John McGivern Adds Depth to ‘American Fiesta’
The play by Steven Tomlinson is about Fiesta ware, that colorful,
mix-and-match dishware so loved by Depression-era housewives. A fascinating
story about Fiesta ware’s creation is revealed in the course of the play, along
with myriads of other “Fiesta factoids.”
Although McGivern creates about 20 characters during the play’s 90
minutes, the main one is a 50-ish gay man named Steven (gee, is this perfect
casting, or what?). McGivern mainly is known for his one-man autobiographical
shows about growing up in Milwaukee.
He spends a lot of time reflecting about relationships and community, themes
that also surface in American Fiesta.
Steven, from rural Oklahoma,
begins collecting Fiesta ware as a diversion during a particularly stressful
time in his life. He tries to find “perfection” in the vintage dishes when his
“imperfect” parents are not about to accept his same-sex union. When Steven’s
parents refuse to travel to Vancouver,
British Columbia, to witness the
wedding ceremony, the pain is easily registered in Steven’s face.
The play has an interesting history of its own. The Oklahoma-born
playwright was commissioned to write the piece by a noted theater company in Austin, Texas.
In 2007, it won a prestigious national award for new playwrights and even had a
brief, Off-Broadway run in New York.
Playwright Tomlinson typically is the one who performs the piece in productions
staged across the country. According to Renaissance insiders, Tomlinson plans
to appear in Milwaukee
in May to see McGivern’s performance. For Tomlinson, it will be a rare chance
to sit in the audience and observe his own work.
It is not surprising that a play written by someone with a Ph.D. in
economics from Stanford
University would be a bit
cerebral. Thankfully, Tomlinson only shows this side of him briefly. One
hilarious scene compares the original Fiesta ware colors to the color-coded
levels established by Homeland Security.
McGivern is able to make audiences feel as though they are among
McGivern’s friends and neighbors. This quality boosts American Fiesta to a higher level for Milwaukee audiences. Perfection, as Steven
learns during the play, lies in the eye of the beholder.
Renaissance Theaterworks’ American Fiesta continues at the Broadway Theatre Center through May 23.