You never know when inspiration will strike. It might lurk between the pages of a history textbook. For 17-year-old Chris Rodenbaugh, inspiration struck sometime in the 20th century while reading about the Irish Republican Army. He remembers reading about this violent rebellion for the first time in Tom Clancy's Patriot Games. It wasn't the kind of extremism or terrorism he recognized. "It was very complex, there was this hopelessness and an inability to change things," says Rodenbaugh. "And in the end, that entire period of the Troubles were basically in vain. It's still a very poor area of the world. I found that a pretty poignant place to set a play."
And so he wrote The Wraith, a play about 1970s Belfast, centered on five members of the IRA. Following a violent encounter these five are held hostage in a house while they wait for further direction. The close quarters send the characters into dark places where Rodenbaugh hopes to reveal the effects of hopelessness on a person. There the play ventures into some pretty heady topics, like Nihilism versus idealism. One of Rodenbaugh's characters is a Scottish serial killer with Irish parents who is strongly influenced by Nietzsche. "He takes these viewpoints and ideas and twists them into this logic to believe that he is God himself," explains Rodenbaugh.
The play sounds dark, even to Rodenbaugh, who says most of his non-theater friends assume that theater is mostly light, happy musicals. Especially children's theater. But Fun House Theatre and Film, which is producing The Wraith, constantly challenges that idea. Before reaching official adulthood, Rodenbaugh had performed there in plays like Zoo Story by Edward Albee and the title role in Shakespeare's Hamlet. And those are the experiences he's drawing on for The Wraith, which will be directed by Fun House's founder and resident playwright, Jeff Swearingen. For him, working on the play was an easy sell.
"Chris is one of the most professional artists I've ever worked with," says Swearingen. "The ideas and themes in his play go way beyond his years in wisdom."
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The Wraith fits directly into the Fun House mission to elevate standards of children's theater by not underestimating the talents of the young actors. A few drafts in, Rodenbaugh began to write the play with actors in mind. In the production, which hits the stage for a limited run beginning Wednesday, July 29, he will once again share the stage with his consistent collaborator, Doak Rapp.
When the play wraps, he'll likely begin writing another one. Probably one steeped in history and philosophy. In the fall, he'll go back to Plano West Senior High School. After that? "I'll go to college where my intended major will be finance," he says. But he expects to find his way back to the theater time and again.
See The Wraith at Fun House Theatre and Film at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, through Sunday, August 2. Tickets are $5. More at funhousetheatreandfilm.com.