To celebrate its 35th birthday, Childsplay, the resident theater company for young people at Tempe Center for the Arts, is once again doing a show that isn’t entirely, well, child’s play.
“The Color of Stars” is a mystery/drama set in small-town America during WWII, involving both the suspicion and paranoia of such communities and such times, and also the self-sacrifice that used to be considered civic duty in wartime.
The setting and period are no accident.
“I grew up in a small town in central Maine,” says Dwayne Hartford, the playwright.
“We lived in the house my great-great-grandfather built for his parents. Some of my best memories of my great-grandfather are of sitting on the arm of his easy chair, and listening to stories about ‘the old days.’
“For a long time, I have wanted to write something in tribute to my great-grandparents and people like them… I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the adults around me often spoke of the war. Perhaps this led to my interest in the era.”
It also led Hartford to observe a difference between the homefront then and now:
“During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, life continued on pretty normally for most Americans,” he notes.
“The contrast between that and the sacrifices and demands made on all Americans during WWII is pretty amazing. However, for military families, the concerns and sacrifices are still the same. I find this an intriguing subject to explore.”
Does this perhaps suggest a criticism of modern American society’s attitude toward foreign wars in which the U.S. is involved?
“I always felt a strong sense of community,” replies Hartford.
“Through social and church groups, we were constantly reminded of our connection, our responsibility to each other. The way we connect today is very different. I am, by no means, implying a criticism of that. The world changes. I do want to point out the difference, however. And, in doing so, recognize that our need for connection remains steady.”
Hartford, who went to school in Boston and settled in Arizona in 1989 after stints in New York City and Washington, D.C., has been working with Childsplay as an actor, writer, director and teacher for more than two decades.
“The Color of Stars” is his fifth play for the company, and this is its premiere.
“I’m still doing re-writes during the rehearsal period,” he says.
The production, which is recommended for kids eight and older, will kick off with a preview on Sunday, April 22; the run proper will commence on Saturday, April 28 and continue through Sunday, May 20.
Appropriately, donations of items for troops overseas will be collected at performances. Call 480-921-5700 or go to childsplayaz.org for details.