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All Over the Map

The Good German journeys to Westport, The Seventh Monarch reigns in L.A., and Wild Blue flies into Dayton logo
Kathleen McNenny and Casey Biggs
in The Good German
(Photo © Richard Feldman)
"I have not been a political playwright heretofore," says David Wiltse, "but I must admit to feeling a strong urge to become one in this current climate." Wiltse's new play, The Good German, is receiving its world premiere at the Westport Country Playhouse, where artistic director Joanne Woodward fast-tracked a production following a reading of the work. According to Woodward, "We realized exactly how timely and relevant it is for today."

Set in World War II Germany, the play concerns a German husband and wife who harbor a Jewish publisher despite the risk of discovery by their Nazi friend (played by Tony Award-winner Boyd Gaines). "Unfortunately, certain topics are always timely," says Wiltse. "And prejudice is one of those. It seems to reside in society like bacteria on the skin. The slightest scratch of the surface and infection begins, racing through the body politic in a matter of days.

"The same analogy can be made about the erosion of liberty," Wiltse continues. "It takes very little to start it, particularly if its source is government policy. I do not consider The Good German to be a political play so much as it is a play in which people are very concerned, mortally concerned, about morality. In the past, many, many people have died because of the morality of others. That will probably always be the case as one group decides that another group is not really worthy of life."

The production is directed by James Naughton, who won Tony Awards for his performances in Chicago and City of Angels. Naughton is no stranger to directing, having helmed the Tony-nominated revival of The Price a few years back as well as the production of Our Town, starring Paul Newman, that started out at the Westport Country Playhouse and then moved to Broadway in the fall of 2002. "My respect for his skills as a director has grown with each day of rehearsal," says Wiltse. "He directs the way he sings -- very calmly, very casually, with a large range and even larger reserves of power, and always in complete control of his material."


Taylor Gilbert and Tamara Zook in The Seventh Monarch
(Photo © Marci Hill)
"They breathed in the stars," says Miriam, the central character of Jim Henry's new play The Seventh Monarch. "The stars went into their mouths and into their lungs and heart and they flew asleep and fell away in the comet." This poetically cryptic description is Miriam's way of explaining the disappearance of her parents. The Los Angeles-based Road Theatre Company is presenting the world premiere of this psychological drama in which a troubled young genius is forced to confront the dark secrets that haunt her.

"One of the most compelling elements of the play is the character of Miriam and the incredibly original voice Jim has given her," says director Deborah LaVine. "Her story presents an unusual opportunity to explore contemporary issues such as hero worship, rape, and other social ills while being drawn into the heightened language. Her speech represents Miriam's genius intellect as well as her emotionally damaged psyche."

This production has presented a number of challenges for the award-winning director. "I normally prefer to have the set finalized before the actors begin rehearsals," she states. "In this case, we needed to explore the text in concert with the design team to discover the visual language necessary to support the complexities of the story." LaVine has also benefited from the opportunity to dialogue with playwright Jim Henry. "I was immediately drawn to the concept of a fairly realistic drama/mystery set in a highly theatrical style," she says. "Jim is flexible and eager to find the strongest 'take' on the script. He has addressed questions and concerns via telephone and e-mail; as a result, there have been some wonderful adjustments to the text."

LaVine previously worked with the Road Theatre Company on the critically acclaimed Napoli Milionaria, which earned her an L.A. Ovation Award for Outstanding Director. "I appreciate their daring and their commitment to quality in the execution of the physical productions," she says, "as well as the highly gifted actors who comprise the company. Although I prefer being a freelance director for a number of reasons, I would like to think of the Road as an adopted home."


Scott Stoney, Christine Ciccone, and Braden Miles in Wild Blue
(Photo © Scott J. Kimmins)
One hundred years ago, the Wright Brothers went from being two self-taught engineers working in a bicycle shop that they founded in Dayton, Ohio to becoming the undisputed pioneers in the field of aviation. The "Inventing Flight: Dayton 2003" celebration honors this achievement, and a new flight-themed musical called Wild Blue is being presented as part of the festivities.

Composer Rob Hartmann explains that he and collaborators Scott Keys and Liv Cummins initially had some trouble deciding on the form and style of the show. "We were like, 'Well, we can't just do the Schoolhouse Rock explanation of flight,'" he jokes. "We really tried to lay off delivering wheelbarrows of information; whenever you do anything that involves research, you kind of want to throw it at everybody. In the Wright Brothers section, when they're talking about their competitors, we actually say: 'And if you want to know more about them, read a book!' We tried to get to the emotional essence of the stories, but the musical does introduce people to a lot of characters and elements of history that they might not have been aware of."

Wild Blue is presented as a musical revue, the songs linked by a framing device in which a pajama-clad man has a series of dreams where he encounters aviation icons such as Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. Hartmann found this structure to be quite liberating: "It gave me a chance to explore a lot of different musical genres that I wouldn't necessarily get to write in if I were doing a show that stuck to one place and one time," he says. "I wanted to draw on the history of music, and the show has a little bit of folk, pop, jazz, and musical theater, as well as some rock and roll."

"The opening number is this crazy be-bop jazz," says Hartmann by way of example. "It's like Manhattan Transfer meets Ann-Margret beatnik craziness. I wanted to immediately set the tone of the show as a little wild, and also let people know that we weren't taking things completely seriously." Another example of the musical's eclectic nature in terms of both musical style and subject matter is a number that centers around the Montgolfier Brothers, who sent up the first hot air balloon. "What a lot of people don't know is that their first passengers were a sheep, a duck, and a chicken," says Hartmann. The song is written from the point of view of these unlikely passengers and is "a kind of Hee-Haw bluegrass number."

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