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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Overcast
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StageQ actors find depths in Random Harvest
The agony of success
Random House conjures up celluloid specters.
Random House conjures up celluloid specters.

We'll soon put Scrooge and his spirits back in their Christmas closet, but we're not quite done with ghost stories just yet. The redemptive Random Harvest kicks off with a New Year's Eve opening.

StageQ's play is not based on the James Hilton novel - or the 1941 film based on the novel, which starred the late Greer Garson. But it does conjure up Garson and two other celluloid specters, who appear before a struggling gay writer on the verge of fame.

In the show, Aaron, played by Erik Weinke, has been nominated for a New York Drama Desk award. He fears actually winning and having his life change as a result.

"There's this little subtext about self-sabotage; how people can really do a number on themselves, meaning well, to preserve their lives," says director Greg Harris, who previously wrote Fire Exit for Broom Street Theater, directed 4.48 Psychosis for Mercury Players, restaged Walmartopia at Overture, and directed Falsettos and Looking for Normal at StageQ. In 2011 he directs the Portland, Ore., world premiere of Francesca Sanders' To Wait in Heavy Harness.

Of the themes in Random Harvest, he says, "You have something good happening, you think - and something better comes along. 'Oh, I better stay away from it.' It can feel so right and justified and self-preserving." But is it ultimately correct?

Richard Willett's script has only had one other production, as a farce off-off-Broadway. Harris and his company treat it more as a comedy-drama. The cast includes Edric Johnson, Sarah Hoover, Liz Angle, Dale Decker and Kathy Lynn Sliter as Garson. Harris credits them for finding unsuspected depths.

"I don't think I've ever worked with a cast that's so hungry and so free to have their own approach to the script," he says. "Since it's only been done once before, the cast really felt like they could put their own stamp on it. And boy, have they ever. I think everyone has taken the time to find the truth of a scene, rather than just play it and put it over."

While StageQ describes itself as "the local queer theater company," Harris finds it refreshing that it's not a soapbox script, and that the main characters are only incidentally gay. Instead, he says, "It's about life."

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