Two old friends want what the other has: wealth or love. Both are pretending to be someone they’re not.
That’s the premise of Mockingbird on Main’s next premiere – Alexander Richardson’s “Your Better Self” – opening July 8 at Mockingbird, 320 Main St., Davenport, which is dedicated to the presentation of new works.
Richardson’s new play deals with the wealthy Zenola Goodrich — who feels lacking in the love department, and Antoinette Caldwell, who married for love and lives in poverty. After a chance encounter, these two old friends catch up and realize they’re living the life the other wants, according to a synopsis.
A photoshoot scheduled as a favor will upend both of their lives and send them in search of their better selves. Funny and thought-provoking, this new play revitalizes an old classic and asks the question: Who is the best version of you?
“I’m constantly reading older plays and novels in search of the forgotten,” Richardson said in a recent release. “Many classic plays live long lives — Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Chekov all continue to draw artists and audience alike. But many plays, many stories, fall through the cracks of history. Alice Gerstenberg’s ‘Overtones,’ originally written in 1915, is one of these stories.”
“In the early 20th century, there was an explosion of theatre as regional and community theaters sprung up across America — what’s fascinating is that in a time where women still did not have the right to vote, community theaters were run largely by and for women and ‘Overtones’ is one of the relics of this movement,” he added.
“At a time when this was a radical concept, Gerstenberg wrote a play showing women having interior lives and thoughts,” Richardson said. “More than being a hostess, mother, or wife, women were people first.”
He added, “The way she illustrated this point was by having two sets of women on stage, portraying only two characters and while it’s now relatively common to have one actor playing multiple roles, I can’t recall any shows (other than ‘Overtones’) that required multiple actors to play one role.”
“When I finished reading it the first time I said, ‘where’s the rest of it? This is really fun, there should be more of it.’ And unprompted, the rest of the play came to me in the span of a weekend,” Richardson said.
“I’m always searching for things that hit me on the first read and Alex (Richardson) has really knocked it out of the park with this,” producer and Mockingbird co-owner Tristan Tapscott said. “It’s like ‘Inside Out’ meets ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ and it’s more than that, of course, but I knew I wanted to showcase this to the area right away; it’s his best work to date.”
“Your Better Self” is being directed by Cynthia Taylor and produced and designed by Mockingbird co-founders Tapscott and Savannah Strandin. The new play stars Sydney Dexter as Zenola; Jo Vasquez as Nolie; Emmalee Hilburn as Antoinette; Shyann Devoss as Toni; Alisha Hanes as Miranda; Inna Gomez as Chloe; Adam Cerny as John; and Eric Teeter as Charles.
Last fall, Richardson premiered his new adaptation of Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People,” at the intimate cabaret-style theater. It slashed the original from five acts and 30 characters (stretched across three hours), to just five characters and one act, across about 80 minutes.
New policy of “Pay what you can”
“Your Better Self” will play the 30-seat downtown Davenport venue July 8, 9, 15 and 16 at 8 p.m., with doors opening at 7:30. Mockingbird — which opened last July — is now a “Pay What You Can” venue. Most of its shows have carried a $15 admission price.
“I feel we’re not in the best of times financially, across the country,” Tapscott said Friday. “I’ve always felt the arts should be affordable for anyone. Savannah and I were looking at prices going up at regional theaters and Broadway, even local theaters base their prices on costs that keep going up.
“We felt that this was our small way of battling the bad economics we’re all facing,” he said. “We’re hopeful that if someone can’t afford a $15 ticket, and only has $5 to spend, they will still come.”
Tapscott based the new policy in part on the former QC Theatre Workshop in Davenport, which had the same ticket admission (“pay what you can”).
“Everything that the Workshop did, I admired,” he said Friday. “We might as well be like them. The nice thing is, we are doing original works (that don’t require royalties), and we do profit share with any of the playwrights. The better a show does, the better the playwright does.
“I feel so passionately about the local arts scene, I’m always willing to lose a little money for it,” Tapscott said, adding performers and creators are not charged any rent to stage shows at Mockingbird on Main.
Richardson’s “Their Town” auditions Saturday
Richardson’s new play “Their Town” (an earlier version premiered at Playcrafters in Moline) is coming to Mockingbird in the fall, Tapscott said. The playwright has revised it significantly, inspired by the classic Thornton Wilder play, “Our Town.”
“Their Town” concerns a small town in a fly-over state whose residents experience life, love, and death in the new century. The following roles are available for the show:
GEORGE – Male-identifying, 20s
EMILY – Female-identifying, 20s
MIKE – Male-identifying, 40-50s
CIERRA – Female-identifying, 30-50s (Hispanic or Latina actress preferred)
BERNARD – Male-identifying, 60-70s
HE – Male-identifying, any age
SHE – Female-identifying, any age
Actors of all races and ethnicities are encouraged to audition and should be prepared to read from the script. Rehearsals will begin in August (date pending cast availability) and “Their Town will be presented Sept. 23, 24, 30 and Oct. 1.
Guests at the Mockingbird can pay via cash or Venmo at the door. For further details, visit TheMockingbirdOnMain.com.