The new venue is “intimate theater in an intimate setting”, according to director Bob Boles. Quite appropriately, the little “black box”, as it is called, is cleverly tucked behind the dressing rooms in a former storage area at the very back of the Third Avenue Playhouse in downtown Sturgeon Bay. Just an idea for many years at the TAP, this season will see the realization of that dream with four small plays, ranging from a cast of one to four.
“The Subject Was Roses” is a serious comedy/drama that won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1965. It opened on Broadway in 1964 and was a major critical and commercial success, running 882 performances. It’s about a mom, dad, and their 21-year old son, who is returning home from World War II. The year is 1946. But Ryan Shaw’s character Timmy has been gone three long years, and he’s not a teenager anymore. He’s different, and he’s caught between his still squabbling parents, John and Nettie. Emotions run high.
The play has seen increased popularity since the beginning of the Iraq and Afghan wars, and no wonder … kids are coming home as different people than they were when they left. The interactions between characters no doubt paint a familiar theme that all audience members can relate to or have empathy with.
“Timmy wants to be the peacekeeper of the family”, explains Ryan, who plays this role at the younger end of the casting age spectrum, at 23. “He’s changed a lot from age 18 to 21, and especially being overseas as a soldier”. When quizzed about his particular approach to the character that was first played by the young Martin Sheen, Ryan responds “Whoa! Big shoes to fill! But I can say I’ve also changed a lot since I was 18, and in a very positive way.”
Besides acting in college productions, Shaw just spent a year working for CLIMB, based in the Twin Cities. CLIMB is a touring theater, educational in nature, that brings the drama experience right into schools and other places throughout the Midwest. It teaches kids not only to act and express feelings, but to appreciate and accept human differences while giving them tools to prevent bullying and harassment while promoting self-esteem, empathy, respect, and self-control. So it’s a natural that Ryan will also be busy this summer conducting theater game/acting workshops at TAP with local kids from 5-18 years old. Shaw has also been an intern for the past two seasons at Door Shakespeare in Baileys Harbor.
Shaw got the part after a meeting last December. Bob Boles, director of the play and Artistic Director of the Third Avenue Playhouse, was visiting the Shaw family - Ryan and his parents, and asked him to read for the part. He later did so, landed the role, and dove right into learning his lines early in April. “I had to get started on that quickly”, he admits, “since I knew I was going to be very involved in other aspects of this play.” Did he ever see the play on stage or watch the movie, made in1968? Nope. Like many professional actors, he felt it was better that the character and interactions emerge from the script, fresh and without any preconceived notions.
With a cast of just three, Ryan got to work intensely with his co-stars, Dale Finn and Mark Moede (known locally for his acting work with Door Shakespeare). “We’ve learned a tremendous amount from each other”, he states during our interview in the final week of several weeks of rehearsals. Shaw has no particular favorite scene, since, according to him, they are all wonderful, but he notes how much fun it was practicing the incident at the end of the first act when the mom crashes the vase of roses to the floor in a fit of anger.
Shaw says he has also benefited greatly from the many hours spent with director Boles, who is not only a well-seasoned actor in his own right, but has himself played the part of Timmy in the past. One thing Boles impressed on him and the other two actors is that since this play is very beautifully-written and very tight, every moment on stage is extremely important. As Ryan explains, “I need to constantly ask myself, what am I doing or saying right now, and how?”
Our interview in the new little theater ended with the observation that Martin Sheen, the original Timmy, played the father later in his life. Will Ryan Patrick Shaw ever follow in those footsteps? “The world of theater isn’t predictable”, Shaw laughed, “you never know!”
“The Subject Was Roses” opens Thursday, June 21, with performances nightly at 7:30pm, except Saturdays, until July 15. There’s a matinee on Sunday, July 1 at 2:00 pm.
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