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Playhouse Nashville Overcomes Challenges to Mount ‘SEXTAPE’

Sextape LogoSextape Playhouse Nashville 6Mounting any play can be a challenge, but when you’ve got the made-from-scratch obstacles of a new work the task can be, well, so stimulating that it’s exhausting. Add the potentially incendiary subject of sex – and a late cast change – and you’ve got some idea of the mountain playwright Nate Eppler, director Christopher Bosen and their Playhouse Nashville collaborators have climbed to reach this weekend’s SEXTAPE (& Other Stories) opening of their Street Theatre Company residency.

In true the-show-must-go-on fashion Bosen and Wilhelm Peters will be playing parts originally planned for Jessejames Locorriere. Locorriere, who has recently been a guest star on Cinemax’s Banshee, found out earlier this week about schedule conflicts between the show and previous acting commitments that regrettably meant he had to bow out, according to those involved with the production. And while the sexual subject matter may raise some eyebrows in this buckle-of-the-Bible-Belt city, Bosen knows comedy makes the often divisive topic more palatable for the adults who’ll see the show (no one under 18 will be permitted in the audience).

“That’s the great thing about a play like this,” Bosen says, noting that canvases in the lobby and tablecloths in the theater will allow audience interaction with the show’s main theme. “Through humor you can delve into serious issues…and because it’s a comedy people can let their defenses down and talk about it.”

Bosen and Peters join Megan Murphy Chambers, Jennifer Richmond and Jack Chambers in the cast of a show that presents (to borrow from Playhouse Nashville promotions) “(a) raucous collection of seven short comedies (that) spins wild and hilarious tales about sex, the way we talk about sex, what we do when we have it and what we do when we don’t.” (I’m not going to reveal specifics on those stories in this article, and I plan to keep them to a minimum in my upcoming review – why spoil the fun?)

Sextape Playhouse Nashville 2What are the origins of this collection? “Some of the stories in SEXTAPE were ones I’d written for the Ten Minute Playhouse,” Eppler explains. “We’d been working on them while looking for a play to kick off the Playhouse Nashville experiment at (STC). We quickly arrived at the idea that it would be fun to do an anthology. I had been thinking about an omnibus piece about sex, so that’s basically how it came about.”

“What we’ve wanted to do with Playhouse Nashville is not just present new plays but develop them,” Bosen adds. “We felt (SEXTAPE) would say to our audiences, ‘You’ve seen some of the plays and helped develop them over the last two-and-a-half years. Now we’re going to take them to a full-production level.’ So it’s nice for this kickoff to be the culmination of that process.”

All of the artists involved have extensive theater resumes and are enjoying their collaboration on SEXTAPE. “It’s exciting and fun to have actors as sharp as these in the room and be able to tailor the play to their skills,” Eppler says. “You can basically try anything when you’ve got the cast we have.”

“It’s great, because you feel like you’re being given the tools to do a fantastic job, but it’s also a tremendous amount of pressure because you don’t want to f*&k it up,” Megan Chambers says. “I think not only is (Eppler’s) material great, but I know he’s worked hard to play to my strengths so there’s an additional responsibility on me to not squander it.”

“And no one can compare you to anyone else,” Richmond adds. “No one can say, ‘Well, in the movie…’”

“As Nate is not afraid of saying, ‘As soon as (the actors) do it in the room, I’m happy to steal it and put it in the play for future people to do it,’” Bosen notes.

Why this kind of development path as opposed to the workshop readings that are commonplace in Nashville theater? “I think development works better (than a workshop),” Eppler says. “It’s harder because it means the script just got locked (at the end of last week), but it’s more exciting because you’re working with others to create a more muscular and robust product. It’s ultimately not my show, it’s our show.”

Sextape Playhouse Nashville 1The actors also like the development process.“It makes me feel we’re trusted…not only to handle things but to suggest things,” Megan Chambers says.

“He’s so willing to cut material,” Richmond, who was part of the cast that developed the acclaimed Long Way Down with Eppler, says. “He’s like, ‘You know what, that’s not needed’ or ‘Okay, let’s try that’. He’s not one of those people who says…’It’s got to be my way or the highway.’”

What is the process like when you’re Mr. and Mrs. Chambers? Jack Chambers wisely observes that he’s only speaking for himself and not for his articulate wife, though she nods as he says “…It’s fun and light and playful,” while noting they only have one interaction within the show itself. “We’ve been in other shows where it’s been raw and harder to do because of the material. It’s enjoyable to bounce things off one another in this one.”

Now after an enjoyable and hard-working rehearsal process SEXTAPE meets the public. “There is no one answer to the question ‘What is right for you when it comes to sex?’” Eppler notes. “We hope this comedy will encourage people to ask themselves what the subject means to them.”

“I hope people will still be talking about it in the car on their way home,” Megan Chambers says.

“And I hope it will bring them closer together,” Richmond adds.

Related Story – Theater review: Intimacy Comes through Laughter in ‘SEXTAPE’

Playhouse Nashville’s production of SEXTAPE (& Other Stories) runs today (Feb. 28) through March 10 at Street Theatre Company, 1933 Elm Hill Pk. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays plus a special 11 p.m. late-night show on Saturday, March 2. Today’s 7:30 p.m. show is a preview while the 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 1 performance is the official opening. Tickets are available online by clicking here for $15 for adults for all performances (and $10 for college students with valid ID on Wednesday, March 10 only). There is also a $1.50 per seat ticketing fee. Due to mature themes, situations and language no one under 18 will be admitted.

*Photos of SEXTAPE cast members Jack Chambers, Jennifer Richmond and Megan Murphy Chambers by Britanie Knapp courtesy Playhouse Nashville.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).