New World Performance Lab hosts open rehearsal in third part of trilogy
— Industrial Valley is the third installment in the series titled Devil’s Milk Trilogy, presented at The Balch Street Theatre by New World Performance Laboratory, and is based on the book “Industrial Valley” by Ruth McKenny.
The setting is a familiar one, minimalist, to the point, and stripped of anything not essential to the storytelling: this was Akron during The Depression.
Headline after headline was acted, sung, danced and whispered. The cast drew you in and kept the script tight so you had no choice but to hang on and follow them through a decade of lows so low you could almost feel the hunger and desperation of the times. Their timing was impeccable, from the first word and the first snap of the fingers, to the last song of desperation and the last shout of celebration.
Under the direction of University of Akron’s Theater professor and Center for Applied Theater and Active Culture President and NWPL Co-Aristic Director James Slowiak, the cast took each headline assigned to them and formed their own script, effectively creating a historical ensemble that moved quickly from year to year through the 1930s. The actors did an impressive job of reformulating those headlines to craft their own lines, songs and music using 90- to 95-percent of McKenny’s own words.
The refrain “prohibition” was passed around like a quiet game of telephone, and the circumstances that led to a child’s gruesome death was acted out without being overtly dramatic. The light touch used to relate the harder moments of Akron’s history made for excellent theater.
The song refrain “Have another cup of coffee, have another piece of pie” was effectively used as irony to highlight how hard everyone, from manufacturers to the Beacon Journal reporters and editors to advertisers, tried to make light of the dire financial straits the city found itself in that.
If there is a best way to teach Akron’s history effectively than this is most certainly it.
The Devil’s Milk Trilogy is in part funded by The Knight Foundation. The first two parts to the trilogy were “Death of a Man,” which tells the story of genocide in the 1900s, and “Goosetown,” a tragic musical set in 1913, and written and composed by playwright JT Buck. Ruth McKenny was a full-time reporter for The Akron Beacon Journal during the years 1933 and 1934 and wrote “My Sister Eileen,” a memoir that was later adapted as the musical “Wonderful Town.”
The finished trilogy will take the stage next year.
For info, visit about the Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture/New World Performance Lab, visit https://www.facebook.com/catacnwpl/?fref=photo.