Theater

Taos-inspired play opens

Joan Ackermann's 'Off the Map' returns as a Taos Onstage production

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When actor-director Campbell Scott attended a performance of playwright Joan Ackermann’s 1999 stage play “Off the Map,” a story set in the “wilds of Northern New Mexico,” he was immediately inspired to turn it into a film. Ackermann adapted her work into a screenplay, and Scott produced and directed. The 2003 movie was filmed entirely in and around Taos, with Sam Elliott and Joan Allen in starring roles and dozens of our friends and neighbors as background players.

Taos Onstage brings the play back to its roots for a two-week run at the Hopi dining room in the Kachina Lodge at 413 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. The play opens today (Feb. 15), and continues through Saturday (Feb. 17) and plays again Thursday through Saturday (Feb. 22-24), with curtain at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances are planned Sunday (Feb. 18) and Sunday (Feb. 25), both at 2 p.m.

The play is narrated by now-adult Bo Groden, looking back on her unconventional Taos childhood spent living off the land (supplemented by treasures from the local dump) with father Charley and mother Arlene. Bo’s reminiscences focus on the summer of her 11th year, when Charley experiences a descent into crushing depression.

Arlene turns to gardening in the nude while Charley’s friend, George, tries to console him with watercolors and companionable silence. Young Bo passes her time sending away for free samples and praying for a miracle for her fractured family.

The miracle arrives in the unlikely form of IRS agent William Gibbs. Mr. Gibbs has come to do an audit, but a fever-induced epiphany frees the bureaucrat’s inner creative artist.

Taos Onstage board member Judy Kasper is directing the play. “It’s a wonderful script with universal themes about family, love, loss and finding one’s way in the world,” she said. “The playwright creates moments of both seriousness and humor, and the play simply is beautifully written. It is interesting, entertaining and engaging, and we thought that a Taos audience would connect well with a play and characters set in Northern New Mexico.”

Irene Loy plays the adult Bo. “I auditioned because Judy Kasper gave me the most adorable, personal, enthusiastic invite to audition,” Loy said. “I couldn’t resist. I’m grateful to Judy for the opportunity! This is a memory play told through my character’s point of view, so we get to see the same character at age 11 and at age 35 in the same play. That’s exciting. People will especially enjoy the show because it’s set in Taos and has ‘inside jokes’ that only our community would get.”

William Hall opened his William 2 Salon in Taos shortly before the movie version of “Off the Map” began filming here. In the years since, Taos audiences have had the opportunity to enjoy his talents, not only as a popular stylist, but as a gifted musician and actor. In this production, he takes on the role of Bo’s father, Charley Groden.

“Although I didn’t see the movie until I auditioned for the play, I had heard about it and consider Sam Elliott a wonderful actor,” Hall said. “And of course, a movie/play about Taos? Definitely! In researching my character’s condition, I gleaned much insight into my own issues and the losses in my life and how they have affected me. After confronting Charley’s and my own condition, I can finally offer myself something that I had been unable to find: grace.”

Taos theater veteran Julie Dougherty plays Arlene. “This story takes place in our very own town, and we hope the audience will appreciate the local references and familiar ways of unique living,” she said. “Also, the plot point of depression that threads throughout this story may offer a perspective about how vital a connection with others can be in order to allow light into dark spaces.”

The IRS agent whose arrival brings unexpected relief to the family is played by Nick Boeder, who began acting last year after experiencing a personal loss. “Acting has been central to my own healing and has allowed me to pass through grief,” Boeder said. “My character has been cathartic to portray. The experience has been wonderful. My favorite aspect of the production has been the opportunity to work with such a talented cast.”

This is the first major theatrical role for Albuquerque-born Violet Smith, who plays the young Bo. “Being in the play really appealed to me because the character I play is an 11-year-old girl, and I am an 11-year-old girl. I can relate to her because I live 30-plus miles out of town and off the grid just like my character,” she said. “I hope to portray the character honestly. It’s been wonderful working with the other cast members and with Judy. They’re all super nice and encouraging.”

Actor Patrick McMurray plays Charley’s quiet friend, George. “I love that this play deals openly and candidly with the issue of depression,” McMurray said. “I love my character’s devotion to his depressed friend. He cares deeply for Charley, and they have been through quite a lot together. Our show is a very simple and unpretentious production about a real societal issue.”

“I could not imagine a better cast,” said director Kasper. “This is a challenging script, and they have worked very hard and work extremely well as an ensemble. This is a very insightful and supportive group of actors. I am grateful for their enthusiasm and dedication and for all the help they have given to me and to each other.”

For information and advance ticket purchase, visit taosonstage.com, email taosonstage@gmail.com or call (575) 224-4587.

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