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'The Book of Us'

A group of University of Montana alumni and one student are producing a new play in a "house show" format this week.

The newly formed Cadmium Company is presenting Joshua Kelly's "The Book of Us," which they describe as a "scathing and soulful exploration of modern attachment."

Kelly is a UM theater alum who's now studying for his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While in Missoula, he wrote and presented his first play, "The Shades of Orcus," which was then produced at Flathead Valley Community College last winter.

The director for "The Book of Us" is Natasha Conti, who knew him from working on a play at UM.

She said his writing is witty, quick and snappy, recalling Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," as smart characters throw dialogue back and forth.

"He's very good at putting emotion on paper" in a way that actors can bring to life, she said.

The cast comprises Zachary French, Brit Garner, Thain Bertin and Jasmine Sherman. They're all UM alumni, except for Garner, a doctoral candidate in biology who's appeared in local productions of "The Rocky Horror Show Live!"

In the play, Xavier, a writer, and Hadley had an intermittent affair over the years. However, she's married to an older man; Xavier, meanwhile, has entered into a committed relationship with Jacob but is miserable since Hadley is seeing someone else. The interconnected relationship comes to a dramatic climax on a "whiskey-drenched Christmas Eve," according to their description.

Conti said the play moves quickly from humor to emotional moments between the characters, all in their mid-20s and lovable, even though they don't always behave as they should.

"You're not sure you like them all of the time, but they're fascinating to watch regardless," she said.

Audiences should note that the play contains adult themes and nudity.

"The Book of Us" is a new play and technically this is a "workshop" production.

The group began rehearsing in Conti's basement. After looking around at the limited venues for a small production, they realized their practice space would match the setting of the play: a Chicago industrial loft space with visible concrete and beams.

Last October, Bare Bait Dance company did a "house show" for a play called "Lovesong." For the right script, the "realness" of the set and proximity of the actors can provide a completely different experience.

"Something about being in a real house makes it feel infinitely more genuine," Conti said.

She said that power, plus the economics, make it a good trade for higher production values.

For "The Book of Us," they've arranged "alley" seating, with the audience sitting on both sides, facing in to the actors. Garner, who has experience as a film editor, is making video projections.

Conti said the production was funded by Cathy Capps, a retired physician and longtime member and supporter of the local arts and theater communities.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.