THE EARTH IS FLAT by Todd Almond is this fall’s Studio Series production by the CCM Acting department. It was commissioned for last year’s inaugural PlayWright Conference; I was lucky to hear it read aloud last year. I wrote this entry immediately after seeing it. It was a powerful emotional experience.
Almond (who performed a beautiful concert with Michelle Shocked on Wednesday night at Ensemble Theatre) has crafted two realistic, flawed, and wonderful lead characters in “Ethan” and “Derek.” He has found a nice balance between humor, tragedy, and symbolism in the way he has crafted this play described as a “love letter” to his alma mater, UC. It’s an interesting story, with unexpected moments, and impactful dialogue. He’s one of my favorite writers, and writes coming-of-age stories with deep insight. (His musical, “Girlfriend,” is another example of this.)
The performances were better than average, too. My friend said she thought Jack Steiner’s “Ethan” was mesmerizing. Especially as a sophomore, this is a challenging role and he handled it well. I found Graham Lutes’ “Derek” infinitely likable, funny, and quirky but authentic. He has a ton of charisma and I believed everything he said and did. Graham Rogers and Paige Jordan’s various characters were hilarious, and senior Meg Olson’s portrayal of “Shelly” was appropriately the most competent. Rounding out the opening night cast were Madeline Page-Schmit (“Jennifer”) and Carter LaCava (“Guy Who Looks Like Jeremy.”) (Olivia Passaflume and Carissa Cardy alternated as “Shelly” and “Jennifer” at other performances.)
The costume design by Ashley Trujillo fits the tone, while Oran Wongpandid’s hair and makeup accentuates the characters well. Elanor Eberharow’s lighting design is simple, but effective. There were issues, though.
Almond’s script, while brilliant, could use a few cuts. I was also frustrated by some attention to detail in the direction. For instance, when exiting the stage using the on-stage elevator (part of a really wonderful set by scenic designer Levi Keiss), actors hurried through a black curtain at the back of the set instead of turning and facing the door – like one does while waiting for elevator doors to close. It sounds small. But for me, it sums up all the reasons that I left the theater thinking about things like elevators instead of the emotion and relationships and symbolism and impact this kind of play can have.
When I left the reading in 2016, I was emotionally wrecked. I hoped, perhaps unfairly, for a similar experience in this fully staged version. The script provides for it, I think. Unfortunately, this production struck me as just another show about college instead of the powerful show about friendship it has potential to be. Even still, it turned out to be a memorable, solid night of theatre.
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