BWW Preview: THE TALENTED ONES Takes Off With Launch Pad

It takes a collection of artists to bring a play from concept to stage--from playwright to director to designers, performers, and technicians. Every show has growing pains, and many premiered productions experience the pitfalls of superfluous exposition that doesn't utilize the theatrical medium, dialog that falls flat or doesn't serve the production, or unnatural shifts in tone and pacing that are impossible to realize until the play is actually performed. This multitude of script-based problems is precisely why theatrical workshops are so vital. UCSB's Launch Pad, run by Risa Brainin, Chair and Director of Performance at the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance, is a workshop for resident artists that gives playwrights the opportunity to fully mount their new work on stage. Reading a play and seeing it performed are completely different experiences, and Launch Pad provides playwrights the opportunity to thoroughly explore the narrative pulse and thematic nuance of their shows by evaluating how these aspects of their written work function in performance.

This semester's Launch Pad production is The Talented Ones by veteran playwright Yussef El Guindi. The Talented Ones brings the political and the personal together in a dramatic interpretation of the immigrant experience in America, represented by one couple's failing marriage. This piece presents an important (and timely) equilibrium of issues both general to the human experience and specific to the immigrant experience. Finding a balance between professional or artistic aspirations and a satisfying personal life is a universal struggle; The Talented Ones places this concept in the framework of finding one's stride within a new culture. The unrealized creative passions of the young couple, Cindy and Omar, illustrate dissatisfaction with the "American Dream" and the pressure placed on the young generation of newly minted American citizens. "Does your family lay all of their future at your door and expect you to carry it for them?" Cindy asks an American friend in explanation of her frustration. "We're supposed to be the talented ones. We're the reason they came. Our futures."

The Talented Ones is a new work, but the previews that open on May 21st aren't representative of a rough draft. The play, in constant evolution, has already been substantially rewritten since the beginning of the rehearsal process. Even for a seasoned playwright like El Guindi, witnessing how actors, the director, and the audience interprets the work provides valuable information about what aspects of a scene need additional focus or emphasis, and what aspects can be jettisoned completely. The version of The Talented Ones that I read was already markedly different from the version I saw in rehearsal; El Guindi's book was a mess of notes, eliminated lines, and reordered dialog. El Guindi considers audience reaction an important barometer of which pieces of the story yield the most interest and investment, and which moments stall rising action. He refers to these tangible changes in tone as gear shifts: the goal is constant upshifting with rising momentum, so moments that lose potency and drive are noted and reshaped in ensuing drafts.

Risa Brainin, a director with an astute talent for the subtleties of language and intention, brings the piece together in a slow burn of discontent that resonates against the exhilaration of new citizenship. In the case of Launch Pad, the benefit of experiencing the phases of a play's evolution spreads beyond the playwright to the students acting in the production: The Talented Ones features a cast of performing arts students, many of whom were most recently seen in UCSB's production of In the Red and Brown Water. The Talented Ones not only embodies the experience of forging a life in a new country and culture, it also presents the fresh energy of giving life to a new play.

Launch Pad Premiers The Talented Ones
By Yussef El Guindi
Directed by Risa Brainin

May 21--30
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday @ 8 pm
Matinee on May 30 @ 2 pm

The Hatlen Theatre, UCSB

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From This Author Maggie Yates

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