Aspen Times Weekly: A Road Trip to Creede
Creede Repertory Theatre is a Rocky Mountains legend. Now in its 51st season, the company has carved out a highly improbable national profile for developing and producing fresh new works for the stage.
A town of about 300 residents, Creede — near no population center and surrounded by the soaring San Juan Mountains and the remarkable skeletons of its silver mining heyday — has become a landmark that’s on the bucket list of theatergoers everywhere.
Still, it’s hard to believe the hype until the curtain goes up. On a recent weekend, I made my first pilgrimage to this remote utopia of the dramatic arts. I wandered the scant, charming downtown a few hours before show time on Saturday and wondered where the audience would come from. There were few people on the sidewalks and in the shops around the theater, no cars driving Main Street.
And yet, come curtain time, the 230-seat main stage theater — one of two the company fills all summer — was sold out and filled with an enthusiastic audience. Where’d they come from? I have no idea. It felt a bit like a magical “If you build, it, they will come” “Field of Dreams” moment.
Over my two days in Creede, I caught the company’s two newest shows, “Kind of Red” and “The History Room,” which both had their world premiere runs this summer.
‘KIND OF RED’
This big, brassy farce with a heart opens as Rick plays his trumpet in the bathroom of his New York apartment (and does not play it well).
The jazzman Rick — played by John DiAntonio, who also wrote the play — is a lovesick, loveable lug and master of malapropisms. He’s pining for his lost Rosalita, who is set to be married the next day, and yearning for his lost talent, which has escaped him mysteriously despite his yelling at his instrument to bring it back.
His landlady (Anne F. Butler) bursts in to tell Rick he’s gotten a make-or-break guest spot with the band at Birdland. She puts up a painting of St. Lucia on his wall and instructs him to pray to her to get his groove back.
Overnight, through Rick’s television, Lucia herself emerges to help. The saint strikes a remarkable resemblance to another Lucy (as in “I Love Lucy,” though that iconic show and Lucille Ball go unnamed).
Lucia, played in an inspired and versatile turn by Caitlin Wise, is on a mission to set her Ricky right. Of course, the shadow of Lucille Ball looms large. An actress needs a lot more than red hair to do her justice. But Wise does it in a performance that transcends homage or mimicry — from the smallest mannerisms to that booming confidence and optimism to some extraordinary physical comedy and the timbre of her “Oh, Ricky!” she nails it as she flits across the stage and sows chaos around Rick’s apartment.
Things get wacky once Lucia shows up. There are capers big and small, a laugh track, an outlandish return by Rosalita herself (Mehry Eslaminia), a battle of bedroom wills between the landlady and her husband (Logan Ernstthal), and a salsa contest that explodes into an uproarious costumed affair.
Amid all the shenanigans and the laughs, “Kind of Red” ends up hitting a sweet and sentimental note. This unhinged St. Lucia is not only a take on “Lucy” but a clever spin on Clarence, the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” descending to show Ricky how good he has it and — of course — to get him to Birdland on time.
‘THE HISTORY ROOM’
Running in-the-round in Creede’s intimate Ruth Humphries Brown Theatre through Sept. 15, Charlie Thurston’s “The History Room” is a remarkable exploration of the malleability of memory and also a deeply personal look at how it feels to lose one’s mind to dementia.
The plot seems a relatively straightforward set-up. In their youth, Steve agreed to kill his best friend Helen if ever she began losing her mind to dementia. When that day comes, and Helen begins descending into the fog, Steve arrives at her New England home to carry out the deed. Will he or won’t he?
But nothing about “The History Room,” like nothing about memory, is straightforward. Complexly structured and often breaking the fourth wall, this perceptive drama forces you to think carefully about its tough and complicated subject. Some well-placed doses of comic relief help soften the emotional blows.
It opens with Steve (Stuart Rider) directly addressing the audience, introducing the moment decades earlier when his younger self (Graham Ward) made the promise to a younger Helen (Kate Berry, who doubles as Helen’s daughter). We see the same scene at the opening of the second act. Only this time, it’s unclear whether Steve’s memory of it is accurate. Helen’s husband, Robert (Ron Clark), offers criticism and points out some details that are wrong, arguing that it couldn’t have happened that way.
“Memories are fiction,” he declares. “Composed.”
The young Steve and young Helen also have their say about how they think the memory should go.
Throughout, Helen — played sensitively by Christy Brandt, in her 42nd season with the company — lets go of her memories. The audience sees this quite literally in what ends up being the play’s most devastating moments: the lights dim and she talks through a memory and holds a totem from it, then places it on a chandelier that rises to the ceiling into what she calls “the lovely land of no-memory.” In her lucid moments, she’s a spunky old broad — still lively with the hippie spirit of her youth — but she’s losing that self bit by bit.
The ghost of Steve’s son, Peter (also played by Ward), emerges from Steve’s suitcase early on. A grim reaper of sorts, Peter haunts his father and also provides the bulk of the play’s laughs. In a confident and almost entirely silent performance by Ward, he stalks around the proceedings and into the audience urging Steve to kill Helen with over-the-top mimed gestured and written notes.
Will he or won’t he? We’re left guessing right up until the bittersweet conclusion.
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