@ The Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Main St.
 

Rocket Man

By Steven Dietz, Directed by Ceil Herman

  • Donny (Shawn Whitty)
  • (L to R:) Louise (Jamie Bronstein) and Donny (Shawn Whitty)
  • (L to R:) Donny (Shawn Whitty) and Rita (Julia McClenon)
  • (L to R:) Donny (Shawn Whitty) and Buck (Gorton Smith)
  • (L to R:) Donny (Shawn Whitty) and Trisha (Lauren Jacobs)
  • (L to R:) Louise (Jamie Bronstein) and and Rita (Julia McClenon)
  • (L to R:) Rita (Julia McClenon) and Donny (Shawn Whitty)
  • (L to R:) Trisha (Lauren Jacobs) and Donny (Shawn Whitty)
  • (L to R:) Donny (Shawn Whitty), Rita (Julia McClenon), Trisha (Lauren Jacobs) and Buck (Gorton Smith)
  • (L to R:) Louise (Jamie Bronstein), Buck (Gorton Smith) and Trisha (Lauren Jacobs)
  • (L to R:) Buck (Gorton Smith) and Louise (Jamie Bronstein)
  • (L to R:) Buck (Gorton Smith) and Donny (Shawn Whitty)
  • (L to R:) Donny (Shawn Whitty) and Rita (Julia McClenon)

Aug 29-Sep 14, 2014

FRI AUG 29, SEP 5,12| 8:00 PM
SAT AUG 30, SEP 6,13| 8:00 PM
SUN SEP 7,14| 2:30 PM
THRS SEP 11 | 7:00 PM

Description

Typical of his entire life, Donny Rowan has been pressing the same crosswalk button at the same traffic light on the same street corner for 20 years. Finally, after placing all his possessions on his front lawn with a sign reading "Here's my life, make me an offer, he attaches that same button to the easy chair in his attic and uses it to take him into an alternate universe. Steven Dietz's "Rocket Man," which opens August 29 and continues through September 14, 2014 at the Black Box Theatre, 430 N. Downtown Mall in Las Cruces, details his entertaining and engaging journey. NSTC has produced Dietz's "Becky's New Car" and "More Fun than Bowling"at the Black Box Theatre and his "Dracula" was performed at NMSU several years ago.

"Rocket Man" is directed by NSTC's Artistic Director Ceil Herman and stars Shawn Witty as Donny. Witty, a psychologist for Las Cruces Public Schools, recently starred in 'The Foreigner' at Las Cruces Community Theatre and has experience as a professional actor. Also starring in the show are Lauren Jacobs as Rowan's daughter, Tricia; Julia McClenon as his ex-wife, Rita, Jamie Bronstein as his friend, Louise; and Gorton Smith as his best friend, Buck.

Rocket Man tells the story of someone who has lived a good life, but somehow didn't get it right and so he goes in search of a parallel world and sacrifices everything and everyone he loves to find it," said Herman. "I think this play is just miraculous. It has so much to say about life, spirituality, and love as it follows the main character through the choices he makes and the journey they take him on. I'm really excited to begin our 14th season at the Black Box Theatre with "Rocket Man," said Herman.

Director's Note

We first saw Rocket Man in its first production in Tucson in 1998 and were so impressed with the writing that we called the Arizona Theatre Company and asked for a script prior to its publication. We have produced three other plays written by Steven Dietz, More Fun Than Bowling, Becky's New Car, and Still Life With Iris.

Dietz is an America playwright whose work is largely performed regionally. Dietz's work as a director has been seen at many of America's leading regional theatres. He was a resident director for ten years at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, where he also served as Artistic Director of Midwest PlayLabs. Dietz's articles on new play development - most first seen in American Theatre Magazine have been widely discussed and re-printed. He currently teaches playwriting and directing at the University of Texas in Austin

In 2010, Dietz was once again named one of the most produced playwrights in America (excluding Shakespeare), placing eighth on the list of the Top Ten Most Produced Playwrights in America, tied with Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee for number of productions. Dietz has won many national awards and was recently awarded the 2011-12 Ingram New Works Fellowship (following previous winners David Auburn and John Patrick Shanley) by the Tennessee Repertory Theatre.

Dietz's plays range from the political to the comedic. Many of them have as a central theme the effects of personal betrayal and deception. The majority of the plays are published (in acting editions) by either Dramatists Play Service (New York), or Samuel French, Inc., (New York). Many of the short plays are anthologized.

Rocket Man, among other themes, deals with depression, which has recently been brought to the media attention again by the suicide of Robin Williams. What should family and friends do when someone they love exhibit one classic sign of depression by giving away all their possessions? Rocket Man has a fanciful conclusion which unfortunately is not true in real life.

The song Corcovado, in this production is primarily in Portuguese. The English translation is as follows:

Um cantinho, um violão
Este amor, uma canção
Pra fazer feliz a quem se ama
Muita calma pra pensar
E ter tempo pra sonhar
Da janela vê-se o
Corcovado
O Redentor, que lindo !
Quero a vida sempre assim
Com você perto de mim
Até o apagar da velha chama
E eu que era triste
Descrente desse mundo
Ao encontrar você eu conheci
O que é felicidade, meu amor.

A little nook, a guitar
that loves a song
to make the one you love happy.
Much calm to think
and time to dream
Through the window one can see
the Corcovado
the Redeemer, how lovely !
I want life to always be like this
with you near me
until the old flame dies out.
And I who was sad,
disbelieving in this world
Upon finding you I found out
what happiness is, my love

Many thanks to my amazing cast and production team for all their creative input into this production. We dedicate this production to actor and friend Joe Denk, who starred in our very first production fourteen years ago (Seascape) and many after. He has recently passed over to an alternate universe where he surely is watching over the Black Box Theatre and this production.

Credits

Buck
Donny
Louise
Rita
Trisha
Director
Written By

Reviews

'Rocket Man' takes flight
- By Gerald M. Kane, Las Cruces Bulletin

is never my intention to place spoilers in my reviews so as to pre-empt plot surprises. And yet, in order for audience members to acquire a better understanding of the many subtle themes at work in Stephen Dietz's oftentimes dark, sometimes funny 1998 work "Rocket Man" it is necessary to lay some sort of foundation.

Let me go on record and say "Rocket Man" is not "ha-ha" funny, but the humor ranges from dark to light-hearted - a rather bizarre mix.

Ceil and Peter Herman are big fans of Dietz, having produced four productions of the quirky, popular American playwright.

In my opinion, "Rocket Man" contains many thought-provoking, dark, disturbing and humorous elements. This should not dissuade you from attending the opening production of Black Box Theatre's 2014-15 jam-packed season containing a variety of comedies, romances and fables.

"Rocket Man" plays through Sunday, Sept. 15. It will give you much to ponder.

Two days have passed since I saw the opening, and I am discovering that the further I chronologically distance myself from the play, more questions come up and more challenges present themselves about what I saw.

At points in the play we are witness to some beautiful albeit frightening life outcomes, thanks to Peter Herman's exceptional scenic design. We suddenly enter into a cosmic space that becomes part of a parallel universe in which characters and time move forward and back. It is important to suspend disbelief at times in order to better understand all the plot ramifications.

"Rocket Man" begins with its central character, middle-aged Donny Rowan, a failed landscape architect, realizing the humdrum quality of his life has left him empty.

As Ceil Herman points out in her plot summary, "Typical of his entire life, Donny has been pressing the same crosswalk button at the same traffic light on the same street corner for 20 years." He ultimately opens the crosswalk button box and learns that the crosswalk button box is empty. This is the last straw.

As an act of desperation, he places all his possessions on his front lawn with a sign reading "Here's my life, make me an offer." He attaches the infamous crosswalk button to the easy chair in his attic and uses it to take him into an alternate universe.

Those of us with counseling backgrounds hear the sirens and see the flashing red lights.

Donny does have a support system, but those who reach out to him are simply slapped away.

Herman has assembled an exceptional cast who understand all the nuances of the play. Shawn Whitty, whose "day job" is a counselor in the Las Cruces Public Schools, makes an exceptional Donny. He has a wealth of professional acting training and performance work in the San Francisco Bay area.

The depth of Donny's friendship with Buck, played with remarkable empathy by Gorton Smith, transcends words. Smith's work is getting better and better.
Donny's other special relationship is with another work colleague, Louise, who becomes a member of the clergy and brings out a nuanced performance with great skill by Jamie Bronstein.

The other characters, all of whom seem to have forged a professional bond throughout the rehearsal process, are Donny's ex-wife, Rita, played with an edge by Julia McClenon, and his teen-aged daughter Trisha, played sympathetically by Lauren Jacobs.

At one point in the second act, Jacobs delivers a soliloquy that reminds me of Emily Webb's "Our Town" recollection. I am certain Deitz had this soliloquy in mind when writing Trisha's words.

Wisely, Herman has placed information on a table in the lobby about depression. Perhaps the sudden death of Robin Williams was the catalyst, but still, it is imperative to put this information out there for audience members to read and pass along. One must not stand idly by as a neighbor bleeds. If one takes anything away from "Rocket Man," let it be this all-too-true observation.

Performances of "Rocket Man" take place at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Sept. 5-6 and 12-13, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 7 and 14, and 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and students, and all seats on Thursdays are $8. For reservations, call 523-1223 or email nstcreservations@gmail.com. Season tickets for the 2014-15 will be on sale through the run of "Rocket Man."


Gerald Kane has reviewed theater, film and opera for National Public Radio stations and newspapers in New Orleans, Phoenix and Kansas City as well as for the Las Cruces Bulletin for the past 11 years. A former member of the American Theatre Critics Association, he has taught "Jews on Screen" at New Mexico State University. He is the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth-El in Las Cruces.

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