The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 9, 2001


Backstage with the Savoyards' production of Kiss Me Kate

The two leads are not getting along backstage. This is no big surprise, considering the messy divorce from which neither has fully recovered. He blames the breakup on her temper. She cites his ego. What neither will admit is that they are still secretly in love, but too stubborn to admit it.

This is not the end of the backstage problems. Another female lead is in trouble with her boyfriend, a dancer in the show, because she tends to be a bit too familiar with her fellow men, if you catch my drift. Not that her boyfriend is any prize either, considering the fact that he's a gambling addict who has fallen deeply into debt. Things get even more interesting when gun-toting gangsters show up backstage and demand payment.

Thus begins the "backstage" portion of Cole Porter's musical Kiss Me Kate, which begins its two-weekend run tonight, performed by Carlisle's Savoyard Light Opera Company in Corey Auditorium at the Carlisle School. The fictitious backstage features a 1940s-era troupe of entertainers as they struggle to mount a musical version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Inevitably, backstage tensions overflow on-stage and further the Shakespearean plot, for an entertaining show-within-a-show.

Real-life backstge

The real-life backstage the one comprised of members of the Savoyard Light Opera Company (SLOC), is decidedly different from the one depicted in the musical. I write with authority on the subject of backstage drama because I am myself in the cast of Kiss Me Kate, as a proud member of the women's ensemble and in the small role of the Haberdasher.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), there is precious little behind-the-scenes gossip to report. Although there are a few romances simmering among cast membersmore on this laterI'm not aware of any jealous grudges or demanding divas on the set. The truth is, the real-life backstage of Kiss Me Kate tends to be a happy place.

"We have fun," says director Sharon Bisantz. "We do a lot of eating. We work very hard, then we play hard."

Regressing to junior high

Cast and crew members range in age from high school students to senior citizens and hail from about 30 different towns, but on-stage, these differences blur. We're just a group of people who share a love of musical theater and have come together for a common goal. In fact, there are times during rehearsal when we seem to regress collectively into being junior high students. We crack juvenile jokes and laugh a lot. We make noise when we're supposed to be quiet. Occasionally (not often), Bisantz has to remind us to behave. And there are admittedly times while trying to learn a new dance step that some of us (myself included) feel as gangly and awkward as a pre-teen after a sudden growth spurt.

Fortunately, Sharon allows us our second adolescence and still is able to encourage stellar performances, led by two seasoned local professionals. Craig Howard of Bedford (Fred/Petruchio), and Donna DeWitt of Chelmsford (Lilli/Kate) play clashing divorcees on stage, but are actually old friends who have known each other for over a decade. The two met during a SLOC production in 1991 and since then have appeared together in numerous other area productions. Both agree that their long friendship has helped them feel more comfortable playing opposite one another in their current, demanding roles.

"We both have unsaid permission to do whatever is required for these parts," says Howard. This includes DeWitt slapping Howard repeatedly across the face and Howard taking DeWitt over his knee for an on-stage paddling. Luckily, "we joke around constantly," Howard adds. "The humor really comes out."

Meanwhile, the impressive secondary leads, Johanna Peri of Newton (Lois/ Bianca) and Chris Mack of Dedham (Bill/ Lucentio) can relate to their Kiss Me Kate characters but only to a point. Peri and her character have their love of performing in common, and she even admits that "I like to flirt with guys, but I'm not true to about a thousand men like Bianca is." (Listen to her song "Always True to You In My Fashion" and you'll know what she means.)

Mack can relate to his character in that "he's kind of outgoing, and he's a dancerbut the gambling thing is definitely not like me. I like to take risks on stage, but that's the closest I get."

Backstage liaisons

Now, about those steamy backstage romances. The character of Hattie for example, has been seen in the company of the actor playing Ralph. At least one member of the men's ensemble is guilty of fraternizing with a female counterpart in the women's chorus. Furthermore, the Haberdasher is in love with Gunman #1.

Granted, Hattie and Ralph are actually Kathy and Mike Lague of Sudbury; the two involved chorus members are Judi and Ron Lemoine of Lowell, and Gunman #1 is Tedford Armistead, my husband. But don't let that "married" thing disappoint you. It's a treat to be able to share a theater experience with one's spouse.

The Lemoines met one another during a production of "The Mikado" in Winthrop 17 years ago, and have been performing together ever since. "It's nice to have a common interest and social outlet that we're able to share," says Judi. "We do things well together." "This is great, because I actually get to see my husband," says Kathy Lague. "He did the [SLOC] show last year and I didn't. I didn't see him for about three months."

Indeed, the schedule since the beginning of September with most weeks featuring four nights of rehearsal has been demanding. But we wouldn't be doing this if we didn't love it, and frankly, the practices have been a very welcome diversion from recent world events. A light, comedic romp with this troupe of players has been a joy and a balm for us, and we trust it will be so for you as well. Just don't come expecting to be elevated by classic Shakepearean verse.

"This is more the Cliffs Notes version of Shakespeare," says Bisantz. "The Shakespeare aspect is incidental to the story." Consider these lyrics to our ensemble song "We Open in Venice:" "Mere folk who give distraction are we. No theater guild attraction are we But just a simple band who roams throughout the land, dispensing fol-de-rol frivolity."

That about sums it up.

How to get tickets

Kiss Me Kate opens tonight in the Corey Auditorium. Performances are November 9, 10, 11 and 16, 17, 18. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For ticket information, call 1-978-371-SLOC or visit Tickets will also be on sale at the door.

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito