Editor's note: This performance has been moved to Friday, June 26.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Centre Stage Virtual will present "Coleridge Interrupted," a whimsical comedy by Dan Carter, at 8 p.m. Friday, June 26.
PSCS Virtual presentations are free and donations benefit the School of Theatre Future Fund. The live performance can be viewed at sites.psu.edu/pscsvirtual.
In a series of short scenes, Samuel Taylor Coleridge is repeatedly interrupted by the mysterious Person from Porlock as he tries unsuccessfully to complete his poem "Kubla Khan." The one-act comedy is based on an actual event, where the entirety of the poem came to Coleridge in an opium-inspired flash of inspiration, only to be lost when he was interrupted in the middle of capturing it on paper. Who the interloper was has been the subject of rampant speculation over the years, but remains a mystery. In a kind of topsy-turvy Groundhog Day, Coleridge is interrupted over and over, often by those with the best of intentions, occasionally by self-inflicted means, but always with the same result: the loss of the poem to himself and posterity.
The production is filled with a star-packed cast, including Penn State Professor Emerita Jane Ridley, A. Bryan Humphrey and Quinn Mattfeld, who worked together in PSCS productions of "Noises Off" and "The Rivals." Mattfeld won a 2019 Broadway World Regional Tony Award for his performance as Hamlet for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and appeared on Broadway as Yepikhodov in "The Cherry Orchard" and as Mr. Wormwood in the national tour of "Matilda." The production also features Los Angeles actor and Penn State master of fine arts alumnus Bob Clendenin ("Mixed-ish," "Good Girls," "Cougar Town"), who starred as Roat in the PSCS production of "Wait Until Dark"; and Betsy Mugavero, an award-winning Shakespearean actor who makes her PSCS debut.
The new play is directed by Alexander Gelman, director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Northern Illinois University and producing artistic director of the Organic Theater Company, Chicago; with art direction by Dan Robinson, sound and music by Curtis Craig, costume design by Alyssa Ridder, technical direction by Chris Swetcky, and stage management by Megan Belgam.
Members of both cast and crew expressed appreciation for the opportunity to experiment within the craft they love.
“The most exciting thing about the process for me has been the pushing of the boundaries of existing Zoom-age technology,” said Ridley. “It is like learning a new language for the actors and I can only imagine what it is like for our tech gurus to play in this particular sandbox.”
“Tech guru” Craig said he is intrigued by the new medium, but at the same time does not want to lose the parts that make sound for the theater special.
“This is the first streaming production that I’ve been a part of from the beginning, and a lot of what I am thinking about is focused on how to not allow the limitations of the medium to completely define the project," said Craig. "Sound has always been the theatrical design discipline that could break out of the ‘box’ of the proscenium and live in and around the audience. How do we do that now?”
For Ridder, costume design for the production has forced her to flex her creative muscles — even more than usual.
“With social distancing we can't have physical fittings so that drapers can adjust each costume to suit the figure of the actor and the form of the character. Without dressers backstage — or, off screen — we won't have the fluidity of magical quick changes or the perfectly styled wig,” she explained. “What I can do as a designer is draw attention to this absence of talented hands to make it feel intentional, and maybe even funny. Our director Alexander Gelman challenged us to invent a visual language for this brand-new medium, which to me means I must provoke our limitations to spark my creative choices.”
Penn State Centre Stage artistic director Rick Lombardo, award-winning stage director, artistic director and playwright, chose the play because of his relationship with Carter and the chance to have several PSCS alumni involved in the production.
"As we continue to explore ways to tell stories and make theater in this time of social-distancing and shuttered theaters, this production will be our third consideration this summer in exploring these new modes. We are attempting to sharpen our use of these tools, preparing for the possibility that we may be using this platform to create art longer than we would like. Penn State Centre Stage Virtual can never replace the real thing, but as artists we need to keep pushing forward in our work," said Lombardo.
Carter was director of the Penn State School of Theatre and producing artistic director from 1995–2017. His concept for "Coleridge Interrupted" came to him in a flash when his wife, Ruby Allen, mentioned a reference to The Person from Porlock in a novel she was reading.
"The piece came to me in a burst," said Carter. "I had the luxury of time to revisit and edit and keep refining, and ultimately I had the great good fortune to collaborate with other artists to further hone the play and make it performance-ready," he said.
Penn State Centre Stage Virtual is offered free to the public and was created to support Penn State students during this difficult time. The School of Theatre Future Fund offers financial assistance to help offset the needs of students in the School of Theatre who are adversely impacted and in need of emergency assistance.