Vintage Theater Picks the Perfect Director to Tackle Issues of Culture and Identity in Chilling Thriller

period theater opened its season earlier in the month with the lighthearted musical The sleepy chaperonebut the next offering on the list is more serious: the regional premiere of At Julia Cho’s The piano teacher, a cleverly constructed, seemingly cozy room with darkness at its heart. The protagonist, Mrs. K, appears to be a typical kind piano teacher, now retired and sitting alone at home, talking about her former students.

However, there is a shadow in his life. Her late husband was an immigrant from a war-torn country.

Vintage Cho’s product The linguistic archives three years ago, and art director Bernie Cardell was impressed with the work. “So I went back to see what other pieces she had and found this gem,” he says. “I was fascinated by the character of Ms. K and knew what a wonderful challenge she would be for an actor. And the thirst for authentic connection is something everyone can relate to.

Vintage “has been through the last few years like most theaters here”, according to Cardell. “Flexibility, ingenuity and community. Today, we have more season subscribers than we’ve ever had in our history, and the performances are selling out. Audiences crave the community and connective experience that live theater provides. »

The piano teacher
opens September 23 and concludes October 16, with a lively mix of drama, comedy, and musical entertainment filling the season.

Dwayne Carrington readily agreed when Cardell asked him to direct. He is no stranger to questions of identity and empathy. I first saw him on stage twenty years ago in the Shadow Theater Company production of Athol Fugard My children ! My Africa! He played a nice teacher – also known by an initial: Mr. M – who works at a school in a poor black township. He oversees the preparation of the debate between a high-spirited white girl and the region’s star debater, eighteen-year-old Thami. The two argue fiercely, but they also learn from each other and eventually form a deep friendship – until politics intervenes. Thami, having become radicalized, disowns this friendship, and MM’s attempts at reconciliation, along with his belief that education is the solution to political violence, lead to his own death.

Carrington sheds specific light on The piano teacher. Cho, he notes, is a Korean-American playwright who studied at Berkeley, New York University and Juilliard. She doesn’t always spell out her characters’ backgrounds, but she “tries to place her cultural values ​​into every show she writes,” he says.

“She’s more of a memoir-type playwright,” he adds. “There are a lot of monologues in his shows. Mrs. K starts calling old students, and eventually two of them pay her a visit. She has an exchange with one of them, but then things take a dark turn.

“It’s the story of Mrs. K. But it centers around the relationship with her husband, although he’s never been seen on the show,” Carrington says.

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Jennifer McCray Rincon as Mrs. K.

RDG Photography

The script doesn’t specify which country Mr. K fled, but “I put Easter eggs in the show, and one of them has real names,” Carrington says. “I came up with a name based on where Mr. K might be from, his homeland. Cho writes with things that impress her with life, and I heard she had read about the genocide in rwanda it’s the main thing about the husband – this midwestern woman meets this guy, marries him and has the experience of what happened in his life juxtaposed with the fact that she’s a teacher of piano.

Although the piece is not very long, Carrington finds it deeply nuanced. “The show and the characters are so complex, you can’t read it once and get it,” he says. “Every time you read it there’s a new layer.”

When Carrington first reads a play he is considering directing, he does so as a spectator, he explains, asking himself, “How do I feel about it?

I first thought of three characters that needed to be whole,” he says of The piano teacher. “It’s the backbone of the piece. They are somewhat broken individuals, complete strangers.”

The piano teacher can be unsettling, he admits, “but all is not black.”

Carrington has been able to work in theater as an actor for the past two years despite the pandemic, and he’s also fortunate to have his day job utilizing his acting skills. He works with two universities, Anschutz Medical Campus and the Denver Osteopathic and Sports Medicine Center, where he assumes the role of different patients with various health conditions so that medical students can practice interacting with patients and learn the “bedside manner”.

“One thing I say [students] is the difference between that and what doctors actually do: at the end of that session, no one dies from your mistakes,” he says. He also reminds them: “Years ago, your parents and grandparents were with their doctor for thirty or forty years. Today, patients have a choice. How will your firm survive if you don’t know how to communicate with them?

“I can take a case where a patient is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and play it from when it’s first diagnosed until six or seven years later when the patient is in their final days,” he continues. “The student has to talk to them, both husband and wife. They have to understand when to use silence, when to speak or not to speak. They have to read the play. Eventually, the family has to sit down with the medical team and talk about the patient in his last days. Some students came back and said, “I went through exactly that situation, and if I hadn’t had that class, I wouldn’t have known how to handle it.”

Carrington often worked as an actor in plays exploring issues of race, identity, and prejudice. Last year, he played several roles in The Scottsboro Boys, a musical Vintage staged with director Betty Hart that tackles one of the ugliest events in American history – when nine Alabama teenagers were accused of raping two white women. He has also been involved with Shadow since the beginning. Under the direction of actor/producer Jeffrey Nickelson, the theater mounted a decade of compelling and instructive work in the former Ralph Waldo Emerson Center before moving in 2008 to the Dayton Street space that Vintage now occupies. The largest of its three performance spaces is named after Nickelson.

“I was one of the few people to stand in that space when it was empty,” Carrington recalled. “Totally drained. Jeffrey and I were on that stage. He began to explain his vision to me. We were both very happy.

But the beautiful new building also had maintenance issues – ongoing funding was an issue, and there were issues with the board. Nickelson quit, and a year later died of a heart attack.

“Shadow was his mistress,” Carrington says. “He loved her to death and she ultimately killed him. I tend to believe that Jeffrey’s spirit is in this building. I sat in the main theater and there’s a rumble, like if someone went through the ceiling. I always put that down to being their spirit. And I always appreciated that.

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Dwayne Carrington

Courtesy of Vintage Theater

One of the functions Shadow performed best was training young black actors, he says. But now it can be more difficult for directors to launch their shows. Although the result was very successful, “it was very difficult to launch The Scottsboro Boys“, he notes. “Finding fifteen black male actors in Denver, Colorado is quite an achievement. There are still situations where I was chosen because they needed a black guy, or now an older black guy. I was pigeonholed a lot. Oh, you’re the angry black man. And I’m like, ‘Why? I’m black, but I’m not angry.

“But work is work,” he continues. “I always look at the role and see what it’s about. I never take on a role that is below me or that would misrepresent who I am as a person.

A few years ago Carrington was cast as the Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy, a play that was considered liberal in the 1980s but now raises serious questions about race and privilege. “Hoke is a man of his time,” says Carrington. “There are things he might have to go through as a committed man.” He and his co-stars, Sam Gregory and Billie McBride, were aware of these issues and worked closely and collegially with each other.

“To this day,” Carrington laughs, “Billie calls me Hoke every time I see her, and I call her Miss Daisy.

“I try to find honor in it, and if I can’t find honor, I don’t care.”

Driving Miss Daisy is also on the Vintage program this fall.

Carrington believes the heightened awareness following the horrific death of George Floyd is a good thing, but says “since his death there have been countless cruelties and murders that have gone unnoticed,” notes he. “There are innocent lives taken. Hundreds of men and women killed just for being who they are. The inhumanity of man to man. That’s part of what Julia Cho is trying to show in all his plays, and more particularly in this one.”

The piano teacher, Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, through October 16, 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $34 general admission.