HANFORD — Local theater-goers won’t have to wait much longer for “Waiting Women.”
The Hanford Multicultural Theater Company’s production of “Waiting Women,” written and directed by artistic director Silvia Gonzalez-Scherer, opens Sunday and runs on weekends through the month at the Hanford Carnegie Museum.
“This play changed my life,” Gonzalez-Scherer said about “Waiting Women,” which mixes real-life history with comedy.
While living in Yuma, Arizona, Gonzalez-Scherer would drive past the Yuma Territorial Prison every day on the way to and from work. Something about the historic spot, which she described as a “stone fortress,” made her think that visiting it would change her life.
“I thought it would it would change my life. It was just this weird feeling I had,” she said.
After finally visiting the former prison and current state park, the writer was struck by life-changing inspiration and worked to create “Waiting Women,” which tells the tale of many of the women imprisoned in the jail.
“The first thing that impressed me was that these were all women of color and different nationalities. Many of them were in [prison] for the strangest reasons and, of course, may for the crimes they committed,”
Gonzalez-Scherer said that she was struck by the realizations that the West was more multicultural than people may realize, with more diversity than was typically shown on “Bonanza” or in John Wayne movies.
The playwright was particularly fascinated by the tale of stagecoach robber Pearl Hart, whom the play “Waiting Women” is centered around.
“One reason she was so successful is because she was wearing pants,” she said. “The stagecoach driver was in shock, the passengers were in shock, but the women inside were delighted.”
Hart, played by Amanda Braden, would go on to become something of a celebrity, becoming the focus of articles in Cosmopolitan Magazine and other outlets. After prison, she joined the vaudeville act Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
It’s that show that serves as the framework of the play, as it flashes back and forward from her days as an entertainer to her days as a criminal and back again.
The play has been produced before, with productions organized by schools and theaters, once playing in New York at a theater located, as the playwright put it, “off-off-off-Broadway – three ‘offs.’” However, this will be the writer’s first time directing her own script.
Rachel Cook plays many small roles in the show as well as serving as the play’s assistant director and dramaturge, meaning it’s her job to maintain the show’s verisimilitude by ensuring that costumes and dialogue are period-appropriate.
The homeschool teacher has been performing with the HMTC since August when she joined the organization’s free improv acting classes, which are held weekly, free of charge.
One of the roles she plays in “Waiting Women” is that of the male superintendent of the local jail, who lives on the outskirts of the prison itself.
“It’s very outlandish and very comedic. It’s a lot of fun,” Cook said.
The actress has performed at other HMTC/ Carnegie Museum collaborative events, including the recent Edwardian Tea day, where she played an actress and the museum’s ghost tour last Halloween where she portrayed the spirit of a jazz singer.
While those roles required Cook to improvise and interact with her audience, she’ll need to stick to the script while on stage during “Waiting Women.”
“Memorizing lines and being able to get into your character is new to me. I enjoy it but it is more challenging,” she said.
The HMTC’s plays have been hosted at various spots including the Carnegie Museum. The company’s previous show, “Boxcar” was performed at the Kings Arts Center and can be seen March 8-9 at Dianna’s Studio of Dance in Fresno.
“Waiting Women” will be performed in the garden of the Carnegie Museum.
“Even Shakespeare started outdoors,” Gonzalez-Scherer said.