The latest play from Omaha-based playwright Ellen Struve at the Shelterbelt Theatre is called Untitled Series #7: A Comedy. While an initial look at the title leads one to think the playwright was indecisive in their naming of the show, Struve gave insight on what’s in a name.
“I really couldn’t find a title for it for a long time.” she said. “At the ‘Before the Boards’ I asked for suggestions. They thing about working titles is that they really stick to the play. In rehearsals, in working on the play, we found out there’s a reason why they stick. There’s a reason why the play is called Untitled Series #7 that’s gradually revealed throughout, and gradually revealed to me.”
The show revolves around Mariah and Chris, a pair of divorced artists that still work and live in the same space in Chicago. After Mariah returns from a residency trip, she discovers that a little white lie has thrown both of their lives into disarray. Part of Struve’s inspiration for the show came from her many years living in Chicago and surrounding herself in the city’s vibrant art scene.
“I wanted to have fun and I had a lot of fun in the 90s in the Chicago art scene,” Struve said. “I went to grad school at School of the Art Institute. My favorite class was Contemporary Art Criticism with Jerry Saltz, a phenomenal writer who’s married to Roberta Smith, the art critic for the New York Times. We just went to galleries and talked about art all week. We went to 20 galleries a day.”
The play was first showcased as part of the Shelterbelt Theatre’s ‘Before the Boards’ staged reading series, where new plays by local playwrights get a chance to be heard before a live audience and the those attending give feedback to aid in the play’s continued development. The show continued to progress into the rehearsal space, as Struve is the type of writer that loves to work with actors and directors to craft the best show possible. Struve said the show is a very fast paced comedy that requires an adept comedic cast to pull off.
“It’s a really cement sturdy group of actors in terms of comedic timing, ideas, and physicality. I couldn’t ask for a better support system for this Rube Goldberg machine,” she said.
Untitled Series #7 was a welcome and fun challenge for Struve as a playwright. For her, the key to writing a good comedy is to look at the show like a piece of music, one that need just the right rhythm and melody.
“It was a really fun challenge because it was all about speed,” Struve said. “Comedy is so much about timing. When we started rehearsals, I immediately went in and cut 17 pages from the play to try and move thing at the correct speed and time. That became my challenge, to deliver just enough information. You set up the joke, you bring it back, and you knock it down. But, to be able to do that, it’s very musical; it’s very rhythmic. Comedy is all about timing. It was a delightful challenge to sink into saying ‘Okay, where’s the rhythm in this scene and how do we drive it home?’”
Untitled Series #7: A Comedy will run from January 22nd through February 14th at the Shelterbelt Theatre on 33rd and California St. For more information on the show, visit www.shelterbelt.org.
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