M-Shop to host ‘Carthaginians’

Sarah Haas

The December morning following his first reading of the Irish play “Carthaginians” by Frank McGuinness, alumnus Ellis J. Wells decided to produce the play himself.

“I didn’t read the play intending to produce it. I read it and thought to myself I needed to play [the character] Hark,” Wells said. “Often, as an actor, you find roles that you love and roles you need to play before you die, and this is one of mine.”

A proud member of the theater community while attending Iowa State, Wells read “Carthaginians” while auditioning for a production of “The Boys Next Door.” Though he was not cast in “Boys,” he took it upon himself to produce “Carthaginians.”

“There were auditions for the upcoming play, and a whole bunch of us auditioned and we didn’t get cast. And I began thinking that I had the people I needed, and so it all just weirdly slotted into place because I had all these actors – really good actors – available who could be perfect.” Wells said.

The cast comprises seven actors, including Wells, and the story takes place in Derry, Ireland, 10 years after Bloody Sunday, a day in 1972 when a reported 26 civil rights protesters were shot by the army.

“There are seven people sitting in a graveyard 10 years after Bloody Sunday, and it shows how that day affected these people. It’s a lot of people waiting for their lives to start again after this terrible event,” Wells said.

“This is very real, and I think the playwright is trying to deal with post-traumatic stress, and its characters are very interesting. It is actually the first Irish play to have an openly homosexual character.”

He then found suitable people for the other positions in the production, from the set designer to the producer. Unlike other productions, Wells is supplying the money for most of the costs associated with the play, ranging from costumes to the intricate set design.

“I’m paying for the set and other parts, so I’m very much producing it because it’s all my money, but we have been thrifty with the budget. We have gotten help from charities for the costumes, and we have been given free stuff, including a local flower shop that donated flowers to us,” Wells said. “But, in the end, it’s all paid by me, and I feel it’s still worth it even if I don’t get all of my money back through ticket sales.”

The set itself is unlike any the cast members have performed on before. Within the M-Shop, a round stage will sit in the center of the room, allowing audience members a unique perspective and forcing the actors to maintain awareness of his or her surroundings.

“The play is in the round – there will be audience members on all four sides. So we’re always aware of where we are. It’s very interesting to work with. The set is actually a pyramid of garbage, and it is just going to be a very, very exciting play,” Wells said.

“Carthaginians” by Frank McGuinness

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28 – Wednesday, Jan. 30

Where: Maintenance Shop

Cost: $5