Art News

Actor Luke Sorge Goes Zen as a Playwright During the Pandemic

Luke Sorge and Adrian Egolf in Lungs.
Luke Sorge and Adrian Egolf in Lungs. Matthew Gale
Luke Sorge is best known in the local theater community for his work as an actor. He’s performed with the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, the Denver Center’s Off-Center, Curious Theatre Company and Miners Alley, where he recently appeared in Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs with his wife, Adrian Egolf, in an unforgettable pair of performances — hers passionate, outrageous and funny, his quietly thoughtful while packing a wealth of subdued feeling.

But Sorge is also a writer, and this spring sees the world premiere of two of his plays. Both were originally scheduled for full-stage, in-person productions; both will now be streamed.

Benchmark Theatre committed to Sorge’s National Bohemians a year ago, but given all the uncertainty in the air these days, a firm date for a production has yet to be set. Early in May is the goal, Sorge says.

Zen and the Art of Profit has moved along faster: It will be performed before a limited audience at Miners Alley Playhouse on April 2 and will be available to watch at home a week later.

For Miners artistic director Len Matheo, Sorge’s script was a godsend, in part because he intends to keep the upcoming season as local as possible. Selections include The Treasurer, by Max Posner, who grew up in Denver though he no longer lives here; actor-writer John Ashton’s Before You Go; and Josh Hartwell’s Christmas Carol, which has become a Miners Alley holiday tradition. The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible round out the season. “Starting with the next show after this, we’ll go live,” Matheo says, then sighs. “Unless things go backwards.”

According to Sorge, Zen and the Art of Profit is about a finance executive, a hotshot CEO. “His personal emails leak, and they’re filled with all kinds of horrible stuff — racist, sexist, insults. In an effort to save his job and marriage and to become a better person, he hires a mindfulness coach. The play is just the two of them working together. She gives him techniques, and we end up with surprising power dynamics," he says.

“I’m a believer myself,” Sorge adds. “In fact, the idea for the play came to me while I was meditating. But I am poking fun a little bit about the commodification. Mindfulness is an industry and so commercialized. The play is poking fun at the fact that we try and make money off everything, and that what seems to be the highest indicator of value is ‘Can it be sold?’”

There’s a killer two-person cast for Zen and the Art of Profit: Bill Hahn and Heather Lacy.

“Luke has written a great piece of work,” says Matheo. “And there’s his willingness to workshop and cut and move stuff around. He’s brave enough to lose things, to hear criticism, and he’s a great collaborator.”

Sorge agrees that as a writer, he needs to lose things. He tends to be too wordy, he says: “I really enjoy writing, and at the time I’m thinking, ‘This is the greatest thing ever.’ Then later: ‘This is all crap, and there’s so much of it.’"

Watching Hahn and Lacy work has helped him improve his script. “So many things I’ve expressed in so many words, they can express with just a look or a gesture,” he says.

The project has also reinforced Sorge’s passion for acting. “I haven’t been on stage in a while, and I have been sort of carrying around this thought that all actors do is say the words; they’re the mechanical part of the process," he explains. "Watching Bill and Heather has really reminded me how much actors bring to a script, and how nothing is alive until they embody it."

Especially when they can do so before an audience. “I walked into Miners, and it was so good to be back," Sorge says. "Also to get back in the seats and watch people I love do their thing.”

Still, Sorge admits to being a little disappointed that his debut as a playwright is happening mostly on video. “It’s hard to capture that live theater magic on film," he admits. "But if I’m not totally thrilled by this opportunity, that would be ungrateful. Of all the bad things that came from the shutdown, livestreaming new work is not one of them. It’s an incredible opportunity for many of us.

“I’ve got to work more this year because I’m a writer," he explains. "I have no history as a writer. I haven’t proven myself as a writer in any way. So just to get this opportunity, and the fact that Len and [Benchmark literary manager] Jeff Neuman and Rachel [Rogers, Benchmark co-founder, since departed] wanted to work with me is amazing. Also Bill and Heather. It’s not ideal, but that’s such a tiny part of the gratitude and the opportunity that I have.”

Miners Alley Playhouse is located at 1224 Washington Street in Golden; tickets for the streaming version of
Zen and the Art of Profit will be available starting April 9 through April 26. Tickets will be on a pay-forward system: Pay what you want from up to $50, and the money will go toward the theater, the artists and other patrons’ tickets. Find out more here.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman