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New play is 'Sweet'

Christopher Johnson (Joseph Larson) leans in for a sniff test to see if his mother, Ruby Johnson (Jenn Soukkala), has been outside drinking. Jana Peterson / jpeterson@pinejournal.com 1 / 2
Aged boxer Sweet Clemmet Carter (played by Michael Rosen) and writer Trevor Wallace (Greg Anderson) put up their fists for a sparring session as Clemmet’s wife, Addie (Ruthie Breuer), walks in on the unexpected scene. Jana Peterson / jpeterson@pinejournal.com 2 / 2

Roll out the red carpet — the world premiere of "Sweet" will debut in Cloquet on Friday, Sept. 28.

Written by Denise Hinson, the play tells the story of three generations of the Carter family, headed by former boxing champ "Sweet" Clemmet Carter. When an enthusiastic sports writer enters their lives asking to write a book about Clemmet's boxing days, he discovers some family secrets are better left buried.

Director Joel Soukkala said the story builds toward some fairly startling twists.

"The drama really unfolds toward the end," he said, admitting that the audience "might be a little shell-shocked or a bit speechless by the end."

Soukkala said directing "Sweet" has been a truly unique experience because he and the County Seat actors and crew are the first to perform the original play.

He's been working closely with Hinson through phone and email, and the New Mexico-based playwright will be in Cloquet for the premiere, along with a number of other guests from across the country. Her other plays have received productions and readings at a number of play festivals nationally.

Soukkala said Hinson has given them a lot of flexibility as they learn and polish the play.

"We've made a few corrections and tweaked it a little bit here and there. Nothing major," Soukkala said of the play. "But, [Hinson] is really good about letting me do my own thing, which is awesome."

It's a small cast and crew, with Soukkala on directing and set design, John Justad leading lighting design and cast members Michael Rosen, Ruthie Breuer, Jenn Soukkala, Joseph Larson and Greg Anderson treading the boards.

The experienced group of actors mesh together nicely, as they flow from mellow moments putting together puzzles to exchanges where family members don't pull any verbal punches with each other.

Soukkala said the County Seat Theater Company began applying two years ago to be one of six community theaters across the country to premiere a new play from the American Association of Community Theatre's annual NewPlayFest, an initiative by AACT to address the need for new, high-quality plays for community theater audiences.

Out of 280 scripts submitted to the festival, only six are produced across the country. The AACT NewPlayFest also promises that all of the winning plays will be published in an anthology together.

Soukkala said the County Seat Theater and all people involved in the play will be immortalized in the play book when it's printed, explaining that publishers always list details of the premiere in the beginning.

"In the front of the play book they list the year, where it premiered, the cast, director and technical staff — it will all be written in there," Soukkala said. "Pretty cool."

While tuxedos and gowns are definitely optional Sept. 28, Soukkala said the first night will probably have some extra razzle-dazzle, including a red carpet.

"Hey, it's a premiere," he said. "Of course we're going to do it right."

"Sweet" runs from Sept. 28-30 and Oct. 3-7 at Encore! Performing Arts Center in Cloquet.

For tickets, call County Seat Theater at 218-878-0071 or visit countytheater.com. The Cloquet Public Library also has some free Legacy tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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If you go

Who: County Seat Theater Company

What: "Sweet"

When: Sept. 28-30, Oct. 3-7

Where: Encore! Performing Arts Center, 2035 Minnesota Highway 33 South, Cloquet

Tickets: $18-$20, countyseattheater.com, 218-878-0071; free tickets at Cloquet Public Library, first-come, first-served basis

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