Classical Theatre for Every Man

When it comes to the classical theatre canon, even the above-average audience member’s knowledge often only extends to the works of William Shakespeare. While the Bard has, without a doubt, crafted some of the finest plays to be put on stage, there are countless other playwrights whose art is just as worthy of exploration and production. That is the mission of Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company. While they are no stranger to producing Shakespeare – in fact, they put up a stellar “King Lear” in 2014 – Savage Rose makes a concerted effort to focus on other masters of the stage from various and sundry periods such as Aristophanes, John Ford, Oscar Wilde and Eugène Ionesco.

Now completing its seventh season, Savage Rose was founded by celebrated Louisville actor, director, fight choreographer and educator Barrett Cooper, and its inaugural production was Ford’s  “’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” in 2009. Prior to this season, however, Cooper received a job offer he couldn’t pass up: the chair of the department of theatre at Idyllwild Arts Academy in Idyllwild, California. Since his departure, Kelly Moore has stepped in as the new artistic director, and she has surrounded herself with equally astounding talent to not only keep Savage Rose from wilting but to make it better than ever.

Everyman poster 3 black and white“We’ve learned a great deal over this season about running a theatre company, practical things in addition to producing shows. Things like dealing with storage issues, insurance and taxes. You know, the not-so-fun-but-necessary things,” says Moore. Another key to Moore and the company’s success is teamwork provided by Ashley Beck Heimbrock and Melinda Beck, Savage Rose’s production manager and marketing associate respectively. “Ashley and Melinda are superheroes, and I cannot stress enough how essential they’ve been to making operations run smoothly and pushing our name out there,” asserts Moore.

Savage Rose’s current production, “The Summoning of Everyman” – an allegorical 15th-century morality play whose playwright remains anonymous – marks the end of the first full season under this new leadership, and it couldn’t be a better cap to a season mired with expectation.

“Everyman” tells the story of a man named Everyman (Gerry Rose) who is charged by Death (Kristie Rolape) to present himself to God (Monte Priddy, Isaiah Hein and Kimby Taylor-Peterson) and account for his life and sins. Along the way, Everyman learns that despite all his wealth, knowledge and friends, it is only his Good Deeds (Melinda Beck) that matter in the end. As a 15th century morality play, subtlety is not really at work here, but the marriage of fine direction and nuanced acting keeps the production from becoming one-note or indulgent. Rose and Rolape in particular turn in some beautiful and well-considered work that stands out in what is, from top to bottom, a well-observed production. Setting the play inside the breathtaking architecture of the chapel of St. Philip of Neri was a stroke of genius as the solemnity and atmosphere it affords the production is palpable from the play’s first words.

“Everyman” still has another week of performances, but as Moore took opening night as the opportunity to announce Savage Rose’s eagerly anticipated upcoming season, it’s difficult to not get excited for the future. “The theme for our upcoming eighth season is adaptation, which can be applied to the company as readily as to the season’s offerings,” says Moore. Indeed, next year, Savage Rose will be tackling the Bard’s most violent offering “Titus Andronicus” as a radio play, which they hope to offer as a podcast after recording. Also in store for next season is a three-person 90-minute distillation of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” for the stage and a new adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

“I’m excited to see the company evolve and move in new directions,” says Moore, “We’re a community partner with the Frazier History Museum for the First Folio exhibit coming this fall, and it’s looking very likely that one of our play readings will take place at the Speed Museum. So lots of cool things are on the horizon.”

Savage Rose has certainly risen to the occasion and conquered many challenges. They’ve reinvented themselves, updated their logo, revived their “Words Words Words” play reading series and had the best audience turnouts they’ve ever had. Their season opener, the classic Greek tragedy “Medea,” also had a great run in the fall with fantastic audience and critical response. Everything old is new again it seems, and as Moore states, “The classical canon is vast, and we have lots of options open to us.” VT

Remaining performances of Savage Rose’s “The Summoning of Everyman” are Thursday, March 31 – Sunday, April 3. All performances are at 8 p.m. at the chapel of St. Philip of Neri (236 Woodbine St., Louisville, KY, 40208). Tickets can be purchased at savagerose.org.