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Nick Baldasare (lying down), Jeff Horst and Josie Merkle in The Promised Land (Red Generation Photography)

Nick Baldasare (lying down), Jeff Horst and Josie Merkle in The Promised Land (Red Generation Photography)

By Richard Ades

More and more, creative types are refusing to let rejection hold them back.

Authors who can’t find a publisher are publishing their own books. Critics whose publications get shut out from under them are starting their own blogs. (Yes, that’s a situation I know well.)

Then there’s Bill Cook, Columbus State professor and fledgling playwright. When he was ready to stage an original comedy called Love in an Age of Clamor last year, he figured he might as well produce it—i.e., make the necessary arrangements and put up the money—himself. His reasoning was that it would be difficult to find a theater troupe that wanted to take a chance on a new work by an unknown playwright.

“If you do a work that’s already been done—you know, already has press, people know of it—it’s less risky to do,” he said.

So, rather than look around for a troupe that was willing to try something untried, he formed his own theater company and booked space at the Columbus Performing Arts Center. He even planned to direct the play himself, but then he ran into a snag: He couldn’t find a cast.

“I didn’t know any actors, and nobody showed up to the audition,” Cook said.

Luckily for him, the person in charge of managing the venue was Joe Bishara, associate artistic director of CATCO and an experienced thespian. Even more luckily, Bishara took an interest in the project.

“We ran into each other, and I said, ‘Hmm, nobody’s shown up,’” Cook recalled. “He said, ‘Well, let me see the script.’ And then he liked it, and so he decided to (direct) it.”

The upshot was that Love in an Age of Clamor was performed last spring, with Nick Baldasare leading a cast of three. It apparently was enough of a success that Cook and his company, A&B Theatricals, are now back with another original play called The Promised Land.

Opening tonight at CPAC, the play reunites director Bishara with leading man Baldasare. Filling out the cast are Josie Merkle as Baldasare’s wife and Jeff Horst as assorted other characters.

Another similarity to the previous work: Like Clamor, it’s a “dream play,” which means it unfolds with the not-quite-real logic of a dream.

“It’s a form that just comes naturally to me,” said Cook, 61. “(It allows me to) follow an idea rather than plotting in a conventional way.”

He added that it also allows him to move events along at a fast clip. “I like a lot of action in plays, whether they’re mine or others’,” he said.

Still another similarity to Clamor: In that play, Baldasare’s character lost his home and, possibly, his marriage. In this one, he loses his job.

Why is Cook so fascinated by the theme of loss?

“I think what I’m addressing is middle-class anxieties,” he said, mentioning fears of potential dangers such as unemployment or infidelity. “They lurk in the background of most people’s middle-class life.”

And all this adds up to a comedy? Yes, Cook said, though it’s a comedy “with a certain amount of pain in it, too.”

“I don’t think comedy precludes pain and desperation, or even the tragic,” he said. “Chekhov, right?”

And like Anton Chekhov, Cook has more than two plays in him. He’s already working on yet another dream play about yet another kind of loss.

“It’s about the ultimate middle-class nightmare, which is going to prison.”

A&B Theatricals will present The Promised Land March 22-30 at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Ave. in Downtown Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Thursday through March 30. Tickets are $12, $8 for students. For reservations, visit brownpapertickets.com. For more information, visit ab-theatical.com.

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