Eastern Iowa holds a hidden trove of treasure in theater opportunities

By Monica Reida 2009

As March begins, we reach a dead spot with films, in addition to having spring break. During this month, the amateur theater companies in Eastern Iowa are performing a nice variety of plays, all of which have student tickets for less than $20.

Two shows are opening on March 6, which sadly conflicts with the opening of the school musical, Guys and Dolls. At the Paul Engel Center in Cedar Rapids is A Number, a 2002 play by British playwright Caryl Churchill directed by Josh Beadle. The show focuses on a man named Salter and his three sons, Michael Black, Bernard 1 and Bernard 2, who are clones of Michael. The show not only touches on the subject of human cloning but also on identity and nature versus nurture.

Stage Left Productions specializes in bold plays that touch on social issues. The company, which is still fairly new, has done The Flu Season by Will Eno, and Betrayal by Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, among others. Stage Left Productions did this in a poorly heated room in Cedar Rapids but presently it is one of the finest productions I have ever seen in my 12 years of attending live theater.

A Number runs March 6-8 at the Paul Engel Center, located at 1600 Fourth Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids and then finishes its run March 13-15 at Performance Space 1 in Iowa City, neither of which are poorly heated. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and are available at the door. The curtain for all performances is at 7:30 p.m.

Also opening the same weekend is the Black Hawk Children’s Theatre’s production of The Velveteen Rabbit based off of the novel by Margery Williams, and it is under the direction of artistic director Tyler Hayes Stillwill. The play focuses on a boy named Steve who loves his toys very much. Although this might sound a bit too lame for you, it would be a great show to take your younger sibling or cousin to for an hour.

The Black Hawk Children’s Theatre puts on productions of plays based off of both classic and contemporary children’s stories and novels. Their recent productions include Rapunzel, Anne of Green Gables, The Phantom Tollbooth and a production of Jungalbook that was in an urban setting and featured actors in street clothes wearing animal masks while moving about on a graffitied stage. Under the direction of Stillwill, Black Hawk Children’s Theatre has done twists and unique takes on classic stories that ultimately leaves one with an immense sense of fulfillment from seeing such amazing productions.

The Velveteen Rabbit runs March 6-8 at the Hope Martin Theater in the Waterloo Center for the Arts, which is next to the Young Arena. The performance on the 6th is at 7 p.m, and the performances on the 7th and 8th are both at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for both students and adults and can be purchased by calling the box office at 319-291-4494 or visiting their website, www.wcpbhct.org.

Opening on March 20 at Theatre Cedar Rapids is a production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences by August Wilson. The show focuses on an African-American family in Pittsburgh in the 1950s that has to face discrimination. The play features an all-African-American cast of seven actors and is directed by Theatre Cedar Rapids’ artistic director, Leslie Charpair.

Theatre Cedar Rapids is one of the oldest community theaters in the state and was founded in 1925 in the studio apartment of Grant Wood. The theater company is presently celebrating its 75 anniversary—the date is a bit off due to a hiatus the group took during World War II—but is performing at a location near the Lindale Mall after their home, the Iowa Theatre Building, suffered extensive flood damage. Their previous productions include Cabaret, Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer prize winning epic Angels in America, Fiddler on the Roof, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Their current season has included the musical Gypsy, The Rocky Horror Show (upon which the cult film is based) and The Sound of Music. It will also be performing the musical Hair later this season.

The show runs March 20-22 and 27-29. Tickets for Fences are $20 or $25 for adults, $15 for students and there are $10 rush tickets 30 minutes before every performance, which is a great chance for a play since there are generally more seats open before a performance.

“It’s a great opportunity for students and people on a tight budget to get to see quality live theater for pretty much the same cost as a movie ticket. That’s a tough deal to beat,” Theatre Cedar Rapids’ community relations director Rob Merritt said.

Tickets are available by calling the box office at 319-366-8591, the will-call window at the venue or at their website, www.theatrecr.org. All performances will be done at the theater’s Lindale location, at 4444 First Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids, with Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday performances at 2:30 p.m.

Throughout the month of March, there are many opportunities for you to take in the great productions of serious non-musical shows in Eastern Iowa without breaking the bank, so go out and see a show.

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