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Posted on Tue, Jan 17, 2012 : 5:03 a.m.

Purple Rose chisels out its own take on 'A Stone Carver'

By Jenn McKee


Charlyn Swarthout, Matthew David and Guy Sanville in the Purple Rose production of "A Stone Carver."

Photo by Danna Segrest | courtesy of the Purple Rose Theatre Co.

According to actress/director Rhiannon Ragland, Purple Rose Theatre artistic director Guy Sanville saw and read William Mastrosimone’s “A Stone Carver”—starting performances Thursday at the Rose—when it had its New York premiere in 2006, and he’s had it in his “back pocket file” ever since.

For this reason, a couple of years ago, the theater company “did a public reading of it at the library, and it wasn’t the right time (to stage it) that year, but what kept happening is, when we’d do other readings, men especially would always say, ‘Whatever happened to “Stone Carver”? Are you guys still looking at “Stone Carver”?’” said Ragland, who’s making her directorial debut with the Rose’s production. “ … We kept getting it and getting it and getting it.”

So the time for the show has now arrived, with Sanville—who most often directs shows at the Rose—taking on the role of Agostino, an aging, seventh-generation stone mason who balks at being evicted from the home he built himself in order to make way for a highway. When Agostino barricades himself in the house, his son, Raff (Matthew David) arrives to try to persuade his father to comply with authorities.

“It’s a very simple story,” said Ragland. “ … But because it’s family—family is never simple, and it’s never easy. From the outside, you can always see these clear solutions to these problems. But when you’re in it, and it’s family, it becomes so deep and so complex. And there are so many strings tied up around your heart that it’s hard to find a clear path.”


”A Stone Carver”

  • Who: Purple Rose Theatre Company.
  • What: William Mastrosimone’s play about a retired, seventh generation stonemason who barricades himself in his home when he’s evicted to make space for a highway, and his son, Raff, who arrives at the house with his new fiancée in a last-ditch effort to save his father from jail.
  • Where: Purple Rose Theatre, 137 Park St. in Chelsea.
  • When: Wednesdays at 3 and 8 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m., Jan. 19-March 10. (Preview performances run Jan. 19-26.)
  • How much: $25-$40. (Preview performances cost $5-$10 less per ticket, and discounts are available for seniors, students, teachers, and groups.) 734-433-7673 or
As an actor, Ragland has appeared in numerous Rose productions under the direction of Sanville. So what was it like to have the tables turned?

“Well, because we’ve worked together so many times, we already had a kind of base language, and that really helped a lot,” said Ragland. “But then (Sanville) really did let go. … He was really affirming in his idea that, ‘This is yours. This is yours, and these are going to be your ideas, and I’m going to become the actor in the room.’”

In another seeming reversal, of course, Ragland is a female director overseeing a play tightly focused on father-son relationships. But Ragland felt a natural tie to the material.

“The funny thing was, it was kind of right up my alley,” said Ragland. “I’m kind of a guy’s girl. The joke is that I strap my tool belt on over my dress. … And a lot of times, I understand men more than I understand women."

Most theatergoers recognize Mastrosimone’s name by way of his hit “Extremities,” but “Stone Carver” is clearly a more personal work for the playwright. He wrote the original draft of the play, then called “The Understanding,” in a playwriting class in the mid-70s, and re-visited the story after becoming a father himself.

“His Italian heritage comes into play, … but it’s really a story about family,” said Ragland. “Old ideas versus new ideas. He writes conflict very well, and he doesn’t write jokes, but there are very funny moments. … The humor comes out of the truth of the moment—out of identifying with somebody on that stage.

“ … It’s one of those plays that speaks to everybody. If you’re not related to one of these guys, you know them.”

Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for Reach her at or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.