There was no shortage of people willing to play along during a Sunday preview of “The Estate Sale” — which is precisely what Catamounts hoped for with its latest productions, “Pride of the Farm” in Westminster and “The Estate Sale” in Aurora.
Wait, two shows?
“I know; it’s just so dumb,” said the Boulder-based company’s founder and artistic director, Amanda Berg Wilson, of the collision of opening dates. (Each closes the last weekend in June.) “They both seemed like such cool projects, and ‘The Estate Sale’ didn’t have a traditional rehearsal process, and they’re in such different parts of town and have different partnerships. I was just like, ‘You know what? … ‘ ”
“But we pulled it off,” Wilson added. And they have, offering theatergoers two experientially different immersive shows that engage history, in its personal, professional and overlapping guises.
“The Estate Sale” — written and directed by Josh Hartwell and conceived by artist Brad Ramsey — is about the liquidation of property and artwork of a local artist named Gregory Loomis. The deceased’s somewhat creepy sculptural work (by Ramsey, who has done installations for the Denver Center’s Camp Christmas extravaganzas) is actually for sale, as are the many tchotchkes, oddities and books exhibited in a warren of rooms at the People’s Building in Aurora.
The estate sale agent onsite — a hilariously droll McPherson Horle in the show I saw but also played by Wilson and Lindsey Pierce — is none too pleased with the departed’s three-week proviso. (That would be the length of the run.)
Estate sale aficionados are invited to peruse, touch, even snoop as they attempt to glean the history of Loomis via his many objects. Tucked-away letters, a steamer trunk and a clunky answering machine (Max Silverman’s sound design is clever and the voice talent engaging) provide hints of a life shaped by “homophobia, emotional and sexual abuse and mental illness,” as the ticket confirmation email warns and the evidence appears to confirm.
The story being told at a farmstead on the border between Broomfield and Westminster is less dismaying but still a little elegiac. “Pride of the Farm” gently unfurls on Metzger Farm, where one-time state Attorney General John Metzger lived with his wife, Betty. The farmstead, its surrounding now-fallow fields and tiny lakes provide an intact model of a 1940s hobby farm.
Playwright Jeffrey Neuman has written a work that engages the hardscrabble beginnings of Metzger (Jason Maxwell) and his sister, Margaret (Joan Bruemmer-Holden). The siblings were orphaned and then put to work as tweens. Tanis Joaquin Gonzalez plays the young John Metzger and James Brunt portrays his mentor, the lawyer Hugh Neville.
Brunt, along with actors Maggie Tisdale and Sam Gilstrap, play the farm’s caretakers, in addition to other roles.
“Pride of the Farm” has music and ritual. Attendees are encouraged to follow the caretakers into scenes with varying insights and stories. When the triangle sounds, the group reunites. As Betty Metzger, Emma Rebecca Maxfield provides dulcet songs befitting the era. A subtle dance led by Gilstrap morphs into an elegant if wordless land acknowledgment of Colorado’s indigenous caretakers.
“I like being in weird, beautiful, interesting places,” Berg Wilson said of the Catamounts’ most recent theatrical choices. “Collage and pastiche are allowed in so many other art forms. And I think specifically when you’re telling the story of a space as much as you’re telling the story of a person, yes, it can be a little more pastiche.”
Pastiche serves “Pride of the Farm” well, inviting attendees into the then-mid-20th-century Colorado in which Metzger grew into an advocate of the people and a now in which the farm’s borders stand in dramatic contrast to the encroaching housing developments. The most upstaging performer in the show might have been the location at dusk.
On opening night, bunnies nibbled lazily, open-space visitors ambled the nearby trails, and a plane etched a contrail in the darkening blue sky. Yes, we lucked out with no rain. No, we did not escape a scourge of mosquitos. And, honestly, that was just fine.
IF YOU GO
“Pride of the Farm”: Written by Jeffrey Neuman. Conceived and directed by Amanda Berg Wilson. Featuring Tanis Joaquin Gonzales, Jason Maxwell, Emma Rebecca Maxfield, Joan Bruemmer-Holden, Maggie Tisdale, Sam Gilstrap and James Brunt. Costumes by Bruemmer-Holden. Production designed by M. Curtis Grittner with Linda Lea. Sound design by Max Silverman. At Metzger Farm Open Space, 10208 Lowell Blvd., Westminster. Through June 25. For tickets and info: thecatamounts.org.
“The Estate Sale”: Conceived by Brad Ramsey. Written and directed by Josh Hartwell in collaboration with installations by Ramsey. Featuring Amanda Berg Wilson, McPherson Horle and Lindsey Pierce. At the People’s Building, 9995 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora. Through June 24. For tickets and info: thecatamounts.org.
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