For Holiday Break, The Work We’re Putting On Ice

Next week Undermain’s office will (nearly) empty for a holiday break.  This has been an exceptionally busy winter at the theatre, and readers may like to know what-all we’ve been cooking up.

 First on everyone’s priority list is our production of Enda Walsh’s Penelope, which opens January 12th at the City Performance Hall.
Penelope has been rehearsing in Undermain’s space for a few weeks now.  Under Stan Wojewodski’s direction, the four principal actors are clarifying the brutal contest that exists in nearly every exchange of dialogue.  And as the underlying action becomes more savage, the comic surface of the play ignites and sprays off sparks.  The actors are very nearly off-book, allowing them to make progress towards the exacting rhythms of Enda Walsh’s text.
Meanwhile, the playing space is newly crowded with Robert Winn’s props.  Penelope is set in the drained swimming pool of the title character, where four suitors have been more or less squatting for the past ten years.  As one might imagine, junk has accrued.  In addition to the playable furniture (deck chairs, etc.), Winn has been hunting for a rather exotic array of trick props called for in a surprising late sequence of the show.
At the moment Winn’s haul is strewn about the basement space, where Russell Parkman’s set is represented by strips of tape.  That’s because the actual set, which has been under construction for over a month, now stands in a warehouse on Commerce Street.  Technical Director Ken Bernstein and his crew built the swimming pool out of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) mounted on new-made frames, the tiles individually grooved with a router.  The entire set – both the pool and Penelope’s house/landing above it – is designed to break apart and pack onto trucks for the move to the City Performance Hall.  Right now Bernstein is finalizing the load-in schedule, which will require a sizable team (by Undermain’s standards) working long hours to put everything in place on the Arts District stage.
The gridded fiberboard alone did not clearly read “swimming pool”, nor could it fully communicate the literal and metaphorical filth these characters live in.  That’s where Linda Noland, and her brilliant scenic painting, came in.  First she turned Bernstein’s construction into a beautiful blue and white-tiled pool; then she covered it in enough grime, rust, and mold to ward off even the bravest swimmer.
Moving into the City Performance Hall is not only complicated for the set crew.  Undermain’s office staff, led by Operations Manager Ariana Cook, is preparing for the front-of-house transition as well.  Parking, Box Office, Concessions, and House Management have been stable since Neil Young’s Greendale.  Now Cook is wrestling the tiniest crucial details into place so that her team can shine in the away games.
But while Penelope gears up for a big January push, some members of the artistic staff are already looking ahead to our spring production of August Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata.  Patrick Kelly, who returns as director after last year’s The Birthday Party, has been a frequent guest in the basement, conducting casting sessions and, most recently, meeting with designer John Arnone and Ken Bernstein for a face-to-face design presentation.  On Wednesday the three of them discussed the ground plan and specifications for soft goods.
Dylan Key, Undermain’s Associate Producer, has been heavily involved in early Ghost Sonata meetings while also attending all Penelope meetings and rehearsals.  As if that weren’t enough, he is also working to put the final piece of our season into place, our reading series at the Dallas Museum Of Art.  Those titles and dates have yet to be officially announced, but they are the subject of recent meetings between Dylan and Artistic Director Katherine Owens.  The relatively small scale of the readings still demands careful attention to casting, scheduling, and finely tuned production choices.
So it’s high time for a few days off.  Some of the staff are fleeing for colder climes.  Others plan to hang around and contemplate a life without purpose.  Rehearsals begin again on January 1st.  No doubt everyone will be fresh-faced and excited to meet the New Year.