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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 11.12.2009

 

Old Friends and the Dwarfman

A Q&A with LCC’s Sparky Roberts

by Anna Grace

In keeping with their proud tradition of pushing the envelope, The Student Productions Association of Lane Community College will stage Michael Weller’s experimental, unpublished work Dwarfman, Master of a Million Shapes. The play follows comic book creator Stanley Dorfman as he cracks under the pressure of reality, only to find himself plagued by the characters of his fantasy. Because one of the leads had H1N1 and the play was cancelled the night our reviewer went, director Judith “Sparky” Roberts chats with the EW over email about this unorthodox production.

Michael Weller is a well-known playwright (Moonchildren, Loose Ends) Can you explain the connection that has led to LCC producing some of his lesser known plays (last year’s Buying Time) two years in a row and having him present at performances? 

Michael Weller is an old friend of mine from Brandeis University; we’ve stayed in touch all these years. 

Your cast includes student actors along side of area professionals. How has it worked to have seasoned performers like Marc Siegel and Don Aday working along side of students?

Marc Siegel has been in LCC productions before — he brings his skills as a choreographer, musician and comedian. I’m always honored to work with him (he has directed me before, too). He and Don Aday both have an exemplary work ethic, and they are at home on the stage. Naturally, they’re great models for our students — their presence extends the curriculum, from classroom onto the stage.

In your press release, you write, “At its heart, Dwarfman is about an artist who needs to escape the onus of his own public success.” Is this a play you and the other experienced artists associated with this project connect to on a personal level?

Artists can’t help what they do — they are ‘called’ to create. Artists mirror society back to itself, in their different mediums. It’s their job. Everybody, at some point, suffers a crisis of confidence. For artists, the definition of competence or greatness is somewhat nebulous, so self-doubt is almost inevitable: “Is my work worthwhile? Am I good?” Stanley Dorfman, the superhero comic-book creator in the play, is in the midst of an identity crisis. It’s extraordinarily amusing to watch his struggle, because his cartoon creations come alive and try to help. But they’re clueless.

Dwarfman coincides with the “Superheroes” exhibit at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum at the UO. Was that planned? 

It’s a happy coincidence that the run of our play is contemporaneous with the exhibit. Timely, yet totally unplanned. 

Dwarfman has only been produced twice before, one of the productions at our own Lord Leebrick. Why is that? What do you see happening with this play in the future?

Michael laughed right along with the audience while he watched the play. But if he ever mounts it again, he wants to make changes. It’s unpublished, but it should be published some day. The play was intended for much grander production, but our treatment offers it directly to the audience’s imagination.

For me, beyond Shakespeare and other classics, no doors are closed. I always think that in theater, anything is possible. My appetite is whetted by the challenges of interpreting new work. As an artist in theater, I have to be willing to take risks. I feel lucky to have a life full of collaborations with other artists, writers, musicians and composers.

Your (Thursday) opening night performance was cancelled due to the illness of a lead actress. Referring to the swine flu that thwarted your opening, you said, “You know it’s real when it hits the fantasy world.” Can you make any connections between your hero’s journey and our struggle with the flu? 

The show must go on ... Friday night a young man named Jordon Nowotny played an androgynous version of Elektra, Dwarfman’s female sidekick. We put blue hair and a body suit on him. He carried the script, but the audience didn’t even notice that. The play stood on its own, and people laughed a lot. (There were many compliments for the choice of Jordon.) That night, another young actress, Leigh Holliday, watched; she memorized the whole part, rehearsed it all day, and played it the next night. Heroic. Now our original Elektra, Rhiannon Cantanello, returns for the rest of the run, and we’re back on track.

Is there anything else you’d like audiences to consider before seeing your play?

The play is outrageous. It’s profound and funny. Only people over age 10 admitted. It’s definitely not a play for kids, but it appeals to the kid in us all.               ew

Dwarfman, Master of a Million Shapes continues through Nov. 21 at LCC. Tix at www.lanecc.edu/perarts/tickets.htm