Intriguing new play goes in uncharted directions

‘What You Will’ makes world premiere at Benchmark Theatre

Posted 12/11/18

One walks through the edge of Adam and Greg’s simple living room on the way to a seat for Benchmark Theatre’s world premiere production of “What You Will” by local playwright Jeffrey Neuman. …

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Intriguing new play goes in uncharted directions

‘What You Will’ makes world premiere at Benchmark Theatre

Posted

One walks through the edge of Adam and Greg’s simple living room on the way to a seat for Benchmark Theatre’s world premiere production of “What You Will” by local playwright Jeffrey Neuman.

On a raised platform behind it is a white-tiled steam room from a gym, and in a passage between the two, one finds a plain table, pair of chairs and bookcase, suggesting Adam’s stationery shop.

That’s a lot to fit on one small stage area, but it works well because the audience is soon caught up in a couple of story lines — with fine actors supplying the necessary imaginative connections.

Adam (Steven Burge) and his husband Greg (Tom Littman), married for some time, lead a fairly quiet life, with actor Greg presently rehearsing Shakespearean lines for an upcoming production of “Twelfth Night,” impatient to get the lines right, as he folds the laundry. (Nice contrast.) His theater career demands hard work, late nights and dealing with temperamental directors.

Adam runs a stationery store and works as a wedding planner. At the stationery shop, Adam helps a 30-something bride-to-be customer, an anxious Celia (Maggie Stacy), in choosing simple, elegant wedding invitations, as the pair chats and gets better acquainted.

The Thanksgiving wedding is imminent and a rush order is soon on its way, while Adam and Celia pour some champagne and continue to talk about this and that in a friendly, relaxed manner — all would seem to be well with the world — almost, but there’s always a bit of tension hanging at the edges.

The skill of director Warren Sherrill is important to the way this production flows, as he builds cross-currents written into the script by award-winning playwright Neuman, who has written a number of plays and served as a dramaturg in the Denver area.

Sherill’s director’s notes speak about how evasive a definition of marriage can be — does it have different meanings for different people? Do couples even talk about it?

After work, Adam stops at the gym to exercise and relax in the usually empty steam room, which he describes as “comfortably tepid.” But on this day, he meets a self-assured Nick (Casey Andree) who chats a bit and comes on to Adam. Nick also says he’s been married for some time and talks about his wife …

The skill of director Warren Sherrill is important to the way this production flows, as he builds cross-currents written into the script.

He worked with a cast of sensitive, experienced actors, who would welcome the opportunity of interpreting a new play — versus one that audiences and actors are familiar with, chosen because it’s safe and popular.

As the play moves on, the living room becomes a home for another couple, with different interactions — contrasting scene.

By now we have several courses of action building, and pause for a spotlight on a classically costumed Greg, intensely applying makeup, as its almost show time. Director’s skillful manipulation again …

Another sort of showtime brings on the perfectly dressed bride and groom near the end.

Will anyone live happily ever after?

My friend especially noted how well the background music carried the story along. (Sound design by Rachel Rogers.)

A great feature of this new theatre company, founded by excellent actors Haley Johnson (Centennial) and Rachel Rogers, will be the selection of plays we haven’t seen before. Neuman, a company member, will assist in choices as director of literary management. Next, in mid-January will be “Wakey, Wakey” by Will Eno (Jan. 18-Feb. 16, 2019) — a funny and moving contemplation of a good, long life. The entire next year will be a series of regional premieres, plus the third “Fever Dream Festival” which will be an annual new play festival of sci-fi, horror and fantasy plays in the fall.

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