Fort Worth — This summer, the audience and critical hit of the Festival of Independent Theatres was Stiff, a one-woman show written by and starring Sherry Jo Ward, directed by Marianne Galloway under the umbrella of Galloway's Risk Theater Initiative. The piece, a brutally funny and honest discussion of Ward's 2015 diagnosis of the rare neuromuscular disease Stiff Person Syndrome, played to sold out audiences and Ward promised there would be future performances. (Here's my review.)
The first of those has been announced, during the run of the next Stage West production, in which Ward is featured, and it's genius that the play is called Life Sucks. That play, directed by Emily Scott Banks, is another Aaron Posner riff on a Chekhov play, this time Uncle Vanya. Posner's Stupid Fucking Bird, which plays off The Seagull, won awards for director and ensemble at the recent Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum gathering, which also bestowed several honors on Stiff.
Stiff plays at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Oct. 17, 24 and 31 (the Halloween performance might be the most interesting counter-holiday progamming you can imagine). Life Sucks runs Oct. 12-Nov. 12.
Below is the news release from Stage West:
Award-winning actress Sherry Jo Ward will bring her solo, autobiographical play Stiff to the Studio Theatre at Stage West for three Tuesday evening performances October 17, 24, and 31. Stiff was the unanimous standout at the Festival of Independent Theatres (FIT) in Dallas, and the great demand for more performances led Ward with Risk Theater Initiative to Stage West. Stiff also just received two DFW Critics Forum Awards, for Best New Play and Best Actress.
In 2015, after months of unusual symptoms Ward was diagnosed with Stiff Person Syndrome, a very rare neuromuscular disease. There are just over 300 people in the United States who are afflicted by it. Ward, who has been seen at Stage West in November (2011) and International Falls (2015) has worked to maintain an acting career in DFW. As this became more and more of a challenge, she ultimately decided to write a play for herself about her illness and her yearning to still act professionally, which incorporates her physical limitations and constant battle with random pain.
Also, the play is a comedy.
“There was no way I could tell the story without making it funny,” explains Ward. “My favorite way to deal with conflict is with humor, and those that know me best are able to laugh along with me even in my lowest moments. My hope is the play allows everyone in the audience to feel like they know me well enough to find humor through the pain.”
The play is, for the most part, an hour of Sherry sitting in an armchair speaking directly and intimately to the audience, with some participation required, of course. Audiences were so moved that following each FIT performance, patrons would stand in line up to an hour to meet the actress. “Even though my disease is so rare, it seems like everyone found something specific in it that related to their life. By immediately breaking that fourth wall between me and the audience, it seemed like the play suddenly took on a universal quality,” says Ward.
Sherry will be playing Pickles in Stage West’s upcoming production of Life Sucks by Aaron Posner, and her play Stiff will run on the Tuesday nights during the run of Posner’s play. They seem to be a natural complement to each other. Not only does Ward lament her circumstances, with several jokes sprinkled throughout, but Pickles, like Ward is a loyal optimist who wants those around her to feel loved. Based on audience reactions from FIT, that is exactly what she did with Stiff, and what we want to share with Stage West patrons.
Stiff runs at 7 PM October 17, 24, and 31 with a brief post-show discussion with Sherry Jo Ward and production director Marianne Galloway. Seating in Stage West’s Studio Theatre is limited. Tickets are $20 each or $15 for season subscribers. Discounts are also available with purchase of a ticket to Life Sucks which runs October 12 – November 12.