story by Christine Coester, special to The City Wire
ROGERS — Los Angeles playwright Oren Safdie, son of world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie (designer of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art), is a star in his own right. And in Rogers, he’s revered as the premier writer and director.
As Rogers Little Theater prepares for its most anticipated performance of its new season, the world premiere of the younger Safdie’s Checks and Balances, the theater is also leaning on the playwright’s star power for a fundraiser this Sunday (Sept. 16).
The affair, co-hosted by the RLT board and the Rogers firm of Matthews, Campbell, Rhoads, McClure & Thompson, P.A., is scheduled for 6:30-9:30 p.m. at the home of law partner David Matthews and his wife, Mary Beth, at 917 Sycamore Trace in Lowell. Tickets are $50 and can purchased online.
Guests can rub elbows with Safdie and RLT will reap the monetary benefit.
The world premiere gala of Checks and Balances is Nov. 2 with additional performances Nov. 3-4 and Nov. 8-11. The production will be directed by Safdie and will be the first production staged at RLT employing professional actors and stage managers, said RLT President Ed McClure.
Safdie has been awarded several grants and awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Newport Film Festival. His work, Private Jokes, Public Places, was ranked by The Wall Street Journal as one of the top six plays of the decade, and he has written for numerous publications including The New Republic and Times of Israel.
Casting for Safdie's latest production is ongoing with help from McClure. Auditions by invitation only will be 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday (Sept. 17&18). The debut of Checks and Balances is a stepping-stone for RLT as the group attempts to move its performances from amateur to a professional level.
“Presenting an original script, directed by a gifted and renowned playwright, presented with professional actors hired from across the country will be a pinnacle artistically for the RLT,” McClure explained.
Safdie became acquainted with RLT while in town with his father for the opening of Crystal Bridges last November. While here, he attended a reading put on by RLT.
“I was so impressed with how quickly they put everything together, with the theater and the enthusiasm of their subscribership. I knew they had done mostly amateur theater, but it was a very sophisticated audience,” Safdie said recently.
He later made the decision to debut Checks and Balances in Rogers before taking it to New York.
“I’m trying to break down that misrepresentation of Northwest Arkansas. Why not debut at a theater in Northwest Arkansas? I think the hospitality and friendliness is just great there,” Safdie added.
Checks and Balances tells the story of a music student who takes on a part-time job balancing the books for an elderly and forgetful woman. A couple of twists and turns take the aspiring musician and audience on an unexpected journey. The inspiration for the play comes from Safdie’s own personal experiences as an architecture student at Columbia University in New York.
“I’ve found that a story based on real moments gives you the ability to write a story that no one else can. And if you try to manufacture or change it, it betrays you,” Safdie said.
His pieces have depth. In all his plays, the characters face moral challenges.
“In this play temptation and morality come face to face. The question is whether the characters will be able to resist their temptation because here is a woman who is wealthy and very forgetful … and we can all stretch that feeling of entitlement. Entitlement to what is advertised on TV, the temptation to go beyond what we really can afford— entitlement to more.”
In Checks and Balances, Safdie explores issues of class, the treatment of the elderly, legal and illegal immigration and the definition of family.
Adds McClure: “The characters in the play have dynamics which are constant yet changing, and the audience is transfixed to see how it evolves and perhaps resolves. And I personally like how unassuming the conflict seems to be, yet how relevant and universal it is.”