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A lived-in, rather weary-looking home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with kitchen, living/dining room and stairs leading to second-floor bedrooms, fills the stage as an audience is seated — just waiting for actors to fill it with life and ideas.
The regional premiere of Noah Haidle’s “Smokefall” at Denver’s Buntport Theater offers a journey with several generations of a Midwestern family, carried with humor, love, sadness and bit of magic realism.
The still new Benchmark Theatre Company completes a promising first year with this imaginative production which runs through Dec. 23 at Buntport. (In January, Benchmark will move to 40 West in Lakewood to present its second season. The space has been the home of The Edge Theater Company. Edge principals will take a break from the pressure of programming year-round.)
Haley Johnson, an award-winning Denver-area actress who lives in Centennial and is a graduate (1997) of Arapahoe High School, is producing artistic director of the new company, which she and the play’s director, Rachel Rogers, formed a year ago. Johnson assisted Christopher Waller in designing the props for this production, which in the third act, has an apple tree growing inside the house ...
As lights go up on Act 1, Violet is in the kitchen, fixing breakfast for the family.
John Hauser (Footnote, Fetus 2 and Samuel) tells us a bit about the family as we meet them: a very pregnant Violet (Suzie Scott), who grew up in this house and now lives here with her edgy husband, Daniel (Matthew Blood-Smyth, who also plays Fetus 1); Violet’s elderly father, the Colonel (Chris Kendall, who also plays a mature Johnny in Act 3) and teenage daughter Beauty (Sarai Brown), who refuses to talk — and eats dirt, tree bark (and napkins, if at a restaurant!).
The Colonel and Daniel greet the twins, who are soon to be born, Beauty heads out to school, Daniel leaves for work and the Colonel talks about walking to the cemetery to chat with his beloved Lenore ... (“We loved each other on six continents ...”) While the Colonel is losing his edge, he also comes up with the play’s focal idea: “The greatest act of courage is to love.”
The surprising Act 2 features a pair of fetuses discussing philosophy and the fear of one about entering the scary world out there ... Really clever scripting here.
Years pass ... In Act 3, the house is occupied by the aging surviving twin, Johnny, who casually picks a ripe apple from the tree planted when he was born and now growing through the walls. His son Samuel appears with a birthday present and frustration about the state of the house and the old man. And a somewhat magical third person appears ...
An online search offers several interviews with young playwright Noah Haidle, a Michigan native who graduated from Princeton and the Juilliard School’s prestigious playwriting program. He says this play developed out of a larger project with a play for every two hours in a day. “I think of creating an imaginative real estate that I own and that I understand the rules of. It’s not anywhere. But it is a space ... exists in time as people come to it.”
We learn that the play’s title comes from a poem by T.S. Eliot that includes: “The moment in the draughty church at smokefall ... Be remembered: involved with past and future. Only through time time is conquered.”
Plan to stay for a talk back with these talented actors after the play ends.
If you go
“Smokefall” plays through Dec. 23 at Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan St., Denver. Performances: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 6 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $30/$20, benchmarktheatre.com.
The Benchmark Theatre company starts its second season Feb. 16 to March 24 with “A Kid Like Jake” by Daniel Pearle, followed by “The Arsonists,” “Uncanny Valley,” the second annual “Fever Dream Festival,” featuring new works of science fiction, fantasy and horror, submitted by playwrights across the country, and finally, “What You Will” by Jeffrey Neuman.
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