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Comparing life to art collage

Courtesy Photo Bobbi the pizza girl (Madison Rhodes), left, delivers pizza during a rehearsal scene for "bobrauschenbergamerica' Tuesday at Dickinson State University.

Dickinson State University's theater performance titled "bobrauschenbergamerica" looks at life as if it were a collage.

"It's about the struggle to find love and happiness in a world where people are making up their lives as they go along," director Jarvis Jahner said.

Although the play carries the namesake of collage artist Robert Rauschenberg, it's not about him. It is written as if he wrote the play in the style of his art.

It's the story of the giddy love between a truck driver and his girlfriend. It's the story of small business owners trying to make their way. It's the story of a brave homeless man who lives in a cardboard box. It's the story of a woman's passion for men and the process she uses to decide between them. It's the story of the beauty of the land. It's a story of pizza, chickens, dancing, home, death and living together in one nation, Jahner said.

"Through the play, the characters' stories intersect each other as one family, the same way we as a country are very diverse, but we have to live together," he said. "We may not get along, but in the end, we come together as family and that's important."

The process of producing "bobrauschenbergamerica" has been exciting for the actors and as the director, Jahner said.

"There are no stage directions in the script to tell us where to go or what to do, so the cast and I have devised the action of the play," he said. "This has really allowed us the freedom to play with the lines and action and develop something that is more than just a story."

When the scripts were handed to the actors, he gave them permission to suggest changes.

"It was based on improv the first two weeks, but ever since, we've locked in the elements," he said.

The cast is led by DSU theater veterans -- Betsy Devero plays Susan, the free-spirited woman who falls in love too easily. Jordan Mork portrays Bob's Mom. Tim Rosin takes on Phil the trucker and Dinah Ridl, his girl. Nathan Amberg plays Wilson, the man from Chicago. Josh Kralicek brings to life Becker, the homeless man. Samantha Holzer plays the girl on skates.

Freshmen Brianna Peterson takes on Ellen the scientist. Newcomers Hanifah Abdullah and Madison Rhodes round out the cast as Carly and Bobbi the pizza girl.

Devero described her character, Susan, as trying to figure out what she wants from life.

"It goes along with the whole theme of the play about discovery, so Susan is trying to figure out what love really means," Devero said.

She described the performance as devised theater, where the actors and director are mutually involved in the creative process.

"It's definitely challenging, but very rewarding too," she said. "There's been a lot of aw-haw moments for many people in the cast."

The costumes are designed by Kira Hartman. The lights, scenery, productions and sound were an ensemble effort by the director and members of the cast.

Department Chairman Ron Gingerich said the performance is unique to DSU.

"The cast has a lot of input and the director is free to add or change things, which is very rare in theater -- most scripts say you cannot," he said. "The playwright gives the framework and leaves the director and actors to create a unique theater experience."

"Bobrauschenbergamerica" opens at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, with additional performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and a matinee at 2:30 p.m., Feb. 24 in Dorothy Stickney Auditorium. Tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors ages 62 and older and students ages 18 and younger.

Reservations may be made weekday afternoons in Room 3 May Hall or by calling 701-483-2154.