September 10, 2013
Stu for Silverton and Lysistrata Provoke and Entertain
: Drew Combs (Mens Chorus), Simon Hamlin (Mens Chorus), Charles Leggett (Phlaccidos), Ben Wippel (Mens Chorus) in LYSISTRATA. Photo by Chris Bennion.
: Photo by Benjamin Wippel.
: Photo by Benjamin Wippel.
: Photo by Benjamin Wippel.
: Company of STU FOR SILVERTON. Photo by Chris Bennion.
Theater alum Benjamin Wippel (TH ’13) has spent the summer alternating between wearing a floral dress and an army combat uniform, in attention-getting plays that are only open for a few more weeks.
Benjamin Wippel (TH ’13) is in the men’s chorus of Lysistrata and the transgender support group in Stu for Silverton, two of Intiman’s second annual summer festival plays. Intiman has also staged We Wont Pay! We Won’t Pay! and Trouble in Mind to complete a splashy season with loud and upbeat presence. Though they are mainly lighthearted, each of the four plays deals seriously with major topics in diversity. Socioeconomic struggle, racism, gender diversity and sexual empowerment are on the stage, and with that, Intiman has caught plenty of reviewers’ eyes along the way. In one review, BroadwayWorld.com writer Jay Irwin called Lysistrata “amped,” “hard hitting,” and “brilliantly reworked.” Stu for Silverton was, in Irwin’s report, “a surprising story full of heart and hope in humanity.”
“In Stu for Silverton, I always feel like I’m at the Happiest Place on Earth,” says Wippel. “Silverton feels a lot like Disneyland because it’s a place I love, grew up in, and never want to leave.” The play, which is about the real-life transgender mayor of Silverton, Oregon, seems to inspire similar warm fuzzies in the audience, but in more of a charming The Music Man way than, say, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. “The show has an infectiously heartwarming story that makes it fun to do, so I always have a big smile on my face when we start and finish”.
This is the first time anyone in Seattle will have seen Stu the musical. Producing Artistic Director Andrew Russell wrote the play, even as he worked to reshape Intiman and the festival it produces now. Through four-hour trips and candid conversations, Russell worked to tell the story of Silverton Mayor and movie theater owner Stu Rasmussen, his decision to start wearing skirts and heels, his girlfriend Victoria and the town’s support of him against Westboro Baptist protestors. Wippel notes that the city’s attitude seems welcoming toward the premier. “At first I was surprised by the amount of love and support our multi-generational audiences have given this show, but I think Seattle is really connecting with Stu’s identity struggle and message of tolerance. I think the message that stands out most to me is: don’t judge small towns or people that you think are small-minded, because they just might surprise you.”
Wippel fell in love with Lysistrata “because it’s probably the funniest translation of that play I’ve ever read and the US Army concept really moved me.” Sheila Daniels, the Director (and Cornish Theater professor), set the age-old (B.C.!) comedy in a modern American military base in Afghanistan, where soldiers put on the ancient play as entertainment. In it, Lysistrata leads other Athenian women in a strike against war by refusing sex with their husbands until they make peace (Peace is also a character Wippel plays, a maidservant upon whose body is drawn a map of truce lines for the men, involving yet another flashy costume). Aristophanes’ original drama was written in ancient Greece during the war between Athens and Sparta, who were fiercely contending for supremacy. Lysistrata played at a festival in 411 BC in the theater of Dionysius next to the Acropolis. Intiman presents the play with plenty of Dionysian chaos at another festival 2,424 years later, though with a different war in mind.
All accounts paint Intiman’s play as very colorful (and suggestive), energetically delivered by an outrageous cast. Besides the clowning and vocal transformations Wippel enjoys while acting in the play, he says the sessions afterward were eye-opening. “I had no idea Lysistrata was such a divisive show for audiences until we started having talkbacks. After listening to heated opinions on rape in the military and women’s rights then and now, I’ve become divided on the show as well. Lysistrata shows the frustrations and dangers that are faced by men and women in the military, who are so invisible in our entertainment obsessed society. Hopefully audiences will see this and show them the respect and love they deserve.”
Wippel has probably seen plenty of familiar faces while on the sets this summer. Cornish Alumni Andrew Lee Creech (TH ’13), Skylar Tatro (TH ’13), and Matt Reed (MU ’13) are in several of the casts, as well as current students Chelsea Callahan (TH ’14), Drew Combs (TH ’14), Kamaria Hallums-Harris (TH ’14), Aishe Keita (TH ’14), and Xochitl Portillo (TH ’14). Between all of them, Cornish is well represented in all four plays.
You still have a little time to see these exciting and pointedly meaningful shows, but only a little! We think it’ll be worth the tickets- as Stu Rasmussen says “If I was going to be really rich and unhappy or have a lot of fun, fun wins every time.”
Lysistrata closes September 12 at Intiman and Stu for Silverton plays through September 15.
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