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RACINE — Before the opening curtain raises on “The Tin Woman” at the Racine Theatre Guild, the cast and crew took time to learn a little more about the subject matter.

And that helped bring it all home – in a very real way.

“The Tin Woman,” directed by Douglas Instenes, opens Friday night at RTG, 2519 Northwestern Ave., and runs through Sunday, March 12.

The Tin Woman

Based on a true story, the production centers on Joy, who received a heart transplant that was supposed to lead to a fresh start, but she instead found herself in a downward spiral.

Plagued with guilt and uncertainty about her second chance, Joy wonders if she’ll ever be able to move forward. Meanwhile, Alice and Hank are mourning the loss of their son, Jack, whose heart was used to save Joy.

When Joy decides to meet Jack’s family to find closure, their grief transforms as they finally face having to accept his death.

The Tin Woman
Joy (Katie Gleason) is skeptical of the hospital food her nurse (Raquel Wright) tries to make her eat. – Credit: Michael Steinbach / Bach Photography

The cast features Katie Gleason as Joy, Kevin Hlavka as Hank, Mona Lewis as Alice, Isabella Bullock as Sammy, Raquel Wright as Nurse/Darla and Philip Evreniadis as Jack.

Instenes said “The Tin Woman” addresses difficult issues on several different levels.

The Tin Woman
Alice (Mona Lewis) is frustrated and angry with her husband Hank’s (Kevin Hlavka) lack of empathy through their son’s passing. – Credit: Michael Steinbach / Bach Photography

“First, I find the subject of organ donation fascinating,” he said. “I think the public has a general idea of what the process is, but this play has really given me and the cast and crew a greater appreciation of what can really be described as a miracle, how one person can give the gift of life to so many others.

“Just the logistics of starting with signing a donor card, to someone being put on a donor list, to the organization and doctors that coordinate the donation, to the complex feelings of both the donor and recipient’s families. There are so many things to explore in this production.”

Making it real

Where real life comes in is the involvement of Frank Sterbin, the play’s sponsor and a heart recipient himself.

The Tin Woman
Alice (Mona Lewis) reads a letter Joy (Katie Gleason) wrote about receiving her son Jack’s heart. – Credit: Michael Steinbach / Bach Photography

“Frank came to our first rehearsal and told his story,” Instenes said in an email interview. “It really made what we are doing so much more important. The first thing that was said to me was, ‘Thank you for doing this play, you are going to save lives.’ No one said that to me when I directed ‘The Little Mermaid.’

The Tin Woman
Hank (Kevin Hlavka) tries to make sense of his son’s death. – Credit: Michael Steinbach / Bach Photography

“We all try to make a difference in the lives of others in our own way. Being a part of this production really has made us all feel that we are making a difference. Many people involved with this production have dealt with the loss of a loved one.”

The Tin Woman
Alice (Mona Lewis) calms her daughter Sammy’s (Isabella Bullock) grief as best she can. – Credit: Michael Steinbach / Bach Photography

Sterbin, with the support of Versiti Organ and Tissue and Donate Life Wisconsin, will provide information and advocate for organ, tissue and eye donation, as well as participate in “talkbacks” following select performances.

Those talkback sessions will be Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 4, and Sunday, March 12, both at 2 p.m.

Written by Sean Grennan, “The Tin Woman” performances are set for Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. On Saturday, March 4 and 11, show time is 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors 62 and older and $13 for students 21 and younger.

There also are value-night performances on Sunday, March 5, and Thursday, March 9, at 7 p.m. with tickets available at a discounted rate. Further savings are offered to groups of 12 or more.

Tickets are available at the Guild:

The Tin Woman
Alice (Mona Lewis) calms her daughter Sammy’s (Isabella Bullock) grief as best she can. – Credit: Michael Steinbach / Bach Photography

Final thought

Instenes said there’s one word he would like the audience to remember after they see “The Tin Woman,” hope.

“There is a line in the play that says, ‘I am going to find something good in all of this,’” Instenes said. “And that is what the audience is left with, hope. That something so tragic can turn into something positive.”

The Tin Woman
Darla (center, Raquel Wright) shares a laugh with Jack (Philip Evreniadis) and Joy (Katie Gleason). – Credit: Michael Steinbach / Bach Photography

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