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September 28 the County Seat Theater Company presented a World Premiere of Denise Hinson’s Sweet, directed by Joel Soukkala. I took advantage of an opportunity to attend the third performance Sunday afternoon and was totally impressed by the caliber of the writing as well as the performances of the players in this community theater production.
More than 1200 community theaters were in competition to be selected in the NewPlayFest, a national community theater competition in which more than 280 playwrights submitted scripts. Six theatre troupes were selected, one of these being the Encore Performing Arts Center and this production, Sweet. Dignitaries from around the country were on hand for Friday evening’s Premiere, along with playwright Ms. Hinson.
THE SETTING is a rural home, away from the big city, tucked away in a hidden corner of the world, a private space where an old boxer and his wife live, along with a daughter in his mid-thirties and her teenaged son. There’s a living room and house interior to the left with an outdoor setting to the right. By means of crickets and birdsongs we know when scenes move from day into night.
“Sweet” is the nickname of Clemmet Carter (Michael Rosea), a former champion boxer who once had a killer left hook. From the start the oxygen tank he relies on makes us aware that he is a weakened man. His wife Addie (Ruthie Breuer), we learn, has become the family’s anchor, working as a cleaning lady for wealthy people whom we will learn more about later. Their daughter Ruby and grandson Christopher also live in the home.
THE PLAY opens with darkness on the set, but we hear the sound of breathing and the oxygen tank. As the lights rise so does the old fighter, opening with a soliloquy, reminiscing about his life in the ring. “I dream... I am a god... There is only room for one hero in this ring. I swing... and then... I wake up.”
His wife Addie enters the room and shares a dream she just had. “I dreamed last night I had a baby.” This is interpreted to mean something good is coming, but also serve to set up a couple humorous lines both sooner and later.
Ruby is introduced next, followed by Christopher, enabling us to get a quick glance at the central characters with a few simple brushstrokes. Equally swift is the screenwriter’s skill at engaging the audience. Several lines bring chuckles and light laughter, which affirms a connection was being successfully established early on.
All great stories involve characters. Each character has to have a motivation, a quest. Their personal quest is what drives the story. In Sweet Denise Hinson quickly reveals a few motivations, but takes her time drawing out the other characters drives. For example, early on we learn that Ruby’s son Christopher has a passion for illustration. He carries a sketchbook and dreams of being an artist of sorts, an illustrator of graphic novels, something his mom considers impractical in today’s world. As the story unfolds we see that Ruby’s dream is to escape this isolated home in a remote corner of the world. And the opportunity presents itself when a journalist from Chicago, Trevor Wallace (Greg J. Anderson), arrives with his own personal quest: to write a book about this once great boxer whom he saw fight when he was a boy. Trevor Wallace becomes the catalyst that changes everything for all involved.
As all screenwriters and playwrights know, great films and great plays involve great scenes and great lines. Sweet has both. For example, at one point Clemmet Carter drops a glass. There’s a commotion, to which he responds, “I broke a glass, not a hip.” It’s a hilarious comeback, and the play is full of these little embellishments, light touches that the audience readily responded to.
The journalist succeeds in obtaining access to the old boxer. During their first interview we learn that Clemmet Carter gained the nickname Sweet because of his skill at nailing his opponent’s sweet spot with his potent left hook.
One of the creative thematic elements is a massive 3000-piece jigsaw puzzle that the old boxer and his grandson have been working on from the beginning of the play. It’s a background motif, symbolism of an incomplete picture of the family and their story, which at root is a story about secrets. At different times various characters help Sweet put a few of the pieces together. At a certain point, when Clemmet inserts the last piece, the audience understands that there will be a greater clarity coming soon in the lives of all these characters. Sweet doesn’t realize it, but the audience has been forewarned, an old Hitchcockian trick that Hinson works in seamlessly.
To say much more would be to give away too much, but as things unravel in the latter part of the play, we increasingly discover there are family secrets which Addie Carter has spent a lifetime burying in order to keep them from coming to light. The journalist, not having realized what he has unearthed, must follow his own passion while the other characters deal with the debris that is their lives.
I can’t tell you more without shouting “spoiler alert.” The revelations will whipsaw you like a sidewinder. Hinson’s story is masterfully crafted, and the cast was very much up for the occasion.
If you’ve never been, the Encore is a wonderful space and the County Seat Theater Company is a worthwhile contribution to the community. The CSTC has been recognized by the American Association of Community Theater. A big shout out to the cast and director Joel Soukkala, for their superb interpretation of Denise Hinson’s rewarding script.
There will be five more performances October 3-7. To purchase tickets, or to learn more about other upcoming shows, visit the County Seat Theater website at www.countyseattheater.com
Another feature of the Encore Theater is an art gallery, curated by artist Kris Nelson, with work by a number of familiar names in the local art scene, including a few pieces by Ms. Nelson. When you go see the play next week (recommended) take time during the intermission to enjoy the art and purchase a raffle ticket to support expansion of the theater. You’ll also find wine and sweets.
A retired ad man, Ed Newman is an avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature and all things Dylan.