New repertory theater group schedules first 3 plays

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Amanda Lackman

Playing the lead roles in “Doubt, A Parable,” the opening production of the Yellowstone Repertory Theatre, are Daniel Nickerson as Father Flynn and Bobbi Hawk as Sister Aloysius.

A new professional theater company in Billings will kick off its debut season next month, presenting three award-winning plays through next June.

The Yellowstone Repertory Theatre, whose beginnings were charted by Last Best News in February, will open its first season with a production of “Doubt, A Parable,” by John Patrick Shanely, running Nov. 3-18. That will be followed by Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” March 2-17 2018, and Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart,” next June 8-23.

All three plays will be produced at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, 2317 Montana Ave. “Doubt, A Parable,” will be performed in the more intimate NOVA Cafe, and the other two shows will be presented in NOVA’s Black Box.

The founders of the repertory theater are Craig Huisenga, artistic director; Dina Brophy, managing director; and Caitlin Hart, part of the artistic ensemble.

The trio had originally hoped to open their first season last spring, but Huisenga said in an interview that the group’s board of directors advised them to wait until they had officially obtained nonprofit status through the state.

That happened at the beginning of summer, Huisenga said, after which it took a while to find a performance space. Once they came to an agreement with NOVA, they had to wait for open dates.

“All of us have a previous relationship with NOVA as actors, directors and teachers and we are happy to be able to work with NOVA to give our first season a home,” Huisenga said in a press release. “The neighborhood is perfect for audiences looking to have dinner or a local microbrew before coming to the theater, and the downtown location means after-show entertainment is close by, too.”

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Huisenga said the founders believe that Billings, and its best theater artists, deserved a professional theater that paid its actors, directors and other participants. They want to present the “best” plays, including classics, important contemporary works, works by female playwrights and small-cast musicals.

“Those are the kinds of plays we are most attracted to, and Billings doesn’t get many chances to see shows like that,” Huisenga said.

Huisenga will direct all three of the group’s inaugural productions. “Doubt, A Parable” and “Crimes of the Heart” both won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and “The Glass Menagerie” won the New York Drama Critics Circle Best American Play Award. Brophy and Hart will play leading roles in “Doubt” and “The Glass Menagerie.

“Strong roles for middle-aged women don’t come around every day, so I feel extremely fortunate to be able to tackle Amanda in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ ” Brophy said in the release.

Huisenga said he was excited about presenting “Doubt,” which opens a week from Friday. He described it as a “diabolically clever play” in which Sister Aloysius, a Bronx school principal played by Bobbi Hawk, is hamstrung by church policies and politics when she tries to confirm her suspicions that young Father Flynn is having improper relations with a male student.

The really clever part, Huisenga said, is that Shanely wrote the play in such a way that, if presented correctly, “the audience, when they leave, shouldn’t know whether he did it or not.”

He said he told Daniel Nickerson, who plays Father Flynn, that it would be his secret: “I told him at the beginning of rehearsals that he can decide whether he’s guilty or not. … I have no idea what he decided.”

Huisenga said he received guidance in his direction of the play by speaking with an elderly nun in Billings, and with local author Elisa Lorello‘s mother, who is a Roman Catholic priest, though not recognized by the Vatican. Huisenga said they both provided valuable insights into what the Catholic Church was like in the mid-1960s, the era of “Doubt.”

That play will open Nov. 3, and performances will be on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. through Nov. 18. There will also be one Sunday matinee, on Nov. 12, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $22 for adults and $15 for students, with discounts for buyers of season tickets, flex passes and groups of eight or more.

For tickets or more information, visit www.YellowstoneRep.org. You can also buy tickets at the door or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

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