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Waco plays look at gospel joy, gay relationships

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Plays by two young Waco theater companies eager to stretch themselves will celebrate joy in one case and examine gay relationships in another.

The former comes in Silent House Theatre Company’s production of “Godspell,” the first musical for the company and one staged in the round at the Waco Civic Theatre.

The second is Wild Imaginings’ workshop production of Trent Sutton’s original script “The Way He Looks at You,” which will offer post-performance talkback sessions with the audience.

Silent House co-founder Collin Selman said the choice of “Godspell,” Stephen Schwartz’s 1971 free, contemporary reworking of the story of Jesus and his disciples, was sentimental in part, referencing a past Waco Children’s Theatre production. “We did it when we were younger and we loved the show,” he said.

What drew company directors to the show was its joy and exuberance, a change of pace from Silent House’s previous presentations of drama and dark comedy. That’s not to say Silent House’s “Godspell” will only be “a bunch of fun, happening,” Selman said, but the work’s more serious moments won’t be downplayed, either.

The musical, with inspiration from the Gospel of Matthew, imagines Jesus as a parable-telling teacher with a band of free-spirited followers, all set to a pop-rock soundtrack.

A cast of 14 will perform the musical to recorded tracks — live accompaniment got “complicated” in the WCT space, the director said — with music direction by Melissa Lohr and choreography by Joe Taylor.

The Silent House production sets the action in an abandoned playground, complete with climbing bars and slide, and features puppets and hand instruments for each performer. Jesus (Ethan Trueman) and Judas (Eduardo Perez) are the only named characters, with the balance of the company using their first names. Rounding out the cast are Alex Blanton, Goolie Alvarez, Graham Smith, Marc Garcia, Nick Marquez, Kaleigh Huser, Carly Hunter, Hallie Stone, Bradyn Braziel, Jackson Parker, Hannah Requa and Danny Horn.

The production opens a five-performance run on Wednesday with the Aug. 25 performance signed by American Sign Language interpreters.

Work in progress

For Wild Imaginings’ “The Way He Looks at You,” the drama onstage is a starting point for company founder and playwright Trent Sutton. As a workshop production, the play is a work in progress awaiting audience reaction and feedback. Directed by Tredessa Thomas, his play focuses on two gay married couples (Sutton, Gregorio Sanchez, Caleb Clark, William Priest) as each couple struggles through issues of abuse, physical and emotional.

“Too often LGBTQ representation in plays centers on a particular aspect of gay life, such as coming out, or idealizes its gay characters. I wanted to talk about something more real and more raw,” he said. “I wanted to explore the ways abuse looks different than physical or sexual violence, but also emotional or mental or financial abuse.”

For one couple, the flash point in their relationship comes in a suspicion of infidelity; for another, it’s a workplace where toxic criticism is becoming corrosive. “People are people and relationships are relationships,” he said.

Sutton said the feedback from audience members after each performance will help shape the next draft of his script, which he hopes to enter in the scriptwriting festival circuit.

The play opens a four-performance run Thursday at McLennan Community College’s Music & Theater Arts building.

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