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Red Letter Theater ready for its day in the spotlight

There’s a new player in the area theater community — one dedicated to giving artists an experimental stage for working their craft.

Red Letter Theater’s debut production, Sarah Kane’s “Phaedra’s Love,” will run Aug. 27-30 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.

“I started Red Letter Theater because I did not see enough opportunities for emerging artists interested in pursuing experimental theater to practice their craft,” said David Hanzal, the artistic director of the company. “I wanted to create a theatrical playground for emerging theater artists that would not only serve as a professional incubator, but also allow them to work side-by-side with Twin Cities theater veterans in the production of radical new work not regularly produced in the Twin Cities.”

From the get-go, Hanzal, who has worked for many of the larger and well-established companies in town, is dedicated to carving out a different path for the theater.

“Even many of the smaller independent theater companies in the Twin Cities are trying to model themselves after the big Equity houses, and I wanted to try something a little bit different,” he said. “I have no desire to be a mini-Guthrie or a mini-Park-Square — there’s already enough Wonder Bread theater being produced.”

Hanzal chose Kane’s play for several reasons. First off, it was a regional premiere. As important, “I wanted to choose a play that pushes boundaries and challenges the expectations of its audiences,” he said, “and I wanted to produce a contemporary work by a younger playwright.”

The work itself played into two parts of Hanzal’s vision for the theater — producing experimental new plays and re-envisioned classics. “I felt that by doing a contemporary reworking of an ancient myth covered both territories, and would give our first audiences a flavor of who we are now and what we want to continue to explore in the future,” he said.

Kane, who wrote the play in 1996 at age 24 and later committed suicide (in 1999), twists the legend of Phaedra and Hippolytus, focusing more on the motivations of the son rather than the stepmother.

“I find this to be the most nuanced and deeply personal theatrical version of the Phaedra-Hippolytus myth that I have discovered to date,” Hanzal said. “What interests me the most about Kane’s radical adaptation of the Phaedra-Hippolytus myth is that she is able to incorporate her own personal story within such a larger-than-life mythic construction. In her play, Kane frames her own individual mythologies within a story that is structurally so much bigger than herself.”

Hanzal also admits that the worked scared him, which only fueled his desire to direct the work. “I first read ‘Phaedra’s Love’ during my senior year of college. I had always been interested in, and attracted to the story of Phaedra, but couldn’t find a theatrical version that I connected to. So, at the time that I first read (Kane’s version), I first thought to myself, ‘I could never do this play!’ And I let it sit on my bookshelf for almost six months. And then I read it again. And again and again and again and again.”

The intimate Bryant-Lake Bowl proved to be an ideal location for the production. “Up until the last scene of ‘Phaedra’s Love,’ it’s a chamber piece, with only two people onstage at a time,” Hanzal said. “I want the audience to feel as if they are eavesdropping on some very private, very intimate conversations between members of the royal family.”

“Phaedra’s Love,” 7 p.m. Aug. 27-30 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater, 810 West Lake St., Minneapolis. Tickets are $12 and $10. For reservations, call 612-825-8949 or visit online.

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