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Micki Panttaja

Building a World to Share: IRT Presents “Moss Gown”

It’s been more than 20 years since Micki Panttaja first penned the play “Moss Gown” for a traveling theater troupe, but this summer, it hits the “big stage” for the first time as part of Idaho Repertory Theatre’s line-up.

Panttaja, web coordinator and marketing manager for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, has written several plays over the years for Idaho Theatre for Youth, but this one holds a special spot in her heart. While she wrote it specifically for a traveling show, she’s always wanted to see it performed on the main stage.

“I always knew there was so much more that could be done with this show,” says Panttaja. “While it worked well with a limited cast and a set that packed up in a van, from the start, I envisioned it with a full set and cast.”

The play is based on a traditional North Carolina tale turned into a children’s book, which combines Shakespeare’s “King Lear” plot with “Cinderella” that came from a 17th-century American colony. The plot was born out of traditional storytelling and the stories the immigrants carried to the new world.

“There’s such a rich background in the text that lends itself to theater,” says Panttaja. “As I was reading the story for the first time, I was already writing it in my head.”

In the play, Candace and her sisters must compete for their plantation-owning father’s attention. Though she loves him the most, Candace fails to shower her father with flowery praise and is banished. With the help of her fairy godmother/gris-gris woman, she attends a ball and wins the heart of her new employer, a  young plantation owner. She is then reunited with her father, who finally realizes how much she loves him.

“I think children can really relate to not always being able to express themselves, and that there are more ways to get the message across,” says Panttaja.

Working with set and costume designers, Panttaja is gratified to see her vision come to life: swamp creatures, hurricanes, fog and transformations. While she has more resources at her fingertips, Panttaja says she is still keeping some elements simple and drawing on youth to fill in the blanks.

“I really love writing for children, they have so much imagination,” says Pantaja. “I don’t write down to them and I let them have some creative control over what they see.”

Panttaja says the set will present the location and offer visual interest, but will also let the audience build the rest of the plantation and scenery in their minds. The swamp, though, will be a fun experience she says: it will be full of creatures and fog rolling in.

The staging of her show came as a surprise to Panttaja; an unexpected cancellation in Idaho Repertory’s season had the artistic directors looking for another show, and “Moss Gown” was suggested. Still in search of a director, the Rep took interest  as Panttaja talked about casting needs for the show with the theater’s artistic directors; she became the natural choice.

“Normally, I would never direct my own piece,” says Panttaja. “But this has been done so many times on the road. It’s a finished piece.”

That’s not to say she’s adding a few new elements. Billed as a family show, Panttaja says that adults will also be entertained by the story. The show runs about one hour and 20 minutes.

“Moss Gown” runs Aug. 3 – 6 at 7:30 p.m. and Aug. 7 at 2 p.m. “Noises Off” (July 6 – 14 and 17) and “Taming of the Shrew” (July 23 – 30) will also be performed during the Idaho Repertory Theatre season. For more information, www.idaho rep.org.