‘Eminent Domain’ Conquers the Playhouse

An estranged family reunites to wage battle against an oil company seeking to use eminent domain to claim part of the family’s land.  But the fallout from the court battle and the actions of one of the company’s employees may tear the family asunder once more.  This is the story of Eminent Domain by Laura Leininger-Campbell which is making its world premiere at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Ms Leininger-Campbell has written an exceptionally thought-provoking and powerful story.  What I found most impressive about the tale was its deceptive simplicity.  Through ordinary conversation, Ms Leininger-Campbell taps into the heart of what it means to be family.  The love.  The banter.  The fights.  The heartache.  The camaraderie.   The unity.  It’s undoubtedly one of the most real and believable plays I have ever seen with a tight, well-balanced script that gives all of its characters a chance to shine.

This strong script is further aided by a cast consisting of the cream of Omaha theatre under the watchful eye of Amy Lane who leads her cast to a series of sterling and stellar performances.

Memorable performances are supplied by Chris Shonka and Christina Rohling.  Shonka plays Trent Nichols, an attorney for the oil company who seems like a decent man who, through business or circumstance, brings the MacLeod family buckets of grief when he files the claim of eminent domain and cuckolds the son of the MacLeod patriarch.  Ms Rohling plays Theresa MacLeod, the unhappy wife of the cuckold who feels like, and is treated as, an outsider by the MacLeods and longs for a better life away from the farm.

My personal favorite performance was Eric Salonis’ interpretation of the autistic Evan MacLeod.  As Evan, Salonis nails the nuances of autism with his completely blank features, failure to make eye contact, laserlike focus on tasks, twitching, monotone speech patterns, and repetitive motions.  Though he often seems in his own world, Salonis’ Evan is more aware of things than one may think as he often tries to help his family through difficult moments by offering them his grandfather’s watch to wind.

Bill Hutson is quite the character as Rob MacLeod.  As the patriarch of the MacLeod clan, he is irascible, foul mouthed, set in his ways, and slightly prejudiced.  Hutson effortlessly swings from one extreme to the other as Rob engages in loud arguments with his family and then, just as easily, sits down for an enjoyable meal with them.  Rob is the type of old-fashioned man who thinks he always has to be strong and in control to lead his family which makes his emotional collapse in Act II all the more heart-wrenching.  But his collapse is what finally allows him to show his real heart and strength.

Erika Hall Sieff is definitely her father’s child as Adair MacLeod.  She is just as stubborn and pig-headed as he is and their similarities led to their long estrangement prior to the events of the play.  Ms Hall Sieff is marvelous as the lawyer who returns home to help save the family farm from the greedy oil company and well embodies Adair’s potent sense of justice.

Jeremy Estill gets the play’s most tragic character in Bart MacLeod.  Estill’s Bart is a borderline, if not full-blown, alcoholic whose drinking hides his frustration at giving up a potential and promising career as a poet to return to the family to help his father, Rob.  Estill’s Bart has an incredible command of the English language which he uses to provide some of the show’s lighter moments and softening some of the darker ones.  Despite his issues, Estill will make you feel Bart’s pain when he learns of his wife’s adultery and finally explains the motivations for his life’s choices.

Technically, this show was a masterpiece.  I was floored by Michael Campbell’s scores and arrangements, especially the driving drumbeat in Act II which supports the play’s darkest moments.  John Gibilisco’s sounds were top notch especially the sound effects of the thunderstorms that served as ominous omens.  Jim Othuse’s farmhouse was a thing of beauty and his lights were wonderful in showing the passage from day to night.  Megan Kuehler’s rural costumes really gave the actors the look and feel of a Nebraska farming family.

Ultimately, this play is a great slice of life story.  While it may sound cliché, you will laugh, cry, and think.  Eminent Domain is a real winner and I am so pleased that the Playhouse took a chance on mounting such an extraordinary story.  Don’t do a disservice to yourself by missing this show.

Eminent Domain runs at the Omaha Playhouse through Sept 17. Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students.  For tickets, contact the Playhouse at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to strong language and some mature themes, this show is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

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World Premiere Launches OCP’s Season

World Premiere of Eminent Domain

Opens Aug. 25, 2017 at the Omaha Community Playhouse

Omaha, Neb. – The world premiere of Eminent Domain will open the 2017-18 Omaha Community Playhouse season with an August 25 – September 17, 2017 run in the Howard Drew Theatre. Written by Omaha playwright Laura Leininger-Campbell, Eminent Domain tells a relevant story of a Nebraska family farm threatened by the construction of an oil pipeline and the ensuing conflict that emerges within. This 2016 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference finalist, originally conceived for Shelterbelt Theatre’s Before the Boards series, exposes the hard-fought battle between Nebraska farmers and corporate energy. Disclaimer: Contains adult language

Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of Eminent Domain has been named an official event of the Nebraska 150 Celebration, which is a yearlong celebration across the state of Nebraska in 2017 marking the 150th year of statehood. The Sesquicentennial is a strategic initiative that promotes a spirit of pride, growth, engagement and connection within our state by bridging Nebraskans across different communities, perspectives and cultures. For more information, visit https://ne150.org/calendar/eminent-domain-world-premiere-play/.

Production:        World Premiere of Eminent Domain 

Credits:                By Laura Leininger-Campbell

Director:              Amy Lane

Cast

Bill Hutson as Rob MacLeod

Erika Hall Sieff as Adair MacLeod

Jeremy Estill as Bart MacLeod

Christina Rohling as Theresa MacLeod

Cork Ramer as Cam MacLeod

Judy Radcliff as Jane MacLeod

Eric Salonis as Evan MacLeod

Chris Shonka as Trent Nichols

Thomas Becker as Mateusz Wojciechowski

Show Dates:       Aug. 25-Sept. 17, 2017 (Thursday – Sunday matinee) 

Tickets:                At the OCP Box Office, by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com or www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets start at $36 for adults and start at $22 for students. Ticket prices are subject to change based on performance date, seat location and ticket demand. Call the OCP box office for current prices.  For groups of 12 or more, tickets are $24.

Discounts:           Twilight Tickets – A limited number of tickets are available at half price after noon the day of the performance at the Box Office. Cash or check only. Subject to availability. 

Sponsored by:   David and Anne Rismiller

Location:  Omaha Community Playhouse (Howard Drew Theatre), 6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE

Shelterbelt to Premiere ‘Neighbors, Lovers and All the Others’

Shelterbelt Theatre is pleased to present the premiere of Neighbors, Lovers and All the Others by Marie Amthor Schuett at 3225 California Street from July 14 to August 6, 2017.  The show is directed by Elizabeth Thompson.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm (except for August 6 which will be at 2pm).  Ticket prices are $12 for Thursday shows, $20 for Fri-Sun shows ($15 for students, seniors 65+, TAG members).  Tickets are on sale at www.shelterbelt.org (click box office) or boxoffice@shelterbelt.org or 402-341-2757.  On Saturday, July 15, the theatre will host a post-show talkback with playwright, Marie Amthor Schuett, and other members of the cast and creative team.

Loyal lives a life of blue kimonos, Judy Garland, and Pavarotti.  Facing a serious bout of composer’s block, he finds inspiration in an unlikely source–his handsome neighbor–who seriously needs curtains.  When lives intertwine, Loyal finds there is more to his neighbor than the window into his world originally revealed.

The cast features Randall T. Stevens, Connie Lee, Katie Nguyen, and Brandon Williams.  Creative staff includes Jayma Smay (Stage Manager), Kevin Goshorn (Assistant Director), Joshua Mullady (Set & Lighting Design), Lora Kaup (Costume Design), Shannon Smay (Sound Design), and Robyn Helwig (Props).

“This play was inspired by the music of the brilliant singer/songwriter, Rufus Wainwright, my lifelong crush on Judy Garland, the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams, and a summer I spent in the Rocky Mountains a few years ago.  It was the epitome of the Gatsbian–self-indulgent, luxurious, and free.  I wanted to capture the essence of that summer and experience in a play,” Schuett explained.

She continues, “Neighbors is a very different piece for me.  I posed this play as a personal challenge to myself once I realized it had the potential to be different from my other work.  What would happen if I altered the play’s physics of time and space to tell the story in a different way?”

“Who doesn’t want a few hours of jazz, opera, romance, drama, lots of laughs, and spritzers on a warm summer’s evening?” adds Thompson.  “I am excited for people to se Marie’s versatility in this piece.”

Shelterbelt produced Amthor Schuett’s award-winning play, The Other Sewing Circle, in January 2015 to sold out houses.  “For fans of Marie’s work, get ready to see a sexier side of her storytelling.  One of Marie’s many talents as a playwright is her ability to establish believable, and juicy, relationships between her characters rather quickly so as an audience we are able to comfortably go on this ride from the start,” Thompson continues.

Thompson, who is also Shelterbelt’s Artistic Director, helped choose the script for production.  “It has to begin with the story; is it something that we want to see?  What does this story have to say or contribute that feels fresh and different?  Do I like or relate to the characters?  Neighbors held all of this for me and as we have begun working on it so many other little gems have popped out and been fleshed out by the design and acting team.”

Schuett agrees, “Randall, Connie, Brandon, and Katie are a fearless bunch who bring everything they have to the table every rehearsal.  It’s hard not to fall completely in love with them as these characters.”

Jaim Hackbart is the featured artist in the gallery.

Shelterbelt Theatre is Omaha’s home for new plays.  The play concludes Shelterbelt’s 24th season, By Local/Buy Local, featuring scripts celebrating our local playwrights.  Shelterbelt Theatre is a 2015 and 2016 recipient of the International 50/50 Applause Award by the International Centre For Women Playwrights, which honors theatres that produce a season with an equal or greater number of plays written by female playwrights.  (www.womenplaywrights.org)

‘Catherland’ to Premiere at Shelterbelt

SHELTERBELT PRESENTS THE PREMIERE OF CATHERLAND BOOK/LYRICS BY BECKY BOESEN, MUSIC BY DAVID VON KAMPEN, APRIL 21-MAY 14, 2017

Shelterbelt Theatre is pleased to present the premiere of Catherland, book and lyrics by Becky Boesen, music by David von Kampen, at 3225 California Street, April 21- May 14, 2017. Performances are Thursday/Friday/Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 6pm (except for May 14 at 2pm.) (Thursdays | $15 • Friday/Saturday/Sunday | $25 – general, $20 – students, seniors 65+, TAG). Tickets are on sale at www.shelterbelt.org (click box office), or boxoffice@shelterbelt.org, or 402.341.2757.

In Catherland it becomes clear “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” Susan made a deal with her husband: once her first book is done, they’ll start a family. As the ink dries on the final page, the couple moves from Chicago to Red Cloud, NE, hoping to begin a simpler life. A slew of mysterious guests prove that there’s nothing simple about small town living. Dreams shatter, plans change, and the trajectory of Susan’s future takes new shape in the looming shadow of American novelist, Willa Cather. Susan just hopes to make it out alive.

The cast features: Jennifer Gilg, Sara Planck, Laurel Rothamel, Craig Bond, Randy Vest and Ben Adams.

Creative staff includes: Stage Manager: JoAnn Goodhew • Assistant Director: Meganne Storm • Set Design: Bill Van Deest • Lighting Design: Carol Wisner • Costume Design: Erienne Wrendt • Sound Design: Roxanne Wach • Props: Roxanne Wach, Meganne Storm • Fight Director: Terry Doughman • Piano: Peggy Holloway • Cello: Asia Wilson, Tom Miller • Percussion: Dan Wach

“I am excited to bring Catherland to Omaha. It’s a Nebraska story by Nebraska artists. There aren’t a lot of new musicals being written around here, so being able to workshop one is such a treat,” said Roxanne Wach, director. “When I read an early draft of the script and heard some of the score, I knew there was something special here – a good ghost story and really evocative music. It’s not a typical musical theatre tale, and I think that’s significant.”

Wach continues, “For fans of Cather, this is a fictionalized Willa, based on personal letters and touching on parts of her life. So, though there are ties in the script to several Willa Cather works, this is a modern story. I have such a soft spot for Willa and the prairie.”

“The prairie is vast and beautiful and terribly mysterious. Its openness inspires possibility, but, also, there are places where if you screamed, no one would hear you… Catherland explores that juxtaposition,” Boesen adds. “The feeling of Nebraska lends itself to such a special and unique aesthetic. We like to create shows that feel like where we live. It’s a pretty good place.”

Boesen and von Kampen both lived in Nebraska as children and moved back to Lincoln as adults to raise their respective families. Boesen is a writer, lyricist, director, actor, and teaching artist. She is the recipient of three Mayor’s Arts Awards in Lincoln, NE, a 2015 Kimmel Harding Nelson Center Artist in Residence, and in 2014, was honored as a Nebraska Individual Artist Fellowship Award recipient by the Nebraska Arts Council. Her work is frequently commissioned and has garnered awards from well-recognized organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts.

Von Kampen is a six-time Downbeat Award winner in graduate-level jazz writing categories, a three-time winner of the Vancouver Chamber Choir Young Composers Competition, and the recipient of a 2015 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer award. His creative work spans a wide variety of genres, including jazz, choral music, chamber music and musical theater. This range is apparent in Catherland, which incorporates a variety of influences into the score.

Wach feels that the music is very accessible and possesses a unique voice in modern musical theatre. “I really love the music. I often find myself humming the songs. For auditions, we asked actors to learn a small snippet from the score. Many told me that the music really made them want to be a part of the production.”

“I hope the music is consistently reflecting the tone of the story,” explains von Kampen. “I wanted it to serve Becky’s words and give the characters a jolt in the arm at the most important moments. Mostly, I just tried to write good songs.”

Wach says that Shelterbelt takes its mission of producing only new work very seriously. “There are few cities Omaha’s size, who have a theatre that produces only new plays. New plays are vital for a vibrant arts community. There’s something so thrilling about investing in the unfamiliar,” she continues. “Just knowing that you’re a part of a group of people all experiencing the play for the first time, together.”

“It’s so important as a writing team to have the opportunity to see your work on its feet,” said Boesen. “Our friends at Shelterbelt allow us to walk the wire and provide the net. Roxanne and her cast and crew are so supportive and create a safe environment to experiment with changes. That’s a gift.””

Special events during the run of Catherland include:

  • Sat., April 22 • Post-show Talkback with playwright and composer
  • Thurs., May 4 • post-show Cather Scholar Panel with Chuck Johanningsmeier, PhD. and Rev. Steven P. Ryan

UNO Professor Charles Johanningsmeier was the recent recipient of a Fulbright Senior Scholar award and taught for a full academic year in the Institute for American Studies at the University of Leipzig, in Germany. He is frequently consulted by scholars around the world for his expertise in how fictions published in both books and periodicals affected the attitudes and actions of American readers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is a member of the Board of Governors for the Willa Cather Foundation.

Rev. Steven P. Ryan is Chaplain at Creighton University School of Dentistry. He holds a doctorate in American literature from the University of Texas at Austin, and his dissertation was on spiritual themes in the fiction of Willa Cather.

  • Sat., May 6, 2pm • Emerging Composer Workshop with David von Kampen, for high school and up

Songwriters and composers: bring compositions already in progress and your questions about composing for thoughtful comments and suggestions from award-winning composer, David von Kampen, a six-time Downbeat Award winner in graduate-level jazz writing categories, a three-time winner of the Vancouver Chamber Choir Young Composers Competition, and the recipient of a 2015 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer award. His creative work spans a wide variety of genres, including jazz, choral music, chamber music and musical theater. He is a lecturer of music theory and literature at the UNL, where he directs the UNL Vocal Jazz Ensemble. He also teaches applied composition at Concordia University, NE, and serves as Music Coordinator for Blended Worship at Christ Lutheran Church in Lincoln.

  • Thurs. May 11 • 7pm: Pre-show Book Discussion What is the best Cather novel? Make a case for your favorite! A lively discussion led by playwright Ellen Struve.

All programs are at the theatre.

In the gallery, Shelterbelt is pleased to present cold wax and oil works by Lori Elliott-Bartle. Bartle teaches workshops through Omaha Creative Institute and independently. She is also a teaching artist through the Midwest Artist Studios project, which links artists with school classrooms throughout an 11-state region. She will be exhibiting her work with Kris Allphin May-July at the Crane Trust, Wood River, NE.

Shelterbelt Theatre is Omaha’s home for new plays. This is Shelterbelt’s 24th season, By Local/Buy Local, featuring scripts celebrating our local playwrights. Shelterbelt Theatre is a 2015 and 2016 recipient of the international 50/50 Applause Award by the International Centre for Women Playwrights, which honors theatres that produce a season with an equal or greater number of plays written by female playwrights. (www.womenplaywrights.org).

This production is made possible with support from Nebraska Arts Council | Nebraska Cultural Endowment.

Auditions for OCP’s 93rd Season Premiere, ‘Eminent Domain’

Eminent Domain (World Premiere)

Aug. 25 – Sept. 17, 2017
Howard Drew Theatre (Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)
By Laura Leininger-Campbell
Director: Amy Lane

Does oil run thicker than blood? Or will a pipeline splitting the prairie tear a family apart? A 2016 Eugene O’Neil National Playwrights Conference finalist, originally conceived for Shelterbelt Theatre’s Before the Boards series, Eminent Domain tells a relevant story of a Nebraska family farm threatened by the construction of an oil pipeline and the ensuing conflict that emerges within. On the surface, Eminent Domain exposes the hard-fought battle between Nebraska farmers and corporate energy. Dig deeper and the greater struggle is revealed: the fight to preserve our Heartland’s farms and the livelihood of the people who live here. Our most crucial resource is not just the land we are privileged to attend with cracked and calloused hands—it is our kin, our clan and our heritage. Join us for this world premiere of an Omaha playwright’s work.

Auditions: Wed. March 22 and Thur. March 23 at 7:00pm
Auditions will consist of cold readings from the script.

Cast of Characters:
ROB MACLEOD (60’s) A rancher and farmer. His farm is threatened with eminent domain.
ADAIR MACLEOD (30’s-40’s) Rob’s daughter, an attorney. She comes home to help Rob fight against the pipeline.
BART MACLEOD (30’s-40’s) Rob’s son, a rancher and farmer, and a writer. He lives and works on the farm.
THERESA MACLEOD (30’s) Bart’s wife. She lives with Bart on his father’s family farm.
CAM MACLEOD (60’s) Rob’s brother. His farm connects with Rob’s, and they share the day-to-day-work.
JANE MACLEOD (60’s) Cam’s wife. She loves her son, Evan, and her niece and nephew Adair and Bart fiercely.
EVAN MACLEOD (30’s-40’s) Cam and Jane’s son. He is autistic. He communicates in different ways.
TRENT NICHOLS (30’s-40’s) An employee of Canadian Energy.
MAT SALINAS (30’s-40’s) An attorney. He represents Rob in his fight against the pipeline.