Carol Piersol has been keeping busy since her noisy ouster as Firehouse Theatre Project’s artistic director. The past two years have seen her produce new shows and celebrate the near-20th anniversary of her previous theater’s founding.
Now she’s created a theater company from the ground up, continuing her mission to stage off-Broadway and experimental theater in Richmond. The new 5th Wall Theatre company opened its first show last weekend, Jane Martin’s “H20.”
“I’m starting from scratch, no staff, no building,” Piersol says, adding that she’s going to continue to produce challenging work and top-quality productions. “That’s what the Firehouse was known for.”
Since her Firehouse departure, Piersol has staged David Mamet’s “Race,” Johnna Adams’ “Gidion’s Knot,” Israel Horovitz’ “Lebensraum,” the one-man show “Patti Issues” and the musical “Breast in Show.” Most were produced in partnership with some of Richmond’s well-known theater companies and with the assistance of 5th Wall’s associate artistic director, Billy Christopher Maupin.
“H20” will be directed by Piersol’s husband, Morrie Piersol, who regularly directed shows at the Firehouse and teaches theater at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School. The Piersols saw the play premiere at the Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd University in West Virginia.
“I’ve been referring to it as a dangerous but delicate water dance,” Morrie Piersol says. “It’s pretty unique in the way that she crafted it. It’s 19 scenes in 80 minutes, no stops.”
In the play, an action movie star attempts to change his career by playing Hamlet on Broadway. The movie star is in the process of casting a young evangelical Christian to play his Ophelia, and the characters collide in a love-hate relationship. The Richmond staging will be the play’s second-ever production.
“The company has this drive and energy behind it for its first show under the name 5th Wall,” says actress Liz Earnest, who plays Deborah, the Christian woman. “There’s a palpable energy whenever Carol is there. Everybody’s clearly really excited about it.”
In October, 5th Wall will work with the Richmond Triangle Players to stage a reading of John Anastasi’s “Transition,” a new play about a transgendered person in a lesbian relationship making the transition to become a man. In November, the company will work with the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center for the Arts to bring “The Pumpkin Pie Show” to town, written and starring Clay McLeod Chapman. The New York Times wrote that the show “channels the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft.”
“It’s a theater experience like no other,” Piersol says. “He weaves tales of strangeness and beauty.”
January will see 5th Wall produce Nicky Silver’s “The Lyons,” a dark comedy that revolves around a family’s patriarch dying on a hospital bed. In March, the company will stage the second-ever production of Jennifer Blackmer’s “The Human Terrain,” which follows an anthropologist imbedded with the Army to teach soldiers about Iraqi culture.
“There’s a moral dilemma when she befriends an Iraqi woman,” Piersol says. “She has to choose whether she’s going to betray the woman or betray the Army.”
Piersol says her goal is to produce theater that provides insights into the human condition.
“It’s an opportunity for her to take her vision to another level,” her husband adds about Piersol’s new company. “I think we can do more innovative and experimental pieces. I think it can be what the Firehouse was and more.”
5th Wall’s “H20” plays through Sept. 27 at Virginia Rep Center’s Theatre Gym, 114 W. Broad St. For information, visit 5thwalltheatre.org.