Backstage with ‘Venecia’

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(Host) The Parish Players of Thetford are celebrating their fortieth year of community theater.

Their current offering is Venecia. It’s an unusual comic fantasy, for adults only. It’s set in a brothel in Argentina.

VPR’s Susan Keese went backstage for a preview.

(Keese) The characters in Venecia are three prostitutes, a blind, elderly madam, and their most enthusiastic customer.

The play is laced with bawdy humor and allusions. But it’s not about sex.

It’ about hope, imagination and the redeeming power of love.

Bill Coons directs the play.

(Coons) “It’s really transcendent in a way because it really takes you into a place where hope is no longer a concept, it’s a reality.”

(Keese) The play is set in the poorest district of a remote Argentine city, in an atmosphere that seems bereft of hope.

Rita and Marta, the older and more cynical of the three chicas, ‘are lazing on the squalid patio outside their place of business. Just how starved they are for anything modern shows in their excitement when their client, Chato appears with a borrowed electric keyboard.

(Clapping to tango music)

(Keese) It’s time for tango lessons for Graciella, the youngest of the three

Their lack of opportunity also shows in their grudging gratitude toward La Gringa. She’s the madam who took them in and gave them a home, even if it is a brothel.

Now La Gringa is old, blind and confused. She totters around dragging a suitcase, begging for someone to help her realize her last desire. Director Coons:

(Coons) “That before she dies, she can meet again her lover from when she was a young woman and be forgiven because she stole some money from him and left him. The only problem is that he’s in Venice.”

(Keese) But young Graciela, who still believes in love, is taken in by LaGringa’s story and by her talk of el amor. Rose Catalona plays Graciela.

(Graciela) “I told La Gringa that we’d take her.”
(Rita) “Take her where, Graciela?”
(Graceiela) “Venecia”
(Marta) “Are you out of your mind? Graciela, why the hell did you say that? Can’t you see that La Gringa’s confused enough without you?”
(Marta) “Don’t you get it, Graciela? People like us don’t go anywhere. Just settle for what you’ve got and stop torturing the old girl.”(silence)
(Graciela) “Well, what are we going to do?
(Marta) “What do you mean, what are we going to do’?”
(Graceila) How are we going to get to Venecia?”

(Keese) The women have no idea where Venice is.

(Graciela) “Well it has to be near the sea. The old woman says the streets are made of water.”
(Marta) “Streets of water! Madre de Dios!”
(Graciela) “No, people there go around in boats. Don’t you listen when La Gringa is talking?”
(Marta) “No, Graciela, I don’t.”

(Keese) But eventually Marta and Rita– and the ever-present Chato get involved in scheming to fulfill La Gringa’s wish.

Director Coons says there’s no way they can really get to Venice.

(Coons) “But as one of the characters says, La Gringa’s blind. She can’t see anything. So let’s take her to Venice. We’ll build a plane’ … They build a plane. They build a gondola, and all of this wonderful stuff happens. So the whole movement of the play is this wonderful gift to her.”

(Keese) Never mind that the plane is no more than packing crates and saw horses or that the streets of water are a lake on the outskirts of the city.

The pilgrimage to Venice changes all their lives, and comes to a surprising resolution.

Actress Kim Meredith says her character, the tough-as-nails Marta, changes the most.

(Meredith) “She comes out of her bitterness and gets totally invested in creating this magical event. And she buys into it absolutely heart and soul. So it’s an enormous transformation.”

(Keese) Bill Coons says good theater often by-passes the intellect and goes straight for the heart.

He says Venecia may leave audiences wondering where the line is between reality and imagination. But he believes the play will leave them feeling wonderful.

For VPR Backstage, I’m Susan Keese.

Note: Venecia runs through July 16 at the Grange Theater in Thetford.

Parish Players website

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