Molly Quade and Ethan Berkley play siblings Emma and Wesley Tate in “Curse of the Starving Class.” (Photo provided)

Molly Quade and Ethan Berkley play siblings Emma and Wesley Tate in “Curse of the Starving Class.” (Photo provided)

WICA’s ‘Starving Class’ delves into humanity

“Curse of the Starving Class” opened Friday, June 11 and runs through Saturday, June 26.

Hunger, shouting matches, dark humor and a lamb all take center stage at “Curse of the Starving Class,” the first in-person play on South Whidbey in over a year.

The newest production at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts opened Friday, June 11 and runs through Saturday, June 26.

“Curse of the Starving Class” is a dark comedy written in 1977 by the late Sam Shepard. The story closely follows the struggles of the dysfunctional Tate family, who vehemently deny that they are living a hand-to-mouth existence.

Husband Weston, played by Jeff Natter, and wife Ella, played by Marta Mulholland, both fantasize about selling their house and making a better living.

WICA veterans Ethan Berkley and Molly Quade play son Wesley and daughter Emma, who grapple with making themselves understood and understanding each other.

The often-empty refrigerator and the kitchen table become focal points for the characters, who gravitate around these objects.

Musical accompaniment by Troy Chapman in the form of the guitar lends a tense mood to scenes, which are fraught with arguments between the family members.

By its ending scene, “Curse of the Starving Class” is not tied up in a decidedly neat or tidy bow. In fact, it may leave behind more questions than answers.

Quade, the youngest actor on stage, said she had never heard of Sam Shepard before looking at the script for the play.

“I kind of read it and was like, ‘Uh, I’m not sure if I really get it all the way,’” she said with a laugh.

Natter, who is brand-new to the WICA stage, said he found the role of his high-energy character to be challenging.

“This is the most physically and emotionally exhausting role I’ve ever played, easily,” he said.

Deana Duncan, the show’s director, said she has seen actors yell their way through Weston’s role because the original script has his lines in all caps. By having Natter adjust the depth of his voice, she found that his character could still come across as menacing.

“Jeff, from the very beginning at the audition, brought a different type of Weston that could have some different levels,” Duncan said.

The actors have been rehearsing together for about four weeks.

Lars Larson plays Taylor, a sketchy lawyer with a lollipop addiction, and Robert Hall plays Ellis, the owner of the bar where Weston spends his time when he’s not home.

Billy Tierney is Sergeant Malcolm, who informs the Tate family of Emma’s arrest, and Jim Scullin is the villainous Emerson, who arrives within the final moments of the play with a twist.

Banana makes her debut onstage as the lamb in “Curse of the Starving Class.” The fuzzy co-star steals the show at times, bahhh-ing in response to Weston’s diatribes and one time, defecating.

During an interview, the show’s leads reflected on its dark nature.

“This play sometimes plays like a Greek tragedy — the knowledge that each of the characters comes to in the play leads to destruction,” Natter said. “It doesn’t lead to fulfillment or rejuvenation. They come to their knowledge at such great cost.”

“We’re so used to seeing stories that wrap up nicely in the end,” Quade said. “That’s not how anything is in reality. For me, when I think of this play, I think of the story as a moment that we kind of get a glimpse of in this tragic life.”

Duncan said there was a conversation about whether or not WICA should choose something lighter coming out of the pandemic.

Theaters around the country, she explained, have been going very light and funny, or they were going deep.

“And for me, the conversation that we had here, the humanity of this pandemic and everything that we’ve been through, I wanted to really delve into humanity,” she said.

“I don’t know if this was the right choice for right now, but the reason is because I wanted to play and hear about real life and people dealing with that.”

“Curse of the Starving Class” performance times are 7:30 p.m. on June 19, 24, 25, 26. Standard tickets are $35 each.

“Pay what you will” performances are scheduled for Thursdays. To purchase tickets, visit wicaonline.org.

Molly Quade, right, sneers at Taylor, Lars Larson’s character in the play. (Photo provided)

Molly Quade, right, sneers at Taylor, Lars Larson’s character in the play. (Photo provided)

Jeff Natter, who plays Weston Tate, checks the fridge while speaking to the lamb played by Banana. (Photo provided)

Jeff Natter, who plays Weston Tate, checks the fridge while speaking to the lamb played by Banana. (Photo provided)

More in Life

Edited photo - better to use
A green reaping: Whidbey pot farm harvests outdoor bounty

Volunteers approach bushes of kush with shears in hand at the South Whidbey farm owned by Adam Lind.

Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times
Laura Foley, left, and Don Meehan locate a grave in Sunnyside Cemetery using Find a Grave's GPS grave locator.
Volunteers adding GPS grave locator to Sunnyside’s website

Two community volunteers took on a project to make it easier to locate graves in Sunnyside Cemetery.

Photo by Theresa Farage
A photographer captured the Northern Lights over North Whidbey Tuesday night. Theresa Farage went to Dugualla Bay Heights Road looking toward La Conner armed with her Nikon D5200 camera and iPhone 12 Pro Max.
Northern Lights over Whidbey

The dazzling northern lights appeared in the skies across the state this week.

Penn Cove employees serve customers during the brewery’s grand opening celebration of its new location in Freeland over Memorial Day weekend. (Tyler Rowe / Cold Pizza Creative)
Drink This: Penn Cove opens its 3rd taproom on Whidbey Island

Brothers Marc and Mitch Aparicio opened a new Freeland taproom at The Barn over Memorial Day weekend.

Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times
Will Hawkins and Dawn Smith officially took ownership of Rainshadow Nursery on Oct. 1.
Rainshadow Nursery welcomes new owners

Dawn Smith and Will Hawkins of Greenbank officially took ownership of Rainshadow Nursery on Oct. 1.

Rob Schouten's "Skyfall" oil painting is inspired by the San Juan Islands.
His etchings and paintings explore the mysteries of nature

You can Rob Schouten’s aquatint etchings and oil paintings at his gallery and art garden in Langley.

Gabrielle Robles at Sunnyside Cemetery in a block house.
Coupeville woman offers haunted history tour

Gabrielle Robles is taking guests on a Haunted History Tour of Whidbey Island on Oct. 29 and 30.

See caption
NBA star Isaiah Thomas travels to South Whidbey

South Whidbey teenager Jacob Ng recently got to live out a hoop dream.

pumpkins
Halloween happens on Whidbey

Spooky season is back in swing and there are plenty of events that promise a ghoulishly good time.

Audubon is holding birding class for beginners Oct. 19

Master birder Whitney Neufeld-Kaiser will be teaching the online Zoom class 7-8:30 p.m. Oct. 19.

See caption
Mr. South Whidbey reigns once again

After a two-year reign, a new king was crowned in the male pageant world of Whidbey Island.

Blessing of Animals set for Oct. 10

St. Augustines-in-the-Woods Episcopal Church will hold a special ceremony for the four-legged.