Friday, February 12, 2010
Concord Players’ production features Carlisle talent
Nobody was watching the Superbowl, or even discussing it, on Sunday night at 51 Walden in Concord. That is the home of the Concord Players, and the cast and crew of their production of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s The Man Who Came to Dinner had been hard at work since 2 p.m. running a tech rehearsal with actors to set lights, sound, stage management and stage crew cues. By the time I arrived at 7:30 p.m., they were ready to start a run-through of the entire show, and still smiling. It was a superbowl of endurance and enthusiasm.
The Man Who Came to Dinner premiered in New York in 1939 and, were the phrase “old chestnut” not already in use, would certainly define it. The four-door, high-speed farce is based on a real incident: the theater critic Alexander Woollcott stayed at playwright Hart’s country house, acted insufferably, terrorized the household staff, and wrote in Hart’s guestbook that he had never had a more unpleasant time. Hart joked to Kaufman that it was fortunate that Woollcott had not broken his leg and been forced to stay longer.
That remark was the inspiration for the lead character of Sheridan Whiteside, a 1930s lecturer and radio personality with an unfiltered wit who slips on ice outside the home of Mr. and Mrs
. Stanley of Mesalia, Ohio, and proceeds to take over the Stanley household, drop the names of nearly everyone who was famous in the entertainment world of the 1930s, and create outrageous chaos during his stay there. The beleaguered Stanleys must endure a crate of penguins, an octopus, 10,000 cockroaches and the sabotage of their plans for their grown-up children, among other inconveniences.
In addition, the play is peopled with eccentric characters ranging from an absent-minded physician to a haunted maiden aunt loosely based on accused axe-murderess Lizzie Borden.
Sheridan Whiteside, the obnoxious and domineering houseguest, is an enormous role with seemingly more lines than Macbeth or Hamlet. The Concord Players’ Whiteside is Peter Stark, a very competent actor with a huge pipe organ of a voice reminiscent of Burl Ives in his best Tennessee Williams roles. He rolls around the Stanley living room in a wheelchair persecuting everyone in a crystalline, clipped, rapid-fire delivery, and making the hapless Mr. Stanley, played by Bill Hoermann of Carlisle, practically volcanic with rage. Hoermann makes his debut with the Concord Players in this production, but is familiar to Carlisle audiences as a featured player with the Savoyard Light Opera Company, where recent roles include Giorgio in The Gondoliers and Sitting Bull in Annie Get Your Gun. He has also appeared in productions of the Indian Hill School and sings with the Westford Chorus. As Mr. Stanley, Hoermann seems in constant danger of spontaneous combustion. Hoermann’s wife Elizabeth, also a Westford Chorus singer, appears in this production as well in a small role as part of a back-up choir for Whiteside’s Christmas broadcast.
Another familiar Carlisle face is Chuck Holleman, a veteran of Concord Players productions from 1995 to the present. Holleman plays a dual role in this production, first appearing as a convict invited by Whiteside to lunch in the Stanley dining room, and later as Banjo, a character based on Harpo Marx. Holleman is currently treasurer of the Players as well, and when he is not performing or counting money for them, he has what he calls “an eccentric hobby” of appearing in other community theater productions.
One of the featured roles in The Man Who Came to Dinner is Lorraine Sheldon, a famous and flamboyant actress who inspires amusement, fascination among men, and, of course, deep dislike among women. She comes complete with references to Dorothy Parker’s circle of writers and savants, the Algonquin Round Table, which included George S. Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott. Speaking to Whiteside, a female character refers to her as “an example of that small but vicious circle that you move in.” Lorraine Sheldon is over the top in every way, and gives a good comic actress a great deal of scope and breadth. Such an actress is Carlisle’s Leslie Wagner, who chews the scenery in this production with comical aplomb. Wagner is reprising this role, which she played earlier with the Winchester Players. A seasoned community theater actress, Wagner also has commercials and roles in independent films to her credit.
The cast performs the show on a set worthy of professional theater, designed by another Carlislean, Allen Bantly, and built by Bantly and his well-trained volunteer crew. Period details: archways, cornice molding, a curved banister, indicate the affluence of the Stanley home, and the four entryways, through which actors enter and exit at the lightning speed required by farce, are placed in architecturally sound and dramatically pleasing locations. Bantly, a retired engineer, was still sketching refinements (or were they plans for the next production?) during rehearsal on Sunday night, and according to Concord Players member Rik Pierce of Carlisle, often spends entire days crafting sets for the company. Lighting is largely a bright amber wash, perhaps intended to play up the brightness and tempo of the play, but a little more composition there might enhance the period and more clearly focus the audience’s attention. However, all that bright light certainly serves to reveal the details of Bantly’s exceptional set.
Rik Pierce, responsible for the photos accompanying this article, is also a performer with the Players, and has most recently concentrated his efforts in archiving the shows photographically and serving as the webmaster for the organization’s website, www.concordplayers.org.
The Man Who Came to Dinner has long since entered into the garret of classic American comedy, and it has become a little cobwebbed over time. Many of the references made in the play to people, places and events would have been vastly amusing to audiences of the late 1930s, especially those familiar with the New York literati and glitterati of the period. Some of them are legendary, but others have faded into obscurity over the years and could very well clog the pace and sparkle of a revival such as this. However, under the direction of Paul Murphy of Arlington, who grew up in Chelmsford and performed in high school theater there, this production of The Man Who Came to Dinner is lively and highly spirited. It emphasizes all those comedic conventions in the play that are timeless and brings those elements to vibrant life. Thoroughly hummable songs heard on the “radio” and used as incidental music throughout the show set the mood of the period and complement the dialogue. The cast and crew are ready for an audience, and the audience is sure to enjoy a madcap romp full of giggles and guffaws.
Opening night is tonight; the play runs at 8 p.m. tonight, tomorrow and February 19, 20, 26 and 27 with a matinee at 2 p.m. on February 21.
Tickets are available at the box office at 51 Walden Street, Concord, by email (email@example.com) or on the website (www.concordplayers.org). Check the website for information, and be sure to see the Concord Players’ production of The Man Who Came to Dinner. ∆
© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito