Characters examine selves, surrounding world in upcoming pair of E.M.U. Theatre one-acts

A theatrical exploration

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Personal exploration binds the two one-act plays E.M.U. Theatre will stage next weekend.

Performed back to back, "Girlz" and "The Rattler" both take close looks at the way humans engage with themselves, the world and the power structures that bind them together.

"Living in Pieces," the overarching name of the pair of plays, will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday at the South Park Recreation Center, 1141 Mass. It's E.M.U.'s 17th production and the last before the indie theater celebrates its fifth anniversary.

"Girlz," written by Kansas playwright Jeannine Saunders and directed by Ruth Gibson, is a tapestry of monologues in which nine women express their feelings about their appearances, relationships and dreams. Saunders examines her characters' hopes, frustrations and disappointments without passing judgment.

"The Rattler" is less introspective, focusing more on its four characters' relationships to the power structures that govern -- or attempt to govern -- their lives, says playwright and director Andrew Stowers.

The power structure remains unidentified, Stowers said, and the set and time period are never specified.

Parts of the show may be familiar to theatergoers who saw E.M.U.'s summer 2002 production of "Pull On It," a 10-minute play written by Stowers. "The Rattler" is an extended version of that piece.

He hopes the play inspires audience members to think and that they walk away with their own interpretation of what the characters' actions -- or lack of actions -- mean.

James Benkard, E.M.U. board member, said plans for the group's fifth anniversary show were still in the works. E.M.U. was in the process of obtaining nonprofit status so the group could apply for grants and expand its budget, he said. They hoped to have finalized that process by year's end.


Thad Allender/Journal-World Photo

Kevin Seiss, left, and Honey D. Hallock battle for possession of a gun while rehearsing a scene from "The Rattler." E.M.U. Theatre will stage "Girlz," by Jeannine Saunders, and "The Rattler," by Andrew Stowers, at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and July 20 at the South Park Recreation Center, 1141 Mass.

For now, though, the group, which has staged more than 30 plays -- both new and classic -- is staffed entirely by volunteers and has no permanent rehearsal or performance space. And that's all right with Stowers.

"We're limited in our resources, but all theater companies have those limits," he said. "But E.M.U. doesn't really restrict itself in terms of genre or style or subject matter. The fact that we might not have a big budget for set or costume or a permanent space that we can really build up -- we still have a lot of freedom in other ways that I think some theater companies don't have because of their responsibilities to pay their bills.

"If you can get it to fly with the group, you can do anything you want."