Arts & Culture / Image / Media / Mosaic / Theater / October 17, 2012

“This is the Rill Speaking” draws audience to Pageant Wagon

Freshman Elizabeth Tweedy and post-baccalaureate Isaac Allen Miller perform during a dress rehearsal of “This is the Rill Speaking” on the Gizmo Patio Thursday, Oct. 11. (Michelle Orr/TKS)

It is nearly 7:30 p.m. on Friday the 11th — a crisp, fall chill permeates the air, and yet nearly every available table on the Gizmo Patio is packed with spectators.

They face the patio steps, above which rests the pageant wagon, its small stage sparingly decorated with a few homely chairs. They are waiting for the play “This is the Rill Speaking,” and director junior Jordyn Stewart steps out to announce it.

This short one-act by American playwright Lanford Wilson offers a snapshot of the goings-on in the lives of 17 small-town residents in the Ozarks, circa 1950s or ’60s. The catch: a mere six actors portray this sizeable bunch of characters, without breaks or interruptions, in the space of half an hour.

“This format gives everybody equal stage time — there’s no star of the show, there’s no bit part,” Stewart said. “Everybody is an equal member. It builds a sort of chemistry within the cast … a chemistry that is palpable and noticeable on stage.”

And, as Stewart said, “It’s only 35 minutes, so no one’s going to freeze their butts off, because there will not be time.”

With its little stories, overlapping and interconnecting, this play is more slice-of-life than plot.

“It goes through the life of seventeen different people in this small town in one day,” Stewart said. “There’s nothing super exciting about any of these stories — there isn’t. But the beauty, I think, is that you’ve got all of these simple stories, and all of these simple characters, but for them, it means something … You take all of the simplicity and put it together and it’s suddenly complex.”

Strung together in their seeming simplicity are scenes of women sharing gossip on a back porch, a little girl singing to her doll, and two boys jerking off in the dark, of young women sharing their castles in the air, of teenage courtship, drunk antics, and curmudgeonly husbands, of siblings sharing their dreams.

The pageant wagon, designed as a senior project by Samantha Newport‘10, acts as the heart and center of it all, embodying the familiar and inviting “back porch” atmosphere that pervades the play itself. Beneath a real canopy of orange leaves and the familiar sound of a train whistle or two, slipping into the story’s setting is easy as pie.

Encapsulating the play’s power, freshman Elizabeth Tweedy explained, “It’s misleading to think that at any one time there’s only one story going on, one version of reality — at any given time, there are five different things going on, and I think [This is the Rill Speaking] does an excellent job of showing that.”

“Hopefully people will sit there and go, ‘Well that was nice, but why was it nice?’” Stewart said. “‘Because there was no story,’ and hopefully they’ll look a little deeper and find some of the meanings that I’ve found in it.”

Alone, the lines of the script may mean little, but taken together and brought to life by the skilled cast, they create a living, breathing community, full of tales and hopes and dreams.

Encore performances will take place on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 21 at 2 p.m. on the Gizmo Patio.

Kiannah Sepeda-Miller, Associate News Editor
Kiannah Sepeda-Miller is a senior majoring in anthropology-sociology and double minoring in journalism and English literature. She began writing for TKS during her freshman year and served as co-mosaic editor as a sophomore. Kiannah studied and reported in Morocco under Round Earth Media in the winter and spring of 2015 and was subsequently published in Al Jazeera. She completed an editorial internship at New York magazine the following summer.

Tags:  pageant wagon performance play post-baccalaureate theatre

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