There are several factors that make Liza Powel O’Brien’s new play unique.
Maybe it’s the small, local cast or perhaps the fact that it’s a new work that premiered for the first time recently at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.
Whatever it is, “Apostrophe” is sure to strike a chord with people of all ages. The show made its debut June 10 and will continue through June 25.
Set in a prominent private high school with a troubled past, “Apostrophe” tells a coming-of-age story for two friends, Dezzy (played by Rheanna Atendido) and Mira (Ada Faith-Feyma), who who are navigating the murky territory between childhood and adulthood.
Eric Mulholland and Teresa Hess also play roles, as Paul and Dr. Elsbeth Hatch, respectively.
“You see their own personal journey and relationship to all the other factors affecting them, growing up in this world,” said Director Vito Zingarelli. “For me, that was the most dynamic part.”
O’Brien, who previously had a daughter in private school herself, derived the play from her own experiences. Although the play is set in pre-pandemic times, it contains relevant themes that resonate with today’s world.
Zingarelli has known O’Brien for several years, first from the Ojai Playwrights Conference in California and then from her residencies at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island when he was the program director. Zingarelli asked a mutual friend if anything good had come across his desk recently, and he responded with O’Brien’s work.
“Apostrophe” was first presented over Zoom during the 2020 Ojai Playwrights Conference, which was scaled down to an online project.
Zingarelli hasn’t directed a show at WICA since before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.
What made this show special was the level of involvement on the playwright’s part. O’Brien listened in on a number of rehearsals and tailored the script to the cast. For the first full week of rehearsal, she was present.
“Her repeated hearing of the play allowed her to continually revise,” Zingarelli said. “Even last week, she was still revising words here and there.”
He estimated that “Apostrophe” has gone through about 10 different drafts before arriving at the final one. The way of laying out the story changed the most over time, he added.
Executive Artistic Director Deana Duncan said it was an especially exciting production because WICA rarely gets to work on new plays.
“That’s just a game changer for us, as a small rural arts center, having the living playwright in the room with us,” she said.
O’Brien attended the opening night with her celebrity husband, Conan, also present.
“It was our largest opening night since COVID,” Duncan said. “We had 110 people there. That’s a good sign that audiences are starting to come back.”
The arts organization is hoping to get more youth involved in the show and is offering a total of 60-70 tickets sponsored by current or past WICA board members for those ages 25 and under to see the show at no cost.
“We’re hoping that demographic shows up and comes and sees the play,” Zingarelli said.