Hartford’s Parkville Neighborhood Comes Alive in New Play

<p>hBated Breath Theatre - Parkville Project. Photo by Ben Gancsos</p>
From left, Teddy Udain, Mike Hanson, and Ken O'Brien perform during a rehearsal of 'The Parkville Project.' Photo by Ben Gancsos

Theatergoers attending the world premiere of the Bated Breath Theatre Company’s The Parkville Project can expect a theatrical event quite different from a conventional dramatic performance. The production opens July 8 at the Playhouse on Park in West Hartford.

Visitors to the Playhouse during the play’s July 8-18 run may be surprised to find themselves immersed in the story from the moment they walk in the door, perhaps even before they have secured their ticket and their seat.

Director Helene Kvale and her artistic team pride themselves on creating dynamic and contemporary interpretations of classics and new plays. They invite audience members to engage with their works in traditional and non-traditional ways, and encourage interaction that is both personal and communal.

“What Helene has done is to involve the audience in a new kind of experience that isn’t basically ‘buy a ticket, take a seat, and watch a show,’” says Michael Bradford, an associate professor of dramatic arts at the University of Connecticut who wrote the play and is a founding member of the BBTC. “She has always been about ‘how do we engage the audience in a way they haven’t been before?’…I think that’s what you go out to the theatre for, to have a new experience.”

The Parkville Project tells the story of Amalia, a young lady who abandons her home in Portugal to search for the father she never knew in the Parkville section of Hartford. Hers is a journey anchored in possibility and hope as she comes to the thriving factories, shops, and neighborhoods of Parkville, only to be caught up in an Immigration Customs Enforcement raid.

<p>Bated Breath Theatre - Parkville Project. Photo by Ben Gancsos</p>
Vanessa Soto and Mike Hanson perform during a rehearsal of 'The Parkville Project.' Photo by Ben Gancsos

Yet it is here, after the raid, that Amalia’s search for her identity really begins, as she learns about her father, the great Royal typewriter drop in Cuba, and other elements of her family’s past through the many stories told by the colorful characters she meets. The typewriter drop – where nearly 200 Royal typewriters were dropped by parachute into Havana because the city lacked an airport – is one of the legendary stories of Parkville, which was once home to a massive Royal typewriter factory and was considered the “Typewriter Capital of the World.”

Kvale uses a wide variety of storytelling techniques to keep the audience engaged. Weaving different aspects of physical theatre, text, music, and puppetry, The Parkville Project is a moving and often comic play where love knows no borders. Hartford Courant theatre critic Frank Rizzo called the play one of the top 10 ‘must see’ events of the summer.

In order to gain inspiration for their narrative, Kvale and Bradford walked the streets of Parkville for months, interviewing residents, business owners, and visitors. What they discovered was a vibrant and diverse community rich with history and pride, a community full of colorful characters and ethnicities of all types – Brazilian, Portuguese, Laotian, Guatemalan, and Salvadorean. A place where families continue to move in and out, yet a true and distinct cultural identity remains.

“Ultimately, this is a human story,” says Kvale, an accomplished international actress currently serving as assistant professor-in-residence in the Department of Dramatic Arts. “This play is a celebration of human resilience. There is a lot of love in the writing, but there is a lot of conflict too.”

The Parkville Project has an ensemble cast that includes: Vanessa Soto, Phil Korth, Gretchen Goode, Ken O’Brien, Kevin Coubal, Kate Shine, Fergus J. Walsh, Nate Caron, and Arron Lloyd. The production team includes Nicole Phaneuf (movement), Laura Crow (costumes), Fergus J. Walsh and Paul Spirito (puppetry), Chad Lefebvre (lighting), Greg Purnell (sound), and Tim Maynard (music).

The Parkville Project is funded by the Marks Family Endowment in Fine Arts at the University; the United Arts Campaign; the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at UConn; Bated Breath Theatre; and Playhouse on Park.

To hear a podcast of Kvale discussing The Parkville Project go to the Hartford IMC website. For a short video clip of the production, go to the Bated Breath Theatre Company’s website.

More information about tickets, opening night promotions, and other specials is available at the Playhouse on Park website. All performances take place at Playhouse on Park at 244 Park Road, West Hartford. To purchase tickets, please call 860-523-5900 ext. 10.