by Tim Errickson · September 22, 2013
Fifteen years is a long time.
It’s a lot of time to be making plays, to be dedicating your life to making something that is gone the minute it’s over. Sure, there are leftover sets and costumes and prompt books. But the essence, the life force of the moment, is faded into the ether. Boomerang Theatre Company has, in the last 15 years, had 55 plays produced and then fade into that ether. And what we’ve found left over are people, words and memories.
Each of the plays featured in this collection played a special role in defining and shaping our theater company. Some brought acclaim or awards, some brought new ways of working, some brought new collaborators and relationships, and some brought hard lessons on how not to do things. But I personally love each of them and am very grateful that we were able to produce them.
When we were a young company, we began like so many companies do by producing classic plays in the public domain to avoid the two things young companies hate most: Paying more money than you have to, and dealing with living playwrights. After a season of classics, it was obvious that new plays had to be a part of the rotating rep season. The conversation with our audience felt incomplete. And so the FIRST FLIGHT Reading Series (later the FIRST FLIGHT New Play Festival) was born, to both nurture new plays and to “test drive” plays that felt part of our aesthetic. The hope was we would find something we felt passionate about producing in our repertory format. And find them we did.
Two of the first participants in FIRST FLIGHT were THE MONSTER TALES and AUBERGINE DAYS. I remember vividly reading both of these plays before their public presentation, and being so moved by each of them.
AUBERGINE DAYS went into production in the fall of 2001. Roy Berkowitz was so generous to us. He had previously had a successful mounting of the play in Washington DC, and didn’t need to let his beautiful play be put up in New York City by a bunch of kids who only marginally knew what they were doing. But I think he saw how passionate I was, how passionate director Rachel Wood was, and he felt like he was in good hands. And in a 50-seat house for three weeks, how bad could it go? The actors in that show really brought something special to it as well. Michael Healey and Ledger Free played it without camp and without limp wrists, but just as men who loved each other through anything. The run was unfortunately overshadowed by the tragedy of September 11th, and I’ve often wondered what might have happened were audiences able to see the play without the cloud of mourning that engulfed the city that fall.
Programming a season after September 11th, I wanted plays that were life affirming, funny and magical. With this in mind, THE MONSTER TALES was scheduled for Fall 2002. I remember telling Erika Bailey (who would go on to play Mimi in our production) how strong my reaction was to the play, reading the final pages while sitting on break at my restaurant job and trying not to openly sob in front of the kitchen staff. The beauty of the play lies, for me, in Jett Parsley’s idea of not being afraid and not being lonely, by choice. Going out into the world and making connections and taking chances. I think I needed to be reminded of that in the wake of shoe bombers and memorial concerts and recovery. Another thing that is so clear to me is WT McRae’s beautiful set for the play, in a magical bedroom. Peter Morr as The Monster was able to appear beneath Mimi’s bed, wearing his prosthetics and growling his lines as if channeling Ron Perlman. MONSTER TALES was included in NYTE’s Plays and Playwrights anthology that season, which was a major vote of confidence that our work was making an impact.
Frank Kuzler’s GIANT-N-VARIATION is one of the most intriguing plays we’ve ever produced. Part fable, part mystery, part ghost story, and all wrapped in the intelligent debate of language and meaning among humans and animals alike. Frank was the Managing Director of Boomerang at that time, building the company into the stable, creative place that could take on such a difficult play. We were extremely lucky to have Eric Amburg as the director, a native Texan who’d spent years as Michael Wilson’s assistant at The Alley in Houston and at Hartford Stage. Eric assembled a top notch cast, including Jennifer Larkin, Zack Calhoon and Christopher Yeatts, who were all up for the challenge of digging into Frank’s intense play. In looking back on it now, it’s interesting to think about the play and remember those who “got” the play and those who were merely entertained by talking and squabbling cows. GIANT-N-VARIATION is quintessential Kuzler writing: hyper intelligent, elusive and surprising.
When I think of LOVE IN THE INSECURITY ZONE, Mike Folie’s sly and satirical comedy about gun control, politics, love, and happiness, I think of a big man in a dress. John Fitzmaurice (said big man) and Catherine Dowling were the reasons we knew we could cast this outrageous play, and wanting to give them the spotlight played a major factor in scheduling it. The play also gave us a chance to work with Mike’s sharp brand of comedy, his theatricality and his incisive brilliance, where politics crosses over into the absurd. I’ll always think of it as being very muscular and aggressive too, perhaps because of Justin R.G. Holcomb’s robust portrayal of Hank as a US Government cowboy looking for love. Rachel Wood directed this, and her skill at working with actors and designers again came to the front. It did have a completely nutty set, however, made of panels of paper that hung on rectangular frames. Each night, actors would rip through the paper and save the world; lovely for the audience, fun for the actors, crappy for stage management and the producer who had to re-apply the paper every night long after everyone else had gone home. Ah, the glamorous show biz life.
And that brings us to Johnna Adams' LICKSPITTLES, BUTTONHOLERS AND DAMNED PERNICIOUS GO-BETWEENS. We are so fortunate to have the play in our 15th Anniversary Season. LICKSPITTLES came to us from director John Hurley, who said he had a play that was extremely difficult to stage, but was totally brilliant. Developed with Flux Theater Ensemble, the play was now languishing without a production due to its complexity. When Sue Abbott and I heard the play out loud at a table reading a few weeks later, we knew it was all John had described it as in terms of challenges. But he’d undersold it in how touching, adventurous, madcap and downright hilarious the show would be. We were hooked.
For each of these plays I’ve talked about, there are dozens more productions and actors and directors who’ve given so much to our company since 1999. With this collection, we honor all of them and their creativity, their integrity and generosity. Over 400 actors, directors, stage managers, designers and playwrights have worked on a Boomerang project in the last 15 years. It’s a crazy number to think about for me, but also something that our Board and staff are very very proud of.
15 years is a long time. The mementos and keepsakes we have from that time are people, words and memories. It’s kind of insane on some level, kind of sacred on another level, and kind of hopelessly romantic on another level too. That sounds about right to me.
Thanks for taking this ride with us.