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Dulaney: 'We had to discuss those things and go deep': Play aims to help Oklahoma children of inmates


NORMAN — The story of a convict and his dog unfolded on a Norman stage Tuesday as playwright and producer Peter Zhmutski directed actors, moved props and rewrote lines for “Marvin’s Shining Star,” a teleplay aimed at helping children of incarcerated parents.

Filming of the play wraps up this week and once production is finished, creators hope to distribute it throughout Oklahoma schools, along with the script, set design instructions, and follow-up questions for students so they can produce the play locally.

Zhmutski wrote the play with his 10-year-old daughter, Julia. In doing so, he learned about many of the problems kids face in school as he and Julia talked about what her classmates deal with and how they cope.

“We had to discuss those things and go deep,” Zhmutski during a production break at the Nancy O’Brian Center for the Performing Arts. “It opened my eyes to a lot of things, which only solidified my purpose in this.”

The play is based on a 2014 children’s book written by Norman veterinarian John Otto and his son, Payton. “Marvin’s Shining Star” is about an inmate at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, and Star, the dog he worked with as part of the prison’s dog training program.

Otto and the nonprofit Friends for Folks bring the programs to inmates at Oklahoma prisons. He conceptualized the stage version of “Marvin’s Shining Star.”

“Incarceration is a widespread affliction in our state and across the country,” Otto said. “The solution is not to build more prisons on the back end. It is to address the problem on the front end by reaching the children.”

Along with Zhmutski and daughter Julia, Otto collaborated on the teleplay with Tony award-winner Max Weitzenhoffer, Oscar winner Gray Frederickson and renowned magician Rob Lake.

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