BWW Review: A THOUSAND WORDS at Nebraska Repertory Theatre: A Breathtaking Piece About the Truths of Life
By Elaine Stueve (guest contributor)
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience getting to watch A Thousand Words at the Nebraska Repertory Theatre this past week. The Rep has created a powerful show about the joys and sorrows of life that almost everyone can connect to.
A Thousand Words is a devised theatre piece created by a very talented group of students from the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film and the Artistic Director of the Nebraska Repertory Theatre, Andy Park. For the entirety of the fall semester, the students involved in this production had a class where they created this piece. They started out this process with the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." and devised the rest of the show based on that. Through a process of trying new things, adding parts, and cutting out others, they eventually settled on telling the story of the life of Jeremiah Wolcott.
The play opens up with Grandpa, a friendly-looking puppet (puppeteers: Phil Crawford and Matt Blom) singing a song and inviting us to go on a journey with him. Because of Crawford and Blom's skills, it's easy to forget that Grandpa is a puppet, and we are quickly sucked into the world of A THOUSAND WORDS. After he finishes his song, Grandpa sits down and tells us that he is going to share the life story of a man named Jeremiah Wolcott. He begins, however, by telling us how humans have been sharing stories with each other since the dawn of time. As he narrates, actors Will Hayes, Grace Debetaz, Godelyn Anghay, Connor Garrison, Claire McClannan, and Michaella Deladia take us through time by acting with their physical bodies as well as using advanced puppetry.
To make this advanced puppetry possible, when the actors were controlling puppets or other props, they wore black morph suits. These suits covered their bodies as well as their heads so that they completely blended in with the background. Lighting designer Cameron L. Strandin also did a fantastic job hiding the actors when they weren't supposed to be seen. Kudos must also be given to the actors, who all had incredible control of their bodies and used the puppets and props in a way that created beautiful and moving stage pictures that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.
We are led through time all the way up to Jeremiah's birth. In a very comedic and well-executed sequence of events, we watch Jeremiah as a sperm fight his way to get to the egg. After Jeremiah is born, we see his mother (Grace Debetaz) holding him as a baby, and we are introduced to the song "You Remind Me" by David Roth. This song becomes a motif throughout the rest of the play as we watch Jeremiah grow up and navigate his own life.
Jeremiah quickly grows up and becomes a man (Connor Garrison). He meets his wife, June (Claire McClannan), and we watch them as they fall in love, get married, and eventually become parents to a girl, Jane (Michaella Deladia). To support his family, Jeremiah works day-in, day-out. This causes some strife among the family as he misses Jane's most important rites of passage as she grows up. In the blink of an eye, it seems to Jeremiah, Jane is 18 and leaving for college. When Jeremiah misses moving Jane into her dorm, June is outraged and convinces Jeremiah to make things right.
Jeremiah visits Jane in college and they come back together in a beautiful moment where they fly a kite over the heads of the audience.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Jane is getting married and beginning her own life, just like Jeremiah had so many years ago.
It is here that Grandpa stops the recounting of Jeremiah's life story and begins to speak in the present. He looks in a mirror and sees his white hair and wrinkles. He acknowledges how he feels no different inside, but looks so much older on the outside. As Grandpa makes his way to the side of the stage, our attention is drawn to a white screen with silhouettes on it. We then re-watch Jeremiah's life with him as the song "Changes" by Phil Ochs plays in the background. We see him get married, become a father, watch Jane grow up, see Jane get married and have her own family, and then see Jeremiah pass away. As this sequence concludes, Grandpa looks at us and says, "Goodbye," letting us know that this is the end of his story.
There were many pieces required to make this stunning show come to life. The set, designed by Grace Trudeau, was beautiful. The proscenium arch was covered in picture frames and the surrounding set was full of boxes and antique items which warmly welcomed us into Jeremiah's world. The lighting, designed by Cameron L. Strandin, was spectacular. He created wholesome, yet striking, stage pictures that impacted me greatly as an audience member-- sometimes I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe while other times I wiped away the tears rolling down my cheeks. The efforts of Jeff O'Brien, the sound designer for the show, were phenomenal. The music was touching while the sound effects were hilarious, but both helped the actors tell their story effectively. The actors and crew did an amazing job working together to get all the pieces to work. There were countless amounts of props, puppets, and costumes that were used in this production and they used all these things without a hitch.
A THOUSAND WORDS is a powerful and moving story about the truths of life. No matter who you are, you find some part of yourself in this production. It is clear that everyone who was a part of this show poured their hearts into it and created a piece of art that resonated strongly with so many. I am very honored that I was able to see A THOUSAND WORDS and see everyone's hard work come to fruition. Congratulations to the cast and crew for creating a breathtaking work of art!