For playwright Steven Dietz, Happenstance represents a departure from the "theatre of testimony” style of some of his recent work. ”The thing about plays like God's Country, is that I took factual events, factual circumstances, and then inserted elements of invention. You can almost invert that exactly when you think about Happenstance — the actual world of the play is a world of invention, and inserted into it are factual things; people from history, elements of contemporary culture and pop culture, those are the things that pierce the fictional environment."
Happenstance follows the story of Henry, a perfectly average guy who raises and lowers flags at the White House. Henry seems completely content with the simplicity of his day-to-day existence, but his friends suspect that something is wrong. As they begin to act on their fears, Henry starts to wonder if there is something wrong with them. Gradually, his perception of the world around him begins to change as he walks the fine line between madness and bliss in a culture of consumerism, evangelism and terrorism.
With a heady mix of farce, political satire, surrealism and pop music, Dietz has fashioned a contemporary American fable about living in a culture which has legs running so tar in front of its head — a culture so overwhelmed by information — that one can slowly go insane without anyone noticing. "This is a play about people missing each other, l mean literally missing each other,” said Dietz. "lt's a play about a society that focuses on a problem at hand and obsessively tries to correct it, but doesn't always put it into any sort of larger context. It’s also an attempt on my part to look at what becomes of very simple, but profound, characteristics— like love and hope and faith — in the midst of the information age, in the midst of a culture that doesn't look each other in the eye.”
Composer/lyricist Eric Peltoniemi, whose eclectic songs run the gamut from pop to rock to rhythm and blues, has been composing for the theater since 1982, but he has been writing songs and working in the music business— he is currently Production Head for Red House Records in Minneapolis—since the early 1970s. He has written music for a dozen plays, and has received awards from the Twin Cities Drama Critics Circle and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), for his work in the theater. He last collaborated with Dietz on Ten November, which has had several major regional productions since its premiere in 1987.
Of his work with Peltoniemi, Dietz said “When you insert music into a piece of theater it pushes out the envelope; it makes the audience realize that a whole world of things can be communicated to them through another voice.”
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