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Ambitious Season At Ion Begins With ‘Bash’

Founding Executive Artistic Director Claudio Raygoza and Producing Artistic Director Glenn Paris.
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Above: Founding Executive Artistic Director Claudio Raygoza and Producing Artistic Director Glenn Paris.

They’re doing it again, and it’s even better now. The award-laden ion theatre just opened its sixth season with a chilling tour de force: a powerful revival of Neil LaBute’s “Bash: Latterday Plays.” The two-hander is directed by ion’s artistic director Glenn Paris, and stars two local up-and-comers, Brian Mackey and Rachael VanWormer. VanWormer won the Craig Noel Award in 2008 for this same role.

“Bash” is an unsettling collection of three confessions, beginning with a Utah businessman who reveals his unspeakable crime to a stranger in a Las Vegas hotel. Following is a young mother who presents a modern-day take on the Medea tragedy and, finally, a young Mormon couple who tell their versions of a romantic weekend in New York City which turns murderous.

In each of the monologues, which comprise the dark trilogy of plays, LaBute peels away layers to reveal homicidal tendencies hiding just under the veneer of piety and purity. When “Bash” was first published in 1999, LaBute was disciplined by the Mormon Church, which he later left.

“Bash” sets the tone for another season of daring plays from one of San Diego’s edgiest small theaters.

Helmed by founder Claudio Raygoza and his partner Paris, ion theatre is happily--and hopefully permanently--ensconced in their eleventh venue in seven years. The intimate 49-seat theater in Hillcrest has a rich theatrical past as former home to the Compass Theatre and the aptly named 6th @ Penn. For ion’s tenure, it’s been re-christened the BLKBOX Space.

Local critics have gushed over ion and the awards have followed, 15 in all. Last year, Raygoza and Paris won the rarely-awarded San Diego Critics Circle Award’s Producer of the Year.

SD actress Rachael VanWormer performs in ion theatre's current production of "bash: latterday plays."
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Above: SD actress Rachael VanWormer performs in ion theatre's current production of "bash: latterday plays."

The ambitious new season of nine plays (nine!) is ion’s most diverse to date. It includes a world premiere set in the Old West, a techno-fantasy, West Coast premiere featuring robots, an innovative take on the classic musical “Gypsy” (starring Noel-winner Linda Libby), and the two-play epic “Angels in America.”

Ragoyza admits they're mixing it up to attract a broader audience, which isn't easy. “It’s hard making the connection between commerce and culture” Raygoza says. Even as they reach out, ion's priority remains the craft of making theater.

Since finding a permanent home, the once itinerant company has increased their subscription base by 40 percent and just announced new additions to their company of 16 actors, which includes Libby, Jeffrey Jones, Dana Hooley, Steven Lone, and Karson St. John, who recently wowed as the Emcee in Cygnet Theatre’s “Cabaret.”

One of the four new company members is Rachael VanWormer, who plays two very diverse roles in “Bash: Latterday Plays.” In reprising her Noel award-winning performance, in her fourth production with ion, she has matured, according to Paris. No doubt excellent news for VanWormer, 26, who has been working professionally since she was 20 years old, and still has such a youthful appearance that she remains, as she admits, “the go-to actor for girl characters between the ages 15-19.”

A 2010 SDSU graduate, VanWormer has distinguished herself as one of San Diego’s most promising actors, working continuously in nearly three dozen productions in SD's small theater ecosystem. Reserved and quiet during interviews, she metamorphoses onstage, assuming her characters so completely that she looks physically different in each role. As Jeff Smith observed in “The Reader” review of her original performance in 2008, it’s as if she’s not acting at all.

To learn more about “bash: latterday plays,” check out this video. interview with its two featured performers.

“Bash: Latterday Plays” runs at ion’s BLKBOX Space until June 18.

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