If you go
What: Tables to Woods: An Evening of Two Plays — "Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner" and "Wood Smoke"
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18, 19, 25, 26 and 2 p.m. Jan. 20
Where: Mary Miller Theater, 300 East Simpson St., Lafayette
Etc.: Due to adult content and explicit language, this show is not recommended for children.
Brad Rutledge and Paul Wells, veterans in the theatrical arts, have joined together to deliver two one-act plays sure to capture a sense of longing, the perils of the human condition and the inevitable shape-shifting nature of relationships.
"Tables to Woods," what the evenings of the two plays is dubbed, will start with Rutledge's "Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner," that serves up witty banter alongside sorrowful undertones, and end with Wells's "Wood Smoke," which provides a glimpse at a couple coming to terms with their own set of hardships while venturing through a rural forest that's within a summer camp closed up for the winter.
Just as intriguing as the productions, the venue, whose origins stretch back to 1892, holds a certain timeless mystique. Mary Miller Theater, in Lafayette, originally started as a Congregational Church and still bears the intricate stained-glass windows bestowed upon her all those years ago. It functioned as an emergency hospital, was filled with stacks of bound adventures when it was a library and has hosted a multitude of new works by local creatives as the home base of the Theater Company of Lafayette.
At the tables
"Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner," brings audiences into the various mealtimes of couples, all at different life stages, yet all played by the same two actors (Max Cabot and Beth Lietaert). The play opens with an elderly husband spoon-feeding his wife in the nursing home she now resides. Lunch features a duo of late-40s empty nesters in their kitchen, not knowing quite what to do with their home, sans child. The evening dish is enjoyed by twenty-somethings embarking on their second date. This dinner takes place at a sushi restaurant where fresh romance, nerves and potential is paired alongside nori, wasabi and soy sauce.
"The chronology of the ages of people dining is opposite chronologically of the time of day," said Rutledge. "No matter what stage of life you're in, it's a cycle. It turns around and around."
Limited motion occurs in this production, rather characters and stories are revealed through dialogue in between bites. Subtle costume changes are done in the dimmed light of stage corners between each satiating vignette. The set remains simple — a table and two chairs — much like the wardrobe of the actors.
"There's a fair amount of humor, even in the moments that are somewhat stressful," said Rutledge. "The common thread is the humanity that goes all the way through the play — the idea of human connection, how you get it, keep it and lose it if you're not careful."
Rutledge revealed the idea started after he heard about the popular dating app "It's Just Lunch." Originally, he thought about doing a series of scenes portraying couples all on first dates, but decided to go in a direction that would provide audiences with a more meaty and layered creation.
In the woods
As a child, playwright Wells attended a sleep-away camp in Wisconsin. The two summers he spent there would leave a lasting impression.
"It was the first time I experienced that tribal element of sitting around a campfire, singing, telling stories...totem poles," said writer and director of "Wood Smoke," Wells.
While "Wood Smoke" isn't about campers playing archery or competing in lakeside games of tag, the setting of an off-season summer camp sort of becomes a character in its own right. This ground, once rich with the sounds of laughing children and whistle-blowing counselors, is a chilly ghost town in late November.
The minimalist stage is set with a grouping of real tree stumps. Two married college professors, Richard (played by playwright of "Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner" Rutledge) and Jane, played by Madge Montgomery, find themselves deep in the frigid Wisconsin woods.They cross paths with a mysterious man named Terry, (played by Michael Gurshtein)who, like them, seems to be emotionally wounded. Richard is showing signs of early Alzheimer's and this is a point of sorrow for both he and his spouse Jane. Previous tragedies are revealed as the story unfolds.
"All the characters have a lot of trauma," said Wells. "Richard is struggling with his own cognitive decline. He's fully functioning, but starting to have episodes."
He is slowly slipping away, much like those carefree summers of his youth, and is filled with fear about the decline he is skidding into, yet he also seems to be in denial.
He teeters between being joyful and full of rage. Recounting his days as a camper, even joining in song with the man they encountered, Terry, and then unleashing his frustration on his spouse.
One of the most tension-filled moments occurs when an argument erupts after Jane expresses that her childhood wasn't as "idyllic" or "pastoral" as his. This surfaces on the heels of Richard falsely thinking Jane spent her summers at Girl Scout Camp.
Both productions bring to the forefront themes of loss and the all-encompassing desire for human connection.
"There's an intimacy implicit to the relationship between the performer and the audience," said Wells, who has penned more than 40 plays. "It's instant, powerful, a gut-level thing. In theater, I get to give people a visceral experience that they wouldn't get in front of their TV sets."
With a strong cast, powerful dialogue and unwavering authenticity, "Wood Smoke" is sure to leave a lasting impression long after patrons exit the historic theater.
"The play became about the subjectivity of our experiences and conformation bias," said Wells. "Our memories of the past are largely constructed, as is the present. One's experience of life is largely a culmination — a card deck — of constructed memories."
Kalene McCort: 303-473-1107, firstname.lastname@example.org.