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Review: THE RESPONDERS at TheatreSquared

This world premiere runs through June 30

By: Jun. 11, 2024
Review: THE RESPONDERS at TheatreSquared  Image
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TheatreSquared, 477 W Spring St, in Fayetteville, is always pushing to bring new and exciting plays to Northwest Arkansas, and currently, they have two events sure to delight the theatergoers who enjoy viewing pieces from up-and-coming writers. From now until June 30, you can catch the world premiere of THE RESPONDERS, written by Arkansas Playwright Joseph Scott Ford, and directed by the amazing Vickie Washington. Then, next week from Thursday, June 20 through Sunday, June 23, T2 is hosting the Arkansas New Play Festival with so many talented writers sure to make waves in the coming future. For both events, check out their website at https://www.theatre2.org for more information and tickets.  

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L to R: Edwin Green as Tucker and Kelsey Claire as Ang in THE RESPONDERS at TheatreSquared
Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt

THE RESPONDERS opens with a couple of paramedics Daryl (Bradley Campbell) and rookie Ang (Kelsey Claire) finding a body hanging from a billboard sign. Together they decide what needs to be done. Do they leave him there until the cops get there? Well, that seems to be a problem since both the firefighters and cops rode together and now has a flat tire that needs to be fixed. Do they cut him down? Since they don’t know 100% that it was suicide and not murder, they leave him for the time being. Then, Ang decides she needs to cut him down because children will be passing by on a bus on their way to school. However, before they can get it done, the local television personality Suzie (Miranda Jane) who is looking for her story to get her out of the small town stops them so she can give her story to a bigger network. In tow is her cameraman Tucker (Edwin Green), who has a crush on Ang. Also, plot twist, Daryl and Suzie used to be married. So, how does this foursome deal with the body? Go see the play to find out. Trust me, the ending will catch you in your feelings. 

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Edwin Green as Tucker in THE RESPONDERS at TheatreSquared
Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt

Other than the dramatic turn of events, this play is hilarious. These pros not only had the physical comedy down, but the subtle looks and snide remarks had us cracking up. Bradley Campbell’s Daryl was sweet and fatherly when it came to Ang, even when he was threatening her job, and when he gave in to help with the body, I was concerned when he was tackling the gurney. His chemistry was fiery with Jane’s Suzie. They both fell in line as if they were actually ex lovers.  

I was pleasantly surprised to see Miranda Jane at T2. This was my fifth show with her in it and is one of my favorite actresses. She has such a commanding stage presence that it is hard to take your eyes off her when she hits the scene. Jane embodied her power-driven character yet gave a moving performance at the end when her character decided to have a heart.  

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Miranda Jane as Suzie with Kelsey Claire as Ang and Bradley Campbell as Daryl in THE RESPONDERS at TheatreSquared
Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt

Kelsey Claire and Edwin Green were awkwardly cute together. Claire’s Ang was the voice of reason and kept pushing to do what was right. Green’s Tucker was smitten and eager to make both of the women happy. At the end though, I was heartbroken. The gentleman beside me was sniffling as well. 

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Before the show, Broadway World sat with the other interested parties for a Meet the Director/Playwright discussion. As we walked into T2, we came in while Director Washington was discussing how she decided to take on THE RESPONDERS. 

Vickie Washington: I was struck by the writing and how honest it was and how needed it was as a story. The skill of the characters are so, so wonderful, and it's the kind of work I like. I like the stuff that tells great stories, and it’s really great writing...and it's necessary. I believe we should do work that’s necessary in some way, shape or form. And that’s how I said yes. It was two years ago in May that I had my first conversation with Joe.   

Joseph Scott Ford: I feel like we connected in that conversation, because you're an actor who works as a director and I'm an actor who works as a writer, and I felt like we had a shared language. At the end of the day, we're all here in the service of the behavior of the piece and the moments that are ultimately to be physicalized and to be performed by actors....not to be read as a script, not to be studied, but to be performed. Yeah, that was part of the joy, I think, of working with Vickie.  

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Rebecca Rivas

Rebecca Rivas (Senior Artistic Associate & Program Director, LatinX Theatre Project): Would you all now share a little bit about your journey as theatre artists, just so, you know, we get to meet you a little bit.   

Joe to Vickie: I would love to hear your story.  

Vickie: Well, my journey is kind of long, that's why I was laughing. I started in the fourth grade playing Queen Mother. I've always been Queens, mothers, and old ladies. I didn’t kiss a guy on stage until I was 37. My children came to see the show and they thought, ‘Oh my God, mommy. You're going to have to get a divorce! [Everyone laughs] So, yeah, that's my story.  

Rebecca: That's a good story.  

Vickie: I started out in theater very young as an actor. I was in a program in a small school in Denton, TX, Texas Woman’s University, in a wonderful general program where you learn everything. Some of the things I actually learned there....some after I got out. I was fortunate to have a husband, I still have a husband, who worked and paid bills so I could do theater. Then when the children came, I stayed home and occasionally I did theater, and I started a theater company. So, it's just a beautiful journey, because I love theater. I said, and it's true in my life, that I consider two things sacred....one is theatering and the other is mothering. They are not necessarily in that order, but sometimes they can be. I find that it's a gift.  

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Joe: I didn't do much performing at all when I was young. I got the lead in the third-grade musical, but I was so scared that I was like, ‘I don’t think I want to do this ever again.’ It was a small school. I'm from Little Rock, by the way. So, I did a little show when I was 12 called Mr. Christmas that we found in Eureka Springs, which was fun. That's my first experience on set, and then I didn't touch it. I was always attracted to it, but again, I think I was too afraid. I was playing sports, and I didn't identify as an artist or creative person. It didn't really occur to me that that was in me. I didn't have a map for that. Then I saw an improv comedy show when I was in college. Again, I was like ‘I think I could learn to do that.’ I tried out, loved it, and that kind of opened it up for me. I knew I wanted to continue in the path of performance, but I also know I didn't know anything. So, I found a really great teacher named Bill (William) Esper who passed away a few years ago. He taught in New York City for 60 years. For 20 years, he was the right hand man of Sanford Meisner. I don’t know if you've heard of the Meisner technique, but I spent two years with him just breaking myself down and learning what made me tick. Esper said ‘if you don't have a point of view, don’t show up to set. So, I've kind of learned that from him. He taught me how to act and it all kind of fell into place. It was very much just following one impulse after the other and trying to be brave, because it is very scary. 

Rebecca: The Meiser makes so much sense. Ok, does anyone have a question?  

Guest: I'm curious about what you just shared, that if you don't have a point of view, don't show up to set. How did that inform your characterization as you were writing? 

Joe: At first, I didn't understand that. I remember the day I thought I was doing great in the scene. You know, if you're thinking that, you're maybe not totally in the scene, but I thought I was doing great. And, he stops it. I was 23, and I was upset...let me tell you, I was hot. He was like ‘you didn't own it-that wasn't it.’ And I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ And that night I had a dream that he was in my living room working the scene again and for some reason he started talking and out came ‘You gotta own your point of view.’ Because in a story, but particularly in play, you're given everything. You're given a set, a world, circumstance, words to say. The only thing you can bring as an actor is why you're there and what it means to you. So, I think that's why you can only write what you know. Now when they say write what you know, it's not literal. It's like lived experiences that get filtered through the prism of your imagination. Which means somehow we're in rural Oklahoma with a news reporter and paramedics. I'm none of those things, but their points of view come from parts of me and parts of people that I've probably internalized. I think that is the secret sauce of art. You gotta tell the truth. You can surround it with 800 layers of BS and imagination, but at the core of it, you just gotta tell the truth. You gotta own the truth, even if you don't like it.   

After speaking more on technique, we switched to talking about the Arkansas New Play Festival (ANPF). 

Rebecca: We have the unique experience of seeing a world premiere with this play. Yeah, we are so excited. I'm just curious how many folks got to see it when it was at ANPF. So, we have a few. So both of you (Vickie and Joe) were at the beginning. as. Can you talk a little bit about what it's like having brought the play from where we were two years ago to where we are now and seeing it fully produced? 

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Joseph Scott Ford​​​

Joe:  Dream come true, Totally dream come true. When I went off to New York, I wrote in my journal, which I don't keep, I'm not a journaler, but I had one then. I was like, this is a crazy thing to endevour on getting engaged in the arts. So what would success feel like? And I thought success would feel like making a good piece of art and bringing that back home to Arkansas. That would feel like a completion of a journey. Because, I do believe that if you make art, it is for you (the audience). So, if it's not doing its job for you, then I'm not doing my job, because it's an act of service. Vickie used the word gift. It's supposed to be a gift. We are here to make things that are good and to perform them well, and everything else is not worth your time or your money or our heart space in my opinion. The festival was wonderful.  

Vickie: It was absolutely wonderful. 

Joe: We bonded and found a script. 

Vickie: We didn’t find it... you brought it. You had written it already, which was a lovely thing. And, this is Sarah (Behrend-Wilcox). Some of you all know Sarah. Sarah is the AD (assistant director) on this project, and she was the stage manager during the play festival. So, she's been with us from the beginning. And, I think another thing that's really valuable and really quite amazing is during the new play festival, we had the same cast then that we have for the production. That's not always a given, so it's really great. We were able to build a unit, a company, a group of wayfaring soldiers who worked together two years ago were all so excited to come back together and work these 12 1/2 days to put this show together. It might be more than that, but it's been fast, furious and wonderful, and we can't wait for you all to see it.  

Rebecca: ANPF starts next week, so if you would like to go see some other shows that might be world premieres one day, please, please get your tickets.  

Guest: I’m curious, this is for Dexter and Becky. What are some shows you’re excited to see at ANPF? 

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Dexter Singleton

Dexter Singleton (Director of New Play Development): Ohh, wow, thank you, thank you.  

Rebecca: All of them. I love them all the same.  

Dexter: For me, you know, I have different reasons why I like all of them. You know, every year there's usually a playwright or two at ANPF that I've wanted to work with for a long, long time and wanted their work to be seen by y'all. That playwright for me this year is A. K. Payne. A.K. Payne is one of the fastest rising names in American theater. If you don't know the name and you keep attending the American theater, you certainly will. There's a lot of people who compare her to Zora Neale Hurston and compare her to, you know, classic all time great writers. She just graduate from Yale School of Drama and is remarkable. She has already had a production at the Geffen and has been mentored by Terrell McCraney. So, she is a rising name and is a wonderful writer who I'm excited for y'all of get a chance to witness their work. Also, we're reigniting our collaboration with City Theater, because City Theater in Pittsburgh was our co-pro partner for Fat Ham. They commissioned the play, and we have great synergy with them, so we're excited to work with them again. Anyway, I’m super excited about Sara Guerrero, Sarah Gancher, who's coming back, who did Russian Troll Farm here years ago that won the Obie. She's coming back with a stack of awards now off Broadway this year and is one of the hottest names in New York right now, and so, you know, super talented group. And then Jonathan Norton, who we love, is one of our commission writers, and this was the play we commissioned. It's about Malcolm X and Red Fox when they used to work together. A lot of people don't know the story that they worked together in Harlem at the Chicken Shack. So, yeah, I could talk about ANPF forever obviously. I encourage you all to come. It's going to be a great lineup. We also have LXTP again this year. So, great line up... powerful line up.... diverse lineup. So please come and check it out. 

For more information on the Arkansas New Play Festival, go to https://www.theatre2.org




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