I auditioned for the West Allis Players' production of "Romeo and Juliet", and have been cast as "old Capulet" (or "Lord Capulet," Juliet's father, a part I was pleased to get. Being a Shakespeare purist, I wasn't quite as pleased to find out we are using an abridged script, which cuts the show down to two hours long. However, it has all the "good parts," the cast seems good, and I hope to have fun with it. It's being directed by Mary Beth Topf, whom I've worked for quite a bit in the past, including on "Taming of the Shrew" and "Beauty and the Beast," and I think she's very good. Also, for the first time, I'm in the same show as friends Lily (Apothecary), James (John the messenger), and Briana Sullivan (Chorus), so that's a plus as well.

The show will go on at the usual venue, West Allis Central High School, Friday and Saturday nights, October 4th, 5th, 11th and 12th, and one Sunday matinee, October 13th.
Well, we've had a couple of good performances. Not word-perfect, which I find personally annoying (particularly when it's me--), but good lively enjoyable shows. Those friends who came showed signs of genuine pleasure in the performances, so I guess we can be pleased with our efforts.
This evening at 7:30PM the "curtain" goes up on the West Allis Players' production of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing".

I have the part of Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, which I've been having good fun with. When I auditioned, I hadn't considered this role. I was interested in Don John the villain, or Leonato, Hero's father, figuring that I was too old for the young lovers like Benedick. Oddly enough, the bunch of people that tried out for this show "skewed old" on the men's side, with the result that only the man playing Conrad, one of Don John's men, and Don John himself do not have at least a little bit of gray hair. This may be a bit premature in the case of "young Count Claudio," but Benedick, Leonato, and myself all fall in the "fiftyish" demographic, as do Dogberry, Verges, Hugh Oatcake, and Borachio, with our Friar over that.

Don Pedro isn't as large a role as Benedick or Leonato, but it is pivotal, since "the Prince" sparks both the weddings that the action of the play concerns: Hero to his protege, Claudio, and that of Beatrice and Benedick. It's been a good cast to work with, many of whom I've worked with before, and it's going to be a good show, but we've really come down to the wire pulling this one together. We had a short rehersal period to begin with, lost a couple to bad weather, and what with flu and job conflicts, it's been a rare night when we've actually had all the cast present at the same time. Work's been very busy, also, so if I haven't been working for the last couple weeks I've been rehearsing while trying to cram in household maintainance and other commitments on such weekends as remain. Fortunately, there isn't much scheduled this weekend other than the play itself, so I have some time to catch up to things--.
I haven't had time to enter anything for the last month because I have been rehearsing and then performing my role of Sherlock Holmes in the West Allis Players' production of "The Hound of the Baskervilles," which ended last weekend. This show has been a very interesting experience in a number of ways, notably in seeing how fast a cast with widely varying levels of experience can put together a show. The original script was adapted for Samuel French by one Tim Kelly, evidently a house writer specializing in adapting classics for the stage, since his credits include "Frankenstein," "Dracula," "The Woman in White," "Varney the Vampyre," and a lot of others that charitably sound like "mellerdramas." Our director had evidently not picked the script and wasn't very fond of it. (Plays for community theatre get picked two ways, usually: sometimes the playreading committee chooses the show and finds a volunteer to direct it; other times a director comes forward with a show they want to do and convinces the board to take it on.) Usually, the rehersal time for a stright play runs about five weeks. However, we were about one and a half weeks into rehersal before we settled upon a final revised script, which borrowed heavily from both the French version and Doyle's orginal, with some totally new interjections. Thus we ended up with a very "free" adaptation and about three and a half weeks to pull it together.

The end result didn't get good marks script-wise from the Holmes purists in the audience, but it was good fun as a show, and I've had better roles, but seldom as much fun in one. Besides getting to do the classic Holmes deduction bits, I also got to skulk around in disguise, with an on-stage unmasking scene; lurk through the secret door; shoot the hound; and be shot in turn by the villainess.

If you don't recall secret doors, Holmes getting shot, or a villainess in Doyle, I congratulate you on your knowlege of Sherlockiana. On the other hand, we ended up with a lively although textually uneven show that I still think captured the spirit of the orginal.

The cast was very widely varying in experience. Our director, Steve Parr, is professional with a lot of acting and directing credits. Then there was myself, Bob Stahley (Watson) and Rick Anderson (Barrymore, the butler) who are veteran actors, followed by varying ranges of experience down to the young men, Kyle Warras as Sir Henry Baskerville and Eric Caves as Jack Stapleton, who were essentially doing first major roles. Everyone did a good job, although with the short run-up, the show was never as tight as might have been. On the other hand, the audience doesn't know the script and the bobbles weren't too obvious.

I actually got good reviews as Holmes. Of course everyone knows I am neither tall nor thin, but I got some boots that added an inch of height and a slimming black suit, which along with decent makeup (my mustache was temporarily sacrificed for the muse) allowed me to project Holmes creditably. Several people said I had the Holmes mannerisms down perfectly. Bob Stahley was an excellent Watson and a real mainstay to me and the show in general. Actually, it's a toss-up who has the more important role to the script, since Watson is on stage for several scenes while Holmes is offstage supposedly hunting around Dartmoor. Kyle Warras as Sir Henry also was on in every scene and lent great energy to the production, although his tendency to occasionally ad-lib tended to put other actors a bit off-stride. On the other hand, without Holmes, there is no show, so I didn't feel too guilty taking the last bow.
Monday the 21st, West Allis Players had auditions for their next production, "The Hound of the Baskervilles". Of course I had to go and try out, hoping for Watson. I am a great fan of the Jeremy Brett/Edward Hardwicke Holmes/Watson oveure, and tried to put a dignified reading into Watson, although the script is more of a Rathbone/Bruce style of vehicle. Of course, I always like to read for the parts I haven't a particular hope of getting just for the fun of acting them out in front of people, and took the opportunity to read Holmes as well. I was intrigued that the director seemed to like my reading, but went home without any particular hope for any part at all, since there were people who seemed more favored for Watson and Barrymore, the sinister butler, and however well I read, on the second night there would surely be someone more the proper physical type for Holmes show up. Well--there didn't! I got cast--as SHERLOCK HOLMES! WOO! What fun! Even if the script ISN'T a deathless adaptation of Doyle's novel, there are few roles I'd rather play (Cyrano and Richard III come to mind, but--). Rehersals start next Tuesday, with the show to go on April 8,9, 15, and 16.
On Wednesday, May 26th, we were able to realize a year-old goal, and visit the home of theatre stars Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, now open as a museum. The home has been almost completely restored after decades of neglect following the death of Fontanne, and is most unique in that it as closely as possible represents the way the home would have looked in its heyday, when both artists regularly retired there during the summers, and had as guests other luminaries of the theatrical world. It is fascinating to see the guest room that Helen Hayes favored, the one that Noel Coward insisted upon, and the one where Lawrence Olivier was a long-term resident when down on his luck. Katherine Hepburn, Carol Channing, and critic Alexander Woolcott were among the many others that visited there as well. It is commonly said that every room there is arranged as a theatrical set, and I see that in several of the rooms. However, few theatrical sets are as intensely decorated as the public rooms of the main house, studio, and cottage. Lunt engaged a set painter to add character touches to these rooms, a weekend commission that stretched to years as the walls were intricately painted with decorations, portraits, and bible scenes, accented with hand-cut and accented wallpapers. The rooms are also furnished with an eclectic collection of antique furniture, figurines, and other artworks. For all the theatrical importance of the setting, the amount of memorabilia on display is surprisingly small. Lunt and Fontanne seem to have preferred to surround themselves with things they found beautiful and personally significant rather than things like autographed photos or posters (although there are a few on display). In later years, Lunt took up the decoration of the cottage himself, and the walls there are muraled in a vigorous primitive style recalling his boyhood years in Finland. (Lunt, though born in Milwaukee, lived in a Finnish community with his mother and stepfather for a time, which seems to have a strong effect on his tastes.) One can easily see how the beauty and seclusion of the setting, in an unincorporated hamlet in the Kettle Moraine area, must have contributed to the artistic revival of the Lunts and their guests. On the day we visited, which was both the first anniversary of the museum opening and the Lunts’ wedding anniversary, there was a dedication ceremony adding the property to the list of National Historic Landmarks, making it one of 30 in the state of Wisconsin, and one of only ten nationwide dedicated to the arts. We came in shortly after the ceremony was ended, and had a very fine tour with just ourselves and one other person, herself a former volunteer, along with the docent, which was great fun and allowed to look very closely at whatever we wished.
Speaking of community theatre, I succumbed to the urge to tread the boards again when the West Allis Players announced auditions for their production of Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap". I was interested because I actually directed a local company version of this show in Lancaster, Wisconsin in 1981. At my present age, the available roles were Major Metcalf, the retired soldier, and Mr. Paravicini, the sinister foreigner. Of course, I wanted Paravicini, and got cast as Metcalf. Oh, well, I'm having fun anyway and the rest of the cast is good to work with. The show goes on April 16, 17, 23, and 24. Interestingly, I'm finding a lot more in the show now than I did those years ago, even though I was the director. I suppose that says something about my greater experience and discernment.
On Thursday 12th, I walked in the West Allis Western Days Parade as part of the West Allis Players, promoting our upcoming show, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Our Romanesque outfits were of course wildly incongruous in the otherwise cowboy-themed parade, but of course we wanted to be noticed. Wearing a tunic, draped-sheet toga, and crown of vine leaves, I was variously identified by spectators as "Ceasar" or "Zeus," but I was surprisingly touched by the little boy who addressed me as "Hello, Jesus!" I'm glad I had the presence of mind to smile and return his greeting.
The West Allis Players held auditions for their summer musical, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" April 28, 29 and 30. I have worked with director Mary Beth Topf on a number of shows and went to audition, recalling that she had told me I would make a good Senex (one of the main characters). Unfortunately, the role is just a bit too high for me, musically. I did, however, get cast as Erronius, the old man who's children were stolen by pirates. Buster Keaton played this part in the movie adaptation, and those are big shoes to fill. It isn't a huge part, but the scenes I'm in are quite stealable--. Oh, well, this keeps my string of non-singing characters in musicals--.
Performances will be June 20, 21, 27, 28 and a matinee on June 29. More details as they occur.

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