The Cardboard Sea premieres a searching (and comedic) show

GOTTA HAVE IT: Local theater company The Cardboard Sea examines the dark side of passion in ‘The Devotees.’ “On the eve of the release of the newest L series phone, a collection of die-hards stakes out their territory in the fanatical line family,” says a press release for the show, featuring, from left, Sam Yoffe, Stevie Alverson, Kristi DeVille and Kirstin Daniel, with music by Ryan Anderson. Photo by Todd Weakley

Collaboration is more about a shared passion or language or creative impulse — or all three — than shared space. Such is the case for director Todd Weakley and playwright Jeff Donnelly, who are, together and separately, working to stage Donnelly’s play The Devotees. The production, performed by The Cardboard Sea in association with Sublime Theater, will run at The Bebe Theatre Thursday, Aug. 1, to Saturday, Aug. 10.

The challenge is that Donnelly is based in Florida, while Weakley and the rest of the Cardboard Sea cast live in Western North Carolina. But the writer and director are in constant conversation, Weakley says. “It’s a cool setup because, as a director, I just want to f*** around with theatrical form. … My graduate school professors would be like, ‘Dude, just do the play. The play tells you what the form is.’ But Jeff is wide open to it.”

The two met in a theater program at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., after which their paths diverged. But, when another Asheville-based theater company that Weakley had been involved with folded, Steven Samuels of Sublime Theater (who was then with The Magnetic Theatre) offered an opportunity. “I said, ‘I do want to do things, and I’m sad that I’m not doing things,’” Weakley, who is also a theater teacher at Hendersonville High School, remembers.

He reached out to Donnelly, who was in Charlotte at the time. “I remember saying to him in college, ‘If I could do anything, I’d have a little theater company and you could write stuff and I’d figure out how to make it happen.’” That’s the CliffsNotes version of how The Cardboard Sea came to be. Donnelly has written seven of the company’s nine productions. The newest, The Devotees, “unfolds through a single night, in a single line outside an electronics store as a group of strangers await the release of the latest and greatest device,” according to a press release. “It’s a play about waiting, about expectations and about loyalty. It’s about choosing your family.”

“I think it’s a deeply personal play for him,” Weakley says of Donnelly. While the director can’t speak specifically to what experiences the playwright is drawing on, Weakley does posit that “in a sense, it’s about dealing with, ‘I care about this, and that matters.’”

The play stars Cardboard Sea company members Kristi DeVille and Kirstin Daniel, with newcomers Stevie Alverson, Sam Yoffee and Travis Lowe. Olivia Stuller is the stage manager for the show, and there’s original music by Ryan Anderson of local self-described “basement arena rock” outfit Minorcan.

“I loved the ideas of the script, and the characters are awesome, and the story has a satisfying arc, but then I thought of it as a production and I desired something else,” Weakley says. “In an early draft of the play, there was an overheard voice, prompting some action [and] we stumbled on the idea that maybe that could be a musician.” Immediately, Anderson popped into his head.

“I think he’s authentic at what he does, and he’s also, in a sense, critiquing rock ’n’ roll presentation,” Weakley says. “I feel like that’s what I’m after in any live performance and especially in a theatrical context. I want it to be rigorous, I want it to be honest, I want it to be heartfelt — and also can we just step back and remind ourselves that this is all kind of silly?”

The very idea of a play, sitting in a darkened room pretending the people onstage are people other than who they are in real life, “is both revolutionary and also humorous,” Weakley explains. It’s an element he hopes Anderson’s music will underscore.

The play itself — even with its big questions (“What are we really committed to anymore?” Donnelly asks in the press release) and experimental staging — is meant to be funny and have “a wild sense of theatricality,” Weakly says. “That’s what we’re after. … In the end, this play is a comedy.”

WHAT: The Cardboard Sea presents The Devotees,
WHERE: The BeBe Theatre, 20 Commerce St.
WHEN: Thursday, Aug. 1, to Saturday, Aug. 10. Thursdays-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., $15


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She 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

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.