Mad Cat Theatre's Centralia: From Fire to Comedy

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The stimulation takes many forms in Centralia, and it's up to the cast of Troy Davidson, Theo Reyna, and Bonnie Sherman to keep the energy up. Superbolt productions inevitably push their actors in new directions; though Centralia is not a musical, all three sing and dance, and Davidson and Sherman play the ukulele and banjo, respectively.

For Reyna, who plays the eldest Centralia resident, one of the challenges of this show is that's he's a professional actor playing an amateur actor; his performance needs to be really good at not being too good, and it must be humorous without being condescending.

"We've talked about what Christopher Guest did in Waiting for Guffman, where there are parts that are funny but you're not judging the characters. You don't want to come across as assholes who are belittling these people," Reyna says. "So you find fondness for them and give them integrity, but you also have to bear in mind that they don't have the training that we do. It's a different way of preparing than you normally would for a show."

Thus, Centralia is an example of theater about theater -- the power of stagecraft to communicate, to agitate, to escape. But the play is also about the hazardous burning of fossil fuels, an issue that burbles beneath the show's comic surface without overtaking it.

"We wanted to make a show, not a newspaper article, and we have found that often the best way to move people, to really make them think, is to make them laugh and entertain them -- through comedy, cabaret, dancing, and silliness," Askew says. "We have discovered that the tragedy of enthusiasm and joy in the face of such a bleak reality is a powerful setup for a show.

For Tei, the prooduction's political aspect hits especially close to home. "My parents grew up three hours outside of Centralia, in West Virginia, in coal mines and gas mine towns not unlike Centralia," he says. "I was recently back for a family reunion. I was driving through Pennsylvania and the Ohio River area, and all these towns that once were prospering in the '50s and '60s and '70s are now like ghost towns because they shut down the paper mills, or the gas companies have shut down, and fracking has moved into the communities.

"There's definitely a message here, and like most of the political plays we do, it's buried underneath the laughs. Hopefully it's something people will think about on the way home and not feel like they're getting hit over the head with it."

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John Thomason

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