The Contemporary American Theater Festival opened this weekend to packed houses and much anticipation. While showcasing the influential works of theatrical giants like David Mamet and Sam Shepard and Tracy Thorne, the CATF also offered work from newer faces featuring two world-premiere productions, "The Insurgents" by Lucy Thurber, and Kyle Bradstreet's "From Prague."
"The Insurgents" is a look at race, class and prophetic vision. Sally, "The Insurgents" female protagonist, is haunted by the revolutionary "insurgents," John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner and Timothy McVeigh.
While she studies the lives of theses controversial figures, each insurgent is transported right into the rural Massachusetts home Sally shares with her father, Peter, and brother, Jimmy.
Cassie Beck as ‘Sally’ and Stacey Sargeant as ‘Harriet Tubman’ in ‘Insurgents,’ one of many plays in the Contemporary American Theater Festival's 2011 season. (Photo courtesy of Ron Blunt)
From a lower-income family, Sally, as played by Cassie Beck, struggles with the disappointment of being forced to drop out of college after losing an athletic scholarship. Through her reading she begins to address a growing anger she feels toward a society that doesn't often work in favor of the poor and oppressed.
Presented in the Frank Center auditorium, the CATF production directed by Lear deBessonet featured a dynamic use of lights and song, culminating in an audience sing-along at the show's conclusion led by Beck.
Beck, who made her CATF debut last weekend, offered an energetic portrayal of Sally, truly demonstrating the character's growing inner conflict and confusion.
Though Thurber's play examines the more extreme and sometimes violent acts of dissent and revolution that have shaped American history, the production's tone was more questioning than critical.
Ultimately "The Insurgents" offered a glimpse into the mindset of someone seeking guidance from God and looking for answers to social questions we continue to struggle with as a society.
"From Prague," directed by CATF Founder and Producing Director Ed Harendeen, is an interesting look at family dynamics in the face of tragedy. The story, as told from the perspective of three central characters, interweaves their experiences as it reveals their common connection.
Prague serves as the cold and gray backdrop for a story about a family grappling with dark secrets and untimely deaths.
For Samuel, a disgraced Columbia University professor, Prague is a last place of refuge from family life he's responsible for ruining. In a city of religious austerity, he seeks forgiveness from a God he claimed not to believe in.
The CATF production matched tone with scenery as "From Prague" was set in an intimate space at the university's Center for Contemporary Arts on small, a snow-laden brick stage lined with candles.
The rather imposing reconstruction of Jesus on the Cross loomed as we were told the story of Samuel, his son Charles and Anna, the girlfriend of Samuel's son, Geoff.
Presented as interweaving monologues, "From Prague" managed to be dark though subtly humorous in the complicated way even the hardest parts of life usually are.
John Lescault gave a powerful performance as Samuel. Julianna Zinkel was penetrating as Anna. And Andy Bean best demonstrated the dark yet comical nuance of Kyle Bradstreet's play as he brought to life the ever-frustrated Charles.
"From Prague" was a welcome departure from traditional theatrical formats, allowing storytelling to occur in a unique, provocative and entertaining way.