The biblical story of Ruth is one of loyalty, perseverance, and strength.
Ruth and family flee Moab for Israel to escape a famine. The family — which includes Ruth, her husband, her husband’s brother and his wife, and her husband’s parents — find more tragedy there as her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law all die en route.
When her mother-in-law Naomi still wishes to return home to Israel, Ruth pledges to accompany her. Eventually Ruth finds love with Boaz with whom she brings a son into the world. That child would end up becoming the grandfather of King David.
That story is at the heart of an all for One play written by Artistic Director Lauren Nichols. The one-act drama, The Redemption of Ruth, was written in 1992 and served as the theater company’s introduction to their faith-based mission and ambitious theatrical goals as they launched that year.
Although they’ve staged the play again over the years, in 2011 they partnered it with another play, Stephen W. Baldwin’s My Name Is Ruth, a back-to-back that they are repeating this month.
“They tell the same basic story, but they couldn’t be more different,” Nichols said. “The first one I wrote in blank verse, and it was really presented as a reading and was done in a very stylized way and focuses on three characters, Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz.
“My Name Is Ruth features Ruth, Boaz, and an actor who plays multiple roles. It’s set in the aftermath of World War II, and Ruth is a war widow in Minnesota where she works at the Fields department store. It’s much more light-hearted, more of a romantic comedy.”
Nichols is directing her own script while Megan Arnold, all for One’s director of educational programming, is handling direction for My Name Is Ruth. This is Arnold’s directorial debut as part of the all for One regular season productions, but she has handled directing duties as for the company’s Young Playwrights Festival.
Though this is certainly not the first time Nichols has tackled direction of The Redemption of Ruth, she concedes that there are a few distinct differences this time.
“This is a new cast, and a much younger cast, than I’ve had in the past,” Nichols said. “My husband Dennis has always played Boaz in the past, while I would play Ruth, and our former executive director [and all for One cofounder] Sharon Henderson would play Naomi. This time we’re also doing it in our home theater in the ArtsLab, so there’s a lot more freedom of movement.”
Putting her play together with My Name Is Ruth began more than a dozen years ago when she met Baldwin from the 34 West Theater Company in Charleston, S.C. She shared with him that she, too, had written a one-act about Ruth, and they immediately began a mutual admiration for their distinctive takes on the Biblical story. When they were put together in 2011, Nichols found the audiences felt the same.
“People really loved it,” she said. “Some really liked the first one, some really liked the second one. They are different adaptations with different nuances. It’s just very unusual to watch these two short plays that are so different even though it’s the same story. I just think seeing them together is a very different opportunity for audiences. And it fit into our ‘romance slot’ in February.”
Splitting up directorial duties has also been a boon for both directors and their casts. Nichols is happy to provide this opportunity for Arnold, and the pair have discussed and consulted with each other about their respective productions.
“We’ve talked to each other about the staging, what the set should look like, and what elements will tie the two plays together,” Nichols said. “The set you see in Act I you’ll see in Act II. I also wrote the incidental music for the production in 2011 so we met together to discuss what of that we’ll use this time.”
The casts have also been able to enjoy each other’s performances in a unique way.
“We’ve been splitting the rehearsals into two different rooms and rehearsing with each cast, but for two nights we came together and one night performed half the show then the next night performed the other half. It was great to get the reaction from the other group and fun to have some feedback. We’re going to do that again next week.”
Among the cast members are two very familiar to all for One productions. Jen Netting will be playing Naomi in The Redemption of Ruth while Michael Wilhelm, who has also written plays staged by all for One including Turtle Soup and last season’s Bentley, will play Boaz.
“These casts are really a mixed bag,” Nichols said. “It’s some seasoned veterans and some new people.”
Looking forward to texas
While still working on rehearsals and preparation for Ruth2, Nichols is already auditioning for the company’s final production of the year, April’s performances of Texas in Paris, a concert musical by Alan Govenar which explores race relations through two unique characters. Nichols, always able to multitask, is happy to be knee-deep in both.
“I am really looking forward to Texas in Paris,” she said. “I think that’s going to be a great show.”
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