The Strand Project cast (left to right): Jaye Mills, Tracy McQuillan, Sam Perry, Anthony Genovese, Liz Conrad, Bill Soldan, Jenna Cintavey, Medford Mashburn, Carla Gipson, Jackie Collins Stevens, Erica Perna, Rosie Bresson, Tyler Clark, Danielle Jackson, Sarah Puhala, Terry Shears, Mary Dippolito, and Mitchell Meyers. Missing from photo: Tom O’Donnell. (Electronic image courtesy of Kris Harrington)
By SEAN T. POSEY | Metro Monthly Contributing Writer
On the evenings of June 3 and 4 one of the most original theater experiments in the Youngstown area unfolded on the darkened stage of the intimate black-box theater at Selah Restaurant in Struthers. Consisting of 20 local actors performing individual monologues written by authors from across the country, the threads of the Strand Project unwound for delighted audiences.
The idea for the project emerged after Brian Palumbo, owner of Selah and a local actor, presented Lit Youngstown board member Kris Harrington with a powerful piece entitled “HIV,” which he had written after the recent passing of a friend. Palumbo’s script gave Harrington the idea of staging a full-length production of nothing but dramatic monologues.
Lit Youngstown board member Karen Schubert posted a call for submissions on a professional creative writing Listserv, and they ultimately received over 100 entries.
“Something like this hadn’t been done in the area,” Harrington observed. “After looking for hours on the Internet, I realized that it really hasn’t been done anywhere.”
After a committee looked over the entries, Harrington wrote a script based on the final chosen pieces. “I like the idea of people telling stories, but I also like the idea of there being several levels of interpretation: writer, actor and director.”
The backdrop for the script is an anonymous bar that takes advantage of the cabaret space of Selah’s upstairs theater.
“We needed a believable space where people would be telling their stories,” said Harrington.
Audience members appear to be almost part of the bar, and one monologue, performed by actress Tracy McQuillan, involves direct interaction with the audience.
The actors are grouped in clusters, each telling an individual tale to another actor in their particular section of the set. The monologues span the range from the dark and introspective to the humorous and lighthearted. From a young woman confessing a rape that she never reported, to a nostalgic trip back to 1970s Youngstown on the Fourth of July, every piece proves to be uncommonly powerful.
“I think that it demonstrates the complexity of character of the human experience,” said first time actor Bill Soldan. “There’s a reflective tone to the monologues, but they all balance each other out.”
The strands of the various monologues come together to from a moving whole, with clear direction provided by Selah Theater director Mary Ruth Lynn. Both performances played to a packed house.
Three of the pieces will be performed again, courtesy of Lit Youngstown, at the Summer Festival of the Arts at YSU on Sunday, July 10 at 2 p.m. A second iteration of the Strand Project will be performed with all new monologues at Selah in the summer of 2017.