True to its roots, The Redundant Theatre Company Theatre is launching a new show, and the thespians have no idea how the audience will respond. The audience may love it, hate it, or anything in between. And that type of reaction is what propels TRTCR to continue producing shows that some people might call weird; others might call genius.
Public Domain* is a full-length play about two Italian anarchists executed in 1927, and may seem like an odd choice for a company that has made its reputation by presenting evenings of interconnected short plays. And while Public Domain* does not entirely follow that same strategy, it is a piece put together from bits of information gleaned from research.
"We became really drawn to the story of Sacco and Vanzetti and the whole atmosphere of America in the 1920s that helped commit them to death," says Redundant co-founder Rebecca Morris. Sacco and Vanzetti were immigrants and professed anarchists accused and convicted of murdering two men during a 1920 armed robbery in Massachusetts. After a controversial and famous trial and a series of appeals the men were executed.
"The show doesn't focus on whether they actually committed the murders they were charged with, but on how their search for the American dream got changed in so many ways once they arrived here," says Morris. It's the same story as today, in some ways," Morris says, comparing the plight of the 1920s Italian immigrants to today's Hispanic immigrants.
You don't have to know the history of Sacco and Vanzetti to enjoy the show; the actors tell the story. Public Domain* has the rough shape of early 20th-century Vaudeville shows, including a minstrel-type show, done in green face rather than in black. A weight-lifting contest and more vignettes complete the story.
TRTCT learned as much as they could about Sacco and Vanzetti, perhaps even more than they cared to know. "I came across this really strange YouTube video about Sacco and Vanzetti that was an animation. And, the characters were created entirely out of clay," says Morris. "I had no idea how popular these two people were."
There was so much public information about the duo's trial, that TRTCT changed the show's direction as their knowledge grew.
"Our thinking about the name Public Domain* has actually changed a lot," says TRTCT co-founder Todd Weakley. Originally the name hinted that the show was made of found text, but now it feels more like "shared space." "Prison is really a public domain in a lot of ways, and our show now takes place in a prison, as Sacco and Vanzetti await execution," says Weakley. "And the show still draws heavily from things literally in the public domain, from trial transcripts to classic Italian literature — namely The Divine Comedy and Pinocchio."
The theater company formed in 2004, after several of its members had collaborated on various other projects, and decided the time was right to embark on a project of their own. After six months of meetings, brain storming, bad ideas and good wine, The Redundant Theatre Company Theatre established itself as a company that would specialize in short plays organized around themes, thus allowing for infinite diversity in infinite combination. Their goal is to produce innovative, contemporary theatre that challenges and stimulates audience and actor.
A new addition
Public Domain* continues that tradition but includes a new participant — Jim Ostholthoff, who has become the group's "eyes" for Public Domain.* He is directing them, but only to the point of helping fine-tune the original vision.
Ostholthoff's first evening with the group took place at their current rehearsal space in the basement of a Montford apartment building. The actors rehearsed between four posts, surrounded by tenants' bicycles, several running washers and dryers, a ping pong table and balance balls. None of it seemed out of place, nor did the group seem to mind that they weren't rehearsing on an actual stage.
Ostholhoff asks the group to do a scene for him. They do so without any comment from their new "eyes." He asks them to repeat the scene, this time stopping them almost every other line.
"Come onstage. Stop. Look at the lights," he tells actors Weakley and Willie Repoley. "How do they feel? Look at the ladies. Do what your lines tell you to do."
And so the scene goes. One hour later, the rehearsal has transformed itself, and the actors, into believable characters showing us a piece of Sacco and Vanzetti's life. The magic of what is yet to come.
When asked to sum up the show, Repoley says: "This show is the telling of two guys that is telling the story of America."
Tracy D. Hyorth can be reached at email@example.com
who: The Redundant Theatre Company Theatre
what: Public Domain*
where: North Carolina Stage Company, part of its Catalyst Series
when: Thursdays through Saturdays, June 17-26. 7:30 pm. $15, with a $5 discount for "liking" the company's Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Redundant-Theatre-Company-Theatre/112527168782529?ref=ts 239-0263 or www.ncstage.org.