arts-2-1508-pic-jewel-theaterJewel Theatre’s ‘Harper Regan’ is a heady twist on the current extreme-adventure zeitgeist

Extreme journeys are making a pop-culture comeback. The success of movies like Wild, Into the Wild, All is Lost and 127 Hours shows the current thirst for stories about leaving behind life as we know it for unexplored territory, no matter how dangerous it may be.

But whatever deeper implications they may have, those are all primarily physical journeys. The one that the main character takes in Simon Stephens’ Harper Regan—the newest Jewel Theatre production, which opens Thursday, Feb. 26 and runs through March 22—is very different, though no less extreme. It begins when Harper learns her father is about to die, and suddenly leaves her family and job behind to embark on a trip to see him one last time. The mileage doesn’t add up to Wild’s 1,100 miles, but the implications do.

“The journey can be very far mentally,” says artistic director Julie James. “Even if it’s not far physically.”

Through Harper (played by James) and the characters she encounters, Stephens is able to examine complicated issues like family relationships, love and death. “He’s dealing with big things, but on a very intimate scale,” says James.

For James, the decision to choose any work to produce starts with what’s on the page, before cast and crew figure out how to bring it to life on stage.

“The writing is always key, not just the subject matter,” she says. “What’s amazing about the great playwrights is they have a way of capturing all the complexities that come into being human. Writers like Stephens who can do that with great accuracy and sparseness are really interesting to explore.”

Another distinctive quality of Jewel productions is how they make innovative use of the small space at Center Stage, and James credits her small crew and director Bill Peters for pulling off another astounding feat on Harper Regan, a play which, with all its road-trip locations, has the potential to be weighed down with set changes. Instead, a sparse approach that incorporates images and sound effect and minimally invasive stage work keeps the action flowing, she says.

“A director like Bill really knows how to hone things down to their essence,” says James.

Jewel Theatre’s production of ‘Harper Regan’ runs Feb. 26-March 22 at Center Stage in Santa Cruz. $34/$28, 425-7506, PHOTO: In Jewel Theatre’s previous production ‘Three Days of Rain,’ Stephen Muterspaugh and Julie James played brother and sister, and then different characters who were lovers. In the new ‘Harper Regan,’ they play husband and wife Seth and Harper Regan. STEVE DIBARTOLOMEO

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