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University of Iowa News Release

Feb. 20, 2006

Obie-Winner Hancock Returns To UI March 2 With Intriguing 'Puzzle Locker'

The University Theatres Mainstage will present "The Puzzle Locker" by Obie Award-winning Iowa Playwrights Workshop alumnus W. David Hancock, opening at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 2 in the David Thayer Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building.

Other performances will be held at 8 p.m. March 3, 4 and 8-11, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 5.

"The Puzzle Locker" is this season's project for Partnership in the Arts, which brings prominent professional theater artists to the UI to develop ambitious new works in collaboration with students, faculty and staff in the UI Department of Theatre Arts. Most plays developed through Partnership in the Arts have gone on to successful professional productions, and last year's project, "The Seven" by Will Power, is now playing in New York.

In "The Puzzle Locker," an unnatural campground and a twisted school for exceptional children are the settings for a plot that swerves back and forth between reality and an unknown dimension. The living and the dead co-exist in this earthbound purgatory and battle through their struggles with death, hope, poetry, nature and memory. Noted playwright W. David Hancock worked with the cast to write characters tailored to the actors. Priest, Squirrel, Vampire Girl, Soccer Mom, Superhero Girl and Sasquatch (yes, Bigfoot) are a few of the demented that haunt this play.

Guest director Ian Belton says of the new project, "For me 'The Puzzle Locker' is an archive of human situations, dilemmas and relationships that confound even the smartest and most gifted human mind.

"The play is a hall of mirrors in which no one owns their own childhood and where the dead have the clearest understanding of what it means to be alive. If the audience . . . is open to the unsolvable, the impossible and, in short, the human; the experience of 'The Puzzle Locker' will forever alter their world view."

Hailed by the Village Voice as "the most audacious and provocative playwright to emerge on the Off-Broadway scene in the '90s," Hancock is best known as the author of three plays that are both unusual and accessible: "The Convention of Cartography," for which he won an Obie Award in 1994; "Deviant Craft"; and "The Race of the Ark Tattoo," for which he won his second Obie in 1998.

Each of these plays departs from the traditional relationship between audience and actor and challenges customary ideas of where theater can occur. Melanie Joseph, artistic director of the Manhattan-based Foundry Theatre and the producer and director of all three New York premieres, says these plays "contest the architecture of theatre" -- by that she means the expectations of where and how a performance takes place.

"Because David's work fully integrates the audience into the theatrical experience, the choices of place inform both the structure and meaning of a piece," she wrote. Hancock's pieces have been performed in locations including a two-room shack tucked in a Chelsea alleyway and a cavernous crawlspace underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

In these plays, the defining quality of theater lies in its immediate local nature -- the experience of a particular group of people on a particular night that can never be exactly duplicated again. Hancock's strategy has been to heighten this dimension by making each individual audience a full partner in the event.

"I shy away from defining what I do for fear I'll wake up the next day and won't be able to do it," Hancock has said. But he has explained that "Film has become so prevalent in our culture that if you're going to write for theatre you have to think about what it can do that TV, films and novels can't."

While "The Puzzle Locker" looks more like traditional theater, Hancock still describes it as "kind of an elaborate board game," that, like his best-known works "takes place in the imagination of each audience member. It does not take place on stage. The performance on stage is a very complex, highly sophisticated triggering mechanism -- to illicit ideas and emotions inside the audience. But these ideas and emotions are not created by the play! They are created by each individual audience member in unique and original ways."

He says that writing the play "was all about creating archetypes, really. In this play, there's a soccer mom, a state trooper, a park manager and other archetypal characters that are recognizable to all of us and therefore allow for theatrical muscle in playing around with ideas and situations. I'm not all that interested in creating a theatrical experience where the central event of the evening is the revelation of who characters are psychologically. I'm not interested in peeling the apple. I want to eat it."

Director Belton is the recipient of the Andrew W. Mellon Directing Fellowship from the Juilliard School; the Richard E. Sherwood Award from the Mark Taper Forum; the Sir John Gielgud Fellowship from the Stage Directors1 and Choreographers1 Foundations; as well as the Career Development Program for Directors from the National Endowment for the Arts and Theatre Communications Group.

In addition to many theatrical productions, Belton has directed numerous short films and animation for theater and art installations. His six video shorts for the House of Atreus Installation were shown in New York and Chicago as part of JoAnne Akalaitis' "Ipheginia Cycle."

In 2001, he served as the associate artistic director of the Hangar Theatre. Most recently he has been studying with Yoshi Oida, and he shared some of the techniques from that work with members of the "Puzzle Locker" cast, who worked with him outside of rehearsal.

Other artistic contributors to the "Puzzle Locker" production are set designer William Moser, costume designer Catherine A. Parrott, lighting designer Bryon Winn and video and sound designer Ryan Pavelchik.

The production includes material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether the play is appropriate for them should contact the Department of Theatre Arts, 319-335-2700, for additional information.

Tickets are $17; UI student, senior citizen & youth $8. Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website:

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: <>.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,