It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a—play within a play?
That’s right. If you can believe it, the San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre’s (SLO Rep) latest production is a meta musical comedy that Artistic Director Kevin Harris helped bring to life.
“Everyone who knows about theater knows about this play,” Harris said. “It’s super interactive, very hands-on, and makes use of the space and audience interaction to create an extremely unique experience.”
The play began its current SLO Rep run on Sept. 15 and will continue until Oct. 15 with showings Thursdays to Sundays.
“I’ve wanted to do this play since I came on board with SLO Rep in 2008,” Harris said. “I served as the person who chose the play and the actors in my role as artistic director, but for this play specifically I also worked as the lighting and sound designer.”
The production is directed by John Keating alongside his brother, Musical Director Marshall Keating. The play also features veteran actors and actresses including Suzy Newman, Rachel Tietz, Katie Worley-Beck, Natalie Mara, and Billy Breed.
“It has been such a pleasure to work with the cast on this show,” Harris said. “These are people that have worked with SLO Rep or adjacent to our crew for over the past decade.”
Written by Dan Goggin in 1985, the play tells the story of a group of five nuns tasked with the unfortunate job of raising money to help bury 50 of their fellow sisters who were the victims of food poisoning.
“The audience gets to see the fundraiser—or, well, the attempt at a fundraiser—in action,” Harris said with a laugh. “Because of the urgent nature of burying their fellow nuns—in the play they have them all over these giant blocks of ice—they have no choice but to run their fundraiser on a middle school production of Grease.”
It’s that middle school production of Grease that Harris worked alongside scenic designer Dave Linfield to help fit inside SLO Rep’s unique performing area.
“It adds this cool layer to the entire production since we are working with our performing space that used to be an old library building before it was converted,” he said. “It’s very fitting since the nuns in the play have to use whatever space they can get their hands on to put the fundraiser together and in that same way we use the unique space we have at our disposal.”
Harris added that bringing the meta musical to life would not have been possible without the cast it has.
“It’s like coming home to family, I mean we push each other as far as we can go because everyone on the team is super critical of our work, so it magnifies it even more for us to get things perfect when working together on this,” he said. “It helped us envision what exactly we thought a middle school’s production of Grease would look like.”
All of this is by design, according to Harris, who said that Goggin originally had in mind very specific skill sets for each of the actresses playing the nuns to fit the distinct environment the play takes place in.
“He wrote this play and cast very exact actresses for the nuns because he wanted it to be driven by each of their unique personalities,” he said. “Some of them were really good opera-style singers, another was a pinpoint ballet dancer—it goes on and on, but we could not have done this show until we found these five actors for this specific production.”
Whether you’re looking for a fresh new stage experience or want to catch a well-known play, Harris said this production will appeal to any audience.
“Even if you don’t like musicals, it’s got something for everybody,” he said. “It’s got that humor, the meta acknowledgment, the audience interaction—an absolute blast that I know everyone in the family will laugh at from start to finish.”
New Times Staff Writer Adrian Vincent Rosas, from the Sun’s sister paper, is experiencing play-ception. Reach him at [email protected].