By Tanner Kent
---- — MANKATO -- The pace of production in Minnesota State University's Department of Theatre and Dance is red hot and unrelenting.
With a combination of 10 mainstage and studio shows, as well as two dance concerts and four summer productions, MSU's schedule is among the most ambitious in the country. From the first day of fall semester -- in which MSU's department is among the few that are daring enough to hold student auditions -- right through to the final curtain on the fourth and final Highland Summer Theatre show, there are few opportunities to stop and reflect.
But with Neil Simon's lesser-known comedic drama "I Ought to be in Pictures" up next on the Highland schedule, director Paul Finocchiaro has found himself in a rare position.
"We only have three actors in this show," he said. "That gives me the luxury of playing around a bit. Having a little easier piece gives me so much more freedom."
The previous Highland show Finocchiaro directed -- the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical revue “A Grand Night for Singing” that opened earlier this month -- included a cast at least twice as big as well as 37 musical numbers and live orchestration. Simon's "I Ought to be in Pictures," however, is a more focused, emotional affair that explores the strained reunion between an absent, screenwriter father and his aspiring actress daughter.
The play has been praised for its heartfelt portrayal of rekindled family bonds but never matched the popularity of some his award-winning works.
Finocchiaro said the piece is one of the more mature in the Simon canon but that it yields nothing of the playwright's trademark wit and verbal ballast.
"It's got the humor, but not the hysterics and the wackiness," Finocchiaro said. "But it has a ton of heart and that's what drew me to the piece."
The production will also mark Finocchiaro's last as a member of MSU's theatre department. The popular instructor who is well-known for his ebullient personality -- MSU students know well his mantra, which also serves as his email footer: "Positivity promotes creativity" -- is departing in August for a position in the University of Tampa's theatre department.
Even as he's in the midst of directing MSU's upcoming play, he's also packing his belongings and preparing for the long move. Though Finocchiaro said he's emotionally prepared for the transition, he also anticipates a long goodbye.
"When the show closes on Saturday night, I'm going to stay and strike the set," Finocchiaro said, referencing the term theatre professionals use to describe the deconstruction of a stage production immediately after the final show. "I just want to take it all in."
"I Ought to be in Pictures" was made into a 1982 film starring Walter Matthau, Ann-Margret and Dinah Manoff. MSU also presented it in 1982.
The father, Herb, is played by 2012 graduate Dustin Guy Jackson, with on-again/off-again girlfriend Steffy played by senior Amanda Forman. Herb's daughter, Libby, is played by junior Cassandra Johnson.
If You Go What "I Ought to be in Pictures" When 7:30 p.m. nightly, Tuesday through Saturday Where Andreas Theatre of the Earley Center for Performing Arts. Tickets $16, $14 discounted and $10 for MSU students. Available at MSUTheatre.com or by calling or stopping by the Theatre & Dance Box Office 4-6 p.m., Monday-Friday. Call 507-389-6661.