Relative Theatrics is set to bring a play to the stage for the first time this weekend.
“The Big Heartless,” by Dale Dunn, is scheduled to play at 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday and April 11-14 at the Gryphon Theatre, 710 Garfield St. Tickets are $12 in advance or $16 the day of the performance. Students and seniors get a $2 discount.
“The Big Heartless” follows two teenagers, Cliff and Monsoon, as they escape from an abusive reform school and find themselves at a cabin the Montana woods with a man named Mac, who works with a group on wolf reintroduction.
Mac’s only neighbors are an orphaned teenager named Jean and her grandparents, whose health is declining. Jean urges Mac to take the two runaways in, as they offer her a chance for friendship apart from a computer game.
“The Big Heartless” is new to the stage, but it isn’t new to the Laramie theater community. It was part of the Relative Theatrics 2017 Playwrights Voiced series, an annual festival of new works.
During Playwrights Voiced, plays are given a staged reading, which is a step short of a full production.
Relative Theatrics producing artistic director Anne Mason said the series received 200 play submissions for its latest year, compared to about 30 in its first year.
Dunn, who runs a theater company in Santa Fe, traveled to Laramie for the reading last spring. She said that was the first time she’d heard the play read all the way through.
“I did go home from there and did some rewrites — things that weren’t clear, things the actors asked me about,” she said. “It was helpful to hear it out loud.”
Meanwhile, as Mason began making selections for the Relative Theatrics 2017-2018 season, she wasn’t satisfied with the final play. She realized “The Big Heartless” brought together themes and questions addressed in the other three productions of the season. Plus, the goal of Playwrights Voiced is to help plays take a step toward full production.
Dunn sent a final round of revisions to Mason in early January, following another reading that took place in New York.
“I really appreciate them not putting a big paw all over it, but letting me find my way with it,” she said.
She said she is also grateful for the opportunity to stage a new play, which isn’t always easy in the theater industry.
“I appreciate that Ann is willing to take a risk on a new work that really has never been on stage before,” she said.
As she travels to Laramie for the premiere, Dunn said she’s looking forward to seeing her work in the hands of others.
“You try to write a script that is open to interpretation because the beauty of playwriting is collaboration,” Dunn said. “You leave room for a director to bring his or her insight, and the actors to bring their insight in, which is always a thrill.”
Mason said “The Big Heartless,” set in Montana, captures the feel of Western living.
“It speaks so much to a way of life where you have great access to big skies and mountains and nature,” Mason said.
Characters in different stages of life offer different perspectives about mortality as well as how technology can aid or hinder social interactions. Another central idea in the play concerns how people take care of each other.
“In moments of fear or misunderstanding, society can lead toward destruction, in the sense of locking up or killing those things that are wilder than we might be able to comprehend,” Mason said.
The production is directed by Blake Watson, a University of Wyoming student who has worked in several Relative Theatrics productions. Mason said Watson is a critical thinker who can comprehend a story from multiple angles.
“I was really excited to give him the opportunity to have a bigger production,” she said.
“The Big Heartless” contains adult themes and language. Seating takes place on the Gryphon Theatre stage, so tickets are limited to 50 per night.