by Kim Bent
Vermont stories often highlight Lost Nation Theater’s (LNT) 30 years at City Hall, and the culminating production of this year’s milestone season will be the world premiere of Howard Frank Mosher’s debut novel Disappearances. The choice seems like destiny, as both the theater company and book were born in the same year, 1977.
On the surface, Disappearances is a classic rite-of-passage, depression-era tale about a teenage farm-boy in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, whose irrepressibly optimistic father takes him on a whiskey-running trip to Canada to raise money for enough hay to get his cows through the winter. In Mosher’s hands, that basic framework takes on mythic dimensions and is populated by a cast of larger-than-life characters, action-packed suspense, and poetic meditations on the transitory nature of human existence.
LNT’s artistic director, Kim Bent, is taking on the challenge of translating the novel’s complexity to the stage, creating a theater experience that will give Vermont audiences the pleasure of recognition–whether they’ve read the book or not.
Telling Vermont stories is one part of LNT’s identity. Equally defining is the diversity of the Theater’s annual programs. In addition to an original work, each season also typically includes a musical, a drama, a comedy, and a Shakespeare play.
Slated for October, Disappearances follows four other impressive productions, starting with Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky (April 19–May 6), which brings to light the true story of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt who worked as a “computer” at the Harvard Observatory in the early 1900s. Thematically, the play is yet one more example of patriarchal culture controlling the narrative, but in the end being overpowered by the sheer passion, intelligence, dedication, and persistence of a woman. Gunderson’s multi-dimensional characters and clear-eyed vision of the poetic truth at the heart of this story elicit laughter and joyful tears in equal measure. Silent Sky is one of those rare gems that can, for a fleeting moment, create a reality in which all rise.
LNT’s big musical will be the ground-breaking Urinetown (May 31–June 17), a show that re-defined the possibilities of the musical form when it opened in New York in 2001. Urinetown’s tongue-in-cheek, post-apocalyptic vision of a water-starved future, where private bathrooms are out-lawed and citizens are forced on pain of death to pay for the use of for-profit public toilets, contains just enough reality to be plausible and just enough absurdity to be riotously entertaining.
The NYC-based director/choreographer team of S. J. Schostack and Steven Moore helm the production, along with musical director Mark Hanson, traveling all the way from Wisconsin to do his second project with LNT. Local legend Tim Tavcar will also be returning from his native Cleveland to star in what will be his 62nd show.
Having produced nearly half of Shakespeare’s 38 plays over the past 30 years, LNT’s Bard-bench boasts an impressive roster of proven talent. Shakespeare’s masterwork comedy Twelfth Night (July 12–29) will feature a cast of veteran LNT actors, including local favorites such as Bob Nuner and Molly Walsh, as well as regular guest artists like Christopher Scheer, Kate Kenney, and Courtney Wood. The ensemble will be directed by Amanda Rafuse (Northern Stage), making her LNT debut; and the show will be designed by long-time collaborators Ellen Jones, James MacNamara, and Cora Fauser. It would be hard to find a stronger cast and production team to take on the challenges of Twelfth Night, the Shakespeare play that reveals, probably better than any other, the contrary, destabilizing and unifying nature of love.
In September, Montpelier pro Maura O’Brien portrays Karola Ruth Siegel, aka Dr. Ruth (Yes, that Dr. Ruth) in Mark St. Germain’s solo show, Becoming Dr. Ruth. Siegel’s incredible life journey, which included fleeing the Nazis in the kinder transport, serving as a sniper in Jerusalem, and struggling to succeed as a single-mother newly arrived in America, is deftly illuminated in this emotionally moving, laughter-filled show. Kathleen Keenan, LNT’s Producing Artistic Director will direct. Keenan and O’Brien last teamed up in 2016, performing opposite each other in Always…Patsy Cline.
All signs are go for LNT’s 30th anniversary season at Montpelier’s City Hall! Join us for another year of high-quality professional theater experiences. If you haven’t yet found yourself at Lost Nation Theater, now is the time.
Kim Bent is the Founding Artistic Director at Lost Nation Theater.
Courtney Wood, on Playing Henrietta Leavitt
Playing Henrietta Leavitt in Silent Sky at Lost Nation Theater is such an honor. She was a woman so advanced for her times–the early 1900s–living and working passionately in a man’s world, never giving up or losing sight of her goals even when all odds played against her. Throughout the rehearsal process, Henrietta has been a role model and inspiration for me as I try to find my way at a time when women are still fighting for equal pay and in too many cases, respect. She’s dedicated, hardworking, and completely focused, constantly searching for her truth within the stars. Her story is totally relatable, and I am very excited to have this opportunity to share her story.