New Ground Theatre at the Village Theatre has long been known for offering riveting, cutting-edge contemporary plays, but co-hosting their latest is the first brand-new one staged there in many years.
Matt Moody, general manager of the Village (2113 E. 11th St., Village of East Davenport) is directing “Hands of Ivory,” a new play by Brian Leibforth of Chicago, a 2018 graduate of St. Ambrose University. Originally scheduled for November, it’s had some stumbling blocks, and the diverse cast is bringing it to life in three performances, Feb. 11-13.
How do we measure the quality of life? How hard would you fight for it? How much would you endure for those who love you? “Hands of Ivory” is described as “a beautiful, clever play that travels into some of the darkest territories of who we let ourselves become.”
“It’s a terrific play,” Moody said recently. “It’s about a young man who’s a piano prodigy, who’s about to go away to music school, fresh out of high school, and discovers that he has a mass in his brain. It has to be surgically removed and it’s all about the consequences of having that surgery and the impact of that on its own, and on his relationship with his mother.
“It’s a very human story, it touches a real issue,” the director said. “For a doctor, a successful surgery may be different than a success for the patient. Getting to the ending there, is a twist I’d say is at a really M. Night Shyamalan level.”
The cast features Nicole Collins Payney, Anthony Mitchell, DeMario Rankin, Julian Totten, Wyatt West, Makis Witt, Don Faust, Scot Gehret, Celtic Honey, and Alicia Guzman.
Leibforth was a double major at SAU in Davenport, in theater and marketing. The 25-year-old Chicago native is an actor, writer and director. At Ambrose, he directed the play “Lonely Planet,” in the black-box theater.
After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles and studied acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory. After the March 2020 pandemic shutdowns, Leibforth moved back to his parents’ house, where he wrote the play (his first) and is working remotely for an insurance company.
“That’s actually when I had time to write this play ‘cause I was stuck in my life and I was just like, I need to do something,” he said recently. “I’ve had this idea for around 10 years.”
A pandemic silver lining
“Finally, there was an opportunity,” Leibforth said of coming back home. “A silver lining of this pandemic, there was no excuses, like I literally was doing nothing.”
He finished writing “Hands of Ivory” in October 2020. Leibforth doesn’t play piano, and picked that subject partly based on his life as a creative artist.
“I kind of wanted to separate it from me. I didn’t want it to like me word for word,” Leibforth said. “My passion is acting, but instead of that, l changed it to piano.”
“It’s difficult to write about your life, to be honest about yourself, when you’re writing about yourself. And so you kind of need the disconnect,” he said, noting he didn’t want it to be egotistical.
The writer described the play as “the sorrowful cautionary tale of a young piano prodigy, named Luke, who struggles to cope with his life after receiving terrible news. And the stories about how we must constantly fight to move forward in our lives and not be swallowed by our past traumas,” he said.
The story in a way is relatable to actors and other artists who had their careers derailed by COVID, Leibforth said.
“I think we lost a lot of things and who are we, when we lose those things,” he said. “I know a lot of people, they spent their whole lives saying I’m going to go into this theater industry and for the past two years, it hasn’t been around.
“I’ve seen a lot of people struggle with their identity – because who are you when you lose that thing, and are you able to move on, and what happens when you don’t move on?” Leibforth said. “And that’s kind of what this is.”
Since he came up with the idea years ago, it wasn’t inspired by the pandemic, but coincidentally feels very timely.
“It’s like, what happens when we take something away. Are we still the same?” Leibforth said. “I’ve always liked that theme and it’s always been in my head and it just happened to be when I wrote it, this happened to be like a lot of people were going through.”
He chose Village Theatre to produce “Hands of Ivory” upon the recommendation of his SAU theater professor, Cory Johnson.
“You’ve put so much effort into this that it’s kind of like your child and you’re kind of sending your child to school and you don’t know if it’s gonna be all right,” Leibforth said. “But you know, you gotta take that chance.”
He hasn’t been part of the Village rehearsal process, but plans to see one performance.
“I hope it works out, but I know I gave them a good recipe, as long as they follow the directions and all the the instructions right.”
Village Theatre home to many kinds of entertainment
The Village Theatre has a pretty full schedule overall, hosting a wide variety of events — including live music, open mic nights, comedy and burlesque (as the home to Taboo Burlesque).
The popular Show Us Your Pokeballs improv-comedy troupe is doing their sold-out grand finale show Saturday night.
After seven years of bringing nerdy and dirty hilarity to the Quad Cities and beyond, the SUYP Comedy Troupe is closing the curtain once and for all with an event for the ages, according to its event description.
“Come and celebrate the history of SUYP with a show filled with improv, sketch, and stand-up – starring the performers you know and love, and welcoming back special guests who were once part of the SUYP family themselves!” it says.
Joshua Kahn and Nikki Murray reunite one final time to host this extravaganza that is sure to be filled with laughs and tears, they said of the 8 p.m. Saturday show.
Billy Branch will appear for an Mississippi Valley Blues Society fundraising event at the Village Theatre, on Wednesday, Feb. 9th. Advance tickets are $10; $15 at the door, MVBS members, $8 in advance, $12 at the door. Doors open at 7 p.m., the show starts at 8 and ends at 9:30 p.m.
Performances of “Hands of Ivory” will be Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11-12, with doors opening at 7 p.m. and show at 8 p.m., plus Sunday, Feb. 13, with doors at 2 p.m. and show at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door.