Last night’s presentation of the new play, “Arachnothology,” at Mill Mountain Theatre is about as good a demonstration of what Roanoke Theatre has become in the past few years as anything I know.
This was one of two new plays in this year’s Hollins-Mill Mountain Theatre Winter Festival of New Works, which most often features the writing of Hollins students or graduates and Hollins/Roanoke being represented in every other aspect of the production.
Last night’s show was memorable because of the number of Roanoke actors (and current or former Hollins students) involved. April Marcel, Emma Sala, Amanda Mansfield, and Bonny Branch are all Roanokers who are well known for their stage work. All but Mansfield are current or former Hollins students. The other cast member is Tatiana Durant, a Hollins junior and theatre major.
Playwright Kimberly Patterson holds a Hollins MFA in Playwriting and director Lauren Brooke Ellis has a Hollins certificate in new play directing and is finishing her master’s in playwriting at Hollins.
The cast and crew of the second Festival production, “Moving,” also has strong Hollins connections, but it’s the “Arachnothology” group that loudly shouts “Roanoke!”
“Arachnothology” looks closely at spiders–from just about every angle–and offers up the theory that hatred of spiders and of women are basically accepted generally. The narrative challenges that theory through a series of characters from Little Miss Muffet, delightfully played with a Queens accent by Emma Sala; Athena, elegantly portrayed by April Marcell; a spider played by yoga teacher Bonny Branch, who needs all her bending and stretching for the part; and Spider Woman, played by Amanda Mansfield, whom many consider the best of Roanoke’s actors. Miss Durant, the only non-Roanoker in the cast, is Gwen, who is searching for her identity.
The concept is interesting but occasionally foggy, obviously needing some refinement. Still, that is one of the real values of the Festival of New Plays, where the works are fully presented and critiqued.
Next up is “Moving,” by Sean Michael McCord, a love story of sorts.
Moving’s remaining performances are January 30 and February 1 at 7:30 p.m. and “Arachnothology’s” run will be January 31 at 7:30 p.m. and February 2 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 and all performances are at the Waldron Stage at Mill Mountain Theatre.
(Photos courtesy Todd Ristau.)