Regulars at Cottage Theatre are well acquainted with the Rust family. The multi-talented Tony Rust has starred in, sung in, directed and designed the sets for enough plays to fill multiple seasons at the newly remodeled little Cottage Grove community theater.
On Friday, June 10, the entire Rust family of four will be involved when a new drama, Seeking Red, opens a three-weekend run in its West Coast premiere. The male lead is Tony Rust. The female lead is his real-life daughter, Darcy Rust. A supporting character named Emily will be played by Tony Rust’s wife, Janet Rust.
And the playwright is 24-year-old Glenn Rust, Tony and Janet’s son and Darcy’s older brother.
“I grew up in a household that was very encouraging to the development of becoming artists while also being very realistic about it, because my parents have experienced what needs to happen to make it in the world of arts,” Glenn Rust says by phone from Chicago, where he is technical director of Chicago Dramatists, a well known development center for playwrights.
Seeking Red was originally slated for production at Cottage Theatre in 2020; it was postponed — as were so many shows that year — by the pandemic. The original show cast only Tony Rust from the playwright’s family; his mother and sister stepped up when much of the original cast was unable to return for the new production, which is directed by Kory Weimer.
The young playwright drew inspiration for his story from an essay titled “Physical Evidence” by Kelly Grey Carlisle, about her discovery that her parents were not, as she had always been told, killed in a car crash when she was very young. The true story, which she first learned at age 8, was considerably more disturbing.
Rust started work on Seeking Red in 2018 while taking a class on writing adaptations; it was first performed in 2019 at Columbia College Chicago, where he got his bachelor’s degree in playwriting.
“The initial scene was a direct translation of a scene [from the memoir],” Rust says. “She describes where she went to the nearby newspaper to learn more about the time of her parents’ passing, but wasn’t able to find anything.”
The real-life situation ultimately led Rust to create an original story. “I got so caught on this idea that I eventually started to twist it and made it into new characters with a new story.”
Rust wrote his first play when he was 15 years old. It was an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland for a theater class his mother taught. She was unable to find a theatrical version she liked, so she suggested he write one for her. It was due in a week.
“I did not do a single piece of homework that entire week,” he says. “I was reading different adaptations, watching different adaptations and of course working on my own. I got the first draft out in six days and then, of course, edited it while we were in the production process. It definitely was a trial by fire moment.”
He’s now written 15, some nine of which have been produced.
Because of the collaborative nature of theater, writing a play, Rust says, is “one of the most scary but exciting experiences possible. The major thing that comes with being a playwright that is different from all other writing forms is that, at a certain point, you have to release complete and utter control of the story and of the characters to another group of people.”
On occasion he has diplomatically suggested that a director has gotten a scene wrong when he’s watched productions of his own work. But other times he’s learned more about his own work from other people’s interpretations.
“One of the biggest fears and the biggest joys of being a playwright is just seeing how all of these different performers and all of these different directors can take your work, for better or worse.”
Seeking Red opens Friday, June 10, and runs through Sunday, June 26, at Cottage Theatre, 700 Village Drive, Cottage Grove. Tickets and more information at CottageTheatre.org.