This article was originally published in Westword.
Five creatives have been surprising Denver with original plays and performances at Buntport Theater for over twenty years, and the four members who perform (the fifth, SamAnTha Schmitz, collaborates on all aspects but doesn’t appear on stage) are diverse and eminently watchable.
Happily, the company survived the pandemic, so far, and has just announced its 21st season lineup, which includes: Cabaret De Profundis, or How to Sing While Ugly Crying, October 28 to November 13; Middle Aged People Sitting in Boxes, December 10 through 12; Tommy Lee Jones Goes to Opera Alone, January 28 through February 19; and Buntport’s fiftieth original play, yet to be named, April 8 through 30.
Buntporter Hannah Duggan will launch the season with a solo performance in Cabaret De Profundis, or How to Sing While Ugly Crying. The production is a typically imaginative Buntport riff on Artemisia, the Greek queen whose grief at her husband’s death was so intense that she drank his ashes. Duggan heard about her from an artist friend and immediately felt the story would work perfectly as inspiration for a new play.
“The only way we could imagine a woman grieving constantly would have to be in a cabaret-type setting,” she says. “That’s how it started, and then evolved to a bigger thing. The premise is that Artemisia’s grief is so big that her soul continues to live on in the bodies of other people. It’s set today, now, and she has taken over the body of a lounge singer from Indiana.
“I didn’t think the role had to be me at first,” she continues, “but I wanted to do it. I mean, I’m the loudest.” She laughs. But there were concerns: “I generally try to avoid lines. I have a horrible memory.” Still, Duggan won’t be entirely alone on stage. She’ll be accompanied by Nathan Hall, who has composed original music for the play. According to his impressive biography, Hall uses music “as an artistic medium to explore a variety of fields including science, nature, the fine arts, history, and sexuality.”
Cabaret De Profundis was set to open last year on March 13, “and that day we just sat and talked and realized we couldn’t open,” Duggan recalls. “I’m always so nervous every opening night that part of me was happy. I thought, well, we rehearsed, and that’s good enough. We don’t have to actually do it in front of anyone. But when time went on and I realized there might never be a chance to stage it, I felt really bad.”
With the play opening in October, Duggan has reminded herself that “no matter what happens, it’ll be okay. If I completely forget the show, I’ll just start talking about something else and hope to get back to it.” Given the always surprising nature of Buntport’s scripts, Duggan would certainly get away with this.
Duggan has her own entirely unique approach and has created many unforgettable characters, bringing to those roles a mixture of fierceness, vulnerability and a kind of furious humor.
She played the supposedly reluctant tech for A Knight to Remember some years back. While fellow actor Brian Colonna reprised his childhood, she flumped herself sulkily on a giant beanbag attached to her bum, and the fleeting expressions of annoyance, boredom and incomprehension that crossed her face as she dealt with lights and visuals came close to stealing the show (though you can’t really steal a show from Colonna).
In Shakespeare’s gory Titus Andronicus, Lavinia is brutally raped and mutilated, and her tongue is cut out. No one who saw Buntport’s hilarious musical version will ever forget Duggan’s tongueless exasperation as Lavinia fields her father’s insistent questions and attempts gurgled responses.
Best of all, perhaps, was Jane, the cocky waitress she portrayed in Tommy Lee Jones Goes to the Opera Alone, which will be revived this season. Jones plays Puccini’s Turandot for Jane in the diner where she works, explaining its depths and complexities in detail. Jane is neither intimidated nor impressed. She sings happily along with the soprano and interrupts the music to explain how she would have plotted the whole thing better.
Like every other theater in the area, Buntport is keeping its fingers crossed as it looks forward to the coming in-house season. Over the break, the company premiered two brief original pieces shown in the parking lot and fielded some virtual content.
Buntport has always had a strong sense of community, and the group is determined to make its work widely accessible. The support the members received from funders and individuals means that the price for all shows this season will be pay-what-you-can — even if all you can pay is nothing.
“It’s important to offer this up so people who can’t afford to go to live entertainment have an opportunity to do that,” says Duggan.
Buntport will also waive rent for other artists “who have art but not the space or the means to show it,” says Duggan. “We want to allow people to tell their own stories. It’s a good way to ease into a possible new normal.”
To keep up with upcoming news and dates, visit Buntport online.