Valley Repertory Theatres annual Stories of Newberg production is different each year, as its always a new play with a new script. But even so, the troupes spring production is especially distinct from the past installments.
Stories of Newberg is now in its fifth year, representing different productions that are locally focused. The last episode was O Little Town, a musical that centered on three characters based on Newberg locals. Each was interviewed and that conversation served as the basis for the plot, even if it was altered slightly from the exact real events.
This year the writers interviewed eight local residents, but created a composite story based on those interviews. The finished product is I Can Make It Great, a story that takes place at the Newberg Fred Meyer store.
It takes a lot of anecdotes of events that happen over the course of a day in a supermarket, including a few missed connections and annoying customers, and folds them together into a story that is part romantic comedy and part study of what is essentially an ad-hoc community center (the supermarket).
There are musings about small town life, what its like to run into friends and acquaintances frequently, and even brings up some themes on how communities change: tradition versus modernization and gentrification.
The play, by its nature, it starts out fairly realistic and it gets a little surreal as it goes on, first-time VRT director Mandy Khoshnevisan said. It sort of cracks open to reveal this is a piece of theater and its okay were all noticing this because we know it is.
Khoshnevisan has a background in improvisational theater, so she said it was a different experience to work on a production over a long period of time. She was accustomed to doing new material every night, rather than having months to consider and interpret it.
It was a really interesting process, because the play is set now in a place that is maybe a mile from the theater, she said.
For Khoshnevisan there was also an extra learning process, as Newberg is new territory for her. The writers would explain local references, such as a joke about traffic at a point on Highway 99W.
But while its not improv, the play does have the similar distinction of being completely new and never performed before. Because the play is original, its a distinct production experience from putting on a classic, Hamlet for example.
That lets Khoshnevisan draw on her improvisational background.
Sometimes its more fun to do new work, because any of the discoveries you make you get to make them for the first time, she said.
As the play depicts a space as large as Fred Meyer, the crew had to get creative with the set design. There are market aisles that are crafted to evoke the feeling of a bigger space, as well as a mural on the backdrop depicting a perspective image of an aisle continuing on forever.
Its a tricky balance between realism and sort of abstract representation, Khoshnevisan said.
The changes from past Stories of Newberg productions are somewhat fitting as this is the first iteration of the series since a large change in personnel at the troupe.
The play began last week and continues for the next two weekends. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and May 19-21, and at 2 p.m. Sunday and May 22, in the Black Box Theater at the Chehalem Cultural Center.
Thursday evenings performance is a pay what you will performance, while tickets are otherwise $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $10 for students and youth.