By Josette Keelor - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Braving the winter weather, dealing with cast changes and even rehearsing from home by telephone, the cast of Winchester Little Theatre's latest play, "Belles," is determined to make the production a success.
"We've had several challenges during our rehearsals," says director Roxie Orndorff. "It's been challenging, but it's been fun."
Mark Dunn's "Belles" combines the talents of six women playing sisters united by their memories of growing up with an abusive father.
Set in 1989, the play relies almost entirely on voice cues alone, as all dialogue is transmitted through the phone lines that allow the sisters to connect despite their physical distance apart. Over the course of a weekend, the six of them together make 45 phone calls, says Orndorff.
"This is a play for very strong female characters," she says. "It's one of those challenges for an actress that they love getting. I think the audience will be enthralled."
Since the death of their father, the sisters have fanned out to the farthest reaches of the country, communicating with each other from Memphis, Tenn.; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Collierstown, Miss.; Elk Run, Wash.; and Austin, Texas.
Though, for the duration of the play, they never interact face to face, their phone conversations convincingly convey their thoughts and feelings.
Each can sympathize with a past that only the six of them truly understands.
"For better or for worse, they are still sisters," Orndorff says. "No matter what's gone before, they still stay in touch."
The eldest sister, Peggy, initiates the phone calls, encouraged by her mother, says Orndorff.
Peggy, played by Ellen Nichols, has recently moved in with her mother, who, perhaps out of guilt for all her daughters suffered at the hands of her husband, needles Peggy into keeping open the lines of communication.
None of them has escaped a variety of dysfunctions.
"Each of them have developed different, what you might say, coping mechanisms," Orndorff says.
"They all have different ways of dealing with the traumas of growing up; and most of it is dysfunction," says Tami McDonald, who plays Audrey, the third oldest.
Despite their shared past, each sister's experience is unique because of the age she was when the father died. About 15 years divide the oldest, Peggy, from the youngest, Paige, played by Meagan Haynes.
The other sisters are Aneece, played by Theresa Apple; Roseanne, played by Maria Santucci; and Sherry "Dust," played by Theresa McGuirk.
"They're far enough apart they have different memories of what went on in the household," says McDonald.
"Audrey is, the way we've been phrasing it is fragile; she's emotionally fragile," says McDonald. She wants to fill the empty space in her life with a child. As a sad consolation, her husband has carved a wooden boy for her.
"Roseanne, she's a housewife," McDonald says of Santucci's character, the next youngest. "I guess her escape from her trauma has been to try to create a family that she's never had ... the happy, wholesome family."
"It's a dramedy," Orndorff explains. "It's not for children and the subject matter is pretty intense."
Orndorff credits all the theater volunteers with helping to convey to the audience the mood of the play.
"It really does take an awful lot of volunteers to put on a production," she says. From the hospitality and ticket takers, to the props people and set designers, "There's just so many that are involved," she says.
Also involved in the play will be local singer/songwriter Alex Masters, of Berryville, who will supply the music to express time changes.
"I like using music, I think it can pull [scenes] together so nicely," says Orndorff, who has included local artists' songs in other plays at WLT. When she heard Masters' songs "Bullet Proof" and "Stop Holdin' Your Tongue," she thought they would work well with the story of the six sisters catching up across the void.
"So many of the lyrics just fit so well," Orndorff says. "The songs are so powerful that you can apply it."
What audience members might like most about the show is how very real the characters are.
"The heart and the humor in it is absolutely ... it's typical of sisters," says Orndorff.
"Everybody is probably going to recognize some element of it from their family, their childhood," McDonald says. "There are definitely elements. I grew up in a family of six," she offers as a comparison, though they aren't all sisters.
"I would say that it really does have a bittersweetness of it," Santucci says. "The fact that we have to laugh at these dysfunctions and realize that the reality underneath it is still there. ... It touches your heart; you will see a bit of yourself in it."
"I know the audience is going to enjoy the play every time it has the background of a very tough topic," says Orndorff. "It's still humor and everyday life."
"Belles" will play at Winchester Little Theatre, at 315 W. Boscawen St., Friday through Sunday and March 11-14 and 18-20. Performance times are at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are $18.75 for adults, $16.75 for seniors 62 and older and $14.50 for students. The box office is open Monday-Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. For tickets or more information call 662-3331, or visit the Web at www.wltonline.org.