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Graphic Depictions Debuts at Boise Contemporary Theater

Eric Coble's world premiere production explores one woman's midlife struggle


Boise Contemporary Theater's new world premiere production, Graphic Depictions, tells the story of Alexa, a woman in the midst of a midlife crisis, reeling from a personal tragedy and forging a path forward.

"This is a woman in the middle, quite literally, in terms of age and just the choices she's made in her life," said actress Tracy Sunderland, who plays Alexa in the one-woman show opening Saturday, April 5, at BCT. "There are things she's committed to, and things she's left behind."

Alexa confronts her life after a personal tragedy, one which viewers aren't privy to until much later in the play. Together, Alexa and the audience circle in on what happened, fitting together pieces of "a puzzle," as playwright Eric Coble describes it.

"I guess the real challenge is how do you make it clear enough that people can follow it, but not give everything away right out of the gate?" Coble said from his home in Cleveland, Ohio.

As a young girl, Alexa was artistic, care-free and lacked responsibility. But now, in middle age, she has to balance commitments to children, a home and a steady job as a graphic designer.

"The themes of the play are about freedom and roots. In the middle of your life, when you've made a decision to put down roots, when you've been kind of a free-spirit person, what's the trade-off?" said Coble.

Graphic Depictions is part of a larger, non-chronological trio of plays Coble has penned, called the "Alexandra plays."

In A Girl's Guide to Coffee--first in the theatrical triptych--the subject is Alex, an artistic 20-something barista working at a coffee shop. Fast forward a few decades and you'll find Alexandra in The Velocity of Autumn, confronting the end of her life. Graphic Depictions, with its character Alexa, fits in the middle of the arc but was Coble's most recent work.

The Velocity of Autumn was the beginning of Coble's relationship with BCT. Less than three years ago, in April 2011 at the Seven Devils Playwright Conference in McCall, BCT Artistic Director Matthew Cameron Clark signed on to stage a production of the play.

Now, The Velocity of Autumn is likely headed for Broadway, where it will star Oscar-winner Estelle Parsons and Tony-winner Stephen Spinella. But there are some hurdles to climb before that can happen.

"If they can lock in the theater and they can lock in the funding over the summer--then it would go forward," said Coble. "All those things look promising."

Finding an appropriately-sized theater can be a battle. Availability of Broadway venues is sticky, as is financing--$2 million to $3 million is needed to stage a play.

The Velocity of Autumn is also slated for a fall run at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., where it will star the same Broadway cast.

When it comes to his cast of Alexandras, though, Coble said they might share similar names and personalities, but Alex, Alexa and Alexandra are not necessarily the same woman. What really binds them together is that each is forced to confront similar issues at different stages in life.

"[Graphic Depictions] was the last one that I wrote. I knew that what I was going for were those same issues of freedom, of when do you put down roots and when do you pull them out," he said.

In Graphic Depictions, Alexa is caught between past and future versions of herself.

"She is a woman who is, with humor and great tenacity and belief in the transformative power of art, she's trying to navigate through a very murky time in her life," said Sunderland.

Though each of the three Alexandras function independently from one another, the women all experience the uncertainty of where their lives are headed, where they've been and who they are as people.

"This is my house, this is my car, this is my dog, these are my children," said Coble. "The core questions of, 'I am a kind of person who does this,' 'I do not like vegetables,' 'I love romantic movies.' Where do you hang onto those and where do you let them go?"

While Coble's work centers on women, he doesn't think his gender is a hindrance when it comes to accurately writing and portraying the characters, whose struggles, he added, are universal.

"Our core desires seem pretty in the middle," he said. "Our need to be loved, our need for acceptance, our need to fit in, our need to break out. ... I'm not saying I know what it's like to be a woman. I know what it's like to be a human being, and that's what I tend to write for."