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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 17, 2006

University Theatres Mainstage Presents 'Tallgrass Gothic' Nov. 30-Dec. 10

University Theatres Mainstage will open "Tallgrass Gothic," a romantic tragedy by Minnesota playwright Melanie Marnich, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, in the David Thayer Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. Dec. 1, 2 and 6-9, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 3 and 10.

In the stark beauty of the Great Plains a young wife succumbs to a crush on a handsome neighbor and becomes entangled in a dangerous web of lust and vengeance. Part gothic romance, part horror story and part "Macbeth," this brutal drama exposes the intoxication of new love and the consequences of desire.

Marnich describes this tragedy as an "a dream that people can't stop watching. It's really a love story about a young woman who had felt trapped in one place and one time, and sees a way out. Once that craving has been set in motion, she can't stop. I think she's a certain kind of creature, a dangerous creature who falls in love, and it awakens her true nature, in a sense. Her true nature is passionate and criminal and blind and naive."

"Tall Grass Gothic," which was premiered at the 2004 Humana Festival, was based on the bloody 1622 British tragedy "The Changeling," but director Scott Pardue is also creating echoes of Terrance Malick's films "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven," by which Marnich was also influenced.

"The themes of loneliness and alienation (in the script) can undoubtedly be traced to Terrence Malick," says Pardue, a graduate student in the directing program of the Department of Theatre Arts. "But an interesting difference between Malick's work and Marnich's script is that Malick is not interested in explaining the causes of behavior, but rather the experience of alienation. Marnich, on the other hand, seems intensely interested in the causes of behavior, more specifically the relationship between desire and alienation: Desire that drives us to acts that alienate us from our friends, our lovers, our God and ultimately ourselves."

Lighting and scene designer David Thayer, the emeritus faculty member working in the space that bears his name, has created a striking, atmospheric set dominated by real prairie tall grass (something that potential audience members with severe grass allergies should take into consideration), backed by a vast sky and punctuated by a junked car, a bed and the rough wood of a barn, a fence and exposed lath. The production also features costumes by Catherine A. Parrott.

Marnich's other plays include "Blur," "Quake," "Beautiful Again," "Calling All," "Cradle of Man" and "The Sparrow Project." She's the recipient of two Jerome Fellowships, a McKnight Advancement Grant and two Samuel Goldwyn awards. She recently married one of the UI's most distinguished playwriting graduates, Lee Blessing.

Pardue, for whom "Tallgrass Gothic" is a thesis production, has focused on new play development for more than a decade, through Stranger Theatre and Associated Students of Performing Arts at the University of Wyoming, Poor Playwright's Theatre in Las Vegas and New World Stage in North Carolina. He developed a process called the PlayFactory, a workshop using improvisation to help playwrights identify and overcome obstacles in their scripts. At the UI he has directed several new plays, including Melissa Leilani Larson's "An Experiment In Sainthood" in the 2005 Iowa New Play Festival.

"Tall Grass Gothic" contains material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether it is appropriate for them should contact the department -- 319-335-2700 -- for additional information.

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Tickets -- $17; UI student and youth $8; senior citizen $12 -- are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website:

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail:

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073; cell: 310-430-1013;