Sunday, April 29, 2018

Main Street Theater: "Natural Shocks" reading / "Daddy Long-Legs" cast read-through

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of two very different experiences at Main Street Theater. On April 20, I was privileged to attend a reading of Natural Shocks, a one-woman play by Lauren Gunderson. This was a serious play with some deft comedic touches, about a woman waiting out an imminent tornado in her basement, and using the time to share details of her life, and ultimately some secrets, with the audience.

Although Houston's familiarity with hurricanes gives us extra incentive to be aware of natural disasters, or "natural shocks," as Gunderson puts it, there was much more than that to this play. Indeed, since the event was billed as "a national campaign of theater activism against gun violence," the audience knew going in that the play would eventually tie into that theme as well, and it fulfilled that expectation in a clever and emotionally powerful way. The event at Main Street Theater was one of more than 100 readings that took place in 45 states (although the only one that occurred in Texas) on April 20, which Ms. Gunderson had deemed a royalty-free performance day for any theater that wanted to participate. But lest one think we were in for a lecture rather than a performance, that was not the case; Main Street Theater's Shannon Emerick imbued the reading with emotion and dramatic flair, to moving effect. In fact, it was downright entertaining, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

Switching gears entirely, on April 22, I returned to attend the first cast read-through (and sing-through) of Main Street Theater's upcoming production of Daddy Long-Legs, a two-person musical based not on the 1955 movie starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron, but instead on the original 1912 epistolary novel by Jean Webster. If you haven't encountered this story before, it's about an orphan named Jerusha Abbott, who is sent by an anonymous benefactor to college. The only conditions are that she must write to her patron at least once a month describing her studies and her life at college, and she must not expect replies to her letters. The play consists of Jerusha and her patron, whom she has nicknamed Daddy Long-Legs because all she has seen of him is the elongated shadow he cast during a visit to the orphanage, alternately writing and reading her letters, with Daddy Long-Legs' own thoughts interspersed throughout the narrative.

I was particularly excited to attend this read-through because I read the novel more than once as a young adult, captivated both by the story and by the amateurish yet appealing line drawings by the author depicting Jerusha's activities, surroundings, and classmates. (The novel, including illustrations, is available free in multiple e-book formats on Project Gutenberg.) And based on the read-through, I can tell that this musical, which is suitable for families without being at all childish, maintains the charm of the original material. I look forward to seeing the production in full bloom in May or June (performance information available here).

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to say what I've said in other posts about Main Street Theater: if you haven't discovered it for yourself yet, you're missing out! This small theater has "range," much in the same way that talented actors do, and the venue allows a rare theater-going intimacy. I'm so glad I found my way there last winter.

[Note: this post was edited on April 30, 2018 to reflect the correct number of readings and states where they occurred.]

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