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Losing the Ring in the River

Liz (Julianna Cooper), Clara (Judith K. Hart) and Emma (Dawn Benz) can tomatoes during a scene from "Losing the Ring in the River." The play, set in Boyd County in 1967, focuses on the dynamics between three generations of women and is adapted from Nebraska poet Marge Saiser’s book of the same name.

Courtesy photo, Angels Theatre Company

"Losing the Ring in the River" gives a taste of farm life in Boyd County in the 1960s along with a look at how three generations of women communicate about past hurts caused by a grandfather.

Written by playwright Brigid Amos, the production draws on characters depicted in Nebraska poet Marge Saiser’s collection of poems of the same name. Amos and Saiser met around 2000 at one of Saiser’s writing workshops.

At the 2014 Nebraska Book Festival, Amos listened to Saiser read from "Losing the Ring in the River” and bought the book. “I started reading it in the Cracker Barrel, and tears came to my eyes,” Amos recalled.

The two met up again the next summer at Angels Theatre Company’s First Flight Festival. Last July marked the third hosting of the festival, a venue for new short plays housed in the Temple Building on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.

Saiser encouraged Amos to write a short play for the festival based on the character Clara from her poetry collection. “I emailed her back and said ‘I think all three of these women need to be in the play,'" Amos shared.

After she had written the rough draft, Amos consulted with Saiser on things like vernacular, customs, foods, Nebraska farming and the Boyd County way of life. Over the next two years the script underwent more changes after read-throughs with actors and other playwrights and a public reading at Iron Tail Gallery. Finally, three actresses came on board to test it onstage. One of those is the play’s producer, Judy K. Hart.

“I really like it,” she said, adding that she embraced the script in part because there was a role for her — the grandmother. A professional actor since 1978, Hart started Angels Theatre Company in 1990. Since 2009, when the company lost its performance space in downtown Lincoln, Hart shifted its focus to nurturing new playwrights.

Amos says that actresses Julianna Cooper (Liz), Dawn Benz (Emma) and Hart (Clara) portray the roles very much as she imagined them. Director Timothy Scholl, who also directed Amos’ short play “Kitchen Garden,” described working on a new script as a more intensive process, especially because it evolved from poetry.

Amos collaborated with him and Hart to refine the lines so the play worked. Scholl said his job is to bring the characters to life so they can share their stories.

Long before Scholl said yes to directing the play alongside Hart, he sat in on one of her acting classes as a theater arts student at UNL. He’s been involved with her company since moving back to Lincoln in 2011. “The artistic work is what keeps me moving,” he said.

"Losing the Ring in the River" performances begin Thursday at the Lied Center for Performing Arts’ Johnny Carson Theater. A discussion with Saiser and Amos will follow each performance. 

Saiser is also hosting a “Telling Stories through Poetry” workshop from 1-3 p.m. March 24 at the Johnny Carson Theater. To reserve a workshop spot, call 402-474-2206 or e-mail info@angelscompany.org.

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