“Pretty Pieces” | Exploring complexities of madness

Cassady Anderson and Ryan Corrigan will be the only actors on stage for the production of “Pretty Pieces.”

In celebration of World Theater Day, senior college student Matthew Denney will be directing a one-act play about madness at the University of Nevada at Reno campus.

“The reason why I chose it is for the way it handles tragically beautiful memories and big decisions
in two people’s lives.”
–Matthew Denney

“Pretty Pieces,” written by Charles Robertson, debuted in Kingston, Ontario. Denney first encountered the play in Sharon Chadwick’s theater class at Liberty High School in Las Vegas, Nev., where he grew up.

“She had a huge collection of random scripts,” he says.” “It was the tagline — a one-act play about madness — that got my attention. I immediately fell in love with the story and the characters. The reason why I chose it is for the way it handles tragically beautiful memories and big decisions in two people’s lives.”

A mix of fantasy and realism, the play follows the intense conversations of two troubled siblings who live together in a run-down apartment. Although they are reminded of past trauma by a found set of photographs, the true cause of their insanity, drug addiction and codependency is never made fully clear.

“It’s a very engaging play that tackles a lot of tough topics,” says Denney. “You get to learn a lot about the characters through fast-paced conversation.”

Denney recruited two friends he met through the UNR Theatre & Dance Department to play the roles of Girl and Boy. Cassady Anderson and Ryan Corrigan will be the only actors on stage for the production.

“These two are perfect for the roles,” says Denney. “Cassady has this huge range of emotion she can pull from. Ryan has great physicality in the role and in the way he carries himself.”

The trio has been rehearsing since the end of January in the lounge of Argenta Hall where Denney is a resident advisor.

“I’m about to go into teaching theater, so I decided I wanted to direct a show to get my feet wet,” he says. “I just wanted to make it happen. Sure enough, if you work hard enough, it happens.”

Some of the personal nuances Denney has added to the production include projections of religious imagery and sinister music. The details add to a performance that deals with themes of memory, images and captured moments.

“In my mind, when we make decisions we make them once and they change the courses of our lives,” he says. “If we are able to capture the mental pictures, we’re able to capture exactly that moment. I always try to integrate some form of pictures or something aesthetically beautiful as to why I made an important decision.”

Denney first realized the power of theater in high school during the passing of his grandfather.

“He always encouraged me to be in theater and live out whatever dream that I had,” Denney says. “When he died, the first thing I thought was, ‘I have to go to the theater.’ When I got there, I found the biggest support system and the greatest group of friends I could ever ask for. I feel like the world needs more safe spaces like that.”

More recently, Denney wasn’t surprised to learn that some of the students who stood up publically for gun control after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., were theater students.

“I think that theater has this amazing ability to amplify and bring home really strong themes for high-school students,” he says. “We empower teens and give them a chance to have a voice. We teach about empathy and kindness. We have to be as vulnerable as possible to see the story from multiple perspectives. Knowing that theater students are the one that are standing up brings hope to my heart.”

March 30 | 7 p.m.
UNR Wells Fargo Auditorium | Reno, Nev.

After graduation, Denney plans to attend graduate school in theater education on the East Coast before becoming a high-school theater teacher and part-time performer.
| unr.edu/theatre-dance