Ouray to stage Eliot classic

Actors include Tony nominee, local man

The Wright Opera House is enjoying a renaissance this summer with a full slate of concerts, movies and special events. But Friday’s offering is something unique is this corner of the world.

The Wright will stage a theatrical reading of T.S. Eliot’s classic drama of church vs. state, “Murder in the Cathedral.” It’s not a play, per se, but instead will feature a roster of talented actors reading Eliot’s script in character but without any sets, props or other stage equipment.

The actors are Mike Hockersmith, Terry Kiser, Alyssa Preston, Dan Preston, Daniel Deganhardt, Mary Stanko, Glynn Williams, Rob Carrick, Nancy Nixon and Virginia Bellows.

“Murder in the Cathedral” is a play written in verse that chronicles the death of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, by knights of King Henry II.

The play features colorful characters such as the funny but terrifying Tempters. It deals with Becket’s conflict with King Henry that ultimately results in the Archbishop’s martyrdom in 1170. First performed in 1935, it has been performed consistently since its debut all over the world.

Kiser, who will play Becket, was nominated for a Tony Award on Broadway for his role in the original cast of Neil Simon’s “God’s Favorite.” Other Broadway credits include “Shelter” and “The Castro Complex.” Kiser also received an Obie Award and Theater World Award for his off-Broadway performance in “Fortune and Men’s Eyes.” He is perhaps most recognized as “The Dead Guy” from the “Weekend at Bernie’s” franchise, but he also has worked in film, and on stage, with some of the world’s greatest actors, including Roy Scheider, Gene Hackman, Michael Douglas, Joanne Woodward and Will Smith. His film debut was the Academy Award-nominated “Rachel, Rachel,” directed by Paul Newman. Kiser has made his home in Ouray County for many years.

A 2009 graduate of Ouray High School, the play’s director, Jake Abell, made his mark as a theater student. He’ll be directing his high school theater and speech coach, Nancy Nixon, and his acting mentor, Kiser.

Abell majored in theater at George Mason University before transferring to Baylor University’s theater program in 2010. He also studied acting in New York at the Stella Adler Studio. He now studies film, foreign languages and literature at Baylor, preparing for a career directing and acting for film and stage.

“I am privileged to be working with some of the best actors in the state. This is a unique group of theater artists who don’t always get to perform together. The cast includes a Tony nominee, a Shakespeare artist who has performed all over the country, a local drama student with national competitive experience and some of the best teachers of theater I know,” Abell said.

The play will be a staged reading, which means there will be minimal blocking. This provides the actors and audience to appreciate the beauty of Eliot’s verse without losing any of the drama.

The free performance is a benefit for the Ouray County Players. Donations will be accepted.

ted@durangoherald.com