Longtime writer Tom deMers will deliver a fantastical, otherworldly staged reading of his new “existential comedy” play, “Mussolini Dreaming” at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Box of Bubbles, 206 E St. in downtown Salida. 

A retired writer/editor for the University of Colorado, the 72-year-old Salida resident is an experienced playwright and novelist. A former member of the Denver Center Playwrights Unit, deMers had his play “Deal With a Dead Man” produced in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s Prima Facie series.

The national political landscape last November inspired deMers to take a deep dive into the history and theories behind fascism. 

“I realized I didn’t know what fascism was,” deMers said. So he read up and was particularly impressed with the book “Fascism: A Warning” by Madeleine Albright. Through his research, he was drawn to the life of Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, founder and head of Italy’s National Fascist Party. As Italian prime minister, Mussolini sided with Adolf Hitler in World War II. When he learned about Mussolini’s brutal, violent end, spent with favored mistress Claretta Petacci, deMers was inspired.

This mix of events, old and recent, gave birth to “Mussolini Dreaming.” 

The plot is a heady mix of comedy, sci-fi and discovery. It’s a play-within-a-play set at a California seaside resort. The actors balk at the “silliness” of their sci-fi script, which tells the story of a new planet – Planet Q – hurtling toward Earth and populated by blue “hybridized” mushrooms that speak Italian.

The actors rebel against the playwright. “This is fascism,” they say, because the playwright controls the words they speak. They want to be free; they want the playwright out of their heads. Mussolini and Petacci are discussed

“This play is very much about ideas,” deMers said. He hopes the audience will take home an “understanding of fascism in the context of the problems that face us in the world today.”

The programs Friday and Saturday will be staged readings, meaning the actors will stand in front of the audience at lecterns, reading from printed scripts. “With minimal movement, all the character and emotions comes through their voices,” deMers said.

Each member of the cast of eight is an experienced actor. They are Salidans Greta Hooton, James Brown, Allen Lane, Nate Calderone and Rama Yigit; McKenzie Huffman and Elliot Jackson from Westcliffe; and Kennedy Pugh from Pueblo. 

Also integral to the endeavor is Lee Ross as artistic advisor. Ross is a Hollywood scriptwriter currently living in Salida, who, among other things, helped deMers find the experienced actors he needed.

“If it wasn’t for Lee, this wouldn’t be happening,” deMers said. “His vision for a successful stage reading was crucial to bringing this together.” 

Along with the two stage readings, deMers is planning a discussion of the play at 2 p.m. Sunday that will involve several members of the cast. The discussion location is not yet set; it will be announced at the readings.

Admission is by donation; deMers said proceeds will go to the cast.

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