A young couple decides to break up. Then it takes them decades to do it.
That's the most concise description of "Go. Please. Go." that Michael Legg has come up with as the Montana Repertory Theatre prepares for its production, which opens next week.
You won't find any other descriptions of "Go. Please. Go." anywhere online, since the Rep is premiering New York playwright Emily Feldman's script as the start of its first full season since Legg was hired last year.
The couple, Emily (Jenni Putney) and Jeremy (Bear Brummel), "don't have the means, either of them, to move out of their apartment to get their own place, so they find themselves living together through the next 65 years," said Legg, the Rep's artistic director. Over the course of time, they'll date other people, get married and have kids as themes about family, parenthood and relationships are explored through drama and humor, sometimes simultaneously.
"It's so relateable and universal," Legg said. "It's about love and relationships. It's about relationships with partnerships, but also about relationships with our parents. It's about growing old. It's about dying, it's about the things that we celebrate, it's about the things that we're afraid of. There's so many things inside it that I think anybody can relate to, that everybody can relate to."
Feldman's work has been staged around the country, with another premiere coming next spring at the Manhattan Theatre Club, where a number of Pulitzer Prize-winning shows have been produced.
Feldman worked with Legg in the Actors Theatre of Louisville, his former employer. She said Legg has been "one of my earliest and greatest champions," and gave her some early commissions.
"Go" was scheduled for a premiere with the American Theater Company in Chicago, which abruptly closed last year. After Legg was hired to lead the Rep, a professional company in residence at the University of Montana's School of Theatre and Dance, the two agreed it premiere it here, with financial backing from the Dramatists Guild Foundation.
"The nice thing about the national theater community is that we all travel a lot to do our work, so it's very possible to develop a relationship with like-minded people you meet along the way, even if you don't live in the same city," Feldman said.
"Go" is the first play in the first full season with the Rep, with a focus on new and diverse voices. He thinks it will "give Missoula a really good taste of the kind of work that the Rep is going to be doing. "I want to tell some universal stories that are still challenging, that when you leave the theater you want to keep talking about it," he said.
Feldman contributed two scripts in the Rep's "Plays on Tap" series of shorts in 2018-19. In one piece, lasting less than 15 minutes, a couple enacts (and sometimes addresses the audience) to convey the story of their relationship.
In an email, Feldman wrote, "the opportunity to time travel in a narrative is one of my deep interests in the theater and in all forms of storytelling." With "Go," she began with a set of characters and an emotional situation, "and at certain point in the writing, I wondered what might happen if the promise of one person leaving was never fulfilled. I was excited by the challenge of condensing a lifetime into less than 90 minutes and creating the conditions to experience the feeling of time rushing by in the theater," she wrote.
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Brummel is of one of three professional actors coming from New York for the production. Speaking during the rehearsal process, he said Feldman told them the play "moves forward at a pace, just like life does." In one scene, he might be playing his character at 25, then it will leap in time to age 40. He sees it as a tribute to a long-lasting friendship, and a "love letter to our parents and to what it means to love somebody unconditionally even when it's so hard to do."
He said the language is simplified and doesn't call for a large set, and "all it takes is two people having a conversation and we're in tears at the end of almost every rehearsal."
"We keep finding parallels between characters and our lives. Every character should feel like that, but this one feels so like very, very adjacent to what our life experiences have been or will be," Brummel said.
Legg, who's worked in new play development in Louisville and in Texas, said he's drawn to new plays for many reasons. While there's no name recognition, there's also no baggage or past productions to judge their work by.
"I don't have to retread ground, I don't have to figure out how to make my version better than the 13 other versions that I've seen. We just get to discover it for the first time together," he said.
In addition, the playwright is part of the process. They can ask Feldman for insights behind a particular scene, and she'll fly out for tech process and the first two preview performances. She may even rewrite scenes if warranted.
They're staging the play in the Masquer, the school's black-box space. The actors and the minimal set will be situated in the center, with the audience seated on all sides on risers.
"It's very much like you're peering into this world, and the lives of these people," Legg said. Someone told him it reminded them of a boxing ring. "And I think that might be right, because we to watch these people fight and celebrate."
Much like a match, it's a continuous, 90-minute one-act play, leaving no breaks for the cast. Legg adding that he hopes the audience might not even feel like they're in a theater.
"This really is the actors, in the space, telling the story," he said.