Playwright Kevin Broccoli knows his way around a story, and pens them prolifically. He works by day as the fiction specialist at Johnston’s Marian J. Mohr Public Library, so it’s safe to assume that he’s done his research. His favored format is the monologue, and he writes scores of them with wit, cheek and varying degrees of pathos. His previous monologue shows have played at 2nd Story Theatre and the Artist’s Exchange, and his biggest one to date opens this month at the Zabinski Music Studio at Hope Artiste Village, where he is an artist-in-residence. Titled The Acting Company, it features 150 of his pithy solo pieces – performed by an equal number of local actors. In other words, he’s really outdone himself this time.
But Broccoli doesn’t bite off more than he can chew. Last summer, his moving play Charlie’s Funeral showcased 130 of his monologues, revolving around the life story of a single man. This year, he reveals, “I wanted to go a step further and examine a particular place in the same way.” Broccoli frequently contributes to the arts as a performer and director as well, and has been involved in drama since he was a kid. So a theater struck him as an ideal setting, full of possibilities. The resulting play, The Acting Company, offers 150 reflections on a fictional New England theater called the Orpheus. It covers a 50-year span, from early shows in parks and parking lots to the company’s establishment as an institution and its challenges in remaining so.
Most of the monologues in The Acting Company are titled after plays from the Orpheus Theater’s past seasons, with clever references and mirrored themes abounding. Members of the cast, crew and others affected by the place give their perspectives, often peppered with zingy one-liners (“He could prop an entire production of The Wild Duck out of the trunk of his car”) and ending with dry, deadpan conclusions. Occasionally speaking from beyond the grave, the characters examine the allure and power of theater at its best, as well as the pressures and behind-the-scenes battles at its worst. They delve humorously and, at times, painfully into offstage problems of ambition, adultery, heartache, homophobia, firings, an actual fire and even murder. Throughout it all, the energy of the Orpheus, and of theater in general, reverberates. From a piece called “The Rehearsal” comes this observation on theater people: “We accept the fact that life is dramatic. And you live with it. You live with the insanity. With the intensity of it all. If anything, you thrive on it.”
Broccoli hopes that The Acting Company will raise questions about what role American theaters should play today, what they’re doing wrong, and what they’re getting right. He maintains that his characters and situations are not based on any specific people or place. But he adds, “Mainly, I want the piece to say that we have to start being more inclusive as a community. You can’t succeed as an artist or as an arts institution if you close yourself off to those around you, and a lot of theaters are doing that right now. They’re not utilizing local talent, they’re not producing work by local authors, and, to add insult to injury, they’re importing talent from other states.”
Broccoli continues, “It’s not just critical though. I hope that by the end of each performance, the audience will see that this is really a love letter to a community and profession that I care about very much.” To create and direct a show with 150 actors and all the scheduling that entails, he’d have to love it. The mammoth cast includes Broccoli himself, as well as gifted locals like Ashley Hunter Kenner, Frank O’Donnell, Cait Calvo, Sandy Cerel, TJ Curran, Paula Faber, Terry Shea and Alyssa Gorgone. On any given night of The Acting Company, audiences can see 25 different cast members performing 25 different monologues. Each experience is unique, so repeat visits are a treat. As Broccoli notes, “I want people to come see this show and see that Rhode Island is overflowing with talent.” That’s something to write home about, times 150.
The Acting Company runs August 3-26 at the Zabinski Music Studio at Hope Artiste Village, 1005 Main Street, Pawtucket. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.