‘Cracker’ makes Pipe Dreams debut

Denny Patterson

On Friday, April 26, “Cracker” made its world premiere in Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre. This is the first time a play written by a non-Millikin student has been performed in the space. Directed by Tom Robson, the show revolves around how abrasive stereotypes and labels can be.

“’Cracker’ is about what we do with our pent-up rage,” Robson said. “What creates it? How do we direct it? How do we express it without destroying others, or ourselves? Or is that destruction what we want? It’s also about the damaging power of labels – ‘cracker,’ ‘trash,’ ‘drunk,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘ni**a’ – and how the need to overcome those labels can drive us in both productive and destructive ways.”

“On a more literal level, ‘Cracker’ is the story of a group of young people in a rough-edged, working-class Midwest town that houses a college – a town not entirely unlike Decatur. These are 20-year-olds looking for a way to have an identity – to fit in,” Robsom said.

The show’s main character, Les Colton, is a teenage boy growing up in a low-income town. While living with his alcoholic mother, his friends, also known as “white cracker” friends, are his support system. When his recently incarcerated brother, Ray, returns to town and chaos ensues.

“Cracker” is written by Paul Shoulberg, a professional playwright and screenwriter based out of Bloomington, Indiana. Robson is a friend of Shoulberg’s and has directed six of his shows.

From the moment Robson moved to Decatur, he had this play on his radar.

“I love the language,” he said. “Paul’s dialogue crackles with a sharpness and ferocity that I find incredibly exciting. The words of the play are sharp — they have teeth. It’s also incredibly funny. I think Paul has an ear for dialogue that theatrically heightens everyday speech. These kids sound like real people, but somehow more.”

“The world of the play feels like Decatur to me, and the people of the play feel like real people. My vision has always been to try to reflect some of the roughness around us onto the stage, without judgement or comment.”

The cast consists of Ryan Armstrong (’13) as Les, Terrence Hodge (’15) as Blue, Erich Peltz (’14) as Ray, Emily Lyons (’14) as Jana, Jordan Carpenter (’13) as Fizer, Geoffrey Eggleston (’15) as Grogan and Madison Kauffman (’14) as Honey.

Although the cast might be developing their craft in different ways, Robson says that understanding the rhythm of “Cracker” is by far the trickiest aspect of the show.

“I’ve directed a number of world premieres of scripts by Paul before,” he said. “He’s an incredibly rhythmic writer, in much the same way that writers like David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin are rhythmic writers, and mastering the timing has been one of our primary goals. The play is fast — a lot of very short, clipped lines that fly by. You have to learn to hang on for your life. It’s sort of like riding a mechanical bull of dialogue.”

The hope for audience members is that they recognize some part of themselves in characters seemingly unlike them. Robson personally hopes to introduce the audience to the sharply funny, but violent world of a writer who he thinks has the potential to be a huge voice over the next several years.

“It’s rare on a college campus to have the opportunity to see a world premiere, and it’s a phenomenal treat,” he said. “It’s a special experience that I hope people will take advantage of.”