BWW Previews: THE 13TH OF PARIS a Romantic Opening to Theatre 's Fourth Season
Theatre  has built three seasons of productions featuring fresh voices in contemporary playwrighting around a simple, yet flexible, philosophy: "recent and relevant."
The local group opens its fourth season Friday with a work that juxtaposes love's timeless ideals with contemporary realities in Mat Smart's "The 13th of Paris," which opened last Friday in the Martin Experimental Theater at The Kentucky Center for the Arts.
The play centers on a young man, Vincent, who sets out to unlock the mysteries of love by taking a suitcase full of his grandparents' love letters to the place where the spark between them was lit: their old Paris apartment.
"Thematically, it has a very classic feel to me," said Gil Reyes, director of the production and Theatre  co-artistic director. "You could plop Gene Kelly in and it might work out pretty well. And at the same time, it has a contemporary bent that connects those ideals of romantic love to the very real, sort of messy and new things couples deal with at this moment in our history, serving as a nice bridge and conversation for those topics."
The play is the second of Smart's works staged by Reyes for the company. Theatre  premiered with Smart's "The Debate Over Courtney O'Connell of Columbus, Nebraska," a love triangle piece with an interactive element: the audience chooses which suitor wins Miss O'Connell's hand.
The selection of "The 13th of Paris" was not a deliberate choice to work with a playwright for a second time; rather, the Reyes and co-artistic directors Mike Brooks and Amy Attaway simply loved the play.
"The play just spoke to us," Reyes said. "This is a very different style for him, and you can see a lot of growth in his writing, because it's a lot newer. 'Courtney' was one of his early pieces. What we loved about that show was the highly interactive nature of it, and the second act being very fantastical. 'The 13th of Paris' has some of those fantastic elements, but a clearer and more classic style leading up to it."
"The 13th of Paris" opens a season that will include mainstage productions of the competitive doping drama "Red Speedo" by Lucas Hnath, whose "The Christians" premiered at the 2014 Humana Festival, and Anne Washburn's "Mr. Burns, a post-electric play," in which a group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world cling to hope through ritual recounting of an episode of "The Simpsons." Theatre  will also return to the Slant Culture Theatre Festival with Mike Bartlett's workplace satire "Bull," and resident playwrights Diana Grisanti and Steve Moulds are creating new selections for the company's magic-themed "Ludlow Quinn Presents" series, showing at Baron's Theater in Whiskey Row each month during the First Friday Trolley Hop.
Producing plays from active, working playwrights gives the artistic minds of Theatre  the opportunity to collaborate directly with the scripts' creators, who may still see potential for development in their works. The process is different from show to show, according to Reyes.
"We do have access to all three of this year's playwrights," he said. "With 'Burns,' we've had three very different copies, and there may even be one more she sends us at some point. It all depends on the playwright. With Lucas and Mat, these plays are set. 'The 13th of Paris' is published, and we're using published version of it. We can get in touch with them, ask questions and have a dialogue about what's important about the play.
"There was another we really want to do this year. We contacted the playwright, but he said 'I need to do some more work on it. It's not ready yet. Can you hold off?'" he said. "I'm starting to feel like the playwright community is very small nationally, at least for the style of plays that we look for. We read a lot of the same playwrights right now. We try to expand our horizons, but when a play is good, a play is good."
Reyes, Brooks and Attaway first began working together locally with companies such as The Necessary Theatre. They shared a passion for stories that might not be told locally. Though the company's aesthetic was initially loosely defined, their work together and with their artistic teams over the course of three seasons has kept the company's mission fresh and relevant.
"I think that we've influenced each other even more, and we're very conscious of that, and that's why we're making an effort to involve more and more people in this process," Reyes said. "So I think we're building on it more than defining it."