Theatre season features variety of genres

PLAINVIEW – There’s enough pressure in putting together a season lineup for a university theatre department as it is. But this year there was extra pressure for Dr. Marti Runnels, director of theatre at Wayland Baptist University, since the school is celebrating its centennial.

Nevertheless, Runnels pulled together a season ticket that will appeal to a variety of theatre fans, especially if you’re into big musical productions. While the two fall shows and the season finale will be traditional plays in Harral Studio Theatre, the spring production will move into the larger stage of Harral Auditorium for the musical Man of La Mancha.

In celebration of the centennial, Wayland is reprising the larger musical productions of past decades which have been cost-prohibitive, especially in the area of royalties. However, for the celebration, Runnels said the production was a special added feature.

But before the singing and dancing ensues, Runnels must get two fall productions under his belt. The annual favorite, Shorts, returns to the beginning of the theatre lineup, with two evenings of short plays directed by and starring students on the schedule. Slated for Oct. 9-11 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 12 at 2 p.m., the collection this year will be spread over two nights since there are eight shows in total.

“People will have to come two nights if they want to see all the shows, since we didn’t want the evening to go two-and-a-half hours long,” Runnels said. “Thursday and Saturday nights will have the same shows, and Friday and Sunday will have the others.”

The dramatic Frame 312 by Keith Reddin will be the dinner theatre production for the fall, with performances Nov. 13-16. Catered by Carino’s, the dinner will begin at 7 p.m. on Nov. 13, 14 and 15 and at 1 p.m. on the Nov. 16 matinee. The show will follow at 8 p.m. and at 2 p.m., respectively.

Interwoven with historical events, Runnels said the play is set in the 1990s and the 1960s and involves a suburban housewife who has kept a secret from her family for 30 years. On her birthday, she shares the secret. Runnels notes that the play calls for two different actresses to play the lead role, one as a young woman and one as the more mature woman.

The homecoming musical will be the first show of the spring semester, with performances set for 8 p.m. on Feb. 19-21 and 2 p.m. on Feb. 22. A five-time Tony Award-winning musical that has seen more than 2,300 performances on Broadway, Man of La Mancha is written by Dale Wasserman, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion.

This classic tale of Don Quixote, based on Cervantes’ book of the same name, features the story-within-a-story of an author sharing his novel of a man with a vivid imagination. Runnels said once he began thinking through the play, it made sense for Wayland’s centennial.

“I went through my usual sweating over what play to do, because it IS the centennial,” he said. “Then when I remembered that the main song (from the musical) is ‘The Impossible Dream,’ it reminded me of the centennial theme of Dreams to Reality.

“It’s a perfect story for Wayland because it’s about a guy who sees the world so differently than it sees itself that he looks like a madman. Instead of hatred, he sees love. This is sort of the Christian premise – that the gospel looks like foolishness to the world.”

One thing Runnels didn’t consider when he first brought the play up to Jeff Kensmoe, director of opera and musical theatre who helps with musical productions, was casting himself in the lead role.

“We were talking about the play and Jeff said, ‘You know, you could do this,’ and I just sort of said, ‘yeah, yeah’ and didn’t take him seriously,” Runnels recalls. “Later, his wife is visiting with us and she said, ‘You are doing this, right?’ and I knew they were more serious about it.”

Taking the lead role means the directorial collaboration is nixed, though, but Kensmoe said he’s up for the challenge and Runnels is confident of his ability to lead the massive undertaking.

“The beauty of it is this is what he’s trained to do,” Runnels said. “It allows me to let go of the reins, have fun and get on the stage one more time.”

Though Runnels has appeared in acting roles in a few Wayland productions, he points out that his last major role in a musical was 20 years ago, when he played the lead role of Billy in Carousel. Still, he’s up for the challenge and the chance to polish up his vocal cords once more.

“In my teens through early 30s, I sang all the time, but since I came here, I really have just been the ‘theatre guy.’ I’m sure there are tons of people around here who’ve never even heard me sing,” Runnels laughs.

The production will feature a pit orchestra, full costumes and choreography in the Harral space, a venue Runnels said he only uses for “something big.”

The season finale will return things to normal with the staging of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds to close out the spring term. Featuring 8 p.m. performances April 23, 24 and 25 and a 2 p.m. matinee on April 26, the play by Paul Zindel features the story of an alcoholic mother raising two daughters in a miserable home where she also cares for terminally ill patients. In the midst of the depression, the daughters are able to survive their upbringing, and the story deals with the idea of the victim mentality and being a survivor. The unusual title comes from a science experiment one of the daughters is conducting for school.

Besides the major musical production, the other change for the 2008-09 season is the addition of a Sunday matinee of all plays instead of the two-week runs. The change was initiated in order to give students involved in theatre productions fewer weekends consumed by rehearsals and work calls and to “give them a breather and some down time.” He thinks audiences will enjoy the afternoon opportunity to catch the production as well.

Season tickets for Wayland Theatre are $45 for a single ticket and $85 for a pair, both representing a savings over the regular price of admission for the four shows. Season tickets may be purchased in advance, eliminating the need for waiting in lines for performances.

To purchase season tickets, contact the theatre box office at (806) 291-1089.