by ALYSSA RAMER
A family in the 1950s receives their eldest son back from war, blind and traumatized.
This is how Pima Community College’s Theatre Arts program set the scene for their production of “Sticks and Bones,” showing at the Black Box Theatre through Nov. 22.
The play revolves around a family whose son, David, returns from service in the Vietnam War.
The production covers some serious topics, including post-traumatic stress and blindness.
According to the press release, the story is influanced by some of playwright David Rabe’s own experiences in the Vietnam War and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” a TV show that ran in the ‘50s. The play has been produced nationwide and has won several awards.
Todd Poelstra, the PCC Theatre Arts program coordinator, is directing “Sticks and Bones.” He has directed many plays at Pima, such as last spring’s production of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Poelstra said the two productions are “vastly different, but not as different as you think.”
One difference is the extreme reduction in cast members from “Monty Python” to “Sticks and Bones,” a change from 30 students to seven.
The cast members “are exceptionally strong students,” Poelstra said. “They take care of themselves, they are mature and conduct themselves with professionalism.”
Two of the cast members from this semester’s earlier production of “Henry and Ramona,” directed by Mickey Nugent, returned for this show: Chris Dobson and Marchus Lewis.
Dobson plays David, the main character, and said the role is very different than his last one.
“The main difference between ‘Sticks and Bones’ compared to ‘Henry and Ramona’ would be the overall subject matter and the environment,” he said. “There’s only seven of us in ‘Sticks and Bones’ and we’re portraying some very dark characters.
“We got comfortable with each other really fast, in the sense of being able to make mistakes in front of one another and appreciating what each other brings to the table.”
Lewis played Ribsy, Ramona’s dog, in “Henry and Ramona” and is portraying Sergeant Major in this production. He is not just acting in the play. He helped prepare the set as well.
He also felt the small cast has formed a strong bond of trust between each other.
“I found that both shows were an exciting and fulfilling experience,” he said. “However, the smaller cast of ‘Stick and Bones’ allows for a better sense of trust among my fellow actors, and that’s why it is easier to go places with ‘Sticks and Bones’ than I, or we, could have ever gone with ‘Henry and Ramona.’”
The whole story centers on David and his family, made up of four cast members. David’s parents are Ozzie and Harriet, played by Teddy Cleveland and Emily Fuchs. Rick, David’s brother, is played by John Noble.
Emily Fuchs said so far, the experience in this play has been a unique acting opportunity.
“This production has been very interesting from an actor’s perspective because we have to act as if we are in a 1950s sitcom,” she said. “This posed a challenge because we had to stray from realism in our acting. The content of the show is intense, so I have to disassociate myself from my character because we are two very different people.”
The other characters are Zung, played by Erica Milner and Father Donald, played by Rafael Acuna.
According to Poelstra, the stage construction and preparation for this play has also been drastically different from his last one. “Monty Python” required several settings, whereas “Sticks and Bones” takes place in one setting, Ozzie and Harriet’s house.
The director commented that because of this lighter workload, students were able to spend more time on individual pieces.
The set is comprised of new pieces, created by students for this show, as well as some made in the past.
Students from the Stagecraft class (THE 111 and 112, fall and spring) constructed the set along with other students. There is also a Scene Design class (THE 223) currently scheduled for spring 2016, which is involved in this process.
Student assistants from the theatre program and other majors convened during summer to help build sets.
Several students have moved through the ranks as time has progressed. Students working the sound booth or lighting in one production may change roles in the next production.
As far as the acting experience earned from this play, Dobson said it has been his most challenging so far.
“Working on ‘Sticks and Bones’ has been to date the hardest show I’ve ever done, which is a good thing,” he said. “I’ve learned so much in this process and I’m continuing to learn.
“Todd Poelstra has given us plenty of room and support to learn and grow and to really play with our characters,” he added. “It’s been a fun, yet arduous experience but seeing the arc of how much we’ve grown as collaboration has been wonderful.”
Marchus Lewis has gotten to watch his fellow actors practice and is in awe of their work.
“This play has a density and richness that continues to surprise me with each day of rehearsal,” he said. “I play a supporting role in the show and I only have really one main scene, so I get to sit around during rehearsals.
“What the actors and director are doing with the piece is just sensational,” Lewis continued. “Watching them working on the scenes, and getting new ideas and changing this and changing that, I’m blown away by the risk everyone is taking.”
“Sticks and Bones” is showing at the Center for the Arts at West Campus in the Black Box Theatre.
Tickets are available at the box office beside the Proscenium theatre, which is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays and before the show starts. They are $18 for the public. Students, members of the military, Pima Employees and seniors can attend for $16.
The show will run Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. from Nov. 12 to 22. On Nov. 19, there will be an American Sign Language interpreter.
For more information, visit pima.edu/cfa or call 206-6986.
Chris Dobson: David
Emily Fuchs: Harriet
Teddy Cleveland: Ozzie
John Noble: Rick
Marchus Lewis: Sergeant Major
Erica Milner: Zung
Rafael Acuna: Father Donald
“Sticks and Bones”
When: Nov. 12-22
Where: Black Box Theatre,
West Campus CFA
Box Office: 206-6986