November 13, 2008

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Company, Secret Garden, and Doubt
Two community shows open nearby, plus a professional on the Seacoast

By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Christopher Courage said Stephen Sondheim is one of his favorite composers. “I think he gets contemporary relationships better than any other composer today,” he said.

Courage, who founded the Acting Loft, is back this fall as acting artistic director. The Acting Loft presents Sondheim’s Company opening Friday, Nov. 14.

Company examines the institution of marriage through the character Robert. At 35, he finds all of his friends are married or about to be, and thinks he should be, too. But what Robert sees his friends go through isn’t encouraging. One-act plays by librettist George Furth were the start for Company, which director Harold Prince helped turn into a musical.

Although it has more appeal for adult audiences, the Acting Loft follows it up with a show for all ages, Scrooge. The Acting Loft frequently casts actors from a wide age range in their community productions. “I think adult performers have as much to learn from student performers and vice versa,” Courage said.

Few theater companies in the area give community performers a chance to do Sondheim, Courage said. “He’s very, very difficult.”

The cast is predominantly new, Courage said. “I’ve never seen a more talented group of vocalists,” Courage said. Their education director, Kirstin Kennedy, performs, as well as Jeff Caron, Nathan Barnes, Sue Bechard, Craig McKerley, Deb Doda and Jen Fichera. Jude Bascom directs with musical direction by Meegan Gagnon.

Courage also inherited a major renovation project, which is in the planning stages. Their sprinkler and alarm system has been approved. They are expecting to put together a black box theater to seat between 50 and 150 in their current basement space, and add four classrooms and additional performance space. Upstairs, the former church is planned to become a theater seating more than 600.

“I think the general public doesn’t realize how long it takes,” Courage said about planning a project of this scale. They want to make sure every detail is right, he said. Company is produced with support from William L. Ritchie Jr.

*

Betsy Cox-Buteau performed in The Secret Garden 13 years ago with the now defunct Sandcastle Productions in Concord. Now she’s directing it for the Community Players of Concord. 

“It’s a compelling story. And it’s almost an adult version of the children’s story in many ways,” Cox-Buteau said of the musical. Joel Mercier is the musical director.

“It’s based on a children’s book. And children could certainly go. But it is a very sophisticated show. It’s full of allusion and symbolism ... The music is very complex,” said Douglas Schwarz, who acts in this production.

Playwright Marcia Norman’s version with classical composer Lucy Simon delves into the psychology of what was happening in the original story, Cox-Buteau said. 

Mary Lenox lives with her family in early 1900s colonial India. All but she are wiped out by a cholera epidemic in the first scene and she is sent to live with her only known relative, a reclusive widower uncle in England. His son is a 10-year-old invalid, and Uncle Archibald never got over his wife’s death 10 years previous. 

Ghosts outnumber the “living” characters, Schwarz said. “They drift through the scenes sort of at random. Walls of the house kind of move sort of at random. And it’s all very spooky,” Scwharz said.

“In my direction, the ghosts do not have physical contact with the live people,” until Archibald forgives his wife for dying, Cox-Buteau said. 

*

New Hampshire Theatre Project’s artistic director, Genevieve Aichele, is getting back on stage in a drama for the first time in quite a while. The professional company’s production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable is also the first time she’s playing a serious lead opposite Blair Hundertmark in their 16 years working together. Hundertmark is a producing director for the company. The two have directed each other, and appeared in touring children’s shows.

Aichele portrays an older nun at a 1964 Catholic school who suspects a new priest of abuse in Doubt.

The roles are “completely different from our personalities,” Aichele said. She added that it’s been interesting working with an outside director.

Aichele said she’s been able to “relinquish” her directing and administrative hats, and just be an actor.

Aichele said she was interested both because the play is “so incredibly well-written,” and because she comes from an Irish Catholic family and attended parochial school. She also has friends “who were part of that, who were abused. It’s still a very painful topic for current Catholics,” she said.

“Part of what I enjoy about theater is to bring issues out in public ... so people can discuss them, name them,” she said. Aichele said this play treats the subject with “enormous grace.”

Her aunt is a former nun, and acted as a resource for the production. She was in a convent in her late teens, and left when she was 30, although she still works in the church. She was able to answer simple questions, like whether nuns hug each other, although her order was different than that of Aichele’s character.

Aichele frequently performs either solo or as a storyteller, but rarely in a role like this with her company. “It’s very difficult because it’s a tremendous amount of time,” Aichele said. Besides memorizing lines and rehearsing, there’s emotional preparation for “a serious role that is as deep as this one,” Aichele said. She also studies the background. “You want to immerse yourself in this character and that all takes time,” she said.


If you go
Company, by Stephen Sondheim runs Friday, Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 16, at 2 p.m., at the Acting Loft (516 Pine St. in Manchester). Call 666-5999 or visit www.actingloft.org for tickets, which cost $10.

The Secret Garden, score by Lucy Simon, based on book by Frances Hodges Burnett, is presented by Community Players of Concord, Thursday, Nov. 20 through Saturday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 23, at 2 p.m., at the Concord City Auditorium, at 2 Prince St. in Concord. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 students and seniors; visit www.communityplayersofconcord.org or call 228-2793.

Doubt: A Parable, by John Patrick Shanley, is presented by New Hampshire Theatre Project Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. between Nov. 14 and Nov. 30, at 959 Islington St., Portsmouth. Tickets cost $22 for adults, and $15 for students and seniors. There is a post-show discussion after each Friday performance. Call 431-6644 ext. 5 or see www.nhtheatreproject.org

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