An array of well-known power couples on the local performance scene are the stars of “Savage/Love” — the latest offering from Vashon Repertory Theatre.
The show will be presented in a one-time-only broadcast at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, at vashoncenterforthearts.org.
The text of “Savage/Love,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard and avant-garde actor and director Joseph Chaikin, is a set of 19 poems, all exploring the puzzles and vagaries of romantic love.
Because of its experimental structure, “Savage/Love” has been staged in many different ways throughout the years since it debuted in 1979. Some productions have included dance, music and video installations. Cast sizes and configurations have varied as radically different interpretations of the show have been brought to life by different directors.
For VRT’s artistic director, Charlotte Tiencken, the show also seemed particularly pandemic-proof — perfect for a broadcast presentation, using solo performers to ensure that the rehearsals and filming of the show were COVID-safe.
But when Tiencken teamed up to co-direct the show with UMO Ensemble Executive Artist Elizabeth Klob, an even better idea snapped into place.
According to Tiencken, it was Klob who suggested casting Vashon couples in the show, saying that many of Shepard and Chaikin’s poems could be re-imagined as duo acts, and therefore separately rehearsed on Zoom and filmed for presentation.
“It was perfect — let’s find couples that are in each other’s bubbles so we don’t have to worry about COVID,” Tiencken said.
Together, Tiencken and Klob have stacked the cast with local names including Gina and Anthony Winkler, Stephen Floyd and Phil Dunn, Esther Edelman and Bill Moyer, Jeanne Dougherty and Bill Wood, David Godsey and Janet McAlpin, Arlette and Steffon Moody and Kevin Joyce and Martha Enson.
These couples have not only frequently performed together but also shared complex and long-term relationships that could be used as a springboard for their interpretations of the material.
Tacoma couple Ming Montgomery and Rowein Breaux — who are a part of the VRT company — will also appear together, performing one of the poems in the play.
Other local actors, including Cathy MacNeal, Maria Glanz, Samantha Sherman, Mik Kuhlman, Cate O’Kane, Tami Brockway Joyce, Paul Shapiro and Susan McCabe will be in the show, too. Kat Eggleston, a well-known singer-songwriter and theater artist, will provide musical interludes between each of the poems in the show, and also introduce the evening with her song, “Love is the Only Word.”
Tiencken said that she found directing the show with Klob to be a rich artistic experience — one that would have rewards for its audience as well.
Klob directed nine of the 19 scenes in the show, while Tiencken directed the other 10. And while “Savage/Love” was new to Tiencken, it’s Klob’s second time to direct the show — years ago, one of the first shows she directed in Seattle was a production of “Savage/Love.”
“The cool thing is that Elizabeth is very movement-oriented and I am very word and story-oriented, so the poems are all over the map,” Tiencken said. “The show is really interesting to watch because you never know what is going to happen next — it is very diverse in its presentation.”
For Janet McAlpin, who co-founded Open Space for Arts and Community with her husband David Godsey, being in the show was a chance to do something on stage that felt safe and contained.
Describing the rehearsal process, McAlpin said the whole cast gathered on Zoom for a read-through. Later, Klob Zoomed or phoned into rehearsals that Godsey and McAlpin had at home.
“It was so detailed, and everything had to be so precise because it was going to be on film,” she said.
The filming took place in one afternoon last week at Vashon Center for the Arts, with each duo or solo actor scheduled for their own time slot, with strict safety protocols in place at the arts center.
McAlpin said she appreciated having the opportunity to create something small, adding to the bigger mosaic created by others separately adding their own small pieces to the whole.
“It is brilliantly conceived as a thing to do,” she said. “It’s just the perfect size.”
Vashon Repertory Theatre launched in October, with a production of “Home” — a set of short plays with small casts that were streamed live from the stage at VCA and also broadcast on Voice of Vashon. Later that same month, the group presented the old fashioned radio play, “War of the Worlds” the same way — first at VCA, then on the local radio station.
What’s next for the theater company, after “Savage/Love?”
Like theater artists everywhere, Tiencken is dreaming of the day when performers can stand on a stage in front of in-person audiences.
Right now, she’s hoping she’ll be able to mount a theater festival outdoors in the summer of 2021, with three plays presented in three different locations — The Heron’s Meadow of VCA, the Great Lawn of Open Space for Arts & Community, and Ober Park.
One of the plays, she said, could be a live version of “Savage/Love.”
For more information about “Savage/Love,” visit vashoncenterforthearts.org. The play has a suggested donation of $10. More information on VRT can be found at vashonrepertorytheatre.org.
Vashon Repertory Theatre’s production of “Savage/Love” is dedicated to the memory of Marshall Murray, a talented actor who appeared in many local productions. Murray, who died in early January, was a founding member of the ensemble of VRT; his wife, Stephanie Murray, is also a founding member.