Stage & Dance

BCTC Theater stages world premiere of play about gun violence

Will Stull and Christina Duong as Alley during a rehearsal of The Bottle Tree in the television production room at BCTC in Lexington, Ky., Monday, June 13, 2016.
Will Stull and Christina Duong as Alley during a rehearsal of The Bottle Tree in the television production room at BCTC in Lexington, Ky., Monday, June 13, 2016.

The practice stage for Bluegrass Community and Technical College Theater is surrounded by lighting equipment and a portable, green chalkboard that says “Love is all you need,” a phrase that gains relevance as director Tim X Davis leads rehearsal.

The Bottle Tree by Beth Kander explores gun violence, a topic that is back in the headlines after the mass shooting last weekend at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub.

“We talked about Orlando after it happened,” Davis said of his cast. “The situation in the play is somewhat different in that this is a school, and the events are on a smaller scale.

“But it brought things into perspective and made them painfully relevant. We hope that anyone that sees the show is not put off by that and draws a positive feeling from it.”

In the play, Alley, the main character of the production,is a sarcastic but shy young lady who is having a difficult time coming to terms with a mass shooting by her brother that took place at fictional East Maple High in Mississippi. She struggles with finding herself after being overshadowed by her brother’s traumatic decision, and her worried mother and therapist take it upon themselves to give her the tough love and guidance she needs to get through.

It reaffirms why we do this. It is a reflection of the times we live in, and things like this help people cope.

Tim X Davis, BCTC Theatre director

Davis said Kander started writing the play the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 that took the lives of 20 children and six adult staff. The world premiere of her play, a reaction to that incident, comes just one weekend after the nation’s latest tragic episode of gun violence.

“This is something we should all be aware of,” Davis said of the theme of gun violence. He feels that this is a topic we have to “work to make better.”

Kander’s work is not new to the Lexington area. BCTC has worked with her previously, presenting two of her other plays, which have gone on to be published by Steele Spring Stage Rights..

Davis said he likes producing Kander’s work because she has “good material. It is usually very challenging. There is a lot of good dialogue; it is well written.

“She tackles topics that are difficult, but she comes at them from a point of view of wanting to make the audience think rather than provide easy answers,” Davis explains.

This is not the first play BCTC Theater, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, has tackled that’s covered a significant event. Last year, BCTC staged The Katrina Project: Hell and High Water, which covered Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and its aftermath.

Even though plays may shed light on a sensitive subject, the cast and crew know how to adjust.

Kathy Swango, a veteran actor and faculty member at BCTC, will be portraying Alley’s great aunt Myrna. Swango takes time to “read through the script several times” to get a good understanding of her character.

Even the cast and crew behind the camera are able to accommodate the strong emotions that may arise.

Assistant Director and Lighting Designer Becki Tonges said there are no easy answers for events as complex as mass shootings, but she understands that there is still work to be done for production.

Davis says, particularly in working with students, plays like The Bottle Tree demonstrate the relevance of theater beyond simply putting on a show.

“It reaffirms why we do this,” Davis said. “It is a reflection of the times we live in, and things like this help people cope.”

If You Go

‘The Bottle Tree’

When: 7:30 p.m. June 17, 18; 1:30 p.m. June 19

Where: Farish Theater inside the Lexington Public Library, 140 E. Main Street

Tickets: $10; pay at the door; cash and checks only, no credit cards.

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