the San Francisco-based innovative dance company Robert Moses’ Kin.

Tickets and information: www.unr.edu/cla/theatredance

Risks worth taking: Reno Little Theater

Reno’s longest-running local theater company does a fine job of keeping things fresh each season, with a steady stream of varied and ambitious works and a commitment to pushing the envelope with staging.

Spring starts lightheartedly with Death By Design, March 9-25. This comedic whodunit mashup of Noel Coward and Agatha Christie is set in the English countryside in 1932, where a playwright and his actress wife are trying to take a much-needed holiday, until a series of quirky, unexpected guests keep showing up, and one of them is murdered.

Each season, RLT takes on a lesser-known show intended to challenge audiences. This season, it’s The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence, May 4-20. It’s a time-hopping drama that centers on four Watsons: Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant, Sherlock Holmes’ partner, an IBM computer named Watson who won on Jeopardy! and a modern-day average joe named Watson. The show examines our relationships with each other and technology, and the things that continue tying us together throughout time.

RLT’s Artown show will be a challenge for the company: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, running July 6-29.

Director Melissa Taylor said, “It’s the biggest musical we’ve ever attempted to do. … It’s us being ambitious!”

This musical comedy tells the story of a Roman slave pugilist who’s trying to earn his own freedom by helping to get a girl to fall in love with his master. Cami Thompson (who will be fresh off her role in Brüka’s Nation of Two) joins RLT as musical director, and Peter Supersano provides music. The cast, numbering almost 20, will be headed up by local comedian/improv actor (and member of The Comedy Collective) Ian Sorensen in the lead role.

Woven throughout the season’s schedule, between mainstage productions, are additional one-off or one-weekend performances hosted at the RLT space. These include monthly Sunday evening jazz shows, in partnership with KUNR, as well as monthly performances with Ageless Repertory Theater and others. Check the website for details.

Once again, RLT will also host, as part of its education programming, a 14-week Broadway Our Way performance class for kids, culminating in public performances of The Jungle Book Kids on June 1-3, as well as two one-week spring break camps for kids. The six-week summer break camp begins in June.

Tickets and information: www.renolittletheater.org

Character studies: Restless Artists Theatre

Specializing in small dramas that examine characters and relationships, Restless Artists takes that to the next level with its new Chautauqua Series. Each month, one historical figure, portrayed by an actor, speaks one-on-one to an audience about his or her life, work, accomplishments and philosophies. Meet Nikita Krushchev in April, then George Wallace in May. Follow the website for details about future speakers.

RAT presents a noir mystery, The Tangled Skirt, March 16-April 1. This Edgar Award-nominated play is a story of two people, both caught up in their own desperate circumstances as they arrive at a bus station, who engage in a game of cat and mouse until the bus finally arrives.

Ledger Taylor as “Scuttlebutt” and Asher Hansen as “Mad Aggie” pose as two of the Penny Dreadfuls in TheatreWorks of Northern Nevada’s upcoming production.

Local actor Gary Cremeans wrote New Canula for Brüka Theatre’s annual Biggest Little Theatre Festival in 2014, and the show went on to play at the Hollywood and New York Fringe Festivals, followed by another run at Brüka. If you missed it then, no worries: RAT’s bringing the show back April 6-15.

Next is Somewhere in Between, April 27-May 13. In this romantic comedy, a poor schlub who seems to be failing at life keeps getting awful dating advice. Then one day he becomes trapped on an elevator with a crazy person and his life changes.

May 25-June 10, RAT begins a three-week run of its Evening of Shepard, which will feature two one-act plays by Shepard about friendships: Ages of the Moon and Short Life of Trouble.

And for Artown, look for Constellations, an award-winning love story about a couple whose relationship spans five alternate universes.

Tickets and information: www.rattheatre.org

Under the big top: TMCC Performing Arts

Step right up! TMCC Performing Arts presents the Broadway hit Pippin. Running April 13-29, this circus-themed musical full of fun and magic is about a young prince who sets out for adventure and wrestles with his desire to live a life full of passion or fulfill his obligations to the throne. The elaborate production will be set under the Big Top and feature circus acts, including silk work, trapeze, hand balancing, singing, dancing and more.

Tickets & Information: www.tmcc.edu/visual-performing-arts/performance-schedule

Downpour of talent: Western Nevada Musical Theatre Company

WNMTC producer and director Stephanie Arrigotti waited years to have just the right talent in place to stage the Hollywood classic musical Singin’ in the Rain. It takes excellent romantic leads with tap skills who can also sing classics such as “All I Do is Dream of You,” “Make ’Em Laugh” and others. Plus, they need to be funny. At last, she’s found it, and that talent combines with great choreography by Gina Caskie Davis and a huge, professional orchestra led by Kevin Murphy to light up the stage May 11-20.

Tickets and information: www.wnmtc.com

Little runaways: TheatreWorks of Northern Nevada

TWNN brings us a new twist on the classic Dickens’ tale of Oliver Twist: In The Penny Dreadfuls, a professor takes orphans and runaways under his wing and teaches them to steal for his own personal gain—but in the end, he gets his. This dark comedy, running March 16-25, features a whopping cast of 42 actors, ages 4 to 44.

Next up, another couple of youths escape their rough lives and take up with disreputable folks in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, May 18-27. And in July, TWNN will explore a “Whole New World” with Aladdin the Musical. The cast of more than 60 will do 21 performances throughout Artown (though a change to the Artown schedule means no more free Wingfield Park shows).

And check out TWNN’s spring break arts camps for kids ages 4 to 10. The two one-week camps emphasize arts of all types, from theater to dance, crafts and more.

Tickets and information: www.twnn.org

Just B and that’s all: Wild Horse Children’s Theatre

Any parent with a child over the age of, say, 2, knows about the feisty, hilarious troublemaker Junie B. Jones, the beloved character of the children’s book series by Barbara Park. This spring, your kids can see Junie B. brought to life in a stage adaptation of the series, in its Northern Nevada premiere. Eighty young people are involved in the production featuring songs like the opener, “Top Secret Personal Beeswax Journal.” About three books’ plots are incorporated into the play, which runs April 20-29

Tickets & information: www.wildhorsetheater.com

Some funny business: The Comedy Collective

If you remember The Utility Players, the Reno improv comedy troupe that packed houses at The Sands … well, the bad news is, they are no longer playing the Sands. The good news, though, is that the group plays the occasional gig elsewhere, and a good many of those performers have also formed The Comedy Collective, an improv troupe that does 90-minute performances at the Pioneer Underground on the first Friday evening of every month. The group also does improv and sketch-writing classes, murder mystery events, corporate team-building performances and more.

Tickets and information: www.thecomedycollective.org