By Bob Evans
Kansas City’s nationally recognized children’s theatre, The Coterie teamed with UMKC Theatre to produce and present a world premiere play, “The Secret of Courage,” that blends realism with fantasy in the story of a young man about to fight a deadly battle, only to find that the strength he needs lies within him.
Directed by Graham Whitehead, “The Secret of Courage” comes from a Terry Brooks short story, “Imaginary Friends” and tells the story of a young man about to fight the battle for his life–a fight against juvenile onset Cancer. The production stars a cast, comprised mostly of UMKC students in their final semester of their MFA program.
“The Secret of Courage” was adapted by Laurie Brooks, a resident playwright for The Coterie and sister to children’s author Terry Brooks, who attended the production, Sat., Feb. 27. The production, suitable for all ages, continues through Feb.11. Some scenes might be too intense for the younger elementary years, but probably appropriate for grades 5+. Students ages 10-11 and up would not appropriate viewers.
The story centers on a young man just entering his teenage years and his best friend. They like to play games, eat, and are beginning to notice girls. The “illness” becomes apparent after Jack blacks out and temporarily loses his sight. Tests reveal that he has cancer and that he must undergo an exhausting, difficult treatment process in hopes of a cure.
While in a nearby park, Jack finds himself transported into a fantasy world with a talking owl, an elf, a troll, and an evil spirit. From there, the story turns from serious to a fantasy that children can identify and follow. As this motif develops, Jack finds fantasy magic and real-life magic dwell within. As the 70-minute play develops, the characters help the audience move through the fears and focus on challenges, strength, and positive attitudes.
For this production The Coterie set new standards in lighting, projection, and costumes. There’s a new, higher bar now for subsequent productions. And, as for the actors, this talented cast (many I have seen throughout their MFA studies) found new characters to portray and stretched their character limits. I could tell from the start of this production that this MFA class had successfully met the challenges before them and that they embraced characters that they never experienced before from an elf to a talking bird to a grungy, selfish troll. What a delight to see them in a totally different style role. After Shakespeare and now children’s theater, they are all masters.
The cast of The Secret of Courage features Jay Love (as Jack McCall), Roan Ricker (as Waddy), Amy Billroth-MacLurg (as Mom), Megan Sells (as Dr. Claudia Mueller), Charlie Spillers (as Uncle Frank), Heather Michele Lawler (as Deirdre), Duncan McIntyre (as Pick), Ken Sandberg (as Wartag), and Rafael Toribio (as Keokuk). The artistic and production company includes Graham Whitehead (director), William J. Christie and Danielle Walsh (production stage managers), Mark A. Exline (set designer), Bryce Foster and Shane Rowse (lighting designers), L.A. Clevenson (costume designer), Jeffery Cady (projections designer), Shannon Barondeau (Associate Projections Designer), Wallace McCanless and Maddie Rowe (sound designers), Hunter Andrews (UMKC technical director), Sandra Lopez and Selena Gonzalez-Lopez (properties), Kate Hershberger (UMKC production assistant), and Elizabeth Sampley (Coterie production assistant).
“The Secret of Courage will be presented as a co-production between The Coterie and UMKC Theatre, a collaborative relationship that has become an annual tradition since it began in 1992,” a Coterie spokesman said. “Originally founded as a program that offered MFA actors the chance to work alongside established theatre professionals, the co-productions have since grown to feature both student actors as well as MFA designers and coaches from nearly every area of UMKC’s Department of Theatre. The Coterie is proud to continue its long-standing relationship with UMKC Theatre, which benefits up-and-coming young professionals by providing practical, professional work experience, both on stage and behind the scenes.”
Individual Tickets: Tickets are $11 for youth under 18, students, and seniors age 60 and older; and $15 for adults. Subscriptions: In lieu of season subscriptions, The Coterie offers the Spotlight Club Pass, which works like a season ticket without committing to a set schedule. Spotlight Club members pay $100 for a flexible pass that includes 10 tickets that can be used for any show or combination of shows in the 2017/2018 Season. All tickets and Spotlight Club Passes are on sale now and may be purchased by calling The Coterie’s box office at (816) 474-6552, dropping by the box office on level one of the Crown Center Shops, or by visiting The Coterie website.
Tags: The Coterie Theatre, Crown Center, “The Secret of Courage”, “Imaginary Friends”, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment