Sol 111 Productions presents the award winning Cherry Smoke by US playwright James McManus, starring Michael Argus, Michael Robins, Angela Scundi, Leone White and directed by Suzanne Heywood. This thought provoking play explores the lives of four young people who struggle to reconcile what they want with what they have. Can they dare to hope?

McManus has penned six plays and won the 2006 Princess Grace Award for Playwriting for Cherry Smoke which tells the story of Fish, a club fighter who has spent most of his life in and out of jail and is a ticking time bomb. Despite his constant struggle to change and lead a decent life, his violent outbursts and hair trigger temper result in countless confrontations with the law Then there is his girlfriend, Cherry, a runaway fortune teller who has been on her own since the age of ten and longs for a more simple life like the one Fish's brother, Duffy, and Duffy's wife, Bug, lead. Director Heywood  tells me she was attracted to the project not only because of the opportunity to work with this particular group of actors but also the power of the text. "It resonated strongly with me and  I wanted to tell this story. While these characters  and their circumstances are quite specific the themes are universal," she says.

Heywood joined the project late but was immediately impressed by the actors' passion for the piece. "As we began to work on the script I felt myself being drawn into the world of Cherry, Fish, Bug and Duffy  and I  knew I really wanted to tell their story," Heywood explains. " It is a story about hope and possibility and how elusive these can be.  We now live in a world  where everyone  is categorized as winners or losers and for the most part winners are defined by material possessions and influence in the world. Discontent and frustration are features of many peoples lives  and  acceptance and contentment  are rare commodities in our modern world. Where does that leave the characters in Cherry Smoke ? The world for these  characters  offers few possibilities  and the way each of the four respond to this is what intrigues me about the play.  What creates the resilience to keep going in the face of such obstacles or the need to escape into a world of fantasy to make life bearable."

The play traverses through Cherry's pregnancy and Fish's fears that he will become the type of father that his dad was to him…unavailable and violent. The all consuming love Fish and Cherry have for each other is put to the test and it is this last that resonates with Heywood perhaps the most describing it as personally challenging because a lot of the material is  emotionally confronting. "What does it mean to be loved and needed….what is  as Cherry  describes “ a big love” and what does it mean to settle for less. I have recently lost my husband of thirty years  with whom I shared “ a big love” and so every time we touch on this material  it is  painful," Heywood confides. 

She describes the piece as being constructed like a jig saw wherein we see the characters as both children ( at various ages) and adults. "There is not a linear, and while this is the charm of the piece, it poses certain challenges," Heywood admits. "Also there is a temptation  in the text to become overly lyrical and  have had to work the actors hard to keep the muscle in the piece."

Heywood is certainly no stranger to the stage having begun her career in the theatre playing Helen Keller in J.C. Williamsons’ production of The Miracle Worker. She has spent the last 25 years working as a voice, dialogue and dialect coach  She has worked across the spectrum of theatre including musical theatre ,T.V and film. So far this year  she has worked as the accent / dialogue coach on King Kong  ( which she is still doing), the accent coach for MTC's The Other Place  and a feature film, Now add Honey, as well as three shows for Red Stitch Actors Theatre . Most recently she has  been the voice and text coach for The Shadow King at Malthouse which she describes as particularly satisfying. She is also currently in production for an animated series called The Jar Dwellers. Her Musical Theatre credits include:  Sunset Boulevard; Chicago; Cabaret; Mama Mia; The Wizard of Oz; The Full Monty; The Lion King; Dirty Dancing; High School Musical; Jersey Boys; and the Melbourne productions of West Side Story; Annie; and South Pacific. And Film and Television include: Heartbreak Kid; The Ripper; Dead Letter Office; Wee Jimmy; This Dying Breed; The Eye of the Storm; Underground; and The Mystery of the Hansom Cab; Something in the Air; Simone de Beauvoir’s Babies; Raw FM; Last Man Standing; Curtain; The Slap and Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries for the ABC. Horace and Tina; and Treasure Island for Jonathon Schiff and was the dialogue coach for Neighbours.

Cherry Smoke involves four young people in a rust bucket town in the USA where opportunities are few perhaps and they each struggle to find a more meaningful life – perhaps  reminiscent of McManus' own life while growing up in a decaying steel mill town near Pittsburgh. Says Heywood: "It is so easy to dismiss  Cherry, Bug, Duffy and  Fish as “losers” But are they? This piece explores what it is to be human, to want and hope , and  going on the journey with these characters  will provide an insight that might just shed some light on your own life."

Cherry Smoke is playing at Revolt November 12 – November 23
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http://www.revoltproductions.com/melbourneevents/byevent/CHERRY_SMOKE1

 

 

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