Danger and Freedom in Chimacum Creek
With “Up Chimacum Creek,” opening Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the University of Idaho, playwright Ben Gonzales has crafted a deeply personal coming-of-age story that recalls some of his own experiences growing up in a small, isolated town in the Pacific Northwest.
Life, love and loss are explored through the lens of male friendship and competition as the story follows a group of friends from adolescence to adulthood. Danger and freedom coexist in the wild woods through which they run loose. Alpha male posturing provokes visceral offenses and physical risks.
“There are a lot of little truths in ‘Chimacum,’” Gonzales said.
Of Portuguese and Norwegian decent, Gonzales knew he didn’t always fit in with his pack of buddies. The subtle racism he experienced threads its way through the script. Sometimes on the surface and sometimes submerged, but always present. Add in an airplane crash and the threat of cancer and the story provides lifelong specters familiar to the playwright.
But there is a nostalgia for the past as well – long summer days pulling trout from the creek and crabbing with friends and discovering girls.
“The world was ours,” Gonzales said.
Life-Saving Distance Program
A student in the Department of Theatre Arts Master of Fine Arts online distance-learning program, Gonzales now lives in Warrensburg, Missouri, where he juggles twin girls, teaches theater courses at The University of Central Missouri and is designing lights for the school’s spring season. He is also chair of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 7’s National Playwriting Program.
The MFA distance program, which allows Gonzales to complete his coursework online from Missouri, has been a life-saver.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve been able to continue my professional work and get credit. It provides flexibility and the ability to remain in the real world, too.”
Gonzales will be on campus for a week to work with the cast and crew and attend the opening weekend.
Raising the Stakes
Directing “Chimacum” is Justin Cerne, artistic director of Theatre Workshop of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Like Gonzales, Cerne is also a distance-learning student and an accomplished director, choreographer and playwright whose work includes directing and choreographing productions across the country. He’s worked with Meryl Streep, Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody and many of Broadway's best.
In Moscow for the four-week Chimacum rehearsal period, Cerne describes being on campus as a great opportunity.
As an artistic director, he’s typically involved in all aspects of running a theater company — from ticket sales to hiring cast and crew to union contracts.
"Bringing a piece of theatre to life in the University setting is a treat as it allows you to surround yourself with creative minds, eager to learn and grow. It is a welcome pause from the pace of running a professional theatre," Cerne said.
"The production stakes are high (in school), but you are also free to fail. It is a safe space that nurture's creativity. You can leave behind some of the real-world obstacles that you face at a regional theatre" he said.
Cerne is intimately familiar with the “Chimacum” script. It was workshopped as part of his playwriting class during his first semester. Nostalgic and forward-looking, the play takes its six characters on that perilous journey to adulthood and asks “what if?”
“I hope it provokes connections for the audience,” Cerne said, “new, positive decisions.”
Featured in the play are Cesar Reyes, Joseph Winder, Andre Szarmach, Tim Malm, Andrew Yoder and Olivia Longin, and understudies Carley Youmans and Jose Aguayo, all students in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences.