Finishing Benchmark Theatre’s “aftermath” season of plays representing troubles in our society, from the Jan. 6 riots to abortion access, is Suzanne Nepi’s “The Covid Wife.” Opening Nov. 11, the play tells Nepi’s own true story of helping her husband, Mark Nepi, through his hospitalization due to COVID-19.
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“I think, as artists, one of our jobs is to respond to the immediate situations,” said Art Director Neil Truglio.
With that, the theatre wanted to show the issues people have faced during the pandemic, even with it so fresh in mind.
“In some ways, it’s exactly the reason we’re doing it, we don’t want to wait three years to talk about the pandemic,” he said.
Nepi’s story takes place two years ago, with her husband being put on a ventilator the day after their 30th wedding anniversary. She explains that, at the time, people didn’t know many others with COVID-19, so she saw an opportunity to tell their story to inspire hope in others.
The process of creating the play started about six months after. According to Truglio, Nepi submitted the idea for the play to the theatre as part of its program where community members can submit ideas to contribute to the theatre — be it design work or a play.
“It’s all been such uncharted waters. Even some of these playwrights in Denver that I’ve tapped some information and knowledge from, even they’ve never written a play that was their autobiography that they had to perform,” Nepi explained. “I’m definitely being baptized by fire.”
Truglio said he and Nepi started working on the play immediately, with most of it coming together in the last five months and the bulk of the writing in the last six weeks.
“It’s a real process of, every day, ‘how do we make these words better, activate it, visualize that content,’” Truglio said, adding that he’s been more of a partner with Nepi working on it.
The story being so close to home is a large motivator to Truglio for the theatre. Nepi is a local actress who has performed at the Cherry Creek Theatre, Aurora Fox Arts Center and Vintage Theatre among others and experienced what she's writing about here in Denver.
“I feel all the time we see L.A. and New York having people telling their stories, and it’s so compelling and great, and we in Denver get to read about it. I think there’s something exciting to say we have great stories here too,” Truglio said.
As to performing these intimate memories and moments, Nepi said, “I’m sure I’m going to be a bit triggered, and to be quite frank, in the couple weeks we’ve been rehearsing, I had lines delivered to me that the doctors said during Mark’s time in the hospital.”
“Truth doesn’t always make for the best drama, so there is a push and pull on how do we make this sing on the stage while also staying true to how it happening, and that’s hard,” Truglio elaborated. He said the trick is finding a balance. “We could make it really, really great, but if it’s not truthful, it doesn’t work.”
“People just need some inspiration, and this is an inspiring tale,” Nepi finished. “And it has some tough moments, but I really hope people leave with hope.”
The show premieres Nov. 11 starring Tanis Joaquin Gonzales alongside Nepi, playing her husband and all the other characters of the play. Shows will run through Dec. 10 and are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. Sunday matinees.
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