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New Theatre Group presents debate over a woman's true love

​After years of presenting shows at the Minnesota Fringe and other festivals, the New Theatre Group is heading off into fresh territory, with a production of The Debate Over Courtney O'Connell of Columbus, Nebraska at the Bryant-Lake Bowl.

"I'm actually pretty nervous about this foray into non-Fringe-time productions," says director Brian Balcom, who helmed last year's See You Next Tuesday at the Fringe. "We've previously been invited to participate in festivals at the Guthrie and Southern Theater, but there we've had the luxury of those companies as producing partners and have been able to use them to help get the word out," he says. "And even during the Fringe Festival there's a mountain of promotion and advertising that the festival does for all artists involved. And though the Bryant-Lake Bowl has great features in place to help producers, I feel that this is our first solo production. Can we sustain an audience year-round? We'll see."

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The Mat Smart play centers on two men who "debate" for the hand of the woman they both love. They are ex Scott P. Hooner and fiance James Hamilton. The cast includes Rachel Finch, Robert Galligan, Christopher Kehoe, and Shad Cooper.

"It is a piece that I've wanted to do for awhile now. It's a light, fun, compact comedy about having one last chance at the one that got away. The playfulness and universal theme make for an engaging evening where your feelings about each suitor can change throughout the course of the play. And ultimately, whichever guy you find yourself pulling for may reflect a bit about who you are and what you're after," Balcom says.

"I don't think there's a universally 'deep message' here, but I do think folks will unexpectedly find out if and how they legitimize male pain," added company member Christopher Kehoe. "Men are expected to go through their lives with their emotions in check and to simply not feel at certain points of change or loss; it's the same pressure that says women are ornamentation."

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The production is also part of an initiative by the small company to connect with local playwrights.

"I want to be able to provide outstanding local playwrights another opportunity to see their work presented to the community in which they live," Balcom says. "I feel that things have been improving in that area over the past few years, but for every new, local play that Workhaus Collective or Urban Samurai or History Theater present, there are 20 more scripts and writers that are waiting to be developed and produced. I can't say exactly what will happen with this existing work series and how it will grow, but I'm excited about its potential."