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Production uses comic improv to examine life’s important questions

April 24, 2013 12:00AM

Production uses comic improv to examine life’s important questions

Cynthia Allan believes that some of life’s most important and most poignant moments occur while we are engaged in mundane tasks. That’s the premise that drives “The History of Laundry,” an original work conceived and directed by Allan.

Allan, chairperson of the Department of Communication at Pittsburg State University, will direct PSU’s Advanced Performance Ensemble in the presentation of  “The History of Laundry,” April 25-28 in the Studio Theatre on Joplin Street.

Allan said the idea for “The History of Laundry,” came to her many years ago when a friend made an off-hand remark about her “history of laundry.” Allan began thinking about the number of times laundry is referred to in our daily expressions.

“We talk about sorting things out, ironing out our problems, airing our grievances, and we admonish people not to air their dirty laundry. Really, I started thinking that laundry was a great metaphor for all our interactions,” Allan said.

Allan constructed the play as a series of loosely woven scenes that follow the “cycle” of laundry: sorting, washing, spinning, drying, and folding. As the play progresses, parents and children, couples, neighbors, and others deal with the issues and contradictions of daily life in the world of the “metaphorical” laundry room.

“We call it a comic improv,” said Allan, “but some of the scenes hit very close to home and often take a serious turn.”

Allan said her approach to improvisation, while a “very exciting way to work,” comes with its own set of demands.

“In my productions, even though the actors know the basic structure of every scene, everything they say happens in the moment,” Allan said.

Typically, Allan said, she works for a year or more on the structure of the piece and then spends a semester teaching the acting ensemble to fill in the scenes.

“I create the skeleton and the actors put the meat on the bones,” Allan said. “It does require a fast mind. Every night is different.”

PSU’s production of “The History of Laundry,” will be the third time the production has been staged. Allan did a workshop production of the show in 1998 in South Carolina. She was asked to recreate it in 1999 at Allegheny College, where she was an artist in residence.

“I thought it was time to see if (it) still had the same magic as the first, early productions,” Allan said.

Members of the acting ensemble include Taylor Patterson, Morgan Beach, Jesse Gregory, Caitlin Almond, Jacob Hacker, Lara Ismert, Robert Wilson, and Jeanine Kunshek. Joining them on stage are improvisational veterans and PSU alumni Megan Westhoff and Angella Curran.

The technical crew, includes Elle Walker, Amie Beggs, and C. J. Baccus. Costumes are provided by Lisa Quinteros with sets and lighting by Doug Bennett. Choreography is provided by Kaye L. Lewis, director of the Midwest Regional Ballet.

The History of Laundry runs Thursday through Saturday, April 25-April 27 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 28, at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre. The production is suggested for mature audiences. Entrance is on Joplin Street across from the Axe Library. Tickets are $10 for the general public, $6 for those under 17 or over 65, and FREE to anyone with a valid PSU photo ID. Tickets are available through the PSU Ticket Office at 620-235-4796 or at the door 30 minutes prior to curtain. Reservations are encouraged because of limited seating in the Studio Theatre.

©2013 Pittsburg State University

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