Hit me with your best shot

Human Race premieres Michael Slade’s new “Family Shots”

By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: The Human Race Theatre Company premeiers “Family Shots” Jan. 22-Feb. 8 at the Loft Theatre

Bring in a heart throb, a popular theatre and TV soap star, an experienced stage-film-TV pro and, with others, prepare to create the first interpretation of New York playwright Michael Slade’s character-rich story of egos and needs, with artfully light recognition of the familial relationships we all know.

It’s called “Family Shots.” And that’s just the beginning!

Corbin Bleu (“High School Musical”), Colleen Zenk (Barbara Ryan of long running As the World Turns, on stage as Tallulah Bankhead) and Randy Brooks (Reservoir Dogs) form the nucleus family. Mom, Marsha (Zenk), can only deal with HER issues, although Dad, Sam (Brooks), is in the hospital after an apparent heart attack. Photographer son Aaron (Bleu), his husband Malcolm (Adam Halpin), Dr. Patel (Arash Mokhtar) and Joyce (Annie Pesch), complete the well-experienced cast.

The dynamics of the older couple cause the younger couple, newly married, to wonder what long-term commitment really means. Is it looking for answers or accepting the apparent truth of what they see? But, don’t be fooled – this is a comedy. And it is about love in its various forms, for better or worse.

Producing artistic director Kevin Moore chose the script. “We live in a time when marriage is being dissected, judged and redefined,” he said. “Michael Slade and this play are exactly right for right now.”

About high-profile Corbin Bleu: he doesn’t usually do regional non-musical theatre, so his presence in Dayton caused a big social media flurry when he was spotted at the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s New Year’s Eve concert (rehearsals had already begun in December). Along with the entire cast, he is working to develop his character Aaron’s reality.

Randy Brooks noted there is no mention of interracial marriage in the script, but the cast and director did discuss the issue thoughtfully as part of the rehearsal process.

Zenk is not only renown for her longevity as a soap character and the many motivations created for her by various writers – vixen, villain, bitch and others – but also for her earnest and effective work bringing awareness to tongue cancer through her own experiences.

She has an opportunity for high drama and histrionics with her very needy character, wife and mom Marsha. It’s an actor’s dream role and she knows how to cover the emotional span. Or spin.

The Human Race Theatre Company (HRT) remains committed to professional presentations of new works and has established a consistent connection with playwright Slade.

I had a recent in person chat with Brooks and Slade, both eager to talk about the connections and cohesion that cast, company and playwright feel with each other. Slade stressed the strength of the ensemble.

“It feels particularly fitting to have this play premiere at The Human Race Theatre,” he said, wanting to emphasize how strong he feels their relationship has become over the years. “I feel unconditionally supported and nurtured as a playwright here. I’m glad to be back in Dayton.”

It seems HRT can’t stop stating and restating that sense of love and family. Director Moore has said, “From the first rehearsal I could tell this cast was so in tune – they were family from day one.”

Brooks’ character, Sam, has been described as charming – as the actor himself certainly demonstrated. He talked about Sam: “He loves his business, it’s his refuge. Does he wonder if he’s responsible for his wife’s neediness? He doesn’t wallow in guilt and sadness. He’s a fixer, and plans to do something, with aplomb and humor.” This is Brooks’ first opportunity to create a new character. “Although,” he added, “I feel I always bring my own interpretation to any character I play.

The interview was wide ranging over several topics including being gay, others’ perceptions and general negative comments and assumptions of “them,” until it becomes real with people they know and love. That kind of bias is not a part of this plot.

Slade didn’t dwell on his past work seen here but Dayton audiences will remember among others, HRT’s powerful “Under a Red Moon,” directed by Margarett Perry, the suck-all-the-air-from-a-room conflict between a psychiatrist and a serial killer. They’ve also done a workshop, “Gingerbread Children,” bringing light to child sexual abuse.

The Zoot Theatre Company also did “And a Child Shall Lead,” Slade’s often produced look at real slice of the life of incarcerated Holocaust children. It had never been done with puppets before, but Slade found it affecting – as did tearful audiences.

That “Family Shots” is wildly funny brings us a new view of the cordial enthusiastic playwright. There are many ways to dramatize a point. Slade knows what he’s doing.

HRT’s superb residential technical staff brings their individual creativity: Scott J. Kimmins did the scenic design; costume design by Janet G. Powell. Of course the ever-inventive John Rensel is light designer and Kay Carver is production stage manager. Sean Michael Flowers created incidental music.

“Family Shots” will begin with a preview performance Thursday, Jan. 22. Tickets are $30 and down for adults, $15 for students. For all performances Jan. 23-Feb. 8, adult tickets are $35, student tickets are $17.50. Show times are 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. Tuesdays and Sundays begin at 7 p.m. All performances will take place at the Metropolitan Art Center’s Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. For tickets and more information, please call 937.228.3630 or visit humanracetheatre.org.

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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