PANGAEA (2017) / Planet Connections Theatre Festivity / by Erik Champney

Following the 2016 workshop with Jake Smith at Abingdon Theatre Company, there was much discussion about getting Pangaea onto the professional stage. I knew the script needed revisions, so I started dealing with that immediately. I was preparing for the moment when it would be time to launch a production. I didn’t know when it would happen or where, but I wanted the make sure the play was ready. I had already been given the gift of the ultimate workshop in Centenary College of Louisiana’s fully mounted staging. Enough time had passed since that time for me to have an objective lens. I knew what had to be done — at least, I was pretty sure.

Planet Connections Theatre Festivity accepted my application for a staged reading slot in their 2017 June festival. This put a ticking clock on my work and would give me the chance to present the results before the public.

To direct, I enlisted Shaun Peknic. He has special powers when it comes to staged readings. He designs fully staged, intricately choreographed presentations that bring the work to life in a way that spotlights the writing, while still giving the audience a surging theatrical experience. And that’s hot. And that’s what I wanted for Pangaea.

The goal was to keep as much of the cast from Jake’s workshop as possible. They had congregated with me since for a table reading of the in-progress new draft. I loved them. They had united as people and the energy of the group was healthy and secure, which made their readings of the play super strong.

Unforeseen scheduling debacles called for the replacement of Max Meyers, who’d been doing Phillip, and Connie Wookey, who’d been our Gertrude. After a couple interviews, I decided on Ryan Molloy for Phillip. Ryan and Max are incredibly different, so this would add a new element. The same could be said for Susannah Perkins and Connie. Shaun was able to bring in Susannah, who’s a total chameleon, utterly disappearing into her roles. The others welcomed them whole-heartedly, of course.

As Ross, Marrick Smith would continue to bring his beautiful spirit and irresistible charm. Misha Osherovich would continue to peel back the layers of Georgie. Finally, there was Elizabeth Inghram as Lang, making the character’s destructive weaknesses equally hilarious, jarring, and devastating.

I remember flashes of Shaun’s intense rehearsal process, it all happened so fast. Charity Schubert was with us, reading Stage Directions, and Vanna Richardson stage managed, which was a great comfort to me since the three of us share a hometown and have known each other a thousand years. I continued to make changes up until the eleventh hour. Everyone worked their asses off for this play. That’s what I remember.

And what happened? The reading opened the entire festival with a full house. The cast shot beams of electricity through the room and they sold the shit out of that thing. And it worked. Everyone was enraptured.

That’s why I choose my directors carefully. That’s why I’ll go to bat for any actor I believe in. For moments like that.

The script still needed a few tweaks, but it was ready. It would be nearly two more years before I would sign the contract that changed everything.

Meanwhile, this staged reading of Pangaea would go on to win 2017 Planet Connections Awards for Outstanding Playwriting and Outstanding Lead Actor (Misha Osherovich). Elizabeth Inghram, Ryan Molloy, Susannah Perkins, and Marrick Smith were also nominated for acting awards. The entire cast was recognized, and one of them actually won!

Top: (from L) Charity Schubert (Stage Directions), Susannah Perkins (Gertrude), Elizabeth Inghram (Lang), Marrick Smith (Ross), Misha Osherovich (Georgie), and Ryan Molloy (Phillip). Bottom: (L cube) Susannah Perkins, (Center cube) Ryan Molloy (L) and Elizabeth Inghram, (R cube) Elizabeth Inghram embraces Misha Osherovich.

Top: (from L) Charity Schubert (Stage Directions), Susannah Perkins (Gertrude), Elizabeth Inghram (Lang), Marrick Smith (Ross), Misha Osherovich (Georgie), and Ryan Molloy (Phillip). Bottom: (L cube) Susannah Perkins, (Center cube) Ryan Molloy (L) and Elizabeth Inghram, (R cube) Elizabeth Inghram embraces Misha Osherovich.