By Josette Keelor - firstname.lastname@example.org
MIDDLETOWN - The best stories stick with you long after the curtain falls. Wayside Theatre hopes that its upcoming play, "Striking 12," will be one such performance -- one that will both entertain and leave audience members with a feeling of goodwill.
Taking place on New Year's Eve, the play follows three different plot lines to reveal a story within a story within another story.
"The story's really three layers woven together really, really nicely," says artistic director Warner Crocker.
"It's a rock concert meets storytelling meets theater," says actor Vaughn Irving. "It's unlike anything else I've ever seen."
Written by the members of the rock band GrooveLily, "Striking 12" begins with the three band members, Valerie Vigoda, Brendan Milburn and Gene Lewin, played by Sara Story, Steve Przybylski and Irving.
"The first story is about them as a band and wanting to do this," Crocker says.
The band tells the tale of a man happy to learn he must work on New Year's Eve. Mr. Grump Guy would rather be alone anyway, so he is only too glad to ring in the new year in his office, until a young peddler, Little Light Bulb Girl, knocks on his door.
"She sells light bulbs that are to prevent seasonal [affective] disorder, or SAD," Crocker says. But Mr. Grump Guy will have none of that.
When he tells her to hit the road, the girl wonders aloud why everyone is so rude to her. Her story reminds him of the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Little Match Girl." When she leaves, he sits down to read the story, ultimately persuaded to change his ways in order to prevent the story's sad ending -- the girl freezes to death in an alley while lighting the matches in an attempt to keep warm -- from coming true in real life.
Crocker says "Striking 12" is like a modern version of "The Little Match Girl."
The fact that the story takes place in December does not faze Crocker or the cast. Both are universal stories that can touch viewers at any time of year, he says.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is the message Crocker believes the play conveys. "We remember that for a very brief time each year" -- at Christmas. Offering a story like this in summertime strengthens the message and the idea of keeping it alive year-round, he says.
Offering a wintery atmosphere during a heat wave sure doesn't hurt morale, either, he says.
"We think, given how hot its been this summer, it'll be a refreshing cool-down because it takes place in Denmark; Denmark in winter."
The play, which has been on the national circuit for about five years, finds its way to Wayside at a convenient time for the cast and crew, Crocker says.
He might have waited until the holiday season to offer the show, but "I ran the risk of not having Vaughn and Sara available," he says of Wayside veteran Irving and Story, who played Patsy Cline in Wayside's production of "Always ... Patsy Cline" this summer.
Przybylski, also musical director at Wayside, helped Crocker decide to offer the play now.
"We were both attracted to the music -- it's phenomenal," Crocker says, adding that they had been considering the play for years.
Having these three particular actors available for the production was key, considering the plot and score rely almost exclusively on its cast doubling as the musicians.
Vaughn plays percussion, Przybylski plays keyboard and Story plays electric violin.
Though she has played violin since she was 6 years old, Story picked up the electric violin only a few short weeks ago.
"There are six strings on this thing, whereas I play four, so that's a huge change," she says. Learning a new instrument in a short amount of time has been challenging, but fun. She jokes that it's lucky for her the musical score requires her at times to play two strings at the same time, because often she accidentally plays two strings at the same time anyway.
Playing rock and blues music is also a change from the classical upbringing she has had.
"It's definitely a challenge, but it's good, it's really fun, it's different, I really enjoy it," she says.
"She plays some of these things and it sounds like a guitar wailing away," Crocker says. "[It is] quite beautiful, quite haunting at times."
The musical instruments transcend their usual sole purpose of catalysts for providing music to accompany the action.
"The players, the instruments become characters," Crocker says. The instruments are as much a part of the actors as any other theatrical props would be.
The set, too, offers a unique jumping off point from the norm at Wayside.
"We're taking kind of a fairy tale approach," Crocker says.
The beauty of the set parallels that of the story -- "It's really a beautiful story of rebirth," Irving says -- but the whimsical set allows the cast and crew to offer a much more profound critique of society.
"Think about fairy tales as a genre ... they're thought of as something for children," he says. The stories always have a deeper meaning, a wiser moral, which adults should very much take to heart, he says.
"The best contemporary fairy tale that we have is Charlie Brown, because it shows how kids treat each other," he says. "Everybody knows a Lucy and everybody knows a Charlie Brown."
Greater meaning set aside, though, "Striking 12" is, at its basic level, a play meant to entertain.
"The lights go down and you get to escape," he says, and indeed he and the cast hope audience members will.
"I hope people are going to enjoy it, take to the music and take to the story and take to us," says Przybylski.
"It's something that transcends New Year's time. Taking control of your life and living it to the fullest," says Irving.
"It's a piece that reminds us very, very much that we should carry that spirit year-round," Crocker says. "It's enormously entertaining for all ages."
"Striking 12" begins at Wayside Theatre in Middletown on Aug. 28 and runs through Sept. 25. Show times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $25-$30 for adults and $10 for children 5-17. Discounts are available for students, seniors and groups. For tickets or more information, call 869-1776.