Originally Posted Online: Sept. 05, 2013, 11:25 am
Last Updated: Sept. 05, 2013, 11:27 pm

'Spamalot,' 'Green River' on new college season

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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

Photo: Todd Mizener
Director Phil McKinley is shown at the Village Theatre in East Davenport, in summer 2010.

A busy Broadway director back at his alma mater and a local production premiere of the musical hit "Spamalot" are among highlights of the 2013-14 theater season at Augustana College and St. Ambrose University.

Phil McKinley (Augie class of 1973), director of the Tony-winning "The Boy From Oz" and the current "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark" on Broadway, returns to direct the new play, "A Green River," Dec. 11-15 at Potter Theatre.

In the play by Aaron Randolph III, of Davenport, (which premiered in July at QC Theatre Workshop), Erik White is a young veteran who has returned from overseas to a world he struggles to recognize. As Erik contemplates his fate on the banks of a green river, the realities of being a soldier, a husband and an expectant father weigh heavily on his already troubled mind.

Mr. McKinley directed a Curtainbox Theatre production of "Wit" in summer 2010 in the Village of East Davenport, and soon after, he purchased a home in Davenport. Mr. McKinley -- who received an honorary doctorate last year at Augustana -- has directed around the world, including more Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses than any other living person, and this will be the first time he's directed at Augie since he graduated 40 years ago.

College president Steve Bahls and theater department chair Jeff Coussens asked Mr. McKinley to do something here, and they originally planned the 1982 drama "Agnes of God"; then Mr. McKinley saw "A Green River." He previously had worked with Mr. Randolph, who wrote incidental music for "Wit."

"I really responded to the play; it stayed with me," the director said this week of "Green River," noting his husband works with soldiers at Rock Island Arsenal. "It's a very personal subject matter to us, and I felt the play deserved to go on and have another life," Mr. McKinley said.

"For me, it's important to not only develop new work, it's a work that's important for students to see," he said, adding the play's protagonists are in the same range as college students. Mr. Coussens told him he wanted to program more plays that students can relate to. Compared to the original Workshop staging of "A Green River," Mr. Randolph is doing a major re-write and they will cast more actors in the roles (unlike the original, where a few actors played multiple roles).

"I love doing new work -- the object is to develop the play further, hopefully for it to go on from here," Mr. McKinley said, considering a future New York production. There also will be some Q & A sessions after one or more shows with soldiers from the Arsenal who have dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

"I don't know of a play that addresses PTSD as this does. I always look for original plays that are featuring subject matter that have not necessarily been presented before," Mr. McKinley said. "What's so great about it, Jeff Coussens and everybody at Augustana is very supportive of it."

At St. Ambrose, veteran director Mike Kennedy returns (after retiring in 2009 after 40 years as SAU theater professor) to helm the Monty Python-inspired musical "Spamalot," which came to Davenport's Adler Theatre Nov. 21, 2010, in a touring production but hasn't been done by a local company.

Based on the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (with book and lyrics by Eric Idle), the original 2005 Broadway production was directed by Mike Nichols and won three Tonys, including Best Musical. It will be performed at SAU's Galvin Fine Arts Center on Oct. 4-6.

Other shows coming this season to Galvin are:

-- "The Laramie Project" (Feb. 21-23), a docudrama based on the 1998 brutal beating death of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo. Moises Kaufman and fellow members of the Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie and interviewed more than 200 residents. The result was this play, which chronicles life in the town the year after the murder, and which was done in 2009 at Davenport North High School.

-- "The Importance of Being Earnest" (April 11-13), a rousing, romantic farce by Oscar Wilde. First performed in 1895, it is one of the "most cherished plays in the English language," according to SAU. It's a stylish send-up of Victorian courtship and manners, with bachelors Jack and Algernon leading double lives to woo two young ladies.

Augustana's theater season also includes:

-- "The Marriage of Figaro" (Oct. 18-27), a comedy in five acts, written in 1778 by Pierre Beaumarchais and directed by Jennifer Popple, at Potter Theatre. Three years after the happy ending of "The Barber of Seville" (penned by the same playwright), it's the valet's turn to marry. But his master the Count has tired of his lovely Countess, and lusts for Figaro's bride-to-be, Suzanne. The play formed the basis for Mozart's immortal opera of the same name.

--Student-Produced Short Play Festival (Feb.2-4), titles to be determined.

-- "Something's Afoot" (May 2-11), presented in conjunction with Opera @ Augustana, at Potter Theatre, directed by Jeff Coussens with musical direction by John Pfautz. A zany, entertaining musical (which premiered in 1972) that takes a satirical poke at Agatha Christie mysteries and styles of the English music hall of the '30s. Ten people are stranded in an isolated English country house during a raging thunderstorm. One by one they're picked off by cleverly fiendish devices. The musical was done this past spring at Quad City Music Guild.

--Quad City Playwrights' Festival (May 17), the 15th annual celebration of local playwrights. Submissions are from area playwrights from high school through adult. The 10-minute plays selected are given a director and a cast of Augustana students and are brought to life before an audience.

For more information about Augustana arts offerings, visit augustana.edu/arts. To learn more about SAU's Galvin season, visit sau.edu/Galvin.html.