For the student-directed, main-stage production in Franklin & Marshall College’s Department of Theatre, the director, assistant director and cast chose “Kingdom City.” It’s a dark comedy about a high-school performance of playwright Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”
“We looked for a show that not only we could enjoy, but also how big we can handle,” said Assistant Director and Stage Manager Emma Covert, a senior theatre major.
The play, based on a true event that occurred at a Midwest high school in 2006, casts six members. It begins when a Jewish couple from New York, Miriam and Daniel Bloom, move to Kingdom City, Mo., an actual town of about 130 people.
“It’s very out of their element and it’s a very evangelical Christian town,” said Director Seth Duncan, a senior theatre and creative writing major.
While Daniel works at a small local college, Miriam is offered a freelance job directing a play at the local high school, but she faces censorship issues when the play she wants to produce does not meet the school’s standards.
“The principal of the school provides her a list of 10 appropriate plays for the students of Kingdom City, and Miriam chooses ‘The Crucible,’ which deals with issues of censorship,” Duncan said.
Miller wrote “The Crucible” during the Cold War, and in the era of McCarthyism, a period in the 1950s when blacklisted Americans lost their jobs for refusing to denounce others suspected of being communists. Films and books were censored for alleged communist sympathies.
“Miriam really wants to show these kids who are in this very evangelical Christian town what else is out there; she wants to expose their minds a bit,” Duncan said.
Playwright Sheri Wilner’s “Kingdom City”examines themes of censorship, conformity, religion, sexuality and rape. The directors and cast, to better understand the motives and lives of the characters in her play, reached out to Wilner last fall.
“She’s been very encouraging,” Covert said. “She told us that you can’t just make it about big, lofty ideas; you have to make it about people. ‘The Crucible,’ as Arthur Miller said, is about censorship, but ultimately it’s about a marriage, and ‘Kingdom City’ is about a marriage as well.”
A dramaturg, Matt DiCintio, provided the students historical context of the era and a sense of life in Kingdom City. He created a website for them with the information. They also discussed the trajectory development of the characters, Duncan said.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Ibby Cizmar has mentored the production. She and Associate Professor of Theatre Carol Davis began to meet with the students last spring to discuss play possibilities, and then to attend rehearsals to give the directors and actors feedback.
To determine what play to produce, Covert, Duncan and the play’s two lead actors and senior theatre majors, Molly Minter (Miriam Bloom) and Fermín Serrano Quintero (Daniel Bloom), made a Google document list of candidates, individually read each play, and then compared notes.
“We read some wonderful plays, but ‘Kingdom City’ was the only one where there weren’t any ‘cons’ for,” Covert said. “The tone and writing felt right.”
Davis recommended the play after she read about its premier in San Diego, her hometown.
“This is the first collegiate production of “Kingdom City,” Davis said. “I thought it was a strong choice for the students.”
The directors maintained email correspondence with Wilner that culminated in a recent Facetime chat with the playwright and the entire cast, who prepared for the meeting over winter break.
“I asked them to sit down and write a list of questions that they had,” Duncan said.
The directors and cast may get to meet Wilner in person. The playwright, who lives in New York City, has expressed interest in attending a performance.
The Green Room Theatre performances of “Kingdom City” are 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14, 15, 16, and 2 p.m. Feb. 17.
Molly Minter: Miriam Bloom
Fermín Serrano Quintero: Daniel Bloom
Cameron Purdy (first-year): Crystal Mathis (cast as Abigail in ”The Crucible”)
Payton Becker (senior): Katie Merkel (cast as Elizabeth Proctor in “The Crucible”)
Will Thoman (sophomore): Matthew Ross (cast as John Proctor in “The Crucible”)
Nolan Foster (junior): Luke Overbey