‘J.B.’ to tug at heartstrings

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The circus is coming to town.

And by town, I mean Potter Theatre.

Both directors Tee Quillin and Dallas Henry decided this upcoming year’s theme for theater would be “A Year of the Tony.” The two theater and cinema professors pulled up a list of shows that had won a Tony Award and chose which ones they wanted to put on this year.

After looking over the list, Quillin realized which show he wanted to direct first.

“’J.B.’ was one of those shows that I had on my radar and wanted to do for a long time,” Quillin said. “When I went back to list, ‘J.B.’ really resonated with me, really spoke to me, and I said ‘I really have to do this show.’”

J.B. is just one of the few plays to win both a Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. J.B. will take the stage starting Thursday, Oct. 4-6 at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Oct. 7 at 3 p.m.

J.B. essentially stands for “Job,” who is from the Bible story “Book of Job.”

While Quillin is religious, he said that is not the main reason why he chose to do J.B. He said it has always been an interesting, compelling and relatable story to him. Sophomore Erik Burn-Sprung, who plays Mr. Zuss, agrees with Quillin.

“It’s very well written, there’s beautiful language,” Burns-Sprung said. “It tells a classic story and gives it new life.”

The play is set in modern time — once you step into the theater, the play starts on that night.

The character J.B. is normal; he has a normal family, a normal job and a normal life. However, the journey he is about to take is everything but normal.

Set at a circus in the beginning, two workers, Mr. Zuss (pronounced “Zeus”) and Nickles, speak of a “J.B.” showing up. They act as God (Mr. Zuss) and the devil (Nickles) and question J.B.’s faith toward God.

J.B. goes through many drastic hardships, one of which he develops hyperimmunoglobulin E syndrome, which is also coincidentally called “Job’s syndrome.” This is a long-term severe skin infection that includes boils, draining skins sores and pustules.

However, Quillin says the point of the story isn’t necessarily about the suffering that J.B. goes through; it’s more about the redemption he receives for going through all of it.

The lead role of J.B. will be played by theater and cinema major Andy Tyhurst. J.B. will be his first lead role, although he has acted in other plays such as “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Quillin said Tyhurst was perfect for the role, yet it hasn’t been easy for him.

“Andy has done an amazing job in a role that has been challenging for him because he considers himself to be more of a comedic actor and this is very much not a comedic role,” Quillin said. “There have been times that he has really struggled with it, too, but he’s also pushed himself through the process.”

Quillin said there was a lot of talent at auditions that made his job hard — which he didn’t mind — but Tyhurst and chemistry major Xan Kellogg were the best match for the two lead roles. Kellogg, who will be playing J.B.’s wife Sarah, believes the two have been working well together.

“From the get-go we had good chemistry,” Kellogg said. “I mean, you just have it with some people and don’t with others and we just did. It really hasn’t been too hard to just make it pretty natural to look like we’re a married couple —like we’ve been married for years.”

Quillin said there were a lot of new and talented faces at auditions, including Kellogg’s, who transferred to Missouri Western from Missouri University. Others include students Holly Grier as Miss Mabel, Alex Richards as Mrs. Botticelli, Megan Render as one of the girls and Nick Ford as Bildad. There are also some local elementary and high school students that will play J.B. and Sarah’s five children, two of them being Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences Murray Nabor’s daughter, Amanda, and Quillin’s daughter, Morgan.

There are also some familiar faces, including Robin Ussher as Nickles, Brian Duskey and Nerissa Lee as the messengers, Sonrisa Johnston as Mrs. Lesure, Ray Johnson being the distant voice and Jeff Jones and Brinton Groce playing police officers.

Quillin says that although the story is developed from the Bible, it is not word-for-word, and audience members don’t necessarily have to have prior knowledge or be a biblical scholar to understand the play. However, Quillin recommends the play be for ages 14 years and up, not because of content, but because he feels it won’t keep the focus of anybody younger.

Overall, Burns-Sprung said the play is worthwhile.

“I think there will be parts people will really enjoy; there are some comedic parts, and others that will tug at people’s heartstrings.”

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