Oddly, very oddly, the two names that pop out at me after a week full of theatrical drama are a complete surprise. One came from the Great Plains Theatre Conference, with its abundance of great moments.

After a rough Sunday night at the Burlington Depot, when awful acoustics in the four-story atrium undermined the opening Playfest, Tuesday afternoon made the whole week worthwhile with performances by Pegi Georgeson, Dick Mueller, Pat Kies and others in the staged reading of Three Views of the Same Object. The story of seniors dealing with death was directed by Sonia Keffer, who delivered a conference highlight for the second straight year.

Two more Mainstage readings were memorable. GPTC staffer Scott Working led a strong cast in Joe Corso Re-enters from the Wings, an inside look at the struggles of a regional theater. And Nureyev’s Eyes quickly became the play I’d most want to see again…with the same cast, perhaps at the Blue Barn.

Kevin Lawler took a break from running the conference to play the Russian dancer while Hughston Walkinshaw, his fellow co-founder of the Barn, was Jamie Wyeth, the painter descendant of grandfather N.C. Wyeth and father Andrew. They were mesmerizing and worthy of more than summary praise.

But the new name I’ll most recall from the week’s highlights was playwright David Rush whose script gave Nureyev and Wyeth dialogue that had me scribbling to capture choice lines as I’d only done for the best of Edward Albee. And this followed an earlier encounter with Rush’s writing at his one-woman play presented by Brigit St. Brigit.

He has the two artists of ballet and canvas sparring, first as Wyeth tries to persuade Nureyev to pose for him, later as both men seek fuller understanding of each other. With heavy Russian accent, Lawler’s Nureyev tells the artist “You are rude, annoying boy,” after Wyeth admits, “I wanted to see what happened to your eyes when I pissed you off.”

And the other new name that popped out at me was the biggest surprise of all. Jack Erbs, the young man who played Horton the Elephant in the Rose’s Suessical the Musical. I’m not trying to compare him to Lawler, Walkinshaw, Working and others already mentioned. Suffice it to say he was utterly endearing as the good-hearted Horton.

Something about his chubby-cheeked sincerity was simply delightful as Horton went about saving the Whos, hatching an egg and giving the children in the audience a glowing example of innocent goodness.

                                                                        —Warren Francke

Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to coldcream@thereader.com.  

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