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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Roll the Dice and Roll with Life and Love in “Guys and Dolls”

Although I generally save the sermons for Sunday, let’s face it -- if a certain first century religious notable were to find himself transported to our times he would no doubt face criticism for seeking out -- and being seen with -- the denizens who partake in the Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York.

And if he can believe that there’s hope for Pharisees and other assorted sinners, we shouldn’t be surprised the larger than life guys and dolls that inhabit the world of Damon Runyon might end up on the sinner’s bench as well.

Traditionally the organizations that license performances of big time musicals don’t allow changes in the script, and so the Round Barn has labeled this summer’s production of “Guys and Dolls” PG-13, but since we see from the scriptures that it takes real life flesh and blood sinners to make full-bodied saints like the apostle Paul, we should expect against this backdrop of the Prohibition era Big Apple that Miss Sarah Brown of the “Save-A-Soul” Mission would set her eyes on some really big fish that might well turn into even bigger saints.

But “Guys and Dolls” is no simple morality play. With music and lyrics by the inimitable Frank Loesser this musical moves from one unforgettable standard to another, like “Fugue For Tinhorns,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” “More I Cannot Wish You,” “Luck Be A Lady,” “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat,” and of course the title song, “Guys and Dolls.”

In the musical Sarah Brown is out to save souls through the “Save-A-Soul Mission,” while gamblers like Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson are hoping Luck will truly be the Lady she ought to be and change their fortunes.

Bringing the musical to life is Director David Craven, of Atlanta. Craven, who’s recently finished acting the role of Sam in a production of “Mama Mia,” emphasized that when it comes to “Guys and Dolls” it’s important to create living, breathing human beings out of the raw material of the caricatures taken from the original Damon Runyon story.

“I go always go back to analyzing the script. These characters are seemingly incompatible. I struggled at first to figure out what is the root of the play, and I came to the conclusion yesterday I think the root of this play is joy. All the characters are seeking joy in their lives and using whatever means to get them there.”

For each character joy comes from something different, Craven said. “For Sarah, she thinks being a member of the mission is going to bring her joy because she is saving souls. For Sky, gambling will bring him joy, Adelaide just wants to be married. Nathan thinks it can be found making money. But what they discover is that the thing that brings is joy is a relationship with someone else.”

For Craven it’s important that the characters are living in the same world. In this case that world is New York in 1932, right before prohibition ends.

“I’m loving this show,” he said. “I always love working for Dick (Pletcher). He's got such a good heart for theater. He loves designing sets. He has such a good heart for wanting to support artists because he is an artist.”

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