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Dark comedy 'The Optimist' to be presented at IUP

on September 26, 2013 11:00 AM

The Department of Theater and Dance at Indiana University of Pennsylvania will open their 2013-14 Theater-by-the-Grove season with “The Optimist,” by Jason Chimonides, on Oct. 3. The dark comedy will run Oct. 4 and 5 and also Oct. 9-12, at 8 p.m. A matinee will be offered on Sunday, Oct. 6, at 2 p.m. Performances will be presented on the Waller Hall Mainstage.

Over the course of one tumultuous weekend, Noel Hennessey, 25, returns to his hometown of Tallahassee, Fla. Simultaneously, he confronts the sudden death of his best friend, Tanya; the wedding of his philandering father, Hambone; and the re-emergence of his one true love, Nicole.

A hilarious, thought-provoking journey punctuated by the puerile antics of Noel’s fraternal twin brother, Declan, “The Optimist” follows three young people into a rundown motel room where they tackle unfinished romance, the imminent arrival of a rampaging patriarch, and the threat of advancing adulthood.

When casting the play, director April Daras sought three actors who could not only believably portray the bewildering and lovable characters, but who also displayed strong skills in physical and vocal expression.

“Since our production will employ a fair amount of physical interaction among the characters, including some creative and humorous forms of stage violence, we needed to cast actors who were bold, physically courageous and disciplined,” Daras said. “The actors need to commit to strong physical choices, yet be able to remain in control of their actions, thus ensuring the safety of themselves and of fellow cast members.”

Two of the actors, Matthew Smith and Ken Singleton, bring to the production substantial stage combat experience earned under the choreographic tutelage of Michael Hood, dean of the College of Fine Arts.

Muscular, contemporary language is a powerful component of “The Optimist” script.

To paraphrase Chimonides, these characters make choices about the words they use. Out of all the possible words available to describe a thing, an experience, or an idea, characters in the play search for and utilize words that most specifically invoke the image one seeks to communicate.

“To meet the demands of this playful and complex play, our company has been provided with an amazing support system,” Daras said.

In addition to an experienced cast of IUP theater majors, Smith and Eric Barvinchak are working with Hood to carefully and creatively choreograph each sequence of stage violence. IUP theater student Devon-Marie Pettie is providing supplemental reference material for the cast as the production dramaturg, while members of the company are enjoying the unique privilege of direct communication with the playwright, a former IUP theater faculty member.

The production reunites former colleagues and classmates, Daras and Chimonides. The two studied acting and directing at Florida State University in Tallahassee between 1999 and 2004. Their common experiences in training, previous collaborations as performing artists, and frequent stimulating and philosophical conversations bring together forces of familiarity to the production of a play that explores the very real impermanence of existence.

Tickets for “The Optimist” are available at the Hadley Union Building on Pratt Drive and at IUPTickets.com. Seats remaining will be sold at the door starting 45 minutes before each performance.

Tickets are priced at $14 for regular admission, $12 for senior citizens and groups of fifteen or more, and $9 with a university I-card. Tickets may also be purchased with a credit card Monday through Thursday by calling the HUB box office at (724) 357-1313.

For more information, contact the Lively Arts at (724) 357-ARTS (2787) or email lively-arts@iup.edu.

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