Christa Fenton (left) and Julianna Gibbons rehearse a scene from Omission, which opens on Thursday, Aug. 19 (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).
Keizer Homegrown Theater (KHT) is often used to putting on adaptations of classical plays and shows. But next week, KHT will feature a brand new show written by Maeve O’Connor — professionally known as Maeve Z.
The world premiere of the psychological thriller Omission, will be debuting at KHT Aug. 19-21 with performances taking place on the outside patio behind the Keizer Cultural Center, next to Keizer City Hall. Each show will begin at 7 p.m. — the play is intended for teens and up due to content and language.
Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door or on the KHT (keizerhomegrowntheatre.org). Seating is limited and guests are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs.
“I believe that this show is a real slice of humanity. The psychological intrigue is fascinating,” said Omission director Loriann Schmidt. “People are going to talk about this after they see it.
The story of Omission involves a professor, Rue, on the hunt for her missing wife. She finds herself as one of four strangers trapped in a jazz bar during a terrible storm. Alliances are formed and broken, getting-to-know-you games take dark turns, and things quickly spiral towards the surreal as the night wears on. As the storm continues to rage, Omission races towards its nightmarish conclusion.
“It is pretty exciting. I love that Keizer Homegrown is working with a new play and is embracing a new piece and bringing it to life. I am really excited about it,” said Julianna Gibbons, who will be playing the role of Rue. “I was drawn to those layers and the depth of the show. There is so much in it to explore.”
While Schmidt has directed multiple KHT productions in the past, she admitted that directing a world premiere made her a bit nervous, but her enthusiasm about the script outweighed any pressure she may be feeling.
“When I have looked at the list of people that have purchased tickets, I feel a little bit of pressure. But it is really exciting.” Schmidt said. “One of the things I have really enjoyed is the relationship with (Maeve) and being able to work with her to bring this show to life.”
Despite being only 20 years old, Maeve Z has written dozens of scripts for many different theater groups. She said her motivation behind writing Omission came during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic while she was attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, away from her family and support system in Oregon.
“Learning first-hand about loneliness and isolation is really what fueled me to write Omission,” Maeve Z said. “I just had this vision of a woman desperately searching for her wife and asking for help from patrons in a bar. I didn’t know where it was going when I wrote it, but I like where it ended up.”
Maeve Z also wrote a script for the KHT virtual show Let the Right One Burn in October of 2020, a play that, similar to Omission, involved some scary and suspenseful content. While she writes about a wide variety of subjects, Maeve Z said that she is drawn to stories that tend to be more on the dark side.
“I am definitely not a horror writer exclusively, but I do have a knack for morbid stories that involve unsettling topics,” Maeve Z said. “This is a story that explores the darker side of relationships … After the past year that we have had, we should allow ourselves to be a little dark.”
“She just writes about people and represents the full breadth of people in America today,” Schmidt added. “I have been trying to get works of Maeve’s produced as much as possible because she is a brilliant playwright.”
Putting on a suspenseful show can be challenging when doing so outside when the sun is still out — Schmidt’s motivation for having the show outside was to keep people safe from COVID-19. However, Schmidt has multiple theatrical tricks up her sleeve to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
“We do it with our movement and how we say our words. We mic up our cast so they can speak in lower tones without feeling the need to project through the outside space. It allows the actors a full range of expression,” Schmidt said. “Not having lighting to play with was very difficult, but it was really important to keep our actors and audience safe at this point,” Schmidt said.
One of the unique aspects of the show is that there are no blackouts, transitions or scene changes. Attendees will get to witness the story unfold in real time. But what Schmidt enjoys most about the show is that it forces the audience to come to their own conclusions.
“I really love the shows that don’t tell you everything that is going on, the ones that leave it to your imagination,” Schmidt said. “There is a big mystery to this show that I think audiences are really going to enjoy. Where some plays take you straight through and tell you everything that you’re supposed to think about the show, she leaves so much open to the interpretation of the audience.”
“All of the characters are really rooted in the reality that they are given. The situation might feel unorthodox, but everyone that is contributing to each scene, and each conversation is alive and real inside of that moment,” added Christa Fenton, who is playing the role of Lark, Rue’s wife.
At its core, Omission deals with the nuances of human relationships, which is why Maeve Z is greatly looking forward to showing her work off to the Keizer community.
“If you have ever been in a relationship where you felt powerless, crazy or desperately affected by it, you are not alone,” Maeve Z said. “It is a play about people. If you have interest in people and the way they interact with each other, it is definitely worth a watch.”
Matt Rawlings: [email protected]