TWIN FALLS — Their’s alot of people out they’re that care about grammer, linguistic’s, and spellin’. If you two; are one of these people; this mite be the show four you.
In life, grammar nerds — those who are quick to correct the wrong use of “its” or “it’s,” or, heaven forbid, the wrong placement of a semicolon — are annoying but mean well.
In fiction, though, these people can be as deadly and oppressive as Big Brother.
Imagine a world in which grammar police aren’t just combing through newsprint for spelling errors, they are on the street hunting people for improper syntax. This is the world of “Speakeasy,” an original story by Twin Falls playwright Brendan Rowlands and directed by Jared Johnson. “Speakeasy” premieres Friday at the Orpheum Theatre.
This is the first production of the Magic Valley Repertory Theatre’s Local Playwright Series, which plans for a new show to be made each year presenting an original piece by a local playwright.
“Speakeasy” is the story of a tea shop set in a dystopian future. The ruling powers have created language laws that forbid grammatical errors. In this world, the failure to speak perfectly is an offense punishable by death.
At night this tea shop turns into a speakeasy, a refuge for those who struggle under these laws. In this place, they are allowed to use metaphor and frequently read Shakespeare, whose work has been outright banned. The owner of the speakeasy, Peter, is caught between giving his friends freedom of expression and a world that considers creatives hostile.
“This is about how important people are,” Rowlands said. “They are more important than ideologies.”
The idea came from social media when Rowlands saw comments correcting small spelling errors and he asked himself “What would the world be like if they ruled?”
Rowlands always wanted to be a storyteller. He’s tried to write novels most of his life; it was when started performing theater in Twin Falls that he shifted the story for the stage. Development for the script started in 2015.
“People complain that there are no original stories out there,” Rowlands said. “If you think we need more representation in writing, pick up a pen and go for it.”
Creating a world that is driven by perfect grammar wasn’t too much of a challenge; Rowlands studied the book “Elements of Style.” But he had to make sure to write around metaphor, homophones, contractions and words with multiple pronunciations — essentially everything that gives the English language color. The biggest hurdle was trying to avoid making his characters sound like robots.
Peter, portrayed by Dale Laughlin, never breaks the language laws — despite creating the safe space for others to do so. Laughlin said that the key to proper grammar with emotion is just practice. Contractions are the hardest habit to shake.
“You have people who laugh at the premise of this world,” Johnson said. “But imagine the people having to live in that world. Can the human spirit live on under such immense pressure?”
Chances to direct an original show don’t happen often and when they do, they come with their own set of challenges — mainly exploring new territory. There is nothing to base performances on, and the main source of inspiration is your own creativity, Johnson said.
“It’s exciting to work on something new, homegrown and original,” Johnson said. “This is the one place you can see this show. Here in Twin Falls, Idaho. It’s here because someone local had the spirit to put it together.”
When looking at the playbill, Rowlands noticed a spelling error. He was credited as the “playright” — the irony was not lost on him.