The thespians at Hawkeye Community Theatre got an unusual opportunity recently when the playwright for their upcoming production came to the theater to watch rehearsal.
Performances of "The Big Five Oh" will be from Tuesday through Saturday at 7 p.m., with an afternoon matinee on Sunday at 2 p.m. Playwright Brian Mitchell, of Grinnell, said it is one of his more popular plays.
"The basic story is, a professor is approaching his 50th birthday," Mitchell explained.
-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Kim Dosland, left, and Ben Ahlers take care while handling an urn in this scene from “The Big Five Oh,” while the play’s author, Brian Mitchell, watches from the audience.
-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Jim Von Dolteren’s character must come to terms with his own aging and all the little things his family does to drive him crazy in Hawkeye Community Theatre’s production of “The Big Five Oh.”
"He's very concerned because his son, who's 22 or so, is kind of a slacker. His daughter is 26 and she's engaged to a 44-year-old guy and, worse yet, he's a Republican. His wife tries to bake to take her mind off things, but she can't bake worth a darn. He's kind of dealing with all this in the week leading up to his big birthday. Over the week he comes to terms with not only his age, but also his family."
Mitchell has four plays published so far. His first was "Squirrel Lake" in 2004. He said it took him longer than usual to figure out where the story in "Five Oh" was going.
"I started writing it right after 'Squirrel Lake.' I though it'd be funny to show how as you get older, life changes. I got through the first part really easily, but I didn't know where the play was going, so I kind of put it on the back burner for about five years," Mitchell said.
If you go:
What: "The Big Five Oh"
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. matinee June 10
Where: Hawkeye Community Theatre, 521 N. 12th St.
Cost: $10 available at the door or at hawkeyetheatre.com No reserved seats.
"It hit me that it wasn't just about growing old, but it was about dealing with your family and how people change as time goes on. Once that came to me, I wrote the rest of it rather quickly."
The first time he saw one of his plays performed, he said, "I hadn't been to many of the rehearsals, so all of a sudden it was fully formed.
"It was surreal to see people saying lines out of your mind, basically. It's always interesting to see how people interpret what you've written. A line you say one way in your mind can be said 100 ways on stage."
This play is pretty easy to interpret, he said.
"I think the biggest surprise for me was, I went to a production of 'The Big Five Oh' in Tipton and one of the minor parts just blew me away because he played the part better than I imagined it when I wrote it."
Director Jeff Bluml said the play is very funny, but also poignant.
"It's got a really good sense of timing and sense of humor," he said. "I've got three kids, and I'm a little over 50 now, and realizing a lot of the different aspects of what George is going through."
What is it like to have the playwright watching you interpret his work?
"Intimidating," Bluml joked.
"I hope not," Mitchell responded.
"No. It's actually a really great honor," Bluml said. "To have such a talent this close is, usually you don't even have this opportunity, so this is really great."
Though they all seemed to appreciate him coming, not all the players were so upbeat.
"It's very nerve-wracking," said Ben Ahlers, who plays the slacker son Eric. "The whole time after school until now I've just been sitting at home reviewing my lines. I want to meet his expectations. I hope to give him a good show, and to make him happy we are doing this."
When Ahlers was introduced to Mitchell, Mitchell was happy to play along with the intimidation.
"Did you understand the Shakespearean undertones in your character?" he said with a straight face.
Actor Kevin Rogers said, "It's exciting and intimidating at the same time. But he has made us very comfortable, so I think it will all go well."
Bluml summed up the crew's feelings towards Mitchell's visit.
"We want him to say, 'I wrote that!' Not, 'I wrote that?'"