“Theatre magnifies life; inviting us to examine it more closely and hopefully appreciate it more deeply,” says Ann Wilkinson, instructor of theatre and director of the recently performed play “Dead Man’s Curve.”
Not only did the play enhance a story—it brought it to life. A string of vignettes taken and adapted for the stage from “Yellow Cab,” a book by Dr. Robert Leonard, the play tells the true stories of Leonard’s encounters as a night shift cab driver in Albuquerque.
Leonard graduated from Johnston High School and went on to earn a degree in history from the University of Northern Iowa. He later received a Ph.D. in anthropology and worked in historic preservation for the Zuni Tribe in New Mexico and taught at the University of New Mexico. Today, he works as the special news editor and host for KNIA/KRLS radio in Pella. In addition to the provocative “Yellow Cab,” Leonard is the author of dozens of scientific books, papers and newspaper articles.
Shocking and often offensive, the play recreates a real world, one in which can be uncomfortable and thought-provoking. “As I was reading ‘Yellow Cab’ it struck me that this would make a good jumping off point for a script,” Wilkinson says. “The people in Leonard’s work were where they were because of bad luck and bad choices.”
Junior theatre major Griffin Hammel took on the main role, playing Leonard as he drove around the dark streets, picking up everyone from prostitutes to drunken college students. One story that particularly shook Wilkinson was that of Beth, played by junior Hannah Altheide, a young college student that gets hooked on heroin and becomes a prostitute.
“There are just so many college-aged stories,” Wilkinson says of the book. “This provided a good platform for a great lesson without being preachy.”
Although the stories had been made into a play before, entitled “Yellow Cab” by the ADOBE Theatre in Albuquerque, Wilkinson said the adaptations are completely different due to, in part, the new vignettes written for the play by Leonard.
“I had a lot of material to work with, and I needed to figure out what the crisis would be,” Wilkinson says. “I didn’t want to manufacture one, so I asked Robert about more experiences and found what I was looking for.”
At the climax of the play, Leonard is rushed to the scene of a dying young man, run over repeatedly by a car—and yet still alive, twisted and mangled. Not found in his book, Leonard wrote the piece specifically at Wilkinson’s request. It’s a horrifying scene, but Wilkinson says it was all real.
“Living here in Pella, we think we are in this safe little bubble,” she continues. “We don’t like to talk about these things because we don’t like to think it exists.”