Ron Siemer, who was the photographer for the series of portraits currently on exhibit in the John Byran Comminty Center as part of “The Timeline Show: YS Theater Past to Present” exhibit, ” also contributed articles to the Xenia Daily Gazette as Arts Correspondent.
XENIA, OHIO, DAILY GAZETTE—Thursday,May 7, 1987
‘Radical Surgery’ hopes to revitalize Antioch Amphitheater
By RON SIEMER
DAILY GAZETTE arts correspondent
Denny Partridge, Antioch Theater’s new boss and the physician in charge of restoring health to that ailing enterprise, has announced “Radical Surgery” as the first major operation in the revitalization of the Antioch Amphitheater.
At a press conference Tuesday, Partridge introduced the specialist — husband playwright Steve Friedman — who wrote “Radical Surgery,” a political-sexual farce involving a four-way brain transplant and rampant presidential assassination, which will launch the Amphitheater’s first season in 10 years with a five-day run, May 20-24.
“Radical Surgery” will be performed by a student cast. Curtain time is 8 p.m. on each date. In case of rain — always a contingency with outdoor theater — the dates will move, Partridge said, rather than the play, since the play has been produced for the outdoor theater.
RETURN TO OUTDOOR THEATER
“Everyone is excited about this show,” Partridge said, “not only because it’s a great new play, but because it’s bringing outdoor theater back to Antioch. Once again, outdoor theater will be a large part of the Antioch Theater focus.
“Outdoor theater is a great love of mine,” Partridge said. “And the students really love working here. One of the reasons for restoring the Amphitheater is that it’s such a great place to work.
“Outdoor theater is extremely attractive to people,” she said, “especially to people in a highly cultured, theater-conscious community like this. We’re hoping the community will respond with as much enthusiasm as it did when we started rebuilding the theater department last year.”
Denny Partridge took over as head of the Antioch Theater Department in 1986, with the substantial chore of breathing life into the department’s decaying, all-but-abandoned program and facilities.
‘An energetic program of new theater curriculum, a high-quality season of outstanding plays, and a sleeves-up attack of the job of restoring the Antioch Theater’s physical facilities has resulted in rebirth of the enterprise, which had been revered as a vital and forward-looking entity in the academic world and in area theater generally.
THEATER OF CLASSIC DESIGN
The Antioch Amphitheater itself, an imposing, mostly-concrete structure built in 1961 and modeled after the ancient Greek theater built at Epidaurus more than 2,500 years ago, has loomed as an attractive but strangely abandoned edifice hauntingly like the ancient structure that inspired it.
Often compared to the awe-inspiring stone antiquity at Stonehenge, England, the Antioch Amphitheater has stood as a monument to timeless design and better times — at least for most of the 10 years since it was officially used as an outlet for the dramatic productions of the Antioch Theater Department.
Unlike the ancient theater, however, it isn’t a ruin.
“The Antioch Amphitheater probably is the safest place on the campus,” said Antioch Fire Chief Ariel Leonard.
Built in 1961 by Yellow Springs builder William Hooper, with design consultation by Paul Treichler and Meredith Dallas, the Amphitheater has the visual impact of an ancient fortress with graceful, contemporary lines. Essentially circular, the hemispheric concrete audience seating area is approximately 80 feet in diameter, facing the hemispheric cyclorama (back wall), also of concrete and approximately 20 feet high and 70 feet in diameter.
Partridge demonstrated the outstanding acoustics of the theater by standing at center stage with her back to the audience area and speaking in a soft voice. Every word was heard clearly by the several persons sitting in the theater.
“This is one of the many reasons why we’re so excited about plays in the Amphitheater,” Partridge said into the curved back hall. “Not only will we be doing great plays, but we’ll be able to use all the vocal dynamics that make a dramatic presentation really dramatic!”
“Radical Surgery” should be a ringing — and therapeutically effective — opener for the reintroduction of the Amphitheater. Playwright Steve Friedman, now a nearly full-time resident of Yellow Springs, is a successful author of Off-Broadway plays in New York City, affiliated for the past nine years with the Modern Times Theater in New York.
Friedman’s work includes “Fallout” (1985), a short play commemorating the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima; “Freedom Days” (1984), a play about the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s; “Hibakusha” (1982), a prize-winning play about the survivors of Hiroshima that was broadcast in part on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” in 1982; and other dramas, some of which have been produced internationally.
Friedman also has been a drama teacher in New York, California, and abroad in France. He was won numerous awards for his plays and teaching activities and has written and acted in plays for the San Francisco Mime Troupe.
He still is an active playwright and actor for the Modern Times Theater.
“RADICAL SURGERY” BITING SATIRE
“Radical Surgery” is set in the near future amid the crumbling remnants of America, where even shooting the president has become a national pastime. The four principal characters, who are subjects of a four-way brain transplant that goes haywire, are a southern white racist sniper, a militant black lesbian poet, a jilted surgical nurse, and the wounded president of the United States.
The action becomes a wild and hilarious jumble of shootouts, assassinations, seductions, and general mayhem, liberally mixed with stark revelations about American politics and sexual identity.
Admission to “Radical Surgery” — as to all the plays produced in the Antioch Amphitheater — will be free.
What will be the financial support required for continuing productions in the Amphitheater?
“Maybe we;’ll pass a hat at the end of each performance,” Partridge said. “We really want to keep the Amphitheater and all its productions free to the public. Passing the hat has worked in the past in this community, because people who have come to outdoor plays have been wonderfully supportive. They want this kind of theater to continue.”
OUTLET FOR NEW DRAMA
Partridge intends to continue producing new plays in the Amphitheater.
“This isn’t to be a once-in-a-lifetime event,” she said. “We want to create new plays on a regular basis here. Some of them will be written by well-known playwrights, and some will be written by students. But they’ll all be good theater.
“The lack of original material is a serious problem in American Theater,” she said. “That’s one of the things Antioch Theater is focusing on. A big part of the drama curriculum at Antioch is creating new plays — as opposed to just writing new plays. We’re committed to improving the quality as well as the quantity of American drama.”