Riverside Theatre premieres ‘Line of Descent,’ a new play by William McCauley

'Line of Descent' at Riverside Theatre
Laura (Kris Danford) in a scene from playwright William McCauley’s comedy ‘Line of Descent,’ which will premiere Jan. 29 at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City; photo via Riverside Theatre

Line of Descent

Riverside Theatre — Opens Friday, Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m.

Riverside Theater is no stranger to new works; as a core member of the National New Play Network, a partner with many local playwrights, and the producer of an annual festival of new monologues (formerly Walking the Wire, this year called Roar!), countless comedies, tragedies and somethings-in-between have had their first outing on the Riverside stage. Sam Osheroff, Riverside’s new Artistic Director, is continuing that tradition with his upcoming production of William McCauley’s Line of Descent.

Billed as “a very good play about very bad people,” Descent centers around four dishonest characters trying to cheat each other out of a dead woman’s will. Osheroff points out how poorly the people in this comedy behave: “They are opportunistic, greedy, self-serving and they take themselves very, very seriously,” he says.

This is par for the course in any good farce. Farces center around people with huge, desperate needs, willing to go to any lengths to fulfill them, which typically pushes forward a zany plot full of mistaken identity, tricks, disguises and general confusion. Line of Descent is no different. McCauley’s script is fast-paced, highly stylized and bordering on the absurd. It satirizes antisocial behavior, but at the same time is very fun to watch. Osheroff attributes this fun to a sort of vicarious acting out of our worse impulses. “There’s something incredibly enjoyable in watching people unabashedly indulge in childish behaviors,” he explains, “because, somewhere deep down, we’d (occasionally) like to do the same thing.”

Riverside audiences can continue to look forward to new plays. Osherhoff, in this case, was actively looking for a comedy for the January/February slot, and found the script to Line of Descent. Riverside has another, more formal network for finding new works, however: it is a member of the National New Play Network, which is dedicated to developing new works around the country. The NNPN is known for the “rolling world premiere,” in which a play is staged in several different theatres in the same season, giving the playwright extra exposure and a chance to get feedback from a variety of companies and audiences. Riverside plans to stage another rolling world premiere next season, as well as other premiers. Osheroff finds new voices essential to the theatre, because they keep styles fresh and keep us connected to current events.

Line of Descent opens Jan. 29 and runs through Feb. 21 at Riverside Theatre, 213 N Gilbert St. It stars Seven Marc Weiss, Kris Danford, Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers and Rian Jairell. Sound and lightning design are by Drew Bielinski. Tickets and more information are available on Riverside’s website. McCauley himself will give a talk on the art and history of theatrical comedy at the Iowa City Public Library Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 4 p.m., and again at the theatre that night at 7 p.m.