The fourth full season of Mississippi Bend Players will feature a total of five performers over three productions this summer at Augustana College’s Brunner Theatre Center.

Rock Island's Mississippi Bend Players To Go Small for 2021 Summer Season

Shelley Cooper is an Augustana College theater professor.

After it was forced to cancel its 2020 in-person season, the 2021 lineup will be:

  • “Red” (June 17-20), by John Logan, directed by Catherine Bodenbender and featuring MBP favorites Mike Schulz and Tristan Odenkirk.

Master abstract expressionist Mark Rothko has just landed the biggest commission in the history of modern art, a series of murals for New York’s famed Four Seasons Restaurant. In the two fascinating years that follow, Rothko works feverishly with his young assistant, Ken, in his studio on the Bowery. But when Ken gains the confidence to challenge him, Rothko faces the agonizing possibility that his crowning achievement could also become his undoing. Raw and provocative, “Red” is a searing portrait of an artist’s ambition and vulnerability as he tries to

Rock Island's Mississippi Bend Players To Go Small for 2021 Summer Season

Cooper presented “Mary and Ethel: How I Learned to Sing” last September at The Speakeasy.

create a definitive work.

  • “Mary and Ethel: How I Learned to Sing” (June 24-27), conceived and performed by Shelley Cooper, with musical arrangements and accompaniment by Mason Moss.

“Mary and Ethel: How I Learned to Sing” stars Augustana theater professor Shelley Cooper as she pays homage to two of the great muses of the Golden Age of musicals. Cooper belts out favorite tunes from hit shows as she entertains with stories about the lives of Mary Martin and Ethel Merman, their material, and how they influenced her own career as a performer. Featuring songs from “Anything Goes!”,” Hello, Dolly!”, “The Sound of Music,” “South Pacific,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Peter Pan,” and more.

  • “No Child…” (July 8-11), by Nilaja Sun, directed by Sydney Chatman and starring Maya Vinice Prentiss.

“No Child…” follows the story of Miss Sun, a visiting teacher who uses theater as a means of connecting with students in the New York City public school system. This one-person play, based on the playwright’s

Rock Island's Mississippi Bend Players To Go Small for 2021 Summer Season

Tristan Odenkirk co-starred in a Black Box Theatre production of “Waiting for Godot” last October.

own experiences, is a tour-de-force as the actor plays 16 different characters in rapid succession, including Miss Sun, her students, other teachers and administrators, and even the school’s 80 year-old janitor. An insightful, hilarious, and touching master  class not to be missed by anyone concerned about the state of our education system and how we might fix it.

Unlike a typical season (with performances over two weekends), the new productions will be limited to one weekend each, with likely 50 patrons maximum in the theater, said Jackie McCall, Brunner’s outreach

Rock Island's Mississippi Bend Players To Go Small for 2021 Summer Season

Chicago actress Maya Vinice Prentiss will star in the one-woman show “No Child…” in July.

coordinator and MBP producing artistic director. She plans to have eight paid student interns for the truncated six-week season.

“We’re just so desperate for theater, aren’t we? We all just want some live entertainment,” McCall said Tuesday night. “We wanted to keep a campus bubble intact, to try to help prevent the threat of spreading Covid-19.”

“Our students, because I wanted it to be eight students, who got this opportunity last year and they all missed out,” she said of the canceled season. “And so I wanted to make sure that they had a chance, but they have been without a break since Christmas really.

“We didn’t have a spring break this year because they didn’t want students to have an extra opportunity to travel far away and then possibly bring it to campus,” McCall said. “I wanted to make sure that our students had an opportunity to have a really wonderful intense learning experience, but then still have time to go home to their families before they came back for the fall.”

Rather than livestreaming the shows, each production will be filmed, edited and then shown online following the end of the season.

Two shows are reprises for leads

McCall has been friends with Bodenbender (a veteran of Prenzie Players and Genesius Guild) for years, and said “Red” is a true “passion

Rock Island's Mississippi Bend Players To Go Small for 2021 Summer Season

Jackie McCall is producing artistic director for Mississippi Bend Players.

project” for theater buds Schulz and Odenkirk.

They have co-starred in MBP’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues,” and “Beginner’s Luck,” and Schulz directed Odenkirk in “Waiting for Godot” last October at Moline’s Black Box Theatre. Schulz also participated in a virtual reading last August for Sarah Ruhl’s “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday,” hosted by MBP, for which Odenkirk read the stage directions.

“It was even like, last year when we were trying to decide if we could do something outside for 2020, it just seemed like a no-brainer that I would love to work with all of them and on this show in particular,” McCall said of “Red,” which won the 2010 Tony for Best Play.

Rock Island's Mississippi Bend Players To Go Small for 2021 Summer Season

Mike Schulz will reprise his role as abstract artist Mark Rothko in “Red.”

Schulz starred as Mark Rothko (1903-1970) in the August 2012 QC Theatre Workshop production in Davenport, with Tom Taylor as Ken.

Cooper originally performed “Mary and Ethel: How I Learned to Sing” twice last September at Circa ‘21’s Speakeasy in Rock Island.

“We’re thrilled that she was able to fit it into her schedule, because she’s going to be going to The Fringe Festival in Florida to do her other one-woman show just before this,” McCall said this week. “So the fact that she could fit into her schedule is just awesome. We’re thrilled and we hope to be able to give it a little more of a theatrical touch than it had in the past, so we’ll see.”

“No Child…” is also a one-woman show, and the actress and director are professionals from Chicago, McCall said.

Rock Island's Mississippi Bend Players To Go Small for 2021 Summer Season

Mike Schulz and Thomas Alan Taylor starred in “Red” at QC Theatre Workshop in 2012.

“The actor plays 16 different characters, and in really rapid succession. The storytelling in this play is just amazing to me and I just cannot wait to see it come to life on our stage,” she said, noting the artists also will bring valuable insights about theater for the MBP interns.

“But I also just can’t wait to see what they bring to our stage that our patrons will be able to enjoy. I’m thrilled,” McCall said.

In “No Child…,” as a 10th-grade teacher, “Sun fearlessly transforms herself with rapid-fire precision into the

Rock Island's Mississippi Bend Players To Go Small for 2021 Summer Season

Mississippi Bend Players is a professional summer stock company based at Augustana College.

teachers, students, parents, janitors, security guards, and administrators of Malcolm X High School in the Bronx,” according to a Buffalo, N.Y. PBS station, which broadcast the play last fall, “shining light and love onto those who inhabit under-resourced public schools across the United States.

“Sun demonstrates how one determined woman can change the lives of countless others in this tour de force, crackling with wit and wisdom and showing us the transformative power of art,” according to the site. By 2012, the actress-writer had performed “No Child…” 700 times around the world. The MBP season this summer coalesced around an arts theme – visual art, musical theater, and a teaching theater artist, McCall said.

“It all tied everything together with the importance that the arts has to us as audience members, and as artists,” she said. “So that’s our theme — that art matters to all of us. And when I realized that sort of crystallized in my head, I was like, I can’t not see this show on the season.”

In the last full MBP season, in 2019, those three plays all had a military theme – “A Green River,” “Biloxi Blues,” and the musical “Dames at Sea.” To reserve theater tickets, including for this weekend’s Augustana “One Flea Spare” at Brunner (3750 7th Ave., Rock Island), visit www.augustana.edu/arts/ticket-office.

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Rock Island's Mississippi Bend Players To Go Small for 2021 Summer Season
Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.