June 19, 2008

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Summer stock
Vacation area theaters bring pros and almost-pros to New Hampshire
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Since the 1930s, summer stock theaters have run in the north and western areas of New Hampshire. There’s a variety of professional productions to see if you are willing to make the drive. Most pull in actors from New York or elsewhere around the country, and many boast alumni who made it to Broadway, film or TV.

To the north
One of the most interesting-looking evenings is that offered by the relatively new Shakespeare in the Valley company. They produce their shows outdoors in Waterville Valley and promise to convert those most wary of the Bard’s plays.

“We really are a lean, mean Shakespeare machine … dedicated to putting the shake back in Shakespeare,” said founder Donna Devlin.

You can bring a picnic and beverages to nosh on the lawn when the outdoor theater opens at 5:30 p.m. A “green show” starts at 6 p.m. — a traditional warm-up in Shakespeare’s time, Devlin said. At SITV, that’s a half-hour performance from their apprentices. The main show follows, which has been cut down to about an hour and a half. If there’s rain, the productions move to the adjacent indoor stage.

The company’s 2008 season is called the “Battle of the Sexes Summer.” The Taming of the Shrew will run in repertory with The Tamer Tamed, which was written by John Fletcher about 20 years after Shrew. Fletcher was the Bard’s protégée and wrote the play as an answer to Shrew. It’s the men who are in trouble in The Tamer Tamed. Widower Petruchio’s new wife Maria decides to withhold relations until Petruchio changes his domineering ways. And other women follow suit in support.

Devlin said the reason they can shorten the plays so much is that “there’s a lot of fat” in Shakespeare. He put in lots of repetition because his rowdy audiences weren’t paying attention, she said. Audiences are more civilized now, but SITV tries to bring back that 1500s feel, by using natural light as much as possible, minimal sets and props, and if an actor directs a question to the lawn, he expects an answer back.

Meanwhile, author John Reed is previewing his first play, All the World’s a Grave, at SITV Thursday, Aug. 21, before presenting the premier in a New York City graveyard, Aug. 30 through Aug. 31. Reed didn’t actually write it. He pulled from famous Shakespearean tragedies to create a “new narrative structure,” Devlin said.

Bath Spa University from Bath, England, is sending its Full Tilt Theatre Company for its American debut Aug. 19 and 20 hosted by SITV. Full Tilt’s interactive production of The Comedy of Errors features Royal Shakespeare Company alums as well as theater students. Audience members will be assigned new identities when they arrive — the setting is a resort, where guests will participate in resort activities until the play starts up around them (www.fulltilt-theatre.com).

Shakespeare in the Valley is at the Theatre Under the Stars off Valley Road/Route 49 in Waterville Valley. Shows run Thursdays through Saturdays, at 6 p.m., from July 24 through Aug. 23. See www.shakespeareinthevalley.com or call 726-0098. Tickets cost $10 to $20. Get a $5 discount toward gas if you travel more than 40 miles for the show.

Repertory in range
Summer stock at The Weathervane Theatre in Whitefield brings a Steve Martin play, Rent and the mother of modern musicals to alternate nightly for eight weeks. The Weathervane hires Equity actors and also uses interns to fill the casts. Babes in Arms by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart includes “My Funny Valentine” and “The Lady Is a Tramp” and runs in July. All the Great Books [abridged] is from the guys who created The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Motor City Revue is a night of Detroit sound created by Weathervane. Oklahoma!, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, is in rep, along with 1990s favorite Rent and off-Broadway 1990s success Violet, by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley. Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile is also on the full schedule.

Weathervane is on Route 3 in Whitefield. Ticket costs range from $23 to $28; see www.weathervanetheatre.org or call 837-9322.

Tradition with a dash of the contemporary
The Peterborough Players and Barnstormers are both more than 70 years old. Winnipesaukee Playhouse is only five years old, but the three all produce a variety from classics to contemporary titles, farces to thrillers — and heavy on the straight plays.

The Barnstormers at 100 Main St. in Tamworth is headed by Robert Shea, who is known in Manchester from the Dana Center at Saint Anselm College. They open with Babes In Arms (July 8 through July 12), followed by a World War II romance, And a Nightingale Sang (July 15 to 19); Noel Coward’s comic Blithe Spirit (July 22 through July 26); Toad of Toad Hall (July 29 through Aug. 2); Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder (Aug. 5 through Aug. 9); Driving Miss Daisy (Aug. 12 through Aug. 16); Dracula (Aug. 19 through Aug. 23) and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (Aug. 26 through Aug. 30).

Ticket costs range from $15 to $28; call 323-8500 or see www.barnstormerstheatre.org.

Peterborough Players have enjoyed the participation of James Whitmore on their stage for about 50 summers. He returns to play the Stage Manager in Our Town by Thornton Wilder (Wilder frequently stayed at the nearby MacDowell Colony), a role which Whitmore also played at Peterborough in 2000. Our Town runs from Aug. 13 through Aug. 31.

There’s also Thomas Lysaght’s Nobody Don’t Like Yogi (through June 29); a comedy set in an Irish village, called Stones in His Pockets, by Marie Jones (July 2 through July 13); Noel Coward’s Private Lives (July 16 through July 27); Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (July 30 through Aug. 10); and Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley (Sept. 3 through Sept. 14). The season closes with William Luce’s The Belle of Amherst (Sept. 17 through Sept. 28).

Ticket costs range up to $40. Call 924-7585 or see www.peterboroughplayers.org. Peterborough Players are at 55 Hadley Road in Peterborough.

Theophilus North, another Thornton Wilder piece, is a New Hampshire premiere at Winnipesaukee Playhouse running from July 9 through July 19. Set in 1926 Newport, R.I., this adaptation of Wilder’s last novel is a somewhat “lighter version” of Our Town, said executive director Bryan Halperin. It conveys the same message, he said.

Bernard Slade’s comedy Same Time, Next Year (June 25 through July 5) starts the season, and the summer thriller is Cliffhanger, by James Yaffee (July 23 through Aug. 2), followed by John Cariani’s romantic comedy Almost, Maine (Aug. 6 through Aug. 16). The Playhouse closes with Tennessee Williams’ classic drama, The Glass Menagerie (Aug. 20 through Aug. 30).

Winnipesaukee Playhouse is at Alpenrose Plaza in Weirs Beach, Laconia. Ticket costs range from $17 to $19. See www.winniplayhouse.com or call 366-7377.

For the kids: If you are vacationing near these theaters with youngsters, check the theaters’ schedules — most offer daytime children’s performances, a good option for rainy days.


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Wake up to ‘night Mother