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New play looks at healing communication breakdowns

From left, Molly Allen, Billy Hultquist, Jack Bannon and Oskar Owens star in Allen's new play, "On Shaky Ground." Allen's mother, actress Ellen Travolta (top center) is producing the play, which runs Sept. 16 to Oct. 2 at Ignite Community Theater in Spokane Valley. (Courtesy photo)
From left, Molly Allen, Billy Hultquist, Jack Bannon and Oskar Owens star in Allen's new play, "On Shaky Ground." Allen's mother, actress Ellen Travolta (top center) is producing the play, which runs Sept. 16 to Oct. 2 at Ignite Community Theater in Spokane Valley. (Courtesy photo)

In a San Francisco apartment building, a grandfather and a grandson find themselves unable to have a conversation, and the generation gap turns into a generation canyon. In another unit, a couple argues and begins the process of breaking apart.

Then an earthquake strikes, and the audiences watches how these two sets of people must learn to communicate again in order to pull through.

That’s the premise of a new play by Molly Allen, actress and co-host of KZZU FM’s popular morning show.

The play’s genesis came partly from a desire to work with her friend and fellow actor Billy Hultquist. “There was nothing out there. There’s a 10-year age difference, he’s 10 years younger than I am, and I just thought if I want to do something, I was going to have to write it.”

Allen and Hultquist star as the bickering couple. The grandson and grandfather are Oskar Owens and Jack Bannon, a veteran stage and television actor, and Allen’s stepfather. Allen’s mother, Ellen Travolta, is producing, and the play is directed by Troy Nickerson and Dawn Taylor-Reinhardt. It opens Friday at Ignite Community Theatre in Spokane Valley.

The idea of a couple in the process of splitting up and being forced to deal with each other when an earthquake hits just came to her, she said. “Then I added things that we think are funny. The different voices that I do, and little things within our group that we think are funny, and bits that we do,” she said.

The other half she wrote specifically for Bannon, and it came out of many conversations the two have had about the generation gap.

“He hates when people are on their phones all the time, and he doesn’t understand why everybody has to have this new-fangled thing,” he said. “The Oskar character is really a combination of my son, my nephew, my niece, everybody who’s in this generation.”

The common line through both parts of the play is communication, she said, and how when people fall out of affinity with each other, they can sometimes regain common ground by talking.

The play is told in two halves, with a different director for each. Nickerson has the reigns for the Allen-Hultquist story, while Taylor-Reinhardt is directing Bannon and Owens. Allen, despite appearing in and writing the play, was not interested in directing as well. She was more than happy to let someone else, or in this case, two someone elses, bring their artistic visions to the piece.

“Dawn Taylor-Reinhardt … she said to me the other day, ‘Don’t you want to come and see what we’re doing?’ And I said ‘I trust you,’ ” Allen said with a laugh. “I’ve never thought about directing. I don’t fancy myself a director, and I love watching directors work, and I love their ideas. So to me, it’s a no-brainer. It never occurred to me to direct it as well.”

Allen works in entertainment and belongs to a famous acting family, so it’s not a surprise that she would be interested in creating theater. But she’s not done a ton of it. “On Shaky Ground” is her second play; the first, “The Day Spring Wouldn’t Come Out,” was a children’s play staged in 2003.

Getting her mother on board, Allen said, gave her a real boost of confidence to bring “On Shaky Ground” to life.

“She loves me and would support me, but she would never dive in this way and have it be a full-blown production if she didn’t believe in it,” Allen said, adding that Travolta and Bannon were involved with her first play as well. “But this time having her co-producing it gave me good confidence.”


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