So it’s been a while.
But do not fear, good readers. My disappearance from this realm of theatre-blogging indicates no loss of passion for the matter nor loss of creative energy; I’ve merely decided that that energy would be better spent on other projects given the bizarre state of theatre these days. The quick pop-up pop-down nature of most of the super-cool virtual theatre that has been happening also isn’t terribly conducive to written reflection.
One play that’s been adapted into a podcast series, however, has the benefit of being a permanently available object to which I can direct my attention. Fort Lauderdale company New City Players has also thought of a way to maintain the “shared experience” aspect of theatre in a safe and contactless way by holding an in-person listening party for their play-turned-podcast Little Montgomery this coming Saturday November 14th.
Little Montgomery is based on the play Montgomery by Stephen Brown, which has also been performed under the title Country Girls. The play…podcast… playcast? gets its name from the character of Rick Montgomery (Gregg Weiner), a pill-popping country singer whose kidnapping drives the plot. The unlikely perpetrators, however, are not any seasoned crooks but rather a pair of preteens, fiery thirteen-year-old Megan (Krystal Millie Valdes) and her not-so-trusty younger sidekick Kimmy (Casey Sacco).
Wind of the incident quickly reaches hardass police chief Patty (Elizabeth Price), bumbling officer Larry (Dave Hyland), and his equally inept protégé Chet (Timothy Mark Davis). The madcap game of cat and mouse that ensues is complicated by the revelation that Megan is Larry’s daughter, the first of many shocking twists that propel this high-octane comedy toward its surprisingly touching conclusion.
This isn’t my first exposure to the writing of Stephen Brown, as I was lucky enough to catch the Theatre Lab production of his Everything is Super Great last December. Little Montgomery shares its knack for combining exceptionally witty dialogue with a genuinely affecting plot; tragic and detailed backstories lend the quirky characters’ struggles real pathos.
The occasionally cartoonish extremity of these characters suits the nature of the medium, which has fewer tools to capture the attention and engage an audience than might an in-person production. Since the cast is more than capable of rising to the play’s colorful heights, this works marvelously; I can’t imagine a down to earth drama about more conventional folks being as absorbing to listen to as Megan’s precocious steeliness or Patty’s southern drawl.
The playcast is divided into five episodes of a little over twenty minutes each, which were originally released at a rate of one per week. Now, though, all are available for free on a variety of streaming platforms for you to space out or binge on as you please. You’ll also find the series’ 6th bonus episode, a conversation between Brown and director Timothy Mark Davis about how the project came to be. This provided a fascinating window into the play’s origins; Brown wrote it after a long period of writer’s block and was heavily inspired by the best friend whose humor helped him survive those dark days.
This aspect of Little Montgomery makes it an interesting choice for these dark days. There’s certainly plenty in this story that might resonate, from the decimation of Kimmy’s dreams of stardom by a cruel twist of fate, to the grief over the recent death of his wife Mary (Laura Creel) that Rick Montgomery viscerally describes. We eventually get to hear Mary’s voice through a recording of a song she left behind, and this bittersweet moment is one of the highlights of the playcast. It conveys plenty of nostalgia and sorrow over things lost, but also a sincere yearning for new beginnings and a persistent hope.
Little Montgomery’s story also ends on a note of hope, if a hesitant one, on a note of wounds not healed but healing and something of the feeling of a slowly lifting fog. This also feels appropriate for this particular moment, a moment in which we are still light years away from getting back to any measure of normality but in which at least a path towards that normality is beginning to emerge.
Til then, it seems New City Players will continue to find increasingly innovative ways of adapting their goal of “creating community through transformative theatre” to this unfortunately indefinite intermission. Other pandemic endeavors of theirs include the recording of several original Zoom plays, a hundred-episode Instagram live series, and a bi-weekly-ish virtual version of their longstanding NCPLab, which has been downright soul-sustaining in this strangest of times.
Little Montgomery’s listening party also marks the first in-person theatre anything I plan on attending since the world shattered in March, which feels important. It feels important because it’s a reminder that the spirit of theatre is sure to persist despite whatever calamities the world throws at it, and that there are other people out there as determined as I am to keep it alive. It feels important because it is important that we keep finding ways to connect with each other even when that connection has to be maintained from a six-foot distance, and to keep using our creative voices to record each other talismans against despair.
But no worries if you can’t make it this Saturday. Since podcasts do have a major accessibility advantage over plays, you could also listen to Little Montgomery just about any other time— while doing chores, while driving, or in the manner that I did, which is through headphones while desperately trying to hold onto an umbrella during a massive tropical storm because my daily step goals will cease for no weather, damn it!
Meanwhile, I have a few other virtual and in-person theatrical endeavors on my to-write-about list, so plan to hear more from me soon — for real this time! For now, happy playcast listening!