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Mirrorbox is staging 'The Parking Lot' in a Cedar Rapids parking lot

Terry (Scot Hughes) and J (Marcia Hughes) put their marriage on a trial of sorts in an unlikely spot: a parking lot. A t
Terry (Scot Hughes) and J (Marcia Hughes) put their marriage on a trial of sorts in an unlikely spot: a parking lot. A the title suggests, Adam Szymkowicz’s new play, “The Parking Lot,” will be performed Friday to Sept. 26 in the parking lot behind CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids’ NewBo District. Audience members will watch from their vehicles in this Mirrorbox Theatre drive-in show. (Mirrorbox Theatre)

A play born in the pandemic is presenting Mirrorbox Theatre with the chance to bring drive-in theater to Cedar Rapids.

As in plays, not movies.

Mirrorbox, helmed by Cavan Hallman, 41, of Cedar Rapids, is one of the first theaters in the county to present “The Parking Lot.” And as the title suggests, it will be staged in the parking lot behind CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, from Friday to Sept. 26.

The setup will accommodate 22 vehicles. Audiences will park in designated spots, crack their windows a maximum of three inches, and watch from inside their vehicles — although parties who arrive in a pickup will be able to sit in the bed. The sound will be broadcast over an open FM frequency, announced each night on a placard.

While the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t mentioned in the script, playwright Adam Szymkowicz has crafted a show well-suited for the pandemic, director Hallman said. And since it’s designed to star a married couple, actors Scot and Marcia Hughes of Cedar Rapids also were well-suited to step into the roles of Terry and J, respectively, a longtime couple examining their marriage and the possibility of divorce.

“The play is told in 20 scenes from the entirety of J and Terry’s marriage, and many of those scenes — and many of the formative scenes of their relationship — take place in parking lots,” Hallman said. “So that’s one of the reasons why the play takes place in a parking lot. And then, just in terms of what’s possible (for) safe performance right now, I think it all unites thematically.”

“The way the characters are looking at their relationship, and at life in general, it’s kind of colored over with what it’s been for months,” Scot Hughes said. “(The pandemic) is almost like a third character hanging over the story. Even though it’s not directly involved, that feeling is there.”

“The pandemic and our current situation really (creates) a very palpable ennui that is kind of suffused through the whole story,” Hallman added.

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The play calls for casting a couple who live together, which makes sense during the pandemic, Hallman noted. Since the actors will be in close proximity and will be kissing, it’s important for safety’s sake to have people who have been exposed to each other already.

Cast, crew and ushers will be taking extra precautions during rehearsals and performances, by wearing personal protective equipment, having temperatures taken and cleaning props and surfaces that are touched. The actors won’t be wearing PPE during the shows, however.

The play will run about 70 minutes, with no intermission. Audience members won’t be allowed to leave their vehicles, and the restrooms inside CSPS will not be available for use.

Art may imitate life, but Scot, 56, and Marcia, 58, who have played couples before, have never contemplated divorce. Still, they can relate to certain aspects of this show, and rehearsals have opened up conversations for them.

“There’s different lines throughout this (play) that very much seem like one or the other of us, but oftentimes it’s the opposite person,” Marcia Hughes said. “In other words, Terry will have a line that actually sounds like something Marcia would say or I have some that sound like something Scot would say. There’s a few things that sound like each of us, too, so you can still find some of yourself in there.

“For me, it’s been an interesting, unexpected reflection on our own relationship to rehearse it,” she said. Scot laughed when she likened their rehearsals to “marriage counseling sessions — but in a good way, because I’ve really appreciated that,” she added.

“It’s been a good reminder of the importance of not taking your partner for granted and appreciating them for who they are and why you fell in love with them in the first place,” she said. “And this examines some of that. It has some really, really wonderfully beautiful, touching moments and some delightful humor, too, that’s a lot of fun.

“When Cavan first sent the script and asked if we’d be interested in doing it, I read the script right away, and I just loved it,” Scot Hughes said. “It’s a great script. It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s well-written, it sounds real. It’s really, really true.”

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“It really reads like a couple,” Marcia Hughes added. “I think because we’re a couple who’s been married 32 years, we’d know if it was phony.”

In real life, Scot and Marcia Hughes met playing a couple in “On Golden Pond” for Ottumwa’s community theater in 1987. They eventually married, and have played couples in a segment of “Plaza Suite” in Ottumwa and in a May virtual production of “Couples” for Giving Tree Theater in Marion.

They’ve also shared the stage in “Gypsy” for City Circle in Coralville and “Annie” and “Shakespeare in Love” at Theatre Cedar Rapids. They can do more shows together now that their son and daughter are grown up and making their own way in the world. The couple in “The Parking Lot” don’t have children, so that’s a big difference between Terry and J and Scot and Marcia, who not only are parents, but grandparents.

“They aren’t us, but they are very real to the age group that we are,” Marcia Hughes said. “You can relate to it. They’re comfortable to put on, but they’re definitely not us.”

Moving past the common ground into the unknown is all part of the process of creating characters.

“One of the interesting things that we find ourselves exploring is, as with any theatrical piece, you’re working with the performers to find the truth that resonates from within them,” Hallman said.

“But here we’re trying to find that balance between plumbing what the performers are bringing to it, but also really making sure that we’re not we’re not relying on some crutch of just playing ourselves. I think it’s really fun to explore those edges, and I’ve just been so pleased with what Marcia and Scot have brought to it so far.”

At a Glance

• What: Mirrorbox Theatre presents: “The Parking Lot”

• Where: Staged in the parking lot behind CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids; audience members will watch from their vehicles, with audio accessed over an open FM frequency to be announced

• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Sept. 23, 24, 26; no intermission

• Tickets: $40 per vehicle, in advance; Mirrorboxtheatre.com/

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• Safety: Viewers must remain inside their vehicles at all times, with windows open no more than 3 inches, except for those sitting in the back of a pickup; engines may remain on to use heating or cooling systems; CSPS bathrooms will not be available

• Details: Mirrorboxtheatre.com/the-parking-lot/

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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