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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 29, 2006

'Funniest Play About Black Plague' Opens University Theatres Season

Peter Barnes' "Red Noses," the Olivier Award-winning romp that has been called "the funniest play yet written about the Black Plague," will open the 2006-07 Mainstage season of University Theatres at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, in the David Thayer Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building.

Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. Oct. 13, 14, and 18-21, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 15 and 22.

Barnes, who was best known for "The Ruling Class," set "Red Noses" in 13th-century France during the ravages of the bubonic plague, a chaotic and desperate time when flagellants try to appease God's anger, priests struggle to keep a hold on a rapidly disappearing populace and opportunists loot whatever they can.

Enter Father Flote, a minor monk who feels led by God to unleash healing laughter in the midst of all the death and despair. Donning a red clown's nose and gathering a ragtag group of incompetent misfits known as God's Zanies -- including a blind juggler, a stuttering comedian, an assassin who aspires to being an actor, a pair of one-legged dancers, and a mute poet -- he sets off on a sacred crusade to spread song, dance and cheap gags. There is also a wayward nun who utters the now-classic line: "I lost my virginity, but I still have the box it came in."

A review in Backstage West said that the result "calls to mind some of the choicest episodes of 'Black Adder,' with the hilarious plague humor of Monty Python's 'Holy Grail' thrown in."

Father Flote is played by Jim VanValen, the professional Equity actor who has been a prominent member of the Iowa Summer Rep company the past two seasons. This academic year he has become a UI theater student, in order to complete a Master of Fine Arts degree.

The director is graduate student Sean Paul Bryan, who recently starred with VanValen in Iowa Summer Rep's "The Mystery of Irma Vep." "'Red Noses' reminds me that the will and strength of the human spirit has immeasurable resilience," he says. "It is the mystery of that resilience that drives us forward.

"'Red Noses' capturers a world, similar to our present, filled with terror, natural disasters and politics, encasing its people in their own fears. This play asks what is morally reprehensible and extraordinary under horrific circumstances. It educates the reprehensible while celebrating the extraordinary -- giving us the ability to see the difference and hopefully choose the better for humanity."

Other artistic contributors to the production include scenic and lighting designer Bryon Winn of the theatre arts faculty; costume designer Lindsey Robinson; choreographer Deanna Carter, a faculty member in the UI Dance Department; movement director Ralph Hall, a member of the theatre arts faculty; faculty vocal director Judy Leigh-Johnson; music director Samuel D. Hunter, a graduate playwright; and dramaturg John Baker.

"Red Noses" contains humor of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether it is appropriate for them should contact the department -- 319-335-2700 -- for additional information.

Tickets -- $17; UI student and youth $8; senior citizen $12 -- are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 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:

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

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; cell: 310-430-1013;

PHOTOS are available at