SCRANTON — A Clark Summit playwright’s work is about to make a splash on stage at the Theater at Lackawanna College.
“Drowning Ophelia” by Rachel Luann Strayer tells the story of Jane, whose orderly life is interrupted by the literary character of Ophelia, from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” who takes up residence in the protagonist’s bathtub.
The audience, along with the tub of water, will be placed on the stage, for a unique and intimate theatrical experience.
“We like to warn people, because they are on stage with us, and there is a bathtub, you might get wet,” Strayer said, laughing. “It is not outside the realm of possibility. So, if people want to bring a towel or a poncho, to make them feel better, they are welcome to do so.”
She described the plot as containing a “surprise element” and full of “energy” and “excitement.” She said although it deals with some serious issues, the approach is one of humor.
“Ophelia is in a bathtub in the middle of Jane’s life and Jane just wants to get rid of her,” the writer said. “But it’s really important that Ophelia is there communicating with Jane, because Jane is trying to deal with something from her past that she doesn’t know how to deal with, and Ophelia is really there as a part of that sort of quest that Jane’s not even quite aware that she’s on.”
Strayer first began to toy with the idea for the play while studying creative writing in grad school at Wilkes University.
“I knew the story I wanted to tell, and I wasn’t sure how to tell it,” she said, adding she was able to work with a mentor through the university, Juanita Rockwell, a playwright, who helped her “connect” to the idea of utilizing the character of Ophelia.
“Part of that came from Sarah Ruhl’s play ‘Eurydice’ where she actually uses the mythical character of Eurydice to tell a new story,” she said. “I remember when I actually thought of using Ophelia, it kind of freaked me out, because not many people know who Eurydice is, but everyone knows who Ophelia is, and I wanted to make sure I used her well within my own story.”
Although this is Strayer’s first full length play to be produced, the 33-year-old and her husband Jonathan Strayer are no strangers to the local theater scene. In 2006, the couple founded Ghostlight Productions — not to be confused with Gaslight Theatre Company, the Wilkes-Barre-based troupe producing “Drowning Ophelia” — which presented its first Shakespeare in the Park production in 2009. This year will mark the group’s eighth annual Shakespeare in the Park at South Abington Park in Chinchilla.
Rachel Strayer earned her Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees in Creative Writing/Playwriting at Wilkes University. Jonathan Strayer earned his Master of Arts in Theatre at Bowling Green State University. Both are employed as college professors, Rachel at Keystone College and Jonathan at Summit University of Pennsylvania.
She said they first met the people from Gaslight several years ago at a grant awards ceremony, where they entertained a “Wouldn’t it be cool to collaborate sometime?” conversation.
“When they did a call for directors last year, Jonathan asked me if I would be OK with him submitting a proposal using my play as the script he wanted to do,” she said. “It was a really great opportunity when Gaslight accepted that script. They have been incredibly supportive, incredibly enthusiastic about the project. They are wonderful people to work with.”
The community is also showing enthusiasm toward the play, with two of the four dates sold out. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 28 through 30, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31. The Friday and Saturday shows are sold out, and single tickets for the Thursday and Sunday shows can be purchased, while they last, for $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors, online at ticketfly.com, by phone at 570-955-1455 or through the box office, located in Angeli Hall at Lackawanna College, 501 Vine St., Scranton.
The cast and crew includes Jonathan Strayer, director; Jessica McDonough, as Ophelia; Alicia Nordstrom, as Jane; Jeremy Kemmerer, as Edmund; Timothy McDermott, as Adam; Matthew Hinton, artistic director; Dave Reynolds, production manager, Helen Kaucher, stage manager; Dana Jayne Jackson, rehearsal assistant; Dave Reynolds, scenic/lighting design; Mike Little, sound design; Jill Kemmerer, costume design; Helen Kaucher, props; Brad Barry, photography and Brandi George, graphic design.
The production, which serves as the play’s East Coast premiere, will close out Community Concerts at Lackawanna College’s 88th season, sponsored by the Hilton Scranton and Conference Center. It marks Gaslight Theatre Company’s sixth consecutive year on the Community Concerts stage. More information can be found online at gaslight-theatre.org/up-next.