Vortex cast members Harry Zimmerman and Alaina Warren Zachary rehearse for ‘Hunker Down’. Courtesy photo
Roadrunner show logo created by Fran Stovall. Courtesy image
By KELLY DOLEJSI
“Hunker Down”, written by Los Alamos playwright Robert Benjamin about two seniors dealing with isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be performed this month by two different theater groups.
At 2 p.m. Sunday, catch the live-on-Zoom production as part of the 2021 Roadrunner New Mexico Theatre Festival. Visit https://www.flowerandbone.com/festival-information to register. Albuquerque’s Vortex Theatre will present the play on Zoom at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, May 21-22 and May 28-29, as well as matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays May 23 and 30.
Register at https://www.vortexabq.org/. All performances are free to the public.
Benjamin said that often theatergoers already know the story of the play they are about to attend, but are interested to see how the play will be performed.
“They come to see this particular performance of a story they already know,” he said. “That’s the great fun of live theater.”
In this case, audiences will have the opportunity to see the same script performed by two different casts one week apart. Duchess Dale directs both the Roadrunner Festival cast, featuring Carolyn Wickwire as Bari and Colin Morgan as Kevin, and the Vortex cast, which stars Alaina Warren Zachary as Bari and Harry Zimmerman as Kevin.
“My script is written with latitude for the director and actors to assert their creativity about character motivation, dialogue, subtext, and backstory,” Benjamin said. “I’m excited to watch what choices [the director and actors] make and to see the emotional journeys of the characters.”
Working with multiple casts for productions of the same play so close together has meant two separate rehearsal schedules — “double the workload,” Director Dale said. Yet, in the process of auditions and call-backs, she said she loved the energy between both pairings so much she was inspired to work with both of them.
“It’s been so rewarding because each interpretation is so different,” she said. “Each cast brings a unique perspective. I think audiences will find each cast delightfully and wonderfully charming, and would enjoy seeing both productions for that reason.”
Another worthwhile challenge has been rehearsing and performing online.
“Rehearsing or doing a play on Zoom can be dicey,” Dale said. “You’re not going to do ‘Barefoot in the Park’ on Zoom because it would just look like actors reading a script. But this play was written specifically to take place on three different Zoom calls. You see the characters at their computers with their normal backgrounds.
There is no contrivance of, say, having to imagine the actors sitting on a park bench. The audience gets to watch the relationship unfold.”
Dale said she and the actors miss “hearing the audience laugh or cry or rustle the paper of the program. It’s been a huge learning curve to learn how to work without that. In that way it’s closer to film or TV.”
However, the Zoom platform has allowed Dale to choose actors who aren’t necessarily in the same city.
“I have four actors who are in Albuquerque,” she said, “and with another play, I have actors in NY. It’s extraordinary for me as a director. It expands the talent pool. It expands the audience. This puts Zoom theater heads above anything else.”
Benjamin is a self-described “late-blooming” New Mexico playwright, following a career as a research physicist and science educator. He mostly writes comedies and romantic comedies about “aging with grace, courage, and humor.”
Production credits include more than 20 short plays and five full-length plays, including an off-off-Broadway production of “Salt and Pepper.” He is a proud member of the Albuquerque Theatre Guild and Alliance for Jewish Theatre. He’s also been selected as a Los Alamos Living Treasure.