SIOUX CITY -- Director Sean Serino is demanding more energy from actors Andrea Tostado and Engels Perez during a rehearsal of her play "Rue Royale," on the stage of Morningside College's Klinger-Neal Theatre.
"Remember, Sophie is hearing a loud noise in her apartment," Serino tells Tostado, who is playing the lead role. "Make sure to show Sophie's anxiety."
Serino has a real connection to Sophie, a recent college graduate who is torn between a life in show business and family obligations. Not only is Serino directing "Rue Royale," she also wrote the full-length play.
Plus she considers the show to be semi-autobiographical.
"There are absolutely many similarities between who Sophie is and who Sean is," Serino said. "Sophie is me when I was a younger person."
Set in New Orleans' famous French Quarter, "Rue Royale" will be having its world premiere at 7:30 p.m. May 31 as part of Shot in the Dark Productions' The American Playwright Series.
Featuring a six-person cast, "Rue Royale" will also be performed at 7:30 p.m. June 1 and June 6-8, with 1:30 p.m. matinees slated for June 2 and June 9, at Klinger-Neal Theatre.
According to Shot in the Dark's Adam Gonshorowski, each year a new, limited engagement play from an up-and-coming writer will have its premiere in Sioux City.
"The only common theme is that it must reflect the American experience," he said.
Gonshorowski said he's known Serino, a Los Angeles-based writer, actor and producer, for years.
Originally from New Orleans, Serino studied at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts before receiving her bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
An actress who was featured in producer Jerry Bruckheimer's "Glory Road" as well as the horror movie "The Rage," Serino wrote "Rue Royale" nearly a decade ago.
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"I wrote it as part of a workshop project in 2010," she remembered. "It was then selected to be performed as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival."
The play's Klinger-Neal Theatre engagement will be the first time Serino has directed the show as well as the first time she hasn't played the part of Sophie.
"I am now officially too old to play the part of a recent college graduate," she said with a wry smile. "That's not a bad thing."
Indeed, Serino is happy to put some space between her and Sophie, a girl who reluctantly returns to the Big Easy following the news of her dad's terminal illness.
Moving in with her best friend Sarah as a way to save money, Sophie gets a job as a cocktail waitress at a Crescent City strip club. The once-sheltered and high-strung Sophie quickly spirals into a web of drugs, sex, violence and depression.
Serino said "Rue Royale" offers a character study of a young woman at the crossroads of life. She is still dreaming of a career in the arts while facing the challenges of growing.
This is a lifestyle that Serino knows very well.
Although she considers herself an actor, Serino has been branching out as a writer of several television pilots.
"I love the adrenaline of being up on stage but writing allows me to create new worlds," she said.
So, how is the directing going? According to Serino, it's going the way she thought it would.
"The final week of rehearsal is always crunch time," she said. "In the back of your mind, you are always wondering whether the show will finally come together.
"Eventually, everything just clicks," Serino continued. "Happens each and every time."