The Open Hand
From Page to Stage
Robert Caisley Directs "The Open Hand"
Neither playwriting nor directing a play is easy. Both call for different strengths. Playwrights hunker down in days and nights of solitude with only the tapping of their keyboard to keep them company. While directors must be excellent communicators, transforming written word into action, collaborating with cast and crew to bring a story to life.
Robert Caisley, professor of theatre and head of the Dramatic Writing Program at the University of Idaho, has a universal toolbox that complements both roles.
Caisley was playwright and director for the West Coast premiere of “The Open Hand,” October 12-21 at the Forge Theater, 404 Sweet Ave., Moscow. Originally commissioned in 2015 and produced in 2016 for The Clarence Brown Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee, “The Open Hand” is a witty urban comedy that has a serious undercurrent as it explores the implications of generosity.
Like Playwriting in Reverse
The rehearsal process has revealed some script discoveries to Caisley as the actors give life to the words.“The act of writing is a very unconscious process for me. But as a director, I have to be able to interpret what’s on the page and render it in terms of visual action,” Caisley said. “It’s like playwriting in reverse; trying to decode what’s I’ve previously solved only in my imagination.”
Quintet of Quirky Characters
Portraying a quintet of quirky characters are Kylee Teal, Katy Sokol and Bryce Gowey from the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Justin Johnson, a 2018 Theatre Arts alumnus; and Craig Miller, assistant professor of acting and directing at U of I’s Department of Theatre Arts.
Teal, a senior Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre major from Mountain Home, said the script is very contemporary and relatable with job, money and relationship issues. Her character – Allison – is complex and has a hard time accepting gifts, worried that strings may be attached, even on her birthday.
“It’s really fun watching her (Allison) unravel. I get to go a little crazy,” Teal said. “And working with Caisley is very collaborative.” “He has just as much fun as we do. He’s very open with trying different things,” she said.
New to the U of I stage is Miller, who arrived in Moscow in August to teach theatre history and acting. Miller was the artistic director and education director at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa, California, where he produced several award-winning seasons and six of Caisley’s plays.
“I love the way he writes his characters and dialogue,” Miller said. “He’s deftly in tune with how people speak,” Miller said. In “Open Hand,” Miller plays David Nathan Bright, whose generosity arouses suspicion among some young urban professionals. The conflict quickly ramps up, something that Caisley is very good at, Miller said.
Even though Caisley has worked closely with two previous professional productions of “The Open Hand,” at Clarence Brown Theatre and the Phoenix Theatre Indianapolis, Indiana, he said it’s satisfying to build this production from the ground up with his U of I students and colleagues.
‘It’s a very different journey, but a truly exciting one,” he said. “What could be more agreeable than getting an opportunity to produce the play exactly as I imagined it when I first conceived the idea — all of the details of set, costume, lighting, music, casting and staging, not simply the dialogue.”