Critic At Large WeAreGreenBay

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Translated Play in Sturgeon Bay Strikes Universal Chords

Rogue Theater

STURGEON BAY, Wis. - The play “Visiting Hour” in 25 words: In a hospital room, a complex woman goes to extremes out of desperation to save a soul – that of her daughter, who has drunk bleach.

The production of “Visiting Hour” by Rogue Theater is unusual in four ways.

One. A scholar is the source of material for the amateur troupe. The play by José Luis Alonso de Santos comes by way of translation from Spanish by Phyllis Zatlin, a transplanted resident of Jacksonport on Lake Michigan in Door County.

Two. The mother character enacts a hybrid monologue of 90 minutes, broken only by cryptic lines of a sullen, by-the-book nurse and a whispered “Okay” by the daughter. In the case of Rogue Theater, at the fore as the mother is co-founder Lola DeVillers, directed by her husband, Stuart Champeau.

Three. The timing is deliberately specific. The performances – continuing to Sept. 23 – coincide with suicide prevention activities at this time of year.

Four. It is a finale. “Visiting Hour” will be the last production for Rogue Theater in Jaycee Hall. The troupe is searching for a new home.

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Photo caption: Under the watchful eye of the mother (Lola DeVillers), a nurse (Amanda Sallinen) adjusts the IV connection of her patient (Keri Grimsley). (Rogue Theater photo)

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The performance is something of a dual feat. As the mother, Lola DeVillers grabs most of the attention in doing the vast majority of the speaking and crazy-quilt character building. As the daughter who is unable to/under orders not to speak, Keri Grimsley stays totally focused in a reactive role with her eyes speaking volumes. Both performers are wholly “on” for the 90-minute hunk of sheer concentration.

DeVillers has a gift for unleashing the gist of her oddball yet understandable character. The mother has done such whacky things as patted an intriguing bald spot on a doorman and touched the hands of a bank clerk in wonder of their allure to her, but primarily she’s a mother on full alert for her daughter.

As the mother talks, jokes, sings and dances – she’s trying ANYTHING to break through – she reveals to the audience clues to herself and the family. The daughter has written a book of poetry, is separated from her husband, is alienated from her teenage daughter, is concerned that her state of mind is genetic through her father and grandfather.

Some of the mother’s statements are theories or conjectures. The daughter’s “yes,” “no,” “true” or “false” can be read on daughter/Grimsley’s face and/or body language. The only time the daughter is heard is when she scribbles a note to her mother, and her recorded voice is played as if she is speaking.

That this play originated in Spain is not obvious. When the mother sings, the songs are from the American vocabulary of popular and traditional songs, except for a snippet of opera. The hospital room could be from St. Anywhere. The people in the mother’s life or stories have no hint of being Spanish. A box of chocolates, the mother’s make-up, the clothing, the facial tissue, the handbag – anything that comes into play in the story – is of any city anyplace in the world. Translation: “Visiting Hour” is essentially from any country. There are mothers and daughters in Spain going through the same trials as in America... or Japan... or Australia... or England... or Iceland... or Argentina. People are people. Some hurt. Maybe “Visiting Hour” was written in Spain, but it could have been practically anyplace.

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Creative: Playwright José Luis Alonso de Santos; translation – Phyllis Zatlin; director – Stuart Champeau; set designer – Lola DeVillers; sound and lighting technicians – Stuart Champeau, Dan Sallinen

Cast: Joyce – Lola DeVillers; Lisa – Keri Grimsley; Nurse – Amanda Sallinen

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

Remaining performances: 2 p.m. Sept. 15; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21, 22; 2 p.m. Sept. 23

Info: (920) 818-0816

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VENUE: The performance takes place on a rectangular stage raised one foot from the floor of the gathering room in Sturgeon Bay Jaycee Hall. Seating is on folding chairs. The floor is of square, green and white tiles, the walls faux-wood paneling, the dropped ceiling of white tiles. On the opposite end of the space from the stage is a bar for concessions. The box office is a table at the entrance of the hall. On one wall is a display of Rogue Theater productions over time. The space is not a theater but has been of the theater, if only for a few years for Rogue Theater.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My latest book, “I Fell Out of a Tree in Fresno (and other writing adventures),” is available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum and Bosse’s.


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