April 2009 Issue
Path to Glory
The Cleveland Play House presents the world premiere adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s timeless novel, Heaven’s My Destination.
Although these plotlines seem like fodder from today’s headlines, Thornton Wilder penned them 75 years ago for his novel, Heaven’s My Destination. And this month, playwright Lee Blessing will breathe new life into Wilder’s words when his world premiere adaptation of the book takes center stage at the Cleveland Play House.
“I think people will think we’ve made up the name of the central character, George Brush,” says Cleveland Play House artistic director Michael Bloom, with a laugh. “But can there be a more pertinent work? It’s strikingly relevant to our times.”
Lauded for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Our Town,” which examined the lives, loves and deaths of a small-town-America family, Wilder was known for exploring the commonplace experiences at the heart of the human psyche.
In Heaven’s My Destination, he proffers the tale of a traveling textbook salesman who’s also a fervent religious convert determined to show others how to lead an exemplary life. Not surprisingly, the consequences are often paradoxical.
Blessing, a long-time fan of Wilder’s work, received a Tony Award nomination for Best Play for his authorship of “A Walk in the Woods,” the story of an unlikely friendship between American and Soviet arms dealers. He admits he was intrigued with the idea of giving this often-overlooked book the attention he believes it deserves.
“George Brush is wonderful,” Blessing says. “He embodies all sorts of contradictions: He cares deeply about people, yet has a very hard time really listening to them. He has a message that as far as he’s concerned is so important that he has to get it out there all the time, yet he’s puzzled by the responses he’s getting. He also thinks of himself as a very generous man who’s only trying to help everyone around him.
“It is,” he adds, “weirdly timely.”
John Orlock, professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, agrees.
“We’re certainly struggling through our own economic crisis now, and a time in which values are being assaulted and questioned from all directions,” he muses. “It’s time to take a page from Wilder, who says it’s going to be OK. That we should just keep being human and be true to the spirit that’s inside –– and don’t let it die.”
On Stage at FusionFest
On Stage at FusionFest
April 26: “A Brush with Heaven: Thornton Wilder and America’s Spiritual Voice During the Depression,” a symposium featuring Thornton Wilder’s nephew Tappan Wilder, playwright Lee Blessing and Oberlin College history professor Clayton Koppes, offers an insightful look into Wilder’s novel.
“Heaven’s My Destination is fun, but it’s also a great serious farce,” says Tappan Wilder, a historian living in Maryland, who’s the literary executor of his uncle’s estate. “And sometimes comedy is the great way to tell truths.”
April 30–May 3: “Dogugaeshi” (presented by the Cleveland Museum of Art) spotlights the work of master puppeteer Basil Twist. The performances, not recommended for children under 12, explore abstract images influenced by dogugaeshi, Japanese stage machinery comprised of sliding doors reflecting changing scenes. The performance features original music and video projection.
April 30: The Dorothy Silver Playwriting Award Winner (presented by the Mandel Jewish Community Center) will present a new work about the Jewish experience. (The recipient was chosen from an annual competition named in honor of the renowned Cleveland actress.)
May 1–2: Verb Ballets All Stars presents the world premiere of “In the Groove and Over the Top” by choreographer Dianne McIntyre, and “Mozart Piano Trio in C Major,” Seán Curran’s dance fusion of classical music and jazz.
May 2, 3 and 9: New play readings include “A Girl’s Guide to Coffee,” by Eric Coble, exploring how life resolves itself over a cup or two; “U.S. vs. Howard Mechanic” by Faye Sholiton, chronicling how an anti-war protest led to a false arrest; and “Minstrel Show or the Lynching of William Brown” by Max Sparber (presented by Karamu theater), recounting the 1919 murder of an African-American man in Omaha, Nebraska.
May 6–10: “One-Man Star Wars Trilogy” by Charles Ross, is a one-hour, high-energy show recreating all the characters, music and special effects of these one-of-a-kind films.
May 8: American music with the Cleveland Orchestra Chamber Players (presented by the Cleveland Orchestra) features music from the 1930s by Aaron Copland, George Gershwin and other composers who reflect the spirit of the times.
May 8: “Pechu Kucha” (presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland) is an innovative PowerPoint presentation of performance art based on the Japanese phrase for “chatter.”