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Jay Street and Kelsey Domeny. Courtesy photo.




See Sputnik: A Love Story

Where: Janice B. Streeter Theater, 14 Court St., Nashua
When: Thursday, April 21, at 8 p.m.; Friday, April 22, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, April 23, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 24, 2 p.m.
Admission: $15, $12 for students and seniors
Contact: nashuatheatreguild.org, 882-2189




World premiere
NTG performs Sputnik: A Love Story by Lowell Williams

04/21/16
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



 It’s 1957, and the Soviet Union has just launched a man-made satellite into orbit around Earth. The world is transfixed, and Americans don’t know what to do.

This is the world in which New Hampshire playwright Lowell Williams set his play, Sputnik: A Love Story. Its world premiere, courtesy of the Nashua Theatre Guild, is at the Janice B. Streeter Theater this weekend. It was inspired by the playwright’s fascination with how small towns react to world events — particularly small New Hampshire towns.
“I’m sort of drawn to stories about inequality,” Williams said. “I heard about how Sputnik, when it first took off in orbit … flew over New Hampshire all the time. … I started thinking about, what else was going on in October 1957? That’s when President Eisenhower was integrating schools in Little Rock with the help of the National Guard. There was a lot of civil rights stuff going on.”
Sputnik: A Love Story follows the whole mess of crazy happening in 1950s New Hampshire, and at its center is a young, London-educated Nigerian scientist, Ernest Omotoso, who decides to calculate Sputnik’s path using hand-made electronic devices. He determines the point at which the satellite comes closest to New England is in the front yard of the Skyline Hotel, operated by French-Canadian immigrant Maria and her son, Paul, in the White Mountains. Ernest’s white girlfriend, Madeline, follows him to New Hampshire to see the satellite, and close behind is her father, Lt. Colonel Albert Bradford, who opposes the relationship.
Williams wrote about the era before in a play called Six Nights in the Black Belt, about civil rights activist Jonathan Daniels from Keene.
“Because I had done so much research on that topic, I knew quite a bit about 1957 civil rights activities. I sort of combined that idea with what Sputnik represented, especially from our perspective now that we know what satellites are used for and how they’ve affected our lives,” Williams said. 
The play’s seen lots of readings — one at the New England Theatre Conference in 2012, another with Genesys Theatre at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth in 2015. At the time of his phone interview, Williams had just come off a reading at a Manhattan playhouse.
“I had gotten selected by the Strange Sun Theater Project in Manhattan and they picked it out of a couple hundred entries. They were looking for plays about art and science,” Williams said. “Sometimes it sounds different coming out of somebody’s mouth. Plays are meant to be spoken, not read.”
Williams’ work has had a lot of action in New Hampshire. This past year, his reading of 36 Questions in a Quiet Cafe at the RiverWalk Cafe in Nashua saw an audience of more than 100. His reading of The Warmth of the Cold through the New Hampshire Theatre Factory in Manchester saw equally large numbers.
It was Williams’ friend and show director Michael Curtiss who pitched the show to NTG. Curtiss knows Williams from the local theater scene, and they often talk theater together; most recently, they were audience buddies for The Flick, performed at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth.
Curtiss said NTG had been looking to expand its repertoire and offer something a little more off-beat than its usual comedies and dramas, and he liked Sputnik’s premise and conflicts. 
But it was hard finding the right people; producers had to hold an extra set of auditions to find to find Jay Street, who plays Ernest and has been driving up twice a week from Boston to rehearse. Other actors are locals Kelsey Domeny, Bob Frasca, Deirdre Hickok Bridge and Greg Parker. 
Sets and costumes are simple, and props include vintage radios, lent to the company from a friend of a friend of the producer. Whenever they hit snags in rehearsals, Curtiss reaches out to Williams for clarification or permission to switch up dialogue. He wants to serve the play justice.
“It’s not hard to find New Hampshire playwrights. It’s hard to find good New Hampshire playwrights. If you’re a serious playwright, you spend an incredible amount of time drafting and re-drafting, then going through a reading process and more drafts, and then maybe you get a chance to mount a fully staged production, to see if it has legs,” Curtiss said. “I’ve always been drawn to [Williams’] plays. … They’re engaging and relatable, and there’s something in it for everybody.” 





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