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William, Inc.
Two Worlds Theater 2013 Annual Staged Reading Festival


Jesus Mayorga, Kenneth Ruthardt, Venita Yawakie-Gauna, Wil Moore; Bottom: Lynnette Haozous
Staged readings are an important part of the playwright's writing process, and they are a unique theatrical creature-a step above a table read, but not yet a full production, and still a work in progress. Staged readings are often minimalistic; few (if any) props or set pieces, and typically actors sit in chairs onstage and read from scripts. They are rehearsed, but not extensively, and the point is to infuse more life into a play than can be gleaned from an informal read; to prop it up in a chair and see what else needs refining. This month, Two Worlds Theater and Film presents staged readings of three contemporary Native American plays for their annual staged reading festival at the VSA North Fourth Art Center. They're not a full productions—and don't worry, you won't pay the price of one—but they are a unique piece of the writing and production process that many audiences probably don't get to see.

Two Worlds began in 2006 as a North Fourth program of Native American theatre, film, and photography and features work that reflects the duality of the contemporary American Indian experience. The program continues under the direction of Kim Delfina Gleason and continues to promote Native American theatre and film by Native American writers, directors, producers, actors, and crewmembers. The reading I saw on opening night of the festival was of William, Inc., written by Lucas Rowley and directed by Terry Gomez. Rowley is of Inupiaq and Scottish heritage and is an award-winning science fiction author and playwright; he has had five readings and one production in Anchorage as well as readings in Los Angeles and New York.

Rowley's play fits well into the festival's themes, revolving around William, a mixed-blood Native and therapist in small-town Alaska who struggles to balance work stress, family responsibilities, and the internal tension he feels between his traditional Native past and the demands of his present life. Himself a former alcoholic who still craves daily, William, played by Kenneth Ruthardt, counsels other substance abusers in his practice. Ruthardt began acting two years ago and has since appeared on stage, TV, and in film (most recently he was cast in the new TV show "Buffalo in the Room"). While Ruthardt stumbled noticeably over a few lines in the beginning of the read, his performance became more natural and earnest as the play went on.

Rowley portrays William's inner demons, so to speak, as three distinct archetypes: Joker, a mischievous, court-jester type; Shadow, the personification of William's vices who seeks to make William relapse; and Traditional Woman, the representative of William's Native heritage who encourages him to seek solace in traditional practices. All three actors carried their respective roles well. Jesus Mayorga adopted a slouched posture, loose movements, and sly facial expressions as Joker. Wil Moore—who has performed at several local venues such as the University of New Mexico and The Desert Rose Playhouse—stood out as Shadow, using near-constant, somewhat maniacal laughter to make his character appropriately unsettling. Further, Moore was natural and present throughout; he didn't passively wait for his turn to speak. He was alert, attentive, actively listening to others and reacting naturally in character, a testament to his previous performance experience (past roles include Curly in Oklahoma!, Lancelot du Lac in Camelot, and Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance. Lynnette Haozous, a Two Worlds/North Fourth veteran and, most recently, a lead in Fadeaway in this year's Words Afire! Festival of New Plays at UNM, embodied what she was given as Traditional Woman: serenity, wisdom, and spirituality.

Venita Yawakie-Gauna portrayed another prominent character: Cindy, William's wife. Cindy is dissatisfied with her life, disconnected from her husband and her own Native heritage, and secretly abusing alcohol as well. Yawakie-Gauna is also new to performing, having made her debut in Fadeaway (upcoming roles are in "Buffalo in the Room" along with Ruthardt and a soon-to-shoot movie, She Walks in Beauty). Yawakie-Gauna made a sincere attempt to depict Cindy through her lines, although her delivery seemed to lack the depth and nuance that a more extensive rehearsal process (for a full production) would likely remedy.

Rowley finds an imaginative way to externalize a character's internal struggles and a largely internal journey; by personifying the archetypes, Rowley makes his story possible to tell and act out onstage. There is interesting interplay between the archetypes, William, and (eventually) other characters. Joker, Shadow, and Traditional Woman gradually break out of William's head into the "real" world, and we understand that William is not schizophrenic; rather, Rowley has written a fantasy. I'd note for Rowley to raise the stakes a bit; he builds significant tension as William is tempted to relapse into drinking again, but when things finally come to a head the resolution feels quick and a little too easy. Overall, though, Rowley's work is inventive, thoughtful, and infused with human elements to make it relatable to audiences of all backgrounds.

The Two Worlds Theater 2013 Annual Staged Reading Festival runs through July 20th at the VSA North Fourth Art Center, 4904 Fourth Street NW, 87107. Dancing with Fire by Kim Delfina Gleason (Navajo), directed by Rebecca Mayorga, will perform on July 19th at 7:00pm; The Mask Maker by Diane Glancy (Cherokee), directed by Shawna Sunrise, will perform on July 20th at 5:00pm; and the final performance of William, Inc. will be on July 20th at 7:00pm. There will be talkbacks after each performance with the plays' respective playwrights and directors (except for Rowley, who heads back to Alaska this week). Tickets are $5 for each performance and may be purchased at the door or online at twoworlds.simpletix.com. For more information about Two Worlds, visit their website or email twoworldstheaternm@gmail.com. Contact North Fourth at 505-345-2872 or info@vsartsnm.org.

--Sarah Parro



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