Masks Of Rioclora

UNLV presents playwright Richard Sewell's award-winning 'Masks of Rioclora'

Apr. 06, 2007
By Ken White
Las Vegas Review-Journal

UNLV presents playwright Richard Sewell's award-winning 'Masks of Rioclora'

The Masks of Rioclora, playwright Richard Sewell's first foray into "magic realism," seems to have had a major impact on his career.

The play won the Morton R. Sarett Award, a biennial award given at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. And magic realism, a blend of realism with the fantastic, "has crept into two plays I've written since," Sewell says.

Produced by the Nevada Conservatory Theatre, the play debuts today in UNLV's Black Box Theatre.

In "The Masks of Rioclora," set somewhere in South America, two women, Hertha and Olmedin, keep a magic-realist writer "alive," with a ghostwriter, following his assassination.

"Realism is a dimension we all share," says Sewell, who lives in Waterville, Maine. "Even though I'm not a religious person, there is another dimension to life."

Sewell, who taught at Colby College in Waterville from 1974 to 2002, was a founding director of The Theater At Monmouth, from 1970 to 1998, staging the classics.

The 70-year-old playwright traveled to UNLV in February to spend a week working on the play with the cast and director Michael Tylo.

"It was a very helpful start for the project," Sewell says. "I've never been involved in such a direct way with one of my plays," although the play did get a private reading by famed acting teacher and actress Uta Hagen eight years ago.

That led to some major rewrites, Sewell says. "It was relatively shapeless and it wouldn't have interested her except for the roles for women. ... The play has been in the stew pot a long time. After that reading, I put it back into the oven to rise some more."

That period was helpful, Sewell thinks. "A lot happens in your mind when you're not looking at it directly."

The play was one of 300 submitted for the Morton R. Sarett Award. The award was established by Gwynneth Weiss and Robert C. Weiss as a memorial to playwright and author Sarett.

Submissions go through two review panels. The first consisted of 15 faculty and former student playwrights who each read 20 plays. Approximately 70 of their selections advanced to a second reading group of eight members who winnowed that number down to the top 12.

Then, a final judges panel consisting of Jeffrey Koep, dean of the College of Fine Arts at UNLV; Don Finn of Mali Finn Casting in Los Angeles; and actor Erik Fredricksen picked the winner.

Koep selected Finn and Fredricksen as final judges because "I know they're honest and won't hold back an opinion. We try to get people who have been involved in the business."

Several factors go into selecting a play, including "is it a producible script?" Koep says. "This script has good character development and a mystery to it."

Tylo worked on the play with Sewell "to get some idea of his intent," Tylo says. "We want to make sure that whatever we do, the intention of the author comes through, and I think it does. It's a challenging intellectual piece."

The cast features Charlene Sher as Hertha, Sherri Brewer as Olmedin, Kama Ruby as Cynthia Margolis, Meredith Wolfe as Ann Margolis and Spencer Rowe as the Ghost.

"At this moment this play feels finished for me," Sewell says. "But I don't feel any play is finished until the playwright is," so there may be more rewrites before the play is produced again.

Winning the Sarett Award and getting the play produced has excited and revitalized Sewell. "It's helped with the writing of the next play."

Picks of the Week: Masks Of Rioclora

Apr. 05, 2007
By Dave Surrat
Las Vegas CityLife

UNLV's biennial, country-wide Morton R. Sarett National Playwriting Competition is over, and a new winner has been pulled from a tangle of applicants numbering in the hundreds. Richard Sewell comes out on top this year with The Masks of Rioclora, the tale of an assassinated Hispanic writer of magic realism and the ghost-writing couple who keep him "alive." Sewell is from Maine, but as fun as it would be to say he's a one-eyed lobsterman with a 4th-grade education, he's not; he's a freelance playwright and college theater instructor. On top of the 3,000 clams Sewell gets for winning, his play also gets produced now, for us, world-premier-style, by Nevada Conservatory Theatre -- a little group that's usually good with anything they're handed. Dave Surratt,

The Masks of Rioclora

April 6-7, 10-14, 8 p.m.; April 7-8, 14-15, 2 p.m.
Black Box Theatre at UNLV
4505 S. Maryland Parkway
$12; $10 seniors, students, military and handicapped