'Seatbelts Required:' New PCA Stage Too play explores three sisters' angst
The death of a hateful mother reunites three sisters who jump on an emotional roller coaster after her funeral in reminiscing about their childhoods in Prescott Center for the Arts Stage Too's production "Seatbelts Required," subtitled "Or the Play I Wrote to Piss Off My Sisters," which opens tonight.
The sisters, all with different fathers, obviously resist being in their mother's home again, and they are not thrilled to be together, either. Each has a story all to her own about this wicked mother, and they start rolling out their individual grievances, bringing tears to the eyes of the audience or bursts of laughter.
Three actors make up the cast: Amber Bosworth as Agnes, the middle child; Allie Kate Elliott as the youngest of the three sisters; and Julie Chavez Harrington, who plays the eldest, Janet.
"Seatbelts Required" plays at 7:30 p.m. tonight, this Friday and Saturday and Sept. 25, 26 and 27 and on Oct. 2, 3 and 4. Matinees are at 2 p.m. this Sunday and Sept. 28 and Oct. 5. Tickets are $15 for all performances and are available by calling the PCA box office at 445-3286 or logging onto www.pca-az.net.
The auditions for the roles were general, Frank Malle, play director, said. "I'm very anal about the acting process. I put great emphasis on the acting process. I am very particular."
Malle moved to Prescott a year and a half ago, bringing with him a lengthy background in theater.
In directing "Seatbelts Required," Malle said he knew he "needed to find three actresses who were equally brilliant and who could bring on the full emotional range" - actors "who could just bring it on," he said. Their characters are emotionally, physically and mentally challenging, Malle said, adding, "I had to find three actresses who were equally adept at a wide range of emotions to bring the audience to laughter or tears and three who had great chemistry and synergy in working together."
The ultimate question was "Could they bring their emotional range, keep their sanity and have fun?" through the course of rehearsals and the play, Malle wondered. "They certainly make me look good. That's what a director looks for."
Of her character, as Maggie, Elliott said she was raised like an only child and had a different childhood than her sisters and appears "confused."
"She's seen how her sisters were treated and decides that's not what she wants for herself and, unfortunately, took a little bit of a dark path. She just wanted to be loved, and the dark path was the best way she knew how.
Harrington, as Janet, says, "Poor Janet. I think she tried when she was young to be a beautiful daughter." But, as the first born, "She was left with the responsibility of the house because their mother was a partier. Because of that, she didn't get to have a childhood and didn't learn how to play and have fun. It's important to know that she is holding back a lot of anger. "
Agnes is "pretty much the proverbial middle child, with a little bit more of that scarring and the mind can only take so much rejection before it starts pushing back," Bosworth said of her character. "Agnes just wants a loving family and tries to get her sisters back together." And, "It all falls apart."
Playwright Kimberly Demmary, who lives in Camarillo, Calif., said she wrote the play on a dare and after a performance as the younger sister of the mother who loses her child in the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Rabbit Hole."
A reviewer had called a first play she had written "fluff," Demmary said, and said that because the reviewer knew her as an actress, she told her she knew she could write something more meaningful.
So, "I took up the challenge," Demmary said. The story line popped into her head, and is not based on anything in her background. Rather, she said she wanted to write a play about family.
"You write what you know," she said.
Demmary has submitted "Seatbelts Required" to the Pulitzer Prize Board for consideration.
PCA Executive Director Jon Meyer believes that "Seatbelts Required" will be the one production by which Stage Too will be measured for quality.
"I do realize, however, that the content of this show is unknown and that in most cases, potential patrons won't come to the show because it's unknown to them. Because of that, I issue a challenge to those patrons to take a chance on seeing a remarkable production that I'd put up against any professional production anywhere.
"'Seatbelts Required' is beautifully written, deftly directed and superbly acted," he said, adding, the play is "deeply moving, both humorously and dramatically."
To anyone who disagrees with him after seeing the show, Meyer said he would provide a pair of tickets to any other PCA production in the 2014-2015 season.