Round and round (and round)

The Redundant Theatre Company Theatre may be repetitive in name, but the local group can surely claim first rights for its original concept.

“The name is a joke because people keep saying there’s already too much theater in this town,” explains Willie Repoley, co-creator of the company, which is on the verge of staging its initial performance.

“Of course, I don’t agree.”

Nonetheless, RTCT’s inaugural production seems to be in on the joke: Eight short plays are scheduled to be staged in combinations of five per night, making every evening a new experience.

The inspiration is National Public Radio’s This American Life, admits Repoley.

“I’m so taken by that show,” muses RTCT co-founder Todd Weakley. “Hearing disparate stories and how they’re enlightened.

“It became an excellent form for us,” he adds, “allowing us to work in small groups.”

By that, Weakley means both the pairings of 10-minute plays and the combinations of two, three and four of the troupe’s five members.

At a recent rehearsal in what the RTCT actors insist is the world’s most random practice space — the conference room of George’s Stor-Mor in south Asheville — a debate rages on the meaning of “squaring up.” And that’s actually the theme of the group’s North Carolina Stage Company debut, Squaring Up: A Unique Evening of One-Act Plays.

“I think all plays have to do with relationships in some way,” volunteers Weakley.

And even though Repoley is quick to point out that audiences shouldn’t be expecting This American Life — Live, the Redundant Theatre Company Theatre faces a similar challenge to that of Ira Glass, the NPR show’s host: figuring out how their eight plays, or vignettes, fit together.

“These plays all have to do with how you square up to something in your life,” Weakley elaborates. “Seen through that lens, [they] fit really well together.”

“A time of reckoning,” contributes Repoley.

To which actor/cofounder Rain Newcomb adds: “Metaphorically, we’re asking the audience to square up, to come to a reckoning as to what the plays mean to them. Maybe not themes so much as motifs are highlighted.”

The latter, in fact, prompt much more talk than do the plays themselves, the actors admit. And that may be, at least in part, because the RTCT selects scripts by lesser-known writers (perhaps the most “famous” is Harold Pinter, who authored the surreal, postmodern drama New World Order).

“The set-up for one play is two people on the edge of a mountain,” reveals Weakley. “There’s a storm coming in, and they’re lost. That’s dealt with in 10 minutes.”

“Or two people stuck on a Ferris wheel,” adds Newcomb.

“Or two ex-lovers get together and he shaves her legs,” Weakley finishes. “That’s a volatile situation. It’s about compression — there are about four lines where you know what the play’s about.”

“It’s not like you’re watching two minutes of a movie,” Repoley promises. “The story’s all there.”

He continues: “So far the short-play format works. We want to do what works, but we don’t want to be tied down by one format.”

In fact, the company is largely defined by its insistence on bending theater conventions. Repoley envisions running RTCT much like a band (he also plays mandolin and trumpet in the contra-dance quartet Mock Turtle Soup), complete with a set list and an openness for taking requests.

And in a way, that’s exactly how the company’s upcoming shows will work — the decision on which five plays will be performed each night will be made in front of theatergoers by drawing names from a hat.

“We’re trying to forge a … different relationship with the audience,” says Newcomb. “You could go to the movies for about what you’d pay for our show.”

And yet get less for your money in the bargain. Because at the cinema, she points out, “you’d be a passive spectator.”

And though RTCT is hardly in the business of singling out crowd members to embarrass them, “without a live audience,” Repoley says, “we have nothing.”

The Redundant Theatre Company Theatre presents Squaring Up: A Unique Evening of One-Act Plays at 8 p.m. at the North Carolina Stage Company (33 Haywood St.) on Friday, Aug. 27, and Saturday, Aug. 28, and then on Thursday, Sept. 2; Friday, Sept. 3; and Saturday, Sept. 4. Tickets are $8 (or roll the dice and pay from $2-$12). Save your ticket stub, and pay $4 for your second show, with the third one then free. For more info, call 350-9090.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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