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Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008

Elevator Operator

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   Playwright Neil Haven doesn't recall when or why he imagined an agoraphobic live-in elevator operator, but he does know why he wrote it down. There's an inherently dramatic dynamic to an offbeat character like that. That kind of character dynamic fits rather nicely in the center of a plot structure. The plot in question is that of Haven's new play Stuck, which opens Aug. 14th at the 10th Street Theatre. The play debuted last month on the campus at UW-Whitewater, where the production was developed.

  Having completed its run at the university, the production moves to Milwaukee for the three-evening run of the show here. The set was designed to travel and fit the specific space at the 10th Street Theatre. Haven worked with director Jim Butchart as the show went into rehearsals. "Butchart is a very good dramaturg while directing a new play," Haven said. "He asked the right questions, pointed out the ugly spots, and contributed a lot of creative ideas and solutions."

  Haven and Butchart continued refining and tweaking the script as the show's premiere approached, with more than a dozen people working on it in various capacities. The script has been further refined since its debut run.

  The play's trip to 10th Street began with Haven's inspiration for an agoraphobic elevator operator. The playwright speaks fondly of the play's central character, Ella. "She's named after my great grandmother, Ella Molter," Haven said. The character of Ella works at the fictitious Woodland Inn-an antique retro-themed hotel in Milwaukee. The writing of Stuck began with Ella and grew from there. "I knew I needed some mystery or scheme for her to unravel and take control of," Haven said. In contrast to her phobia, Haven crafted Ella into a people-person who prefers her people one at a time-a disposition that makes her perfect for her chosen profession. "Ella's in a prime position to play confidant, eavesdropper, conspirator, trickster, manipulator," Haven said.

  UW-Whitewater senior Amanda Frenecki plays Ella amidst a cast of Whitewater students. Other characters include a husband on a business trip, a suspicious wife and a seductive temptress. The characters mesh together into a single plot that focuses on fidelity and jealousy in modern relationships. It's pretty heady stuff, but the play shouldn't feel heavy-handed. "I think a lot of my inspiration as a writer is to entertain," Haven said. "Comedy is about ideas, but if it's not entertaining, who's going to listen?"

  Haven's 2007 comedy Get A Life-about the ghost of an adult film star played by Alison Mary Forbes haunting a single guy played by Rick Pendzich-was a critical and commercial success. Haven is prepared to follow that up with another successful production this month.

  Stuck runs through August 16th at the 10th Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St.