‘The Voice of the Prairie’ by John Olive Kicks Off College’s Fall Theater Schedule
The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) Main Stage will kick off its fall theater schedule with a performance of “The Voice of the Prairie” by John Olive. Olive describes his play as “an adventure about storytelling.”
“The Voice of the Prairie” story begins in 1923, when a traveling radio salesman, Leon Schwab, stops in a Nebraska town and gives residents a chance to tell a story on the radio. A farmer named David Quinn takes a turn at the mic and connects with the listeners in such a strong way that Schwab takes Quinn with him on his travels.
“David is so compelling and Leon so craftily enterprising that soon they’re traveling the Midwest together, sharing the ‘magic of the ether’ across the prairie,” said Michelle Ebert Freire, adjunct faculty in CSM’s Theatre Program and the director of the college’s performance. “David’s stories of his itinerant youth and his three glorious months on the run with a blind girl named Frankie touch a nerve with listeners. Soon, everyone is hooked.”
The rest of the play deals with adventures related to what happened to the girl Frankie and questions from the new Federal Communications Commission about the legality of Schwab’s radio shows.
“The story is touching and beautifully told,” Freire said.
The message of the “The Voice of the Prairie” is particularly relevant to today’s audience, steeped as we are in stories shared on social media, she said.
“You know how Facebook, Instagram and other forms of social media seem to make our worlds larger by connecting — and reconnecting — us to people? Well, in ‘The Voice of the Prairie,’ broadcast radio seems to serve the same function,” Freire said. “I love the way the play intersperses radio broadcasts, memories, flashbacks and real-time events to really drive home our sense of longing, of needing connection.”
The play features three actors — Chris Fleming of Hughesville, Sean Smith of Waldorf and Alyshia Bradley of Lusby — each playing multiple parts.
“In addition to the fantastic trio of actors who make these characters and time period shifts seamless, we have an incredible sound design consisting of a bunch of narrative voiceovers,” Freire said, referring to Emma Ansell, J.R. Cook, Michelle Freire, Zoe Freire, Kenneth Laclair, Lisa Laclair, Christopher Lange, Gershawn Mason, Andrew Roell and Kenneth L. Waters Jr. Sound design is being handled by Waters.
The CSM production features old-time banjo music, Bessie Smith blues and even an Irish classic. “The soundscape for this show is fantastic,” Freire said. “One other neat thing is that the audience will be sitting on the stage. It’s an intimate show.”
Freire’s previous directorial work at CSM includes a Cause Theatre production of “Benched,” a Children’s Theatre production of “A Wrinkle in Time” and a Main Stage/Renaissance Fair production of “Shadowlands.”
“I hope audience members leave ‘The Voice of the Prairie’ appreciating both the beauty and complexities of powerful relationships between people,” Freire said. “And I hope they rejoice in vicariously experiencing each character’s journey.”
“The Voice of the Prairie” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 21 and 28, at 8 p.m. on Sept. 22, 23 and 29 and at 2 p.m. on Sept. 30 at the college’s Fine Arts Building on the La Plata Campus. Cost is $15 for adults or $12 for members of the military, seniors and youths. Cost for CSM students, faculty and staff is $5 if tickets are purchased before the day of the show.
“The Voice of the Prairie” was originally commissioned and produced by Artreach in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The expanded version was produced by Hartford Stage in Hartford, Connecticut. The play is produced at CSM by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.
After “The Voice of the Prairie,” the CSM Main Stage Theatre will present “Ragtime,” the musical, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, that interweaves three stories in turn-of-the-century New York. “Ragtime” will be presented Nov. 2 and 9; 8 p.m. Nov. 2, 4 and 10; 2 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Fine Arts Building at the La Plata Campus.
CSM Main Stage Theatre: “The Voice of the Prairie.” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 and 28; 8 p.m. Sept. 22, 23 and 29; 2 p.m. Sept. 30. College of Southern Maryland, La Plata Campus, Fine Arts (FA) Building, Theatre, 8730 Mitchell Road, La Plata. The play by John Olive begins in the early 1890s, a time when itinerant story tellers are the voices of the prairie. The play goes on to tell the story of some of those story tellers. $15 adults, $12 military/seniors/youth.
CSM’s campuses are accessible to patrons with disabilities. Audio description for the visually impaired and sign language interpretation for the hearing impaired are available with a minimum two week advanced notice. If you are interested in these services, please contact the academic support/ADA coordinator at 301-934-7614.