Enlighten yourself with “Journey to the West” at the Lincoln Center

Hunter Goddard

History will be made on the stage at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center this weekend and, for audiences, things will never be the same again.

OpenStage Theatre & Company proudly presents the closing weekend of “Journey to the West” at the Magnolia Theatre Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Opening night was Sept. 6, and the show has powerfully changed the lives of all involved.

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Corinne Wieben as Guanyin, Cory Garcia as Moksa and Dan Muth as Monkey King in Mary Zimmerman's "Journey to the West" (Photo credit: Steven Finnestead)
Corinne Wieben as Guanyin, Cory Garcia as Moksa and Dan Muth as Monkey King in Mary Zimmerman’s “Journey to the West” (Photo credit: Steven Finnestead)

“Character psychology in most theater is socioeconomic,” said Peter Anthony, director and stage designer. “’Journey to the West’ is mythic, something larger. Our culture is so technologically addicted, I think, that we’ve lost our myths, our sense of ourselves.”

Anthony has worked on over 60 productions in California, Oregon and Colorado and has worked with theater legend Jerzy Grotowski on major productions. Recently, he directed “Amadeus” and “Dangerous Liaisons.”

According to Anthony, “Journey to the West” is based on a classic 16th century Chinese novel, adapted to the stage by the Tony Award-winning Mary Zimmerman. Anthony said it is some of the most challenging work he has ever done.

“There are 15 actors playing 30 roles during a 16-year journey from China to India,” Anthony said. “They encounter elemental obstacles, like demons and mythical creatures. The set evokes landscapes, temples, oceans, rivers, palaces and caves.”

Corinne Wieben, a professor at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC), plays the part of Guanyin. She has been an actress for 20 years, having started in California with the Shakespeare Festival. She moved to Colorado three years ago.

“I’ve never done a show like this before, which is why I wanted to do it,” Wieben said. “It’s new, the storytelling is spectacular, it’s epic, it’s uplifting. Audiences have actually come up to us after the show in the past few weeks to thank us.”

According to Wieben, Guanyin is not a character she is used to. She serves as a goddess-like guide for the pilgrims across their journey, Wieben said. The cast had to learn martial arts choreography, and the action-packed show is OpenStage’s biggest yet, according to Wieben.

“I like what theater can do,” Wieben said. “It teaches actors and audiences life lessons. Because of ‘Journey to the West,’ audiences are able to have an emotional connection to the message of the spiritual journey.”

Jacob Offen as Tripitaka in Mary Zimmerman's "Journey to the West" (Photo credit: Steven Finnestead)
Jacob Offen as Tripitaka in Mary Zimmerman’s “Journey to the West” (Photo credit: Steven Finnestead)

Jake Offen plays the protagonist, a Buddhist monk whose journey of self-discovery parallels the journey to what the Chinese considered the western hemisphere at the time. He has acted with OpenStage for six years and is finishing his Bachelor’s in acting at UNC this December.

“The show’s a lot like playing pretend as a child,” Offen said. “It’s full of fantasy, imagination, theatricality, symbolism, and this element of storytelling that’s at the root of all theater. The innocence and the tenderness are what make the more poignant moments stand out.”

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According to Offen, in spite of the monastery setting, the production is not thematically religious, but rather witty, tender, and speaks to all audiences.

Regular tickets cost $24 to $28, $18 to $22 for people aged 60 years or older, $18 to $22 for students and $18 to $22 for groups of 10 or more.

So take the journey with “Journey to the West” this weekend, and become enlightened as to how one story can travel far and away into time and space, and yet never leave you.

Collegian A&E Writer Hunter Goddard can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @hunter_gaga.