Recommended Reading for Girls—A Cast of Characters

You may not be familiar with the production of Recommended Reading for Girls. That’s because it is the world premiere, by Omaha playwright Ellen Struve. The play centers on Amy Saunders who returns home to help her mother through a round of chemotherapy. She and her sister, Jackie, find four unexpected guests in their childhood home. They meet the heroines, Sara Crewe from A Little Princess, Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, Heidi from Heidi and Penny Parker, Girl Detective based on the character of Nancy Drew, as they sort through their problems. I had the opportunity to talk with some of the cast to see how they felt about the world premiere of Recommended Reading for Girls (RRFG) and how they prepared for their roles.

Christina Rohling (Amy Saunders)

Character description:
“Amy is the youngest of two sisters and the one who has the more contentious relationship with her mother. She feels like she has messed up everything in her life and just isn't able to understand her mother or to feel that she has made her mother proud.”

What is it like to interact with some famous book characters on stage?
“It is fun to see how Ellen has made the literary girls come to life. Several of their lines are directly from the books, and I think she has done a wonderful job of capturing their essence in her characters. Of course, the actresses playing them are doing a wonderful job of bringing them to life!”  

Preparing for role:
“The thing I have enjoyed the most in preparing for the show is that I discover something new each time it is read or while working in rehearsals. It has been fun to go back to an earlier scene and discover a thread that connects it to something later in the show.”

How does it feel to be in the world premiere of Recommended Reading for Girls?  
“I am very honored to be a part of such a strong cast and I am grateful to Amy Lane and Ellen Struve for their collaborative spirit and for allowing me to play Amy. This is a very different process than other shows where the script is final. With RRFG, there are daily tweaks to the script, so it keeps all of us on our toes.”

Shannon Jackson (Penny Parker)

Who is Penny Parker?
Penny is smart, adventurous, clever and of all the literary girls in this play she's definitely the most self-possessed and sassy. Everyone elseHeidi, Sara Crewe, Anne Shirleyseems to come into this family's life to help with chores, Penny comes to solve the mystery and save the day!”

Inspiration for Penny:
“I'm reading her books and looking into her and other kid detective stories such as Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, etc. This genre used to be HUGE, there's a lot of stuff out there. “ 

How does it feel to be in the world premiere of Recommended Reading for Girls?
“I adore it. I'm so glad to be able to bring this funny and touching play to an audience that literally has no idea what's going to happen. I also love how well this play stands on its own.”

Amy Schweid  (Sara Crewe)

Who is Sara Crewe?
“Sara is the famous character from the children's novel A Little Princess. She is incredibly insightful, charming and a kind person who, more than anything, is a wonderful storyteller.”

Inspiration for Sara: “It is tricky playing a character that so many people have envisioned in their heads. Almost all of my inspiration comes from A Little Princess, the script of Recommended Reading for Girls and my own life experiences.”
How does it feel to be in the world premiere of Recommended Reading for Girls? 
Holy Moly! I'm so excited. I have been with this play since one of the very first read throughs, and it has been so amazingly wonderful to experience all the changes and shifts. It's like watching this teenager grow out of the awkward years and become this full-blown, amazing adult.” 

Mika Caplan (Heidi)

Who is Heidi?
“Heidi is a 10-year-old Swiss girl who loves goats and playing on her beloved mountain.”

Inspiration for Heidi:
“I’m mainly using the book as my inspiration for Heidi.  Some of my inspiration comes from little girls I know that remind me of Heidi.”

How does it feel to be in the world premiere of Recommended Reading for Girls?
“I think that it’s amazing that we can rehearse and have the playwright watching us and even change a few things once in a while. Opening night will probably be very exciting for all of us!”

Olivia Sather (Anne Shirley)

Who is Anne Shirley?
“Anne is very dramatic and has a wild imagination. She is often caught daydreaming or forgetting what she is suppose to be doing because she allows her mind to wander into all sorts of stories. It is easy to misjudge Anne as too sweet and simple, but she is as sharp as a whip and has quite a hot temper.”

Inspiration for Anne: I read the book Anne of Green Gables before we started rehearsal, so I am using that as inspiration. I also draw from other young girls. I am an older sister, so I draw some inspiration from remembering what my little sister was like at 13 or 14.”

How does it feel to be in the world premiere of Recommended Reading for Girls
“Amazing! This is such an incredible cast, lead by a wonderful director, working on a beautifully written play. Each night of rehearsal I get more and more excited to share this story with Omaha and the world. It really is a play for all audiences. Everyone can find something about this story that really hits home for them; it's not just for girls!” 

Come meet the rest of the cast and enjoy this wonderful production that is perfect for the whole family! Don’t miss the world premiere in the Howard Drew Theatre, May 3, through June 2, 2013; Thursday–Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m.

Tickets are $35 for adults and $21 for students. For groups of 12 or more, tickets are $23 for adults and $15 for students. To purchase tickets, or for more information, call (402) 553-0800, visit the OCP Box Office or click here.

Story by Anna Venditte

A Tribute to Lynne Hazuka Ridge

Lynne Hazuka Ridge transformed people into characters and transported audiences to different worlds with her creations. An award-winning costume designer at the Omaha Community Playhouse for 14 years, Lynne designed costumes for shows such as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Shakespeare in Hollywood and Flyin’ West, to name a few.
Flyin' West - Costumes by Lynne Hazuka Ridge

In addition to costume design, Lynne created puppets for OCP shows, such as the two-person wearable camel in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat, Sister Mary Annette (Marionette) in Nunsense and the Steampunk dragon in The Fantasticks, which she designed with then props master and friend, Amy Reiner. Her stunning hats and headpieces also enhanced wardrobes.

Nunsense - Puppet by Lynne Hazuka Ridge
While Lynne was designing A Streetcar Named Desire during the 2011-12 season, she took a leave of absence, which became permanent, to fight cancer. Lynne lost the battle on Sept. 6, 2012.

A tribute to Lynne’s life and work will be In the OCP lobby May 3-June 2, 2013. A reception will be held Sunday, May 5, 4-5:30 p.m. at which Lynne's family will be present. Those who would like to attend the reception should RSVP to or (402) 553-4890, ext.122. 

'A Night With the Family' world premiere—sitting down with playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett

Matthew Ivan Bennett is no stranger to the theatre world, but he is a stranger to Omaha, at least until late April. Having written numerous productions including short and full-length plays, A Night With the Family is Bennett’s first full-length comedy and his first production in Omaha. He is anxiously awaiting the world premiere of A Night With the Family on April 19, 2013 at the nation’s largest community theatre, the Omaha Community Playhouse.

A Night with the Family is about messy and hilarious family relationships and the family’s need to involve themselves in every crisis. The concept for this production came one sleepless night. “After conceiving the basic outline of the story, it all came quickly, taking about two months to complete,” Bennett said. “I didn’t imagine it, but I got emotionally swept up in this production more than I thought I would”.

Inspiration came from his personal experiences with family and friends. In A Night With the Family, the family patriarch, Donald, is a new-aged hoarder. “My dad is a famous hoarder, among us”, Bennett said laughing. “For years, my dad would collect anything.” Now that Bennett’s dad is remarried, the couple has cleaned out the house. “It took three truck loads and a 15-cubic-yard dumpster to clear out. They still can’t park in their garage,” Bennett said.
Dennis Collins as family patriarch Donald

The production also introduces the sister in the family, Bree, a Mormon convert, whose husband has some undesirable hobbies. Bennett has witnessed firsthand the dynamic between couples similar to Bree and her husband while living in Salt Lake City, a conservative city with a huge Mormon population. Bennett said, “It is really hard in Salt Lake City not to get in the politics in the Mormons vs. non-Mormons.”

Suzanne Withem and Nick Zadina as brother and sister, Bree and Donny
In the play we are also introduced to son Donny, a newlywed with anxiety attacks, and mother Diane, a cougar soon to be married to a French-Canadian modern dancer named Antoine. The correlation between Diane and Antoine came from Bennett’s mother who remarried a man younger than her. “I have no clue where the idea for the French-Canadian modern dancer came from,” said Bennett.

Matthew Pyle as Antoine and Kim Jubenville as Diane
Bennett is one of 11 children, with siblings that are between eight years old and 40 years old. His whole family is very supportive of him and they are excited to see this production. After asking Bennett if his brothers and sisters were sources for his playwrights and he said, “I would say so, but not necessarily in a direct way. I think my characters are often conglomerates of lots of pieces of different people.”

“We are all our craziest with our family, and it is a fact of human nature that we are the worst to the people we love,” said Bennett.   

Come enjoy this hilarious comedy on the Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre, April 19 through May 12, 2013; Wednesday–Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m.

Tickets are $35 for adults and $21 for students. For groups of 12 or more, tickets are $23 for adults and $15 for students. To purchase tickets, or for more information, call (402) 553-0800, visit the OCP Box Office or click here.

Story by Anna Venditte

21 & Over Presents Bluebarn's Witching Hour

Omaha Community Playhouse's 21 & Over program is pleased to host guest artists Bluebarn's Witching Hour.

Monday, May 6, 2013
7:30 p.m.
Omaha Community Playhouse
Free and open to the public, with an opportunity for donations. No tickets or reservations are necessary.

The Witching Hour (special guest artists)
Omaha’s celebrated late-night troupe brings their unique brand of theatre to 21 & Over with a “Pick Your Play Adventure.” Based on children’s interactive fiction, Now You Are Dead allows the audience to be the protagonist, making choices to determine the characters’ fates. Dozens of outcomes are possible with this wild, inventive, original play!
The 21 & Over productions are intended for a mature audience and discretion is advised. For more information on 21 & Over and other OCP alternative programs, contact Amy Lane, Resident Director, at or (402) 553-4890, ext. 164.

21 & Over is sponsored by Omaha Steaks and media sponsored by Omahype.

April Metro Arts and Culture Pass Deal

Enjoy the arts with a Metro Arts and Culture Pass! If you are a season subscriber to the Omaha Community Playhouse, in the month of April, you can receive two tickets for $50 to Opera Omaha's production of Bluebeard's Castle.

The Metro Arts and Culture Pass is sponsored by The Reader and features various nonprofit arts organizations around Omaha. In order to be a Metro Arts and Culture Pass member, you only must be a member or subscriber to one of the participating organizations. Every month, OCP members can enjoy a discount at a different featured Omaha arts organization.

Other participating organizations include:
Omaha Children's Museum
Omaha Performing Arts
Bemis Center
Durham Museum
Opera Omaha
El Museo Latino
The Rose
Film Streams
Nebraska Shakespeare
Joslyn Art Museum
Fontenelle Nature Association
The Arts Center
Ballet Nebraska
Love's Jazz and Arts Center
Lauritzen Gardens
Bluffs Arts Council
Strategic Air and Space Museum
Nebraskans for the Arts
BlueBarn Theatre
For more information about the Metro Arts Pass, contact the director of sales at or (402) 553-4890, ext. 147.