Eric Fraisher Hayes
Artistic Director, RPEVP, Programming EONF
As Director of the last two plays of this season, The Piano Lesson and Laughing Stock, I have a great admiration for the feat that August Wilson accomplished in his playwriting career. His creation of a cycle of ten plays tracking the African American experience over the 20th century, one play for each of its decades, is an unparalleled achievement. Eugene O’Neill, another artist of towering stature, had tried to do something similar with the story of America and the Irish American experience, but never got close to finishing.
When I read The Piano Lesson, I was struck by how well Wilson had set up his conflict over the family piano, established its symbolic meaning to the various characters, and how well he drove towards a final climactic showdown. I also marveled at the different ways Wilson was able to blend the personal hauntings of individuals with the more far-reaching story of the haunting of an entire people and, in fact, an entire nation. For me, the play is very realistic and yet dances along the edge of the supernatural. It is an actor’s play with fantastic dramatic roles, and it is a director’s play as it has powerful images and a powerful message. I believe audiences will find it an incredibly moving experience.
A couple of seasons ago, RPE received a Facebook message the day after we closed a very successful run of Charles Morey’s farce, The Ladies Man. The message was from Charles Morey himself. He introduced himself as the author of the play we had recently produced and then shared with us that he had grown up in the area and, more specifically, spent many a Saturday afternoon watching cartoons, serials and Abbott and Costello movies in Danville’s Village Theatre.
He appreciated that we had produced one of his plays in a place that meant so much to him and said if we ever produce another one of his plays, he would make every effort to try and attend it. This really tickled me, as I too have a local history and appreciated that this nationally known playwright and former Artistic Director took an interest in me. Going into this season, I actively sought a Charles Morey script. I began a dialogue with him and found him to be very positive and generous with his thoughts. He pointed me in the direction of some of his plays and even forwarded me some works that were not readily available. I liked many of them, ultimately choosing his very funny homage to the making of live theatre, Laughing Stock.
Laughing Stock centers on ups and downs of a summer stock theatre company over the course of a particular season. With nearly 30 years of the theatre experience, first as an actor in summer Shakespearean festivals and now as an artistic director/producer of the Eugene O’Neill festival, I found I could relate to the situations and personalities in Laughing Stock on many levels. The play reminds me that theatre is a living collaboration each and every time the artists come together to tell a story. Whether you are an actor or artistic director, stage manager or set designer or simply a person who likes to come to a theatre to see a show, we all need to feel we matter and that we are part of something larger than ourselves.
Charles Morey’s play Laughing Stock brings all these experiences together with humor and warmth and laughter. I hope he makes it to our production this spring. I would like to look him in the eye, shake his hand, and on behalf of all of us who find joy in the theatre, say “Thank you.”