Seattle playwright Katie Forgette’s nostalgic 2019 comedy “Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help” will receive its local premiere April 14-May 1 at the Loft Theatre courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company.
Set in 1973, the semi-autobiographical play concerns the cash-strapped O’Shea family trying to make ends meets while dealing with the fallout of 19-year-old Linda explaining the birds and the bees to her younger sister, Becky. When Father Lovett, the parish priest, overhears their frank conversation, he confronts Linda’s parents about “the corruption of their eldest daughter’s very soul.”
New York-based director Margarett Perry returns at the helm. She has been a fixture at the Human Race since 2005 having staged outstanding productions such as “The House,” “Hail Mary!,” “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” “Other Desert Cities,” and “Retreat from Moscow” to name only a few.
“Margarett has become a regular member of our artistic family with many great comedies and dramas to her credit,” said Human Race artistic director Kevin Moore in a release. “She was hand-selected by Marsha Hanna and she has delivered great productions time after time.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Catholic guilt lately,” Perry said. “I was raised Catholic and in my college years I remember having many conversations with my father about how oppressive the guilt was. He did his best to impress upon me that I should ignore the guilt pangs and just try to trust myself. Easier said than done. I wanted to be a good girl. So, I relate to the play’s narrator, Linda, who is 19 years old and trying to be a good girl. Don’t we all want to be ‘good?’”
Perry’s cast will be led by Dayton native and Muse Machine alumna Cecily Dowd as Linda alongside Human Race resident artist Christine Brunner (“26 Pebbles,” “Steel Magnolias”) as long-suffering, hard-working matriarch Josephine “Jo” Shea, Mierka Girten (“Master Class”) as very liberal Aunt Theresa “Terri” O’Shea, Jason Podplesky (“Sylvia,” “26 Pebbles”) in multiple roles of patriarch Mike O’Shea, Father Lovett and parish busybody Betty Hackenbach, and Columbus native Lizzie Huelskamp (”Annie,” “The Secret Garden”) in her Human Race debut as Becky.
The Los Angeles-based Dowd is a recent graduate of the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University with a degree in musical theatre. In 2016, while a student at Centerville High School, she memorably appeared at the Loft as P.B. in the comedy “One Slight Hitch,” also directed by Perry. She’s excited to return in a relatable play that feels similar to her own surroundings and beliefs.
“‘Incident’ has a great capacity to connect with audiences today,” Dowd said. “I’ve found so much of their family chaos and actions of love in my own family. The O’Sheas would go to any lengths to help their own, and it’s fueled by each person, not necessarily by pressure of the collective. Linda is also a young activist, which connects with me and a lot of young people now since it has recently been a huge part of our formative years coming into adulthood. And although she is well-informed about feminist power of the ‘70s, she finds herself stuck in these huge maturing moments that no one can avoid – first love and first scandal.”
In addition, taking on the responsibility of narrator appeals to Dowd, who also finds encouragement in Forgette’s message of cross-generational female empowerment.
“The narration part is definitely a fun, added bonus,” she said. “When I first worked for Margarett Perry, I had the same kind of narrator or breaking the fourth wall character in ‘One Slight Hitch.’ So, this is kind of like the older version of the character I played before – but in the ‘70s. It was also a great compliment from Margarett to see me in this role with how much depth Linda has in her crises throughout the play. Linda is supported by two fiercely powerful women, her mother and her aunt, who go to all lengths to support her. And, of course, her little sister tags along. The emphasis of older women helping youth, especially young women in crises, is something I’m convinced never gets enough attention, but Katie Forgette brings them into the spotlight and honors these mentally and emotionally adept warriors.”
Forgette, who has spent most of her life as a professional actor at Seattle Repertory Theatre, was raised Catholic and attended parochial school for 12 years. In addition to being motivated to write the play as a tribute to the mothers who faithfully volunteered at her parish, nostalgia was an equally important catalyst.
“For people of a certain age, taking a look back at the 1970s can remind us of all the changes we’ve lived through regarding how we communicate with each other,” Forgette recalled in advance of the play’s recent regional premiere at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. “But a big part of nostalgia also involves the fallibility of memory – and that’s what really fascinates me. How two people can remember the same event so differently. Especially family members.”
“I love this play because it takes us on a journey through Linda’s memory of a very specific time in her life when she was trying to do her best, but felt like she wasn’t being good enough,” Perry added. “And here’s the other thing – it’s hilarious. It’s a memory play, and so we are witnessing the events through Linda’s 19-year-old perspective, and it’s filled with all the fear and anxiety of that time in her life. It all starts with her trying to do her mom a favor by telling her little sister about the birds and the bees. She doesn’t want to do it. But she does. She’s, of course, trying to be a good girl. Whoops!”
HOW TO GO
What: “Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help”
When: April 14-May 1; Performances are 8 p.m. Apr. 14-16, 21-23 and 28-30; 2 p.m. Apr. 17, 24 and May 1; and 7 p.m. Apr. 17, 19, 20, 26 and 27
Where: Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton
Tickets: 937-228-3630 or visit humanracetheatre.org
FYI: The production is recommended for ages 16 and up; “Sawbuck Sunday” performance is slated April 17 at 7 p.m. with reduced tickets available 90 minutes prior to the performance for walk-up sales only; Also, a “While We’re On The Subject” talk-back with the cast and crew is slated April 24 after the 2 p.m. matinee.
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