The Squirrels On Stage at COS

Nov 9, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Education, Lorie Lewis Ham, Theatre

by Lorie Lewis Ham

This week The Squirrels will be invading the campus of the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, the play that is. Recently we chatted with one of the show’s directors, Chris Mangels, to learn more.

KRL: Why did you choose this particular play?

Chris: The play originally came to my attention through the Backyard Readers’ Theatre lab, an informal outdoor series of play readings that Julie Lucido hosted through the pandemic to give local theatre artists a chance to gather safely and share their love of the art. It was then selected to become the first 222 Staged Reading produced by UR Here in 2021. Later that year, I told the Board when we were selecting our first fully-staged production (which wound up being Dance Nation) that if they didn’t produce The Squirrels in the 22-23 season, I was probably going to do it at COS.

When I returned to it in Spring 22 to really consider it for the COS season, I was reminded of why I loved it so much. I am definitely a fan of social drama, but I think that it is easy to slip into self-righteousness or condescension when tackling contemporary problems, so I am often drawn to high-concept pieces that explore a topic without necessarily calling the ‘issue’ by name. Like Animal Farm, this play uses an animal allegory to examine so many of the things we wrestle with in this country – wealth inequality, classism, racism, tribalism, the list goes on – but it is also hugely entertaining, with a biting wit and in-your-face premise: Where else can you get people dressed as and acting like maniacal squirrels as well as a thoughtful rumination on the issues that might lead to our downfall?

Because the show navigates such tricky subject matter, and in an effort to diversify leadership voices in our department, I brought in a COS Theatre Arts graduate – Tamla Quipse – to co-direct the show with me. She is also an award-winning dramaturg, a gifted performer, and one of my favorite collaborators ever, so I knew that she would bring the smarts, the vision, and the heart to help guide this challenging production. She was VERY interested in the script, and – with her training in intimacy coordination – I knew that she would be a great resource for helping the cast find comfort and trust with one another during some of the more challenging physical sequences. This would probably also be a good time to note that there are some (ridiculously funny) scenes of squirrel sex and violence, so the production is absolutely intended for mature audiences only.

KRL: What is the play about?

Chris: Sciurus, the patriarch of a family of gray squirrels has collected enough nuts to last ten winters. When a group of starving fox squirrels begs him to share his hoard of food, animosity erupts into an apocalyptic battle for domination. Robert Askins (playwright of the Tony Award-winning Hand To God) brings us a boundary-pushing, darkly satirical look at wealth inequality in which no creature comes out unscathed. Don’t miss the carnage (or the laughs) as “Squirrel’d War III” erupts on the COS Theatre stage!

KRL: Where there any special challenges to directing this play?

Chris: So, SO many! To bring to life this epic story, we needed to legitimately research squirrel psychology, physicality, sounds, and even their habitat. During our first week of rehearsal, we held a ‘Squirrel School’ where the company watched documentaries and nature footage, trying to conceive of how we would bring squirrel mannerisms, chirps, tweets, and barks to life with human performers. On top of the great conceptual hurdles, it is also a really challenging narrative that switches quickly between outrageous, almost met-theatrical comedy, and heartfelt tragedy. The cast members have to be mentally, physically, and vocally activated at all times to navigate the many challenges of being ‘The Squirrels’.

KRL: How interesting and fun! What have you enjoyed the most about directing it?

Chris: Working with my former student – and now colleague! – Tamla Quipse has been a real treat, and our small but mighty cast and crew are exceptional artists. There’s a great mix of brand new students, veterans on the verge of graduating, and even an alumnus, and they work together beautifully. Tamla leads a warm-up every day to build ensemble spirit and interpersonal connections, and it makes me so happy to see everyone growing together.

KRL: When and where on campus will it be playing?

Chris: It will play in the COS Theatre on the Visalia Campus, 915 S Mooney Blvd., Visalia, CA on 11/10, 11/11, 11/12, 11/17, 11/18, and 11/19, at 7:00 p.m. with a single matinee on 11/19, at 1:00 p.m.

KRL: How much are tickets and where can people purchase them?

Chris: Tickets are $14 for the General Public, $12 for Seniors, and $10 for Students and can be purchased online at cos.ticketleap.com/the-squirrels/. We will also have a Student Special on Thursday, November 17, where students of all ages can purchase seats at a discounted price of $5 with an audience talkback with the cast and production team following the performance.

KRL: Anything else you would like to add?

Chris: I am so excited to be bringing the first fully-staged production of this show to Central Valley audiences, and I hope they find it to be as thought provoking as it is outrageous and funny. I think it will be a tremendous evening at the theatre!

Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section. And don’t miss out on Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast where we feature mystery stories read by local actors!

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and a contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet. Lorie’s latest mystery novel, One of Us, is set in the Tower District of Fresno and the world of community theatre!<

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