December 3, 2009

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Drama and a bunny
Ghostlight has new work by a new playwright; Nashua Theatre Guild has an imaginary rabbit
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Creative collaboration
John Kneeland has a play.

And it sounds like it’s become a real collaboration between creative friends, a community company that likes experimenting, and its cast and director.

The 2007 UMass-Lowell graduate studied mainly prose and fiction, but always had an interest in writing dialogue. Kneeland got a “real job” when he graduated, but decided to try to get back into writing and acting — and started waiting tables.

When his friend Peter Saati, a Ghostlight Theatre Co. board member, mentioned Ghostlight was looking for original work, Kneeland put together a 45-page rough draft in about four days. Saati read it and asked Kneeland to send it to Ghostlight artistic director John Sefel, who said, “Let’s do this,” Kneeland recounted.

Kneeland, one of three Irish-American brothers, originally started writing a play about three Irish brothers in Massachusetts who have lost their father. They go to his favorite watering hole and talk about good impressions he left, and “some of their father’s demons they’re kind of struggling with now,” Kneeland said.

But 3.Wise.Men. became an account of an oldest son who realizes it’s up to him to take care of his family after his father dies. His mother is diagnosed with cancer soon after. The story picks up later, while Mike is struggling “to keep his family together while dealing with people from his past who are trying to get him back into the wrong lifestyle,” Kneeland said.

“It’s right up Ghostlight’s ally in terms of the grittiness of it,” Kneeland said.

Ghostlight staged Psycho Beach Party in November in Concord, and Eric Bogosian’s subUrbia in the summer in Milford. The community company is currently partnered with Chester College of New England.

Originally called The Clover after the bar central to its story, the play got a new title after an assignment from Ghostlight. Because of where the show ended up in Ghostlight’s season, Sefel asked Kneeland if he could add something holiday-related, even just a line mentioning snow outside, Kneeland said.

Kneeland started thinking about the themes of Christmas and those of his play. He pondered the three brothers, their “untraditional wisdom” and “ineptitude and failure in succeeding in what they’re trying to do,” Kneeland said.

“A lot of interesting themes came out,” and Kneeland came up with A Christmas Carol kind of vibe, he said. People from Mike’s past “shed some wisdom on how he’s been living his life,” Kneeland said.

Of his second draft, Kneeland said sometimes the most unexpected things are the most rewarding.

But the work doesn’t end there.

Director Bob Haas is open to the cast members’ input on the characters. “John [Sefel] was very adamant about getting someone that would be very conscious of the collaborative aspects of theater,” Kneeland said.

Kneeland thinks the actors like being able to “pick the brain of the playwright” at rehearsals where he’s focused on learning what works and what doesn’t. Kneeland said he feels lucky to get this cast, which includes Saati, Dylan Gamblin and Mike Zuccola. 

From improv to imaginary animals
Mary Chase wanted to address issues including alcoholism and mental illness in the mid-1940s with her play, Harvey. Still, it’s a feel-good kind of play with comic moments, said Kim Cassetta. She’s co-directing Harvey with Larry Pizza for Nashua Theatre Guild, which is in its 49th season.

“The main character has an imaginary bunny that’s six and a half feet tall — that lends itself to some very humorous moments,” Cassetta said. The rabbit is a “Pooka,” which is supposed to be a “Celtic manifestation of a mischievous creature,” Cassetta said.

Some of the cast members, including Mark Morrison as Elwood, worked with Cassetta and Pizza when they directed Lend Me a Tenor for NTG. Some are also members of Theatre Sports, an improv series Cassetta and Pizza started running at the Adams Memorial Opera House in Derry this fall.

Switching from improv back to theater wasn’t an issue, though. “In fact, they like having lines,” she said. (The next Theatre Sports installment is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 19, in Derry. Visit www.derryarts.org or call 437-0505.)

Judy Mitchell, Rich Alcott, Craig Ciampa, Jason Crowell, Carly Jo Geer, Mary Golding, Glen Grimard, Michael Harrington, Sheila Melanson and Sheryl Norton also perform in Harvey.


If you go
What: 3.Wise.Men., by John Kneeland, presented by Ghostlight Theatre, Co.
When: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., from Dec. 3 through Dec. 12. Doors open at 7 p.m., and there’s bar service.
Where: The Lafayette Club, 465 Fletcher St., Lowell, Mass.
Tickets: $12 and $15
Contact: www.gltne.org

If you go
What: Harvey, by Mary Chase, presented by Nashua Theatre Guild
When: Thursday, Dec. 3, and Friday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 5, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 6, at 2 p.m.
Where: Janice Streeter Theater, 14 Court St., Nashua
Tickets: $12
Contact: www.nashuatheatreguild.org, 320-2530

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