The black-and-white photographs of Francesca Woodman create the eerie impression the viewer has stepped into the middle of a story, and something is happening just outside the frame.
“When I looked at a collection of her work, a different story came to me for each photo,” says playwright George Brant. “I tried not to edit myself, so a poem, a song, or a short story emerged for each one.”
Brant turned 11 of his “snapshots” into the play “Dark Room,” which is having its world premiere at the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge in a production by Bridge Repertory Theater.
Brant earned widespread acclaim for his earlier play “Grounded,” which explored the imagined emotional landscape of a military drone pilot.
Bridge Rep artistic director and director of “Dark Room” Olivia D’Ambrosio says her collaborators Alex Platt (dramaturg) and Danielle Davidson and Shura Baryshnikov (both of Doppelganger Dance Collective) asked her to attend a reading of “Dark Room” five years ago.
“I was so struck by the characters,” says D’Ambrosio. “All these women in different situations are somehow trying to connect with each other, and yet each vignette is independent.”
D’Ambrosio says she was also struck by Woodman herself, a young woman from a family of artists who studied at Rhode Island School of Design and created an impressive body of work before committing suicide in 1981 at the age of 22.
“The vignettes are haunting and sometimes humorous,” she says. “They draw us in.”
“Dark Room” will include 22 women, including one main character and 21 ensemble members. One male character will be played by a different member of the Greater Boston community every night.
“It’s an epic thing to do,” says D’Ambrosio. “Present a world premiere, with a cast of 22, in this space we’ve called home for the past season. It was important to have one actor for each part, to develop the movement, to add color to Woodman’s monochromatic images with the use of costumes and props, particularly gloves, which recur in the vignettes.”
“Movement, not necessarily dance, is so important to the storytelling,” adds D’Ambrosio. “We had to create a vocabulary of movement to give the piece some structure and create some interstitial moments.”
“I always saw the play as a collaborative affair,” says Brant. “I thought every production would be different based on the use or style of movement.”
“Dark Room” doesn’t have a traditional narrative, but Brant says there are elements that resonate between the vignettes that create emotional and narrative connections.
“Every image,” he says, “had a feeling of these characters feeling isolated, or lonely, seeking completion.”
‘The Music Man’ cometh
Finding nuances in a character as familiar as Professor Harold Hill can be challenging, but Mark Linehan, who plays the role in the Reagle Music Theatre production of “The Music Man” Aug. 2-12 (reaglemusictheatre.org), says he’s been surprised by the complexity in both the character and the storytelling.
“What makes this show so iconic is the way the story develops,” Linehan says. “The citizens of Gary, Indiana, are introduced as a stern, stubborn mob, and Hill, the con artist, manipulates them as a mob. But as the story unfolds, we meet each resident as an individual, and discover Harold’s ability to bring out the best in people.”
“The Music Man’’ follows the arrival of a salesman/con artist who convinces a town to create a marching band, complete with instruments and uniforms, the money for which goes into his own pocket. But along the way, he meets a librarian named Marian Paroo (Jennifer Ellis) and becomes enamored not only of her, but of the locals who turn out to be more than they seem. The Meredith Willson musical includes the hit songs “Till There Was You,” (covered by the Beatles), “Good Night My Someone,” “Trouble,” and “76 Trombones.”
“I think this story resonates with so many people because it’s really what the United States is all about,” says Linehan. “You know, we start out as immigrants, with nothing. We look different, sometimes speak differently, but we come together as communities and accomplish amazing things.”
Award-winning actress Ellis says she was struck by the central role that Marian’s shy, young brother Winthrop plays.
“Winthrop is the key to Marian and Harold’s relationship,” Ellis says. “Marian has this wonderful line in ‘My White Knight’ where she says she’d like her knight to be ‘more interested in me than he is in himself. And more interested in us than in me.’ Even though Harold seems self-serving in the beginning, his efforts to bring Winthrop out of his shell show he understands family is never just ‘us,’ it’s bigger than that — a little brother, a barbershop quartet, a community.”
Director Susan M. Chebookjian says part of her job as director and choreographer is ensuring the 55-member cast also feels like a family.
“I chose people based on their strengths,” she says. “Like the community in the show, they don’t always look alike and don’t have the same strengths. Sometimes that takes the choreography in a different direction, which is great. I don’t want the company to fit into a form, or mimic the movie or Broadway.
“The power of this musical and this story,” says Ellis, “is its ability to encourage people to be their best selves, to snap out of old habits and come together.”
Presented by Bridge Repertory Theater
At the Multicultural Arts Center, Cambridge, July 27-Aug. 16. Tickets $10.50-$525. www.bridgerep.org
Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.