Today’s TOP FIVE comes to us from Sharon Falduto, one of the founders of Dreamwell Theatre. Her list goes back into the 1990s (with one exception), a time that seems so innocent now in the post 9/11 world. Three of her TOP FIVE are plays produced by West Side Players, a now defunct University of Iowa theatre group. It started in 1986 and continued into the late 1990s, I believe. It was a theatre group for non-theatre majors. The four founders of Dreamwell Theatre all came from WSP – it’s safe to say there would be no Dreamwell Theatre without West Side Players. With further ado, Sharon’s TOP FIVE! (P.S. Be sure to read her bio. It’s funny too.)
1) The Person I Once Was by Cindy Lou Johnson. West Side Players, 1992
The play itself here was–ponderous. It’s a one act play that was published in Dramatists magazine. A quick google search shows that it is now available in published form, a surprising turn of events, but maybe undergrads trying to find their place in the world really enjoy performing it in University rec centers.
The play has three characters. I played the crabby spinster older sister–because even at the age of 19, I already wasn’t getting the ingenue parts. But that’s okay; ingenues have an expiration date, but you can be a cranky older sister for life. In one particularly tortured scene, the young male protagonist–who has the hots for my sister–loiters outside our house talking about how he is spinning and spinning and becoming no longer the person he once was, while I stood behind him, talking in counterpoint, lecturing about how to best make a cup of tea. “Always use cold water. Never hot, because it’s been sitting around too long.”
So why is this oddball play in my top five? Because it introduced me to the theater world. I joined this group, West Side Players, where I met many lifelong friends.
And that tortured young man character I mentioned? He was played by Matt Falduto. So, as you can see from my byline, this bit of casting worked out well for us.
2) God by Woody Allen. West Side Players, 1995
I saw this play in St. Louis and, with the hubris of youth, decided I ought to bring a production to the University of Iowa’s ragtag theatre group. This was my first directing experience, and my advice to you: don’t start your first directing experience with a cast of 17 people. Theatre people can be temperamental, college kids can be unreliable, and the combination of the two can lead to a cat-herding like situation. In spite of all that, I think it came out well. And it’s a dang funny play—too bad Mr. Allen’s reputation is tarnished.
3) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Dreamwell Theatre, 1997
Dreamwell’s very first show, and I got to direct it. I’m amazed at what we were able to pull off. The set looked great, the actors were good and authentic, and we helped to establish a theatre company that’s still going strong 18 years later. Some of the Dreamwell illuminati were in that show: Matt Falduto, naturally; Brad Quinn, and Roe Lloyd–along with other actors who have served the Iowa City community theatre well and then moved on.
4) Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon. West Side Players, 1998 and Dreamwell Theatre, Spring 2000
I’m a simple gal and I like simple things, like Grant Wood pictures and Neil Simon plays. This play is not challenging, it’s not genre-bending; it’s just a nice slice of life about a newlywed couple trying to reconcile themselves to their new lives together. I got to play Corrie Bratter twice–the closest thing to an ingenue role I’m ever going to get–both times with Matt Falduto (hey, there’s that guy again). I don’t want to brag or anything, but I recently heard an audio reproduction of that play in which Paul and Corrie were played by Eric Stoltz and Laura Linney, and I think Matt and I did a better job. Corridor theater community, you are on notice: in the next 10-15 years or so, it is on my bucket list to play Mrs. Banks, Corrie’s mother. Please also cast Matt Falduto as Victor Velasco. Thank you.
5) The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Steven Adly Guirgis. Dreamwell Theatre, 2013
I played Fabiana Aziza Cunningham, the prosecutor in charge of Judas Iscariot’s case for release from Hell in this play. It’s in my top five because it marked my return to a full, actual play with a real rehearsal schedule. I had taken time off from acting for approximately 13 years after Barefoot in the Park, being involved only in some quick reader’s theaters and All in a Day festivals. I got to work with Matt Brewbaker and Avonique Tipsword, who challenged me to truly find the motivation for my character. The D.A. in the play referred to me as a “juicy pulchritudinous dish,” which I’m going to take as high praise.
So ends the first week of TOP FIVE posts. We’ll be back next week with more TOP FIVEs from theatre artists. If you want to contribute a TOP FIVE, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to hear from you!
Sharon Falduto’s first role was “Inspector Adverb” in a grammar play in the 3rd grade. She still remembers her line, describing a bullet hole: “Round. Deep. Lethal.” She parlayed her fame from this elementary school production into several other roles including “the girl who gets constantly interrupted” in a junior high production, and “the maid who only has one line in Harvey.” It was at the University of Iowa where she finally was cast in plays where her character spoke at least two sentences in a row, with a group called West Side Players. In 1997 she and her husband Matt, along with friends Ali Zimmerman and Paul Chakrin, founded Iowa City’s Dreamwell Theatre. Sharon now works at Kirkwood Community College in the English Department. She lives in Coralville with Matt and three daughters: Rachel, who is a talented actress but would prefer to dance; Sammi, who would like to both write and star in your play, especially if she gets to be a cuddly animal and/or toddler; and Piper, whose expressive face makes her a natural for the stage.