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Small stage world: Mississippi play premieres in Kentucky

Playwright Beth Kander takes William Shakespeare's quote that "all the world's a stage" one step further.

"In the world of the stage, it's a really small world," Kander says.

That helps to explain why her play See Jane Quit, which won the 2008 Mississippi Theatre Association Play writing Award, is having its world premiere in Central Kentucky.

Kander's boyfriend is old pals with Tim X Davis, director of the theater program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Recently, they were visiting, renewing an acquaintance that started when they met while directing theater in Biloxi, and Kander mentioned that she wrote plays.

"Almost as an afterthought, I said, 'Well I'm always looking for new scripts. Why don't you send me something?'" Davis recalls.

Kander sent two scripts, and one of them, See Jane Quit, immediately clicked with Davis.

BCTC's production opened Thursday and will continue through Saturday.

It is the second world premiere for the young BCTC theater program. The first was Davis' Dancing With Dani in 2008. It's also the second world premiere by a Lexington college theater troupe in less than a month; University of Kentucky Theatre just presented the initial production of Aleks Merilo's Blur in the Rear View.

BCTC student Leah Dick, who plays the title role in See Jane Quit, says, "I'm really excited being able to set a precedent for other people to follow."

Veteran Lexington actor Allie Darden, who plays Jane's best friend, says, "So many times, you go out to audition for that great play like Steel Magnolias, and then you get a role that was made famous by some great actress and you think, 'I couldn't possibly do as well as they did it.'

"In a world premiere, you birth it. It's your part."

Adding to the excitement of presenting a world premiere is that next weekend's performances will be during the Southeastern Theatre Conference. More than 4,000 theater professionals and serious amateurs will be in Lexington from Thursday to Saturday.

Davis emphasizes that BCTC's production of See Jane Quit is not associated with the SETC. But, in the small world of theater, he and everyone else involved in the show hope that word gets out and people make their way to the show from the conference, which will be centered at venues around Broadway and Main Street.

"I hope it will benefit from that," says Kander, who will be in town and plans to attend Saturday night's performance. "I think the Mississippi contingent is aware of it."

Darden says one of the fears with a world premiere is, "Nobody knows what it is, so you're not sure if people will come out to see it."

To Davis, the show is a break from more serious social commentary that the BCTC theater often presents.

See Jane Quit is "a classic farce, like Neil Simon," Davis says.

Jane is a waitress who decides to quit smoking to please her new boyfriend, an anti-tobacco activist. At the same time, crises pop up. Her best friend and her brother, who are married, decide to get a divorce. Her grandmother, with whom she lives, decides to sell her house to move to a retirement community. And there's something about the boyfriend, and a few other secrets.

In the first act, Jane's family and friends go to extraordinary efforts to shield her from all these crises, lest they drive her back to the comfort of her cigarettes.

"In my early 20s, I lived with someone who tried to quit," Kander said, "and we did the best job of walking on eggshells around her to not give her an excuse to start smoking again."

Dick, the daughter of WKYT news anchor Sam Dick, says, "What I like is that the characters are real. I'm sure everyone has relatives like Jane's."

The actors have not directly asked Kander questions, but they all have become Facebook friends. "It's been fun to see rehearsal photos and think, 'What scene are they doing there?'" Kander says.

Facebook is making the theater world even smaller than it already was.

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