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A priest makes his mark on the theater scene
A theatrical collaboration between a Catholic priest and a New York Times bestselling author will bloom on an Island stage next week, when Vashon Allied Arts presents two one-act plays, “The Cure: A Tale” and “Uncommon Clay,” as part of its 2011 New Works series.
The plays were adapted from short stories written by Susan Vreeland, a California writer best known for her novel, “Girl in Hyacinth Bloom,” and will feature both professional and amateur Island performers.
But what makes the production so special is that the works were adapted and have been directed by Rev. Marc Powell, who has served as St. John Vianney Church’s priest for the past two years.
“I gave him carte blanche — I trust him,” said Vreeland, from her San Diego home. “I think he has the insight to search out the core values of these stories and display them.”
Vreeland, who will travel to Vashon to attend a free preview of the plays on Tuesday, March 22, added that she was “delighted with the turn of events — that a parish and a priest is engaging in literature, particularly.”
For Powell, a bespectacled 38-year-old man with a serene countenance and a soft, measured voice, the plays are part of an ongoing quest to create and celebrate art that lifts the human spirit.
“The Cure: A Tale,” set in the 1700s, tells the comedic story of Bernardo (played by Gordon Millar) and Salvatore (played by Vashon Opera singer Andy Krikawa), two unsophisticated Tuscan villagers who strike out for Rome on a quest to see great works of art.
Powell was especially drawn to the story, he said, because of the way the pair discover on their journey that “they had beauty and art with them all the time.”
“Uncommon Clay,” set in the present day, is a more serious drama about a young female potter (Roxanne Lyons), who learns how life and art can dovetail as she throws pots and cares for her mother (Patricia Kelly), who has Alzheimer’s disease.
A prolific writer and experienced playwright who minored in theater at Eastern Washington University, Powell said he had combed bookstores looking for stories to dramatize, but had been disappointed by what he called the “narcissistic” slant of many of the books he read.
“Everthing was very ‘woe is me,’” Powell said. “But (Vreeland’s) stories were different. They were about people who gave of themselves to other people.”
Powell wrote the plays two years ago, before arriving on Vashon, but six months ago, he engaged St. John Vianney’s parishioners and other Islanders in the process of bringing the plays to the stage.
An ecumenical book study group, headed by Powell, read and discussed four of Vreeland’s short stories, which included the stories Powell had adapted.
The group’s discussions and feedback, he said, prompted him to rewrite portions of his plays.
He also reached out to local artist Liz Lewis to create pottery for the set of “Uncommon Clay,” and asked Pat Churchill, an Islander with extensive experience working in film and television, to assist him in directing the show. Marcus Fellbaum, a St. John Vianney parishioner, has designed sound, and Methodist pastor Darryn Hewson will help with lighting.
“This is true community theater,” he said with a smile.
The local actors who are involved in the production agree.
“I think this is going to be a great show because we are very much working as a team,” said “The Cure” actor Gordon Millar, who added that he loved his character and considered it the best part he has had in 30 years of working in the theater.
Millar’s wife, Patricia Kelly, who appears in both plays, echoed Millar’s enthusiasm.
“This has been the epitome of what a new work should be — a collaboration between the director and the entire cast and crew,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the caring and respect we all have for each other.”
For Powell, the two plays may be just the beginning of his theatrical output on Vashon.
He said he was delighted to be posted to serve on Vashon — a place he described as somewhere “you could throw a rock and find an actor or a venue to put on a play.”
Powell is currently at work on a short screenplay that is set on the Island, and he’s also writing an original full length play about Hurricane Katrina.
Vashon, he said, is an ideal place for such creative efforts.
“This Island is unique because it is so open to a varity of artistic styles, and it is a very open and welcoming place socially as well as artistically,” he said.
A free preview of “The Cure: A Tale” and “Uncommon Clay” will take play at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 22. Admission is a donation to the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank. Susan Vreeland will attend the preview and sign books afterwards. The show will also be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26. Tickets, $12/$15, are on sale at Blue Heron, Books by the Way, Heron’s Nest and www.brownpapertickets.org.