Decades of friendship, on stage and off, dramatized in new work at Cherry Creek Theatre

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Billie McBride, left, and Anne Oberbroeckling at rehearsal for “The Heartbeat of the Sun” at the Cherry Creek Theatre.
Courtesy of Melissa Lucero McCarl
Billie McBride, left, and Anne Oberbroeckling at rehearsal for “The Heartbeat of the Sun”, which gets its world premiere from Cherry Creek Theatre, May, 2024.

Cherry Creek Theatre is trying something ambitious. The company has struggled financially, post-COVID, but this weekend it launches the world premiere of local playwright Melissa Lucero McCarl's latest work, "Heartbeat of the Sun." The play is a poignant and witty exploration of the enduring friendship between two women who have spent a lifetime in the theater.

The play stars two fixtures of the Colorado theater scene, Anne Oberbroeckling and Billie McBride, as "B" and "Althea," actresses who have weathered the theater's ups and downs.

"It's a play about a friendship that's been going on for 50 years," Oberbroeckling said. "But I think it's more than just that. It's more of a connection between two women that have forged this friendship for 50 years in addition to the theater."

McBride added, "It's a play about aging and how important friendships are."

“Isn't it wonderful to have two strong, observant, funny, curious, older women as main characters in a play?” posited Oberbroeckling.

To illustrate their maturing relationship, the play includes younger versions of the characters appearing alongside their present-day counterparts.

"It's so brilliantly written," McBride said. "There are two scenes where we blend together, where I may start something, but it's finished by my younger person ... "

Like the friends they play, Oberbroeckling completed her co-star’s thought: “So the audience gets to see kind of where things came from, where maybe some of the connections and the relationships came from.”

McCarl wrote "Heartbeat" specifically for the pair after being impressed by their chemistry in a production of “Ripcord” at Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company in 2016.

Courtesy of Melissa Lucero McCarl
From left to right, playwright Melissa Lucero McCarl, actors Billie McBride and Anne Oberbroeckling and director Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski on the set of “Heartbeat of the Sun”, which premiered in May 2024.

Although McCarl said she has been “dear friends with both Billy and Anne for many, many, many years,” she was freshly inspired by their performances in that show. 

“I remember thinking, wow, these girls have dynamite chemistry. Note to self, you should probably write a play for them at some point.”

McCarl said she finally began developing the work a few years ago at a Sarah Ruhl workshop and took it through a series of public readings. She collaborated closely with director Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski to prepare the show for this premiere. 

"This work has been developed over years with public audiences having given their feedback," McCarl said. "And it's really been built around two artists who can absolutely hold your intense focus for an evening."

Speaking about veteran actors, McCarl said, “They have more wisdom to impart. They have more stories to tell, and I especially wanted to make this my love letter to the theater because those journeyman actors who've spent so many years pounding the pavements to get these parts and to make us all feel something or learn something.”

Cherry Creek Theatre’s production of "The Heartbeat of the Sun" opens on Friday, May 3, and runs for only three weekends at Mizel Arts and Culture Center in Denver.