“Life comes in cycles, appearing when we’re ready for them,” muses Dallas area leading stage director Susan Sargeant. Stepping out of her customary role as Producing Artistic Director of WingSpan Theatre, Sargeant helms the production of local playwright Vicki Cheatwood’s play “Manicures and Monuments”, opening on Water Tower Theatre’s Main Stage June 5, 2015. “Some things are meant to happen. I was chatting with WaterTower’s Producing Artistic Director Terry Martin one evening, discussing their upcoming season. We discovered that his interest in me directing for WaterTower and the timeframe for this play coincided perfectly.”
It also “just happened” that Susan Sargeant saw the first production of Cheatwood’s play, back in 1995. “Manicures and Monuments” had its premiere at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas, July 5-22, 1995, co-produced by Oklajoma Ink and the MAC. One doesn’t often get to see plays featuring five strong, complex, catalytic women out of a total of eight characters in a play, so Sargeant sat up and took notice. She continues, “I’ve known all the working and performed versions of this work over the years. Vicki Cheatwood is a skilled, established playwright. She creates unique characters with quirky senses of humor and outspoken perspectives, all underscored with pathos and universal humanity. She has a keen ear for textual resonance, knows precisely how to charge the dramatic action onstage through voice and text.”
The Dallas arts community received the initial debut of “Manicures and Monuments” with a regional standing ovation. It was voted the Best New Play of 1995-1996 by the Dallas Theater Critics Forum and got nominated for the Leon Rabin Awards; “Best New Play” of 1995. The Dallas Morning News listed it as a “Top Ten Theater Event “ of 1995. After its original production in Dallas it went on to receive finalist designations by the national Eileen Heckart Drama for Senior Competition and the Judy & A.C. Greene Literary Festival Awards. Washington DC’s Journeyman Theater Ensemble produced the play in 2006 at the Atlas Center for the Performing Arts to positive critical and audience response.
This past year, Terry Martin held a reading of the work at WaterTower Theatre with a professional regional cast and contributed input to playwright Cheatwood to help her refine and update the work, priming it for its Main Stage revival mounting in June. Set in a small-town Oklahoma retirement home during the late 1980’s to early 1990’s, the play offers challenges to the creative team producing it, from designers to directors and actors. There are no cell phones in the play, no Internet. The retirement home has one community television in its common area. Pacing, communication with the “outside” world, experiences of daily realities — all inhabit a different universe from today’s instantaneous information overload. Director Sargeant says that Cheatwood’s honesty in depiction of the time period and its characters and hands-on knowledge of small-town Oklahoma life will give the play the veracity it needs to engage today’s audience. Here’s how Cheatwood describes herself. “I’m about half country mouse, half city mouse. We lived in Lawton, but spent a great deal of time at my maternal grandparents’ farm outside Wanette, about an hour south of Oklahoma City. I am the youngest of three daughters born to a career Army/combat soldier and a stay-at-home mom. By the time I was born, they were permanently assigned to Lawton/Fort Sill, OK.” She has lived in the world she creates on stage and peoples it with vividly real human beings.
Rehearsals commence May 18. Director Sargeant can’t wait to dive in. “I have seasoned pros in my cast whose work I adore, like Pam Dougherty and Elly Lindsey, squaring off with young rising stars like Mikaela Krantz. The multi-generational aspect will add an exciting dynamic to the creative process. I feel confident this play will have great appeal to all sectors of the diverse WaterTower audience. And I’m so glad I get to direct this as a mature director, where my life experiences can inform and honor the work as it deserves.”
Near the play’s end the pivotal character Janann exclaims,” God, I hope my mother doesn’t spill my secrets. Not that she ever knew any.” The soul’s secrets are held in solemn trust, not always expressed or even acknowledged as known. Vicki Cheatwood’s unique play should send its audience home with a heaping homespun Oklahoma dose of love and compassion for the cycles and synchronicities of life. And some surprising chuckles at its moments of absurdity.
June 5-28, 2015 http://www.watertowertheatre.org/
Article first appeared in WaterTower Theatre’s monthly e-letter “Behind the Scenes”, May 2015