Act II Scene I

Last year, I started attending theater performances on a somewhat regular basis.  I became a subscriber to the local Repertory theater.  As a child, I can recall taking only two field-trips in school to see Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and then in High School we saw the Will Rogers Follies at the Fireside Dinner Theater.  These days, I always see school buses in front of the Performing Arts Center, and that’s great considering so many arts programs are threatened to be cut from school curriculum.

I saw my largest production to date, which was a play called Ragtime and the smallest production ever, which was a one woman play called The Belle of Amherst.  Both performances were amazing on different levels.  (I won’t describe the entire plot and details of each of the plays I mention here) Ragtime had great revolving and moving sets, with a large cast, music so good that I bought the CD.  Most of the musical numbers had multi cast members participating.   Conversely, The Belle of Amherst had one set, no costume changes or music.  What amazed me was the amount of dialogue the actress had to memorize.  The play is about Emily Dickinson and how she had become very anti-social.

Jenny Wanasek portrays Emily Dickinson in Renaissance Theaterworks’ “The Belle of Amherst.” Photo by Ross Zentner jsonline.com

I have to tell you that I found the The Belle of Amherst by accident as it was not at the Repertory Theater, but at the Renaissance Theater Works.  The mailroom is located in my department at work.  So many times, dead-letter items end up in my mail box with my name scrawlled across the top.  I found a newsletter with just such a fate one day.  I think because there was a boat on it, it was directed to me.  I was looking through the pamphlet and came across people who had donated money and to what.  Browsing the names I came across a company who donated to this play.  I had wanted to see what it was, not because I am a big fan of Emily Dickinson, but because I knew that during his lifetime Charles Nelson Reilly had spent a lot of time working on the production in the 70’s.  I truly enjoyed it. 

Probably the most interesting play I have attended was in 2005 at the Legendary Ford’s Theater in Washington DC.  (The same place that President Lincoln was assassinated in.)  It was called Big River about Huckleberry Finn.  What was different was that the man who played Huck Finn was deaf and the entire time on stage he had another actor doing the speaking while he signed his lines.  It didn’t take long before you didn’t even notice the actor’s shadow.  

Then last month, I attended my first interactive play where the audience had played a part in the outcome of the show.  It was called Shear Madness and stared my favorite, local actor/comedian John McGivern.  The play takes place in a hair salon where everyone is a murder suspect.  It was so funny and contained a lot of local references and current event shout outs.  And oddly enough the woman from The Belle of Amherst was also in this play.  The problem I have with theater productions is that I’m so used to TV that I wish and wish I could watch these plays over and over again.  I can’t take them in enough, trying to memorize everything so I won’t forget it.  

Shear Madness starring John McGivern

 

Recently, folk singer Arlo Guthrie was talking about the brief period that he acted in a TV show called the Birds of Paradise, and how much enjoyed acting and getting to become someone else for the better part of a year.  I’m sure  that’s quite true, but never worked for me. 

When I was in Kindergarten, my teacher asked me if I wanted to play the smallest of the 3 Billy Goats Gruff.  I was too nervous and shy, but she asked anyway.  I’m sure now, in a gesture to get me to come out of my shell.  Then later on in my Senior year of High School, I did take the staring role in (drum roll) Grune Eier un Schinken (Green Eggs and Ham).  Ich bin Sam. Sam bin ich.  I was Sam I Am.  Our German language class was competing in the State Capitol and that was the play that was chosen.  Here, Frau Baeger thought I would be best because I could memorize the lines and had a good grasp of the language.  What I didn’t have was stage presence.  We did not win.  So I was not bit by the acting bug that way, but it did intrigue me from a spectator standpoint.

 

I started reminiscing about the plays I mentioned because of their uniqueness, but there were many more last year that I enjoyed and also called my favorites (Noises Off and The Whipping Man.)   Now, I have to sit and contemplate the play I just attended; Harvey.  I had not seen the Jimmy Stewart movie before the play so I didn’t have anything to compare it to.  Another hit production in my book.  I hope the lead actor, Jonathan Gillard Daly gets to keep the portrait painted for the play of he and Harvey. 

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