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Politics are always personal in some way, but for Gaby and Patrick, the couple at the center of The Firestorm, which kicks off Local Theater Company‘s fifth season, the personal becomes political. When a scandal from Patrick’s college days surfaces during his gubernatorial campaign, he and Gaby are forced to confront how strong their relationship truly is—and what our decisions, no matter how young we were when we made them, say about who we are and what we value.
Director Pesha Rudnick (she’s also Local’s artistic director) cleverly staged the play in the round, so audience members feel as though they’re in the kitchen or campaign office or bar with the cast, and that they are part of the conversation that’s taking place on stage. A single set, made up of four separate pieces, transforms into each new setting with fluid, choreographed movements by two stagehands. (If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that the kitchen swivels clockwise in each new scene, signaling the passage of time.) With only four cast members, The Firestorm‘s success or failure rests heavily on the quality of acting, and the quartet delivers. Iona Leighton, in particular, delivers an engaging and layered performance as Leslie, Patrick’s chief of staff whose frantic energy is incredibly relatable and inspires some much-needed laughter.
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Penned by Brooklyn–based playwright Meridith Friedman, The Firestorm made its first appearance in Boulder during Local Lab 2015, Local’s annual new play festival. Each year, three new plays are presented in concert-style readings, and then the Local team—with input from post-show audience discussions—decides which one to produce in full the following season. “We could tell that people were eager to talk about these issues,” Rudnick says.
Friedman has a unique ability to tell a story with strong, sometimes divisive themes—in this case, race (Gaby is black, Patrick is white) and privilege—while not hitting us over the head with them. Her work invites conversation rather than forcing it in a specific direction. It’s part of what drew Rudnick to the story originally. “I love that this play isn’t heavy handed,” she says. “It doesn’t wag a finger at anyone. It simply presents these issues in the context of a marriage, which I find to be accessible for people to dive in.”
It’s a timely topic to explore. And one that takes on particular importance when the show’s audience is almost entirely white, which was the case when I attended. But if you’re simply looking for an interesting night out, you’ll get that too. The Firestorm is a deftly acted play and yet another example that Colorado’s theater scene is stronger than ever.