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Mildred's Umbrella Gives Rome Its World Premiere

Director and a 2011 Houston Press 100 CreativesJennifer Decker calls John Harvey's new play, Rome, "a black experimental comedy." Decker tells us that while the play was written by Harvey, who along with Decker is a co-founder of Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company, the show we'll see onstage during this production was a collaborative effort by Harvey, Decker, the actors and the design team.

"I'm guiding the process but everybody had input," she tells us. "There's a strong sense of community around this project. I didn't come in with a definite plan on how I was going to do this. We just came together and we figured it out. The collaborative nature of it is the most fun thing.

"The freedom to create is the best thing for me. When something isn't working, [John's] very collaborative and willing to let us help him shape things. It's almost like I've gotten to help write the play, which is something that we used to do in the past. That's the original reason that I agreed to start a theater company."

Decker tells us that a director that isn't listening to suggestions from the cast and crew is missing out on tremendous insight and opportunities. "If you're directing, it just makes sense to listen to the cast and the design team. These are actors, designers that are walking around with this play, these characters, too. Somebody might see something that I don't; together we can see more, do more."

Making its world premiere here, Rome follows a group of people as they wait for a man in the next room to die.

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Oddly, the impending death isn't their focus. "These are people who are focusing on their own problems and don't see what's going on around them," Decker tells us. "They're stuck in this mansion, waiting for a man in the next room to die, and there are all sorts of horrible things going on around them but they're all too focused on themselves to see any of that . Eventually, the world breaks in on them."

Filmmaker Stephanie Saint Sanchez provides video for the show. "Her video is representing some vague figures that are outside the window. Nobody can see them clearly, so everyone is seeing something different. Some of them are more afraid of the figures than they might need to be, and some others aren't afraid enough."

One person the group should probably be more afraid of is George, a character played by H.R. Bradford. "They've been talking about a serial killer that's been killing young girls. There's a suggestion that one of the people in the house might be the serial killer, but that's never completely figured out. George is, in my mind, a likely suspect. He's kind of sociopathic and shallow, really focused on himself and he has some perverted tendencies that indicate that he might have something to do with what's going on."

There's an 8 p.m. preview on March 6. Regular performances start March 7 and are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays. Through March 22. Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring. For information, call 832-463-0409 or visit mildredsumbrella.com. Pay-what-you-can to $20.

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