October 4, 2007

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Active in the community
Theater groups stage a thriller and two family dramas
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Community theater is going strong in southern New Hampshire this fall. Here are previews of three plays currently showing in the area — one suspenseful, one musical, one historical.

Wait Until Dark will scare you in Nashua
The Wait Until Dark cast had some “heavy lifting” to do to produce this thriller for Nashua Theatre Guild, said director Dan Barth. Rachel Scott plays Suzy, recently blinded in an accident. A strange woman leaves a doll with Suzy’s husband, Sam, at an airport. It’s filled with heroin. Two con men are sent to Suzy’s apartment, posing as her husband’s friend and a police officer, to try to get the doll.

“Things take a lot of awkward and surprising turns ... it gets rather terrifying in some places,” Barth said.

The cast spent a morning at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass., to learn about the experiences of blind people and of those who assist the blind: “They were extremely gracious to us,” Barth said.

The play by Frederick Knott was adapted as a film with Audrey Hepburn in 1967. The story is mainly the same with some dialogue differences. NTG is planning to keep the setting in the late 1960s or early 1970s because much of the storyline depends on a phone booth.

Suzy and Sam have only known each other for about a year and Suzy is adjusting to married life.

“There’s lots of different angles for the two actors to take around that,” Barth said.

Barth’s daughter Katherine, 12, is playing Gloria, a girl who lives upstairs and periodically helps out Suzy but can also be a hindrance to her.

“I’m very proud of her,” Barth said. The role was for a 9-year-old but he didn’t want such a young actor involved because NTG has tried to increase the tension in the show. “What Alan Arkin did in the film worked back then. Our version of a bad guy is different now,” Barth said.

“We never cross a gratuitous line,” he said. However, junior high students with adult supervision is the youngest audience for whom he would recommend the show. Fans of the suspense genre will appreciate NTG’s ending, which is “pretty terrifying,” he said.

Scott recently appeared as Ado Annie in Actorsingers’ production of Oklahoma. Barth was in that show, directed the thriller Deathtrap for NTG last year, and worked with Mayhem and Murder, the Majestic Theatre and Rochester Opera House, among others. Christopher Connell plays the villain Roat. Rich Hurley and Mike Wood play the con men. Rudy Borkowski plays Sam, and Joe Pelonzi also appears.

Segways replace camels in MCTP’s Dreamcoat
“The story of Joseph is really the story of a dysfunctional family,” Dr. Alan D. Kaplan said. Manchester Community Theatre Players is producing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, their third show with a Bibilical theme, after Children of Eden and Fiddler on the Roof. Those shows were both successful, and the themes fit with the company’s host stage at the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire. Also, Kaplan explained, MCTP programs have educational components. For these shows, “they are taking themes from Biblical times and relating them to current events.”

Jacob gives Joseph a multicolored coat so people will know he is the favorite of Jacob’s 12 sons in the Genesis story on which the musical Joseph is based. Joseph’s brothers sell him as a slave to an Egyptian pyramid builder, and he eventually serves Pharaoh before reuniting with his family.

Families dealing with frustration, stress and anger, and relationships in a Biblical story, can be related today’s families, Kaplan said.

While MCTP does about six shows per year, only one this season has a theme that resonates with the Jewish Federation, Kaplan said.

The cast of 54 includes about 18 youth from kindergarten ages to an 84-year-old.

“It’s a great dynamic,” Kaplan said of the multi-generational cast. Charlie Sherman of WGIR 610 AM plays Jacob one weekend.

Kaplan has performed in the show three times, but this is his first time directing it. Marc Murai plays Joseph; Mary Reilly is the narrator. Music direction is by Joseph Rojek, and choreography by Michael Zingarelli. The upbeat show has several big production numbers with varied styles from hoe-down to calypso to ‘50s rock.

MCTP has been working on outfitting the Jewish Federation stage with appropriate stage equipment. They’ll be using lots of multicolored lighting in keeping with the theme of the coat. For Children of Eden, they created a plexiglass stage extension that could be lit from below. For Joseph, they’ve created a plexiglass ramp. Rather than camels, they are using three Segways.

Originally, Joseph was written as short piece for a school in England in 1967. It was so successful with the students that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice turned it into a full-length Broadway show — their first collaboration.

Kaplan is also directing the Diary of Anne Frank for Music and Drama Company. The MCTP artistic director says he fits his thespian duties between stints and catheters.

“As long as they’re willing to schedule their heart attack, it’s not a problem at all. Just teasing,” he said.

Medieval melodrama comes to Bedford
Fast forward from Genesis to the twelfth century for the story of a different famous dysfunctional family. Amy Freidman is directing The Lion in Winter, by award-winning scriptwriter James Goldman, for Bedford Off Broadway.

“I think in this day and age it would be called a dark comedy,” Friedman said. She’s a fan of Goldman’s “fast-paced, cutting” dialogue. Goldman’s screenplay version is the 1968 film with Katherine Hepburn.

The Lion in Winter is set in the Christmas court of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her husband, England’s King Henry, yet the play uses modern American speech.

“It’s about two people who love each other very much but can’t live with each other,” Friedman said.

The complex history behind Goldman’s story is that Eleanor, the richest woman in Europe and the Queen of France, met Henry, an English duke, when he was 18 and she was 29, Friedman said. Eleanor annulled her marriage to King Louis. Three years later, Henry became the king of England. Louis married again, their daughter was sent to England to marry the heir to the English throne. However, Henry fell in love with her and made her his mistress. Meanwhile, Eleanor had led rebellions with her sons against Henry, so he locked her in a tower for ten years. He had let her out for Christmas when the play begins. Tradition dictated that the heir was chosen by the king, rather than by birth order. Hence, everyone is manipulating each other and making power plays, Friedman said.

One of Friedman’s favorite lines comes after Henry and Eleanor have just “skewered each other to the wall” with insults and Henry storms out: “Well, every family has its ups and downs,” Eleanor says.

Bedford Off Broadway is using period costumes but a very minimal set, to keep focus on the dialogue.

“The words are what’s important here,” Friedman said.

“I love this play. It’s one of my favorite plays of all time,” Friedman said. She put it on 13 years ago in New Hampshire and the amount of talent available seems to have grown since then, she said. Two of the actors studied the craft in college. Still, one actor is back from her first run, playing a grown son now, who played a younger son 13 years ago.

Gail Angellis plays Eleanor, Larry Lickteig plays Henry. The cast also includes Joe Lanza, Peter Mcleod-Warrick, Dan Merriman, Beau Fisher and Sarah Mcleod-Warrick.


On stage
Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott is presented by Nashua Theatre Guild at 14 Court St. Theater in Nashua Oct. 11, 12 and 13 at 8 p.m. and at 2 p.m. Oct. 13 and 14. Tickets cost $13. Call 320-2530 or visit nashuatheatreguild.org. A dollar from each ticket price will be donated to the 14 Court Street Restoration Fund, headed by nonprofit Friends of Court Street Theatre (courtstreettheatre.org). 

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat presented by Manchester Community Players at the Jewish Federation Theatre, 698 Beech St. in Manchester on Thursday, Oct. 11, and Saturdays, Oct. 11 and 20, at 7:30 p.m. as well as Sundays, Oct. 14 and 21, at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $10 to $20. Call 627-7679.

The Lion In Winter by James Goldman is presented by Bedford Off Broadway Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 13 though Oct. 20, at 8 p.m. at Bedford Old Town Hall on Meetinghouse Road, bedfordoffbroadway.com. Tickets cost $10..