Luis Oliva directs “The Old Man and the Sea”


Sadie Hunter reports on a production of “The Old Man and the Sea” at Theater at the Fort in Lawrence, Kansas. She writes that, “commensurate with the 100th anniversary of the beginning of Ernest Hemingway’s writing career in 1917 with the Kansas City Star newspaper, Arts for Lawrence and the Lawrence Players will present its production of ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ a Pulitzer Prize-winning Hemingway novel,” with Puerto Rican director Luis Oliva at the helm.

Opening night of “The Old Man and the Sea” is November 17, which also is the date for Arts for Lawrence’s annual gala. The opening night will include a Caribbean-inspired dinner at the Sterrett Center with a red-carpet entrance into the theater. The production will continue for 4 additional performances—November 18, 24 and 25 at 7:30pm and November 19 at 2:30pm.

Oliva, who adapted the novel for the stage and also is playing the character of the old man, Santiago, said this is the first time in history the story has been a theatrical production. “Nobody has done this in theater,” Oliva said. “There’s a movie and a cartoon for kids, but nobody has done it on stage because there’s not too much dialogue. So this is the first time in the world.”

“The Old Man and the Sea’ was written in 1951, and (Hemingway) was living in Cuba at the time,” said Judy Byron, executive director of Arts for Lawrence. “So all of this is set in the Caribbean, and the old man is kind of feeling like a has-been. He has a relationship with a little boy (Manolin) whose dad doesn’t want him spending time with a tired old man, and he keeps telling, as a fisherman, stories of these big fish.”

Although most of the acting in the production is the reliving of a memory for the old man, the character does go out to sea. “He catches the big swordfish, and then the sharks come,” said Byron, who read the book in ninth grade for school. “This production is the first that is actually ours. It’s all set to live chamber music that was written specifically for this show by a Butler (University) composition student, Sean Szolek-Van Valkenburgh.”

Most of the set decoration is made from materials that might be found in a recycling bin, such as carpet padding, egg cartons, plastic sheeting, plastic Easter eggs, rubber foam and more – all creating coral reef, water, shark, jellyfish and fish puppets. Oliva said he has been working on props since June but that the idea for the stage production has been in his mind for at least two years. “I hadn’t been in the United States very long. This is my third year,” Oliva said. “Ernest Hemingway was an adventurer, so I decided to take this adventure. What I know to do is theater, so I said myself, ‘This is the opportunity to do one crazy thing. Why not?’ So I came to (Byron).” [. . .] Manolin is played by sixth-grader Kye Benford, a student of Oliva’s at Forest Glen Elementary, where Oliva teaches drama.

[. . .] Each year, Arts for Lawrence programming is partially supported by a grant from the Arts Council of Indianapolis. This year, the $5,000 grant funded the production of “The Old Man and the Sea.” [. .  .]

[Photo above: Luis Oliva and Arts for Lawrence will present “The Old Man and the Sea” in November. (Photo by Sadie Hunter)]

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