Collaboration of Cleveland Cultural Giants Adds a New Play to the Repertoire
The joint production is part of a festival of new plays and one of the few ever written for a combined effort by a theater group and a symphony orchestra. In this week’s State of the Arts WKSU’s Vivian Goodman has a preview of “The Good Peaches.”
The Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Play House have collaborated before, but never on this large a scale.
“The Good Peaches” features more than half of the orchestra’s musicians.
“Three actors, 56 musicians. It’s an enormous undertaking,” says Laura Kepley, artistic director of the Cleveland Play House.
Brett Mitchell, associate conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, is in charge of the music. Logistics have been challenging and rehearsals intense in this joint endeavor.
“This is absolutely a major collaboration, as it should be to celebrate Cleveland Play House’s centennial.”
Music triggers imagination
Kepley says the world premiere owes a lot to Cleveland’s world-class orchestra.
“The music gives us a storm. It gives us the sea. The music really is the trigger for our imaginations.”
“The Good Peaches” will be the Play House’s third partnership with the Cleveland Orchestra. In 2010, they joined forces for Kurt Vonnegut’s “A Soldier’s Tale” with music by Igor Stravinsky.
In 2012, they teamed up again for “Every Good Boy Deserves Favor” by Tom Stoppard, with music by Andre Previn.
Needed to add to the canon
But to follow it up in the Play House Centennial season, Kepley says they had a problem. “We realized that we had pretty much used up every existing piece for actors and orchestra.”
So they commissioned a new play.
In “The Good Peaches,” music and dramatic dialogue intertwine in the story of a young girl fighting an indomitable force. Aurora is a delivery girl on a mission to deliver a wedding dress to the queen.
“And then,” says Kepley, “an unexpected event comes.”
“This storm,” says Mitchell, “that the little girl, Aurora, goes through.”
Music for her changing world
Brett Mitchell knew the plot twist needed dramatic but contrasting music, both tempestuous and contemplative.
“My task,” he says, “was to see if I could find some repertoire already written that might help tell the story.”
To evoke the violent storm, he chose the crashing crescendos of Benjamin Britten’s “Sea Interludes” from the opera “Peter Grimes.”
But when Aurora’s whole world changes, the music does, too.
“Everybody she knows, everything she knows has disappeared after this storm,” says Mitchell. “And as Aurora starts to feel her way through this new world and try to get her bearings, that’s when we make the shift from the kind of full orchestra cacophony of the Britten to the very minimalist textures of just the string section.”
Strings alone play John Adams’s “Shaker Loops.”
“It was originally for string septet,” says Mitchell, “but he arranged it later for string orchestra.”
Seating presents staging dilemna
The music fits, but fitting the players on stage is a game of musical chairs.
“After the Britten has concluded, we’re done with the winds and the brass and the percussion,” says Mitchell. “So I don’t know whether we’ll keep them on stage or do something with the lighting or how that will work.”
But the conductor embraces the challenge, both technical and artistic.
“We’re trying to blend this great art form that the Cleveland Orchestra does so exceedingly well with a new medium, to create something that’s perhaps greater than just an orchestral performance or just a theatrical performance.”
Launching new plays
“The Good Peaches” is part of the Play House’s eleventh annual New Ground Theater Festival, a project of Cleveland philanthropist Roe Green.
“I’m not sure where this is all going to end up,” says Green. “But what I’m happy to say is that new plays are being done, and these new plays are being done around the country.”
Quiara Alegria Hudes is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Good Peaches." Hudes won the first Roe Green Award in 2012. That same year her play “Daphne’s Dive,” which is set to open off-Broadway later this month, had its world premiere at the Play House.
“That brought her to Cleveland when we were producing 'Every Good Boy Deserves Favor,’” says Kepley. “So she was able to see that collaboration, and that’s when the idea was sprung that she would be the perfect person to write a new play for actors and orchestra.”
Director Kepley says commissioning "The Good Peaches" is in keeping with the mission of the Tony-award winning Cleveland Play House.
“This is adding to the canon and I am quite confident that orchestras and theaters around the country will be wanting to produce their own 'Good Peaches.'"