By Josette Keelor
Area volunteer theaters, Winchester Little Theatre in Winchester and The Schultz Theatre in New Market, have taken opposite approaches to their September productions, with WLT's "Almost, Maine" a dramatic series of vignettes out of a fictional wintry town in Maine, and Schultz's "Greater Tuna" a hilarious exhibit of quirky Texan townsfolk. But both shows promise a good time for all ages.
The first show in WLT's 2013-14 performance season, "Almost, Maine," has been compared in theme to film hits like "Love Actually" and "Valentine's Day," but Director Pat Markland described it as more like "The Twilight Zone."
On the same January night in Almost, an area of Maine that very nearly became a town but not quite, eight couples meet at roughly the same moment, during the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights.
"It's a very popular show," Markland said. "It's broken records at theaters all over the country."
"This one has been very popular with the college and high school set," he said. In fact one of his actors, Chris Whitney, who plays Jimmy and Chad, directed the show last year at Warren County High School in Front Royal.
Since Warren County's theater group took "Almost, Maine" to a sixth place win at last fall's state drama competition, Whitney has wanted to perform it himself. And now he gets his chance, playing the opposing roles of Jimmy, whom he described as "pretty much the nicest person in the world," and Chad, "the worst date guy you could possibly find."
Chad doesn't like the romantic stuff that comes with dating, and Whitney said he's not interested in putting forth an effort for a woman he isn't that into. Instead, "he'd rather spend it with someone he knows he likes."
Jimmy, on the other hand, is the embodiment of the phrase "nice guys finish last," Whitney said. On the night in question, he runs into his long lost love in the Almost town park. "He's been so hurt, he really doesn't want to try to get with anyone else," Whitney said. Now he thinks his waiting will be over, but it turns out the woman he loves is already engaged to someone else.
Markland said the play can be performed by anywhere from four to 19 people, but he chose 13 with some actors in multiple roles.
Eric Brown plays Pete, "kind of a prudish, dorky guy who kind of finds himself being confronted with love," and Randy, "a good old boy" trying to one-up his buddy on dating stories.
Pete is the only character with a continuing storyline threaded throughout the play, and Brown said as Pete he has the prologue, interlogue and epilogue.
Whitney is an old hand at theater, having performed extensively at The Schultz Theatre in New Market, most recently opposite his wife Beth in last month's "Romeo and Juliet." But this will be Brown's first stage role since high school when, he said, he was forced to give up shop class for drama.
He volunteered on props for WLT's show "You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running," last season, and now has found himself pulled into acting again.
Markland said the upcoming production is close to how he intended it to be.
"During auditions I saw a number of people just fit in in various roles," he said. 'I think it's really well written. The stories are very quirky. It's been difficult marketing this because on the surface it sounds like a romantic comedy, however there's a lot more going on."
"There a 'Twilight Zone' aspect," he said. "It very much stands on its own. I can't think of any other play like it."
But while WLT's 13 actors in 19 roles might become a tad hectic, just imagine two actors in 20 roles -- in The Schultz Theatre's production of "Greater Tuna" beginning this weekend.
Michael Gwin, who plays opposite Ron Smith in the two-man show, said it's a complicated show since they each play 10 characters, but that Smith's roles are even more demanding with 28 costume changes.
"I didn't even count, but he told me that he has more than I do," Gwin said. But while the audience watches Gwin and Smith perform as most of the quirky residents of the tiny Texan town of Tuna, backstage another show will be unfolding as stage hands in the roles of "dressers" scurry to dress the actors with only seconds to make men into women and the old into the young.
Making it all happen is all about organization, Gwin said.
"Sometimes [the difference] will be a jacket and a hat because sometimes the character has to come on so quick," he said. "The play is designed to try and have fun with it."
"Funny thing is that the audience knows it's the same people playing all the parts," he said.
Director Wendi Black led the Schultz production of "Barefoot in the Park" last May, but this will be new ground for her.
"It's been quite a process of just sort of doing it over and over again and figure out how to layer the costumes," Black said. "So they have less to put on."
"Some of the changes are literally no more than 15 seconds," she said. She's no stranger to chaos onstage, though.
"I've directed in high school the complete works of Shakespeare abridged," she said. "It's very quick, but no, not with this few characters."
"I would just say it's hilarious, it's a romp, I would put it that way," she said. "It has tender moments and it really makes you think."
Winchester Little Theatre, 315 W. Boscawen St., Winchester, will present "Almost, Maine" at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 6-21. Tickets are $14.50 for students, $16.75 for seniors 62 and older and $18.75 for adults. For more information, call 540-662-3331 or visit www.wltonline.org.
The Schultz Theater, 9357 N. Congress St., New Market, will present "Greater Tuna" at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 6-8 and 13-15. Tickets for adults are $10 in advance and $12 at the door, and for students and seniors are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. For more information, call 540-740-9119 or visit www.schultztheatre.com.em>
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org