Theater undergraduates to act with the Cleveland Public Theater

JP Peralta and Nailah Mathews, both third-year theater students, have secured roles in shows with the Cleveland Public Theater. Peralta is acting as Zhang Sallerendos in Eric Coble’s “The Family Claxon” starting this weekend, Oct. 5, and Mathews as Kreesha and Wan in Lisa Langford’s “The Art of Longing” starting Oct. 26.

This is Peralta’s first time acting professionally and, although he comments on how the professionalism of both Eldred Theater and student-run shows here at Case Western Reserve University has prepared him to work in a professional theater, “The Family Claxon” is the “biggest and most challenging show [he has] done”.

The play is farcical and requires many exaggerated movements that must be planned in advance, which has resulted in Peralta being challenged to improve his physicality on stage. He describes the show as a “sprint that lasts for an hour and a half.” As an absurd comedy, the show relies on “big motions, that are rooted in naturalism.”

Mathews returns to the professional stage in October in a play she describes as “magical realism” that “goes to a lot of strange, wonderful and intense places.” She is especially excited to be able to incorporate her dancing skills into the show. Mathews’ show incorporates realism with “fantastical” aspects such as the aforementioned dance.

Mathews describes “The Art of Longing” as “a meditation on ritual, race, gender and the body” where audience members should expect to reflect on how those different external aspects of our lives affect the way we experience the world.

“What parts of ourselves are made up of what we want and can get, versus what we want and don’t have?” Mathews would like the audience to ask themselves.

She states that she “want[s] the audience to wonder about what it means to inhabit the space that they were given at birth.”

Peralta says that “The Family Claxon,” while the action is centered on the 150th birthday of Grandad, comments on how different people expect different benefits from a refuge, and how the refuge cannot always live up to those expectations. During the plot various characters arrive at the Claxon house expecting a haven, which the Claxon family cannot always provide.

Since both shows touch on heavy topics, both Peralta and Mathews recommend that an audience member go into the theater with an open mind and a willingness to go with the flow of the show, especially considering both shows play with the boundaries of realism.

“The Family Claxon” also features two CWRU alumni: Hillary Wheelock and Kayla Gray. Peralta is especially excited about working with Wheelock as she is an alumna of IMROVment, CWRU’s improv troupe of which Peralta is currently a member. Peralta says that working with Wheelock has been interesting because they share the type of humor characteristic of IMPROVment.

Both the playwrights, Eric Coble and Lisa Langford, are from the Cleveland area, and Peralta and Mathews both have the experience of working on a show at least partly inspired by the city. “The Art of Longing” is even set in areas known and loved by CWRU students: one of Mathews’ characters is a security guard at the Cleveland Museum of Art while the other is a janitor at Cleveland Clinic.

Coble is from Cleveland, so that  offered Peralta the unique opportunity of working directly with a playwright. Since the production of Coble’s script is a world-premiere, Coble has been directly involved in the rehearsal process.

We can ask him to change things and we can ask him directly…what were you thinking when you wrote it” said Peralta of working with Coble.

As this production of “The Art of Longing” is the play’s world premiere, both Mathews and Peralta are originating roles.

“There’s some pressure in doing an excellent job, but no pressure when it comes to measuring up to someone else,” said Mathews on the experience.

Both actors also expressed how thrilling it is to create a character no one else has portrayed. Peralta and Mathews have both had fantastic experiences working on their respective shows.

“The Art of Longing” opens Oct. 26 at the Cleveland Public Theater’s James Levin Theater and runs through Nov. 18. “The Family Claxton” plays at the Cleveland Public Theater’s Gordon Square Theater from Oct. 5 through Oct. 28.

Tickets during preview weeks are $20. Tickets on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays are $12. For other showtimes tickets are $12-$30. A student discount of $3 is also available.