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Family matters and ghosts in John Perovich’s new play “shallow grave”

shallow grave

Photo courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

October 22, 2014

With its Victorian architecture and small town charm, Tarrytown, New York, forms the perfect backdrop for Washington Irving’s spooky tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Incidentally, Tarrytown is also the setting of new play by graduate playwriting student John Perovich. “shallow grave” is opening this weekend as part of the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s studio series for developing work.

Perovich says his play is first and foremost a family drama, but it does feature a ghost.

“Within a realistic frame, there are moments where we break away and do something quite different. I’ve been actively encouraging that and experimenting with that in rehearsal,” said the show’s director, Bill Partlan, a professor of acting and directing in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “I think John is really playing around with our level of reality over the course of the piece.”

“shallow grave” takes place on the day of a funeral, but the circumstances surrounding the death of the recently departed remain somewhat foggy. The newly widowed Maggie, the main character, faces an onslaught of questioning relatives, including her two children, who are dealing with smaller dramas of their own in addition to the death of their father.

“John Perovich is the genuine article,” said Lance Gharavi, assistant director of theatre in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “Not only has he created a tightly knit work of drama well-suited to the Halloween season — with ghosts, séances, sex, death, and the scent of autumn leaves — he has done so outside typical genre clichés. “shallow grave” is a very human drama — which means it’s also filled with laughter and absurdity. I’m most acutely struck by how effectively John speaks the secret language of the human heart.”

Partlan and Perovich have spent the past months working closely together to revise and polish the play through the workshop format of the studio series. “shallow grave” will be Perovich’s first full-length play to be produced on stage with actors and designers; he says he has been at every rehearsal and estimates that he’s probably done close to ten drafts of the work.

For Partlan, who spent years working with playwrights developing new work at the O’Neil Center in Connecticut, this format comes as second nature.

“I really do think [producing new work] is one of Bill’s specialties,” said Perovich. “He’s able to serve the play by always keeping in mind the it’s still being written.”

But Partlan isn’t the only one who has influenced the work over time. Perovich says he has received excellent feedback from everyone involved in this production of “shallow grave,” including actors, costume designers, tech designers and set designers.

“Theatre is a collaborative form,” said Perovich. “A single playwright might not be able to see everything that needs to be clarified in a piece. But when you get all of these different perspectives involved, you can start to strengthen the play to get it ready for, hopefully, a fully produced production.”

Perovich, now in his second year of the three-year MFA playwriting program, says “shallow grave” is easily the most refined play he has written to date.

“There’s really a sense of commitment and purpose from everybody involved,” said Partlan. “And that’s partly because John is so open and yet knows what he’s written. That’s very important in developing a new play. “

The final step of this collaboration will happen during the final performances, where audience members will be encouraged to stay and give feedback after the show.

“There are audiences out there who will enjoy being in at the ground floor, who will want to see something the first time it’s been shown,” said Partlan. “The audiences for this show will be the first to ever see it and then they’ll get to talk about it afterward. Those who want to take that risk, truly do get to be in on the creation of something new.”

Come join in on the process at one of the four performances of “shallow grave” in FAC 133 on ASU’s Tempe Campus:
Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 25 at 2 p.m.
Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

Ticket prices are
$10–General, ASU Faculty, Staff + Alumni; $5–Seniors, Students

Media Contact:
Katrina Montgomery
Editor Assistant