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Performing Arts

Found space finds Merely Players in new venue

‘Collected Stories’ will be performed at Durango Public Library
Karina Wolfe, right, playing Lisa Morrison, and Maureen May, playing Ruth Steiner, rehearse “Collected Stories,” a play by Donald Margulies at the Smiley Building on Wednesday.

Surprising us again, Mona Wood-Patterson has found another new location to put on a play – the Durango Public Library.

Inspired by the idea that if you change a venue you change experience, Wood-Patterson has embraced the contemporary concept of found space.

“Someone came up to me after our Shakespeare performance outdoors at The James Ranch last year,” Wood-Patterson said in a recent interview, “and said: ‘Being a Merely Players fan is like being on a scavenger hunt. You never know where you’ll be or what you’ll find.’”

That’s been her modus vivendi for years, Wood-Patterson said. She and Charles Ford head up the company and made the decision to rent one of the library’s meeting rooms for this year’s found space production.

Found space is a modern arts phenomenon. It sprang to life vis-à-vis the Dada movement and spans all the arts. Think about found objects or found sound, etc. In drama, a found space is often chosen to resemble a play’s setting – a real street, a courtroom, an apartment, a neighborhood bar or a playground. The intention is to create a different experience for actors and audience.

For years, Merely Players has experimented with unusual settings. It started by staging David Mamet’s “True West,” a rough sibling drama set in the old Chapman Hill Warming Hut. Last year, Wood-Patterson chose an outdoor setting for “Much Ado About Nothing.” Earlier, the Players have mounted productions in a motel swimming pool, an old warehouse and the boiler room of the Powerhouse.

Now it’s time to see a production of a prize-winning play by Donald Margulies at the library. “Collected Stories” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. “Dinner With Friends,” another play from Margulies large body of work, won the Pulitzer in 2000. Margulies, 63, is a professor of playwriting at Yale University.

“I’ve wanted to produce ‘Collected Stories’ ever since I first read it, before it was staged in New York,” Wood-Patterson said. “It’s a two-act play that spans six years, and it’s about a friendship between Ruth Steiner (Maureen May), a prominent writer, and Lisa Morrison (Karina Wolfe), a former student who becomes a friend and eventually, a successful professional rival.

“It’s a complicated relationship, and it changes over time beginning as teacher-student, then mentor-protégé and eventually equals – as friends. The power dynamics constantly shifts – what’s private and personal – or what’s public,” she said.

The play asks: What constitutes betrayal in a friendship. Margulies is a master of shifting allegiances and power dynamics in human relations.

Wood-Patterson chose her cast carefully.

“Maureen May is a highly-regarded local actor,” Wood-Patterson said. “She’s absolutely fearless when she takes on a role. She will play Ruth. And Karina is a professional actor based in Los Angeles working in film and theater. In 2002, she was a student of mine at Durango High. She’s gone on to earn a bachelor’s degree in acting from Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts and has taken a break from her LA career to be here for three weeks.”

“At the library, we’re staging the play in the round, arena style,” Wood-Patterson said. “We want to capture the intimacy of a small Greenwich Village apartment. We can only seat 54 people per performance, so we hope people will make reservations early.”

If audience members arrive 20 minutes early, they can see a prequel, Wood-Patterson said. She got the idea from a concept she has used in teaching and directing: Stanislavsky’s “The Moment Before.“

“I encourage actors to think about the moment before the play begins or before a character goes on stage. What happens? What mood are you in?” Wood-Patterson said. “We wanted to really make use of our found space, so we’ve scheduled two prequels. One will be in Ruth’s apartment. The other will take place in the library stacks where Lisa realizes she’ll be late and has to rush to Ruth’s apartment. Her knock on the door opens the play.”

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theater Critics Association.

If you go

“Collected Stories” is a play by Donald Margulies, presented by Merely Players, directed by Mona Wood-Patterson, featuring Maureen May and Karina Wolfe.

Show times are 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 1 p.m. Aug. 20, at the Durango Public Library, 1900 East Third Ave. Free parking. Prequel will begin at 6:10.

Tickets are $22, or purchase season subscriber package with flex pass option at special pricing. Available by calling 749-8585 or www.merelyplayers.us.

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