A stellar cast of veteran actors, with Dakin Matthews in the lead role, supported by Emmy and Tony winner Shirley Knight, perform a new play by Samuel D. Hunter at the 32nd annual William Inge Theatre Festival, at Independence, Kansas.
Matthews and Knight are joined by professional colleagues John Herzog, Mari Nelson, Elaine Rivkin, and Alan Safier, with newcomer Cameron Lopez, in a concert reading Thursday May 2. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. at the William Inge Theatre at Independence Community College.
Samuel D. Hunter, one of the hottest young playwrights in America, will be present to receive the Otis L. Guernsey New Voices in the American Theatre Award. Hunter is the Inge Festival’s 21st winner of the New Voices Playwriting Award, named for the late theater scholar. Guernsey was a frequent Inge Festival attendee and a champion of new plays. Former New Voices winner, and Kansas native James Still will present Hunter with the award.
“A Great Wilderness” centers on Walter (Dakin Matthews), who has spent his life counseling teenage Christian boys whose parents fear their sons have homosexual tendencies. When a teenager arrives at a fellowship camp in the Idaho wilderness, Walter has a crisis of faith.
Shirley Knight portrays Walter’s ex-wife. John Herzog plays her current husband and Walter’s former protégé. Mari Nelson plays the boys’ mother, called when the teen goes missing, and Elaine Rivkin is the forest ranger heading the search. Kansas actor Cameron Lopez portrays the teenager, with Alan Safier adding key voice overs. Braden Abraham, associate artistic director of Seattle Repertory Theatre, directs.
Matthews has appeared in more than 20 feature films and numerous television series, perhaps most prominently in “The Jeff Foxworthy Show” in the role of Elliott, and starring roles in “Down Home” and “Soul Man.” His many series guest star turns include “The King of Queens” (as the father of the Kevin James character) and “Desperate Housewives” (as the Rev. Sykes.). His feature films include, most recently, playing Sec. of Interior Usher in “Lincoln.”
Matthews is a sought-after stage actor, with over 250 productions, appearing in recent seasons at South Coast Rep and Center Theatre Group in California and the Lincoln Center Theatre and Shakespeare in the Park in New York.
Matthews is also a playwright, director, and theater scholar who has published books and articles on Shakespeare and translations of 17th-century Spanish theater, and has also instructed at the Julliard School of Drama.
Shirley Knight’s new film “Redwood Highway” opened at the Ashland Oregon film festival in April. Her Steven King film “Mercy” will open later in 2013. Miss Knight began as a contract player at Warner Brothers studios in 1958. After receiving two Oscar nominations for William Inge’s “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” and Tennessee Williams “Sweet Bird of Youth,” Miss Knight has rarely been out of work as an actress. She has achieved the highest honors in cinema, theatre, and television including a Tony Award (two nominations), Three Emmy’s (10 nominations) Two Golden Globes (3 nominations), Best Actress at the Venice film festival, and others.
Mari Nelson began her professional career in The New York Shakespeare Festival production of “Twelfth Night” in Central Park. Her Broadway credits include: “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Translations.” Her many regional stage appearances include: Alley Theater, Houston; Center Stage, Baltimore; Hartford Stage; Intiman of Seattle; and Seattle Repertory Theater. She likewise has numerous film and television credits.
At the 2006 Inge Festival, John Herzog portrayed William Inge in the play “Touched,” by Marcia Cebulska. Since then, he has been busy performing in “Art” at the Laguna Playhouse; “Ghosts,” “Wit,” “The Tempest,” “Henry IV Part I,” and “King of the Moon” at North Coast Repertory Theatre; “The Winter’s Tale” and “Comedy of Errors” at Kingsmen Shakespeare, and a dozen or more staged readings.
Elaine Rivkin is in her second Inge Festival, appearing in 2012 in Catherine Trieschmann’s “The Most Deserving.” Her activities since include playing Sarah in Pinter’s “The Lover” at North Coast Rep and Mrs. Clandon in Shaw’s “You Never Can Tell” at Remy Bumppo Theater. Rivkin has acted professionally in Chicago since 1985. Her Chicago credits include shows at Steppenwolf Theater, Victory Gardens Theater, and the ten-year run of “Hellcab” at Famous Door Theatre.
Alan Safier is in his fifth successful season as George Burns in the one-man play “Say Goodnight, Gracie.” He has done hundreds of voice-overs (most famously as the Kibbles ’n Bits dog) and his CD, “Alan Safier Sings the Songs of George & Gracie’s Heyday” (an album of standards from the ’30s and ’40s) was released in 2011. Last year he premiered “Humbug!” a one-actor musical version of “A Christmas Carol,” by Michel Legrand and former Inge honoree Sheldon Harnick. He plans to debut a new one-man show, a take-off on “Downton Abbey” during the 2013–14 season.
The part of the teenager is played by Cameron Lopez, a student at Neodesha High School in Neodesha, Kansas, a small town 12 miles north of Independence. Lopez has appeared in a large number of regional plays and performances as well as speech and debate events.
Tickets for “A Great Wilderness” are $25 for premier seating and $15 for reserved seating.
Tickets for those and all Inge Festival events are available online at www.ingefestival.org or by calling (620) 332-5491.
The Inge Festival and Inge Center are sponsored by Independence Community College, William Inge’s alma mater. The William Inge Center for the Arts is a constituent member of Theatre Communications Group, the national organization for the American theatre.
This program is presented in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, which believes a great nation deserves great art.
Further major supporters of the William Inge Center for the Arts include Independence Community College, Independence Chamber of Commerce and the William Inge Festival Foundation.
Independence, Kansas, is located 90 miles north of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and 140 miles south of Kansas City, Missouri.