“First Monday in October” at Epilogue Players

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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Epilogue Players continues its current season with First Monday in October, the 1978 play by Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee, who are perhaps best known for their Inherit the Wind (1955) and Auntie Mame (1956). The play is a behind the scenes look at the U.S. Supreme Court while imagining the conflicts resulting from a woman being named to the august body for the first time. It was not until 1981, that this actually happened when President Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the bench.

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Ken Ganza and Veronique Duprey star as Justice Daniel Snow and Justice Ruth Loomis in Epilogue Player’s “First Monday in October”.

The conflict in the story is rooted in a staunch liberal justice, Daniel Snow (played by Ken Ganza), having a battle of ideologies with the new justice, the conservative Ruth Loomis (portrayed by Veronique Duprey). Their disagreements are over legal procedures and principles, and frankly take quite a bit of concentration to keep up with. Mr. Ganza does a respectable job with his role, making Snow an irascible sort of legal genius, used to having his way and to being the smartest man in the room. Ms. Duprey presents a rather haughty and equally smart justice, who feels out of place at first, but quickly finds that she is a voice for the opposition in terms of her dealings with Snow. These two actors work well opposite each other in their lively exchanges about legalities and temperament.

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(From left) Ken Ganza as Justice Daniel Snow and Duane Mercier as Chief Justice Crawford in Epilogue Player’s “First Monday in October”.

The other main characters in the play are Chief Justice Crawford, played with an easy efficiency by Duane Mercier, and Justice Snow’s law clerk Mason Woods, offered in an equally easy fashion by recent IU theatre grad, Ryan Claus. Both offer stabilizing factors in the storyline, mostly to quell the more forceful side of Snow. The six other justices appear from time to time in minor roles, although Mike Harold does a fine job as Snow’s direct adversary, Justice Webb.

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(From left) Ryan Claus as law clerk Mason Woods and Veronique Duprey as Justice Ruth Loomis in Epilogue Player’s “First Monday in October”.

As mentioned, the plot, while interesting, can be a bit difficult to follow – at least, it was at times for me. It was hard to grasp, in the face of recent events, that Justice Loomis, who had worked on the 9th Circuit Court in California, was the conservative in the story. I believe some of my confusion might have simply been due to the evolution of political terms and of the ideological standards of these divisive factions. The actors all do an exemplary job playing the script as written, but these political changes added to the necessity for my increased concentration.

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The cast of Epilogue Player’s “First Monday in October”.

Bottom line: this is a challenging play, as much for the audience as for the players. Half entertainment, half course in legalities – one does come away with a lot to think about.

First Monday in October continues through May 21st. Reservations and ticket information is available by calling 317.926.3139 or online at http://www.epilogueplayers.com.

 

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“Dial M for Murder” at Epilogue Players

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Saturday night found Mrs K and I attending Epilogue Players’ Dial M for Murder, the Frederick Knott play which had the unusual distinction of premiering on British television in 1952, before opening for successful runs that same year on West End in London as well as on Broadway. It was later adapted to become a popular film in 1954, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

The plot is full of wonderful twists as the main character plots his wife’s demise, sees his plan come out all wrong, and tries to recover from the fallout with what looks to be a foolproof alternative scheme. Brent A. Wooldridge directs the action with a deft hand, keeping the actors on a smooth rail as they spin the tale. Tight pacing and plenty of subtle nuisances make for an engaging telling of the murder-mystery. Under Wooldridge’s “baton” the always tricky endeavor of staging American actors as English accented characters is done with unblemished perfection.

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Sarah M. Froehlke (as Margot Wendice), Ken Ganza (as Inspector Hubbard) and Jay Hemphill (as Tony Wendice) star in Epilogue Players’ production of “Dial M for Murder”.

The cast is impressive from top to bottom. Jay Hemphill is flawless as Tony Wendice, the husband with murder on his mind. He is totally in tune with his character and presents a completely detailed portrayal. He is fast becoming one of the most highly regarded actors in our local theatre scene and this is for good reason. Tony’s wife Margot is played by Sarah M. Froehlke. I have known Sarah for many years, but I believe this is the first time I have seen her work and she does a very wonderful job with what is an emotional and, at times, quite physical role.

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Sarah M. Froehlke (as Margo Wendice) and James Gross (as Max Halliday) share a past, and a drink, in Epilogue Players’ production of “Dial M for Murder”.

James Gross plays the American, Max Halliday, and picks a correct low-key persona to do so. The underplay works on all levels, though the idea bled into his line delivery a bit and at times, especially early on, I had a little trouble hearing him. That notwithstanding, he is spot on in his characterization and delivered an intelligent portrait of the man. Mike Bauerle takes the role of Captain Lesgate, a thuggish opportunist who is engaged to commit the murder. His villain is not overly villainous, which works well as he makes us believe his character is a truly effective thug and not a caricature.

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Jay Hemphill (as Tony Wendice) trys to convince Mike Bauerle (as Capt. Lesgate) to do his dirty work in Epilogue Players’ production of “Dial M for Murder”.

Ken Ganza’s rendering of Inspector Hubbard is a thing to behold. Here again, an underplayed style is most effective and Ganza’s Scottish accent is right on the money. The character is written with an almost Columbo-like persona, and Ganza presents what is basically a master-class on playing a murder-mystery inspector. Rounding out the top-notch cast is Jacob Swain who does a solid job with his various voice-on-the-phone responsibilities and as Thompson, who works alongside Hubbard.

Lastly, let me give kudos to Stephen E. Foxworthy for his effective set design. And his ideas were skillfully constructed by Lea Viney. Linda Grow’s costumes, Jeff Kern’s lighting design and Duane Mercier’s sound design all added to the event’s impact.

Bottom-line: this is a fully realized production of what is really one of the best murder-mystery plays, in my opinion. The direction is crisp and correctly styled, and the actors deliver impressive performances.

As an aside, let me say that I talked with Ed Mobley before the show. Ed is the new president of Epilogue Players and he is excited about the changes he has begun incorporating into the  organization. Some that he mentioned are: the new online reservation system – brownpapertickets.com – which is now in place; a brand new sound system; the ability to take payment at the door for credit cards; plans for remodeling the light booth as well as the restroom facilities; and excitement is building for next year’s 40th anniversary season. Clearly, Epilogue has upgraded their program design and quality. Included in “Dial M’s” program, there are some very nice character photos alongside the actor bios. At the top of the list of changes and improvements is the rewriting of by laws to allow people of all ages to become members of Epilogue. Previously, membership was limited to persons over 50 years of age. (Ed assured me that there will still be a focus on plays for the more senior members of our community.)

Dial M for Murder continues through March 13th. Reservations and ticket information can be found by calling 317.926.3139, by emailing epilogue.players@yahoo.com, or on the internet at http://www.brownpapertickets.com .

* – photos by Rann DeStefano

 

 

“On Golden Pond” at Epilogue Players

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Friday evening found Mrs K and I at the Epilogue Players’ theatre, by special invitation, for a production of Ernest Thompson’s wonderful play – On Golden Pond. The show is directed by The Belfry theatre’s frequent director, Elaine Wagner, in her Epilogue Players debut.

On Golden Pond is another of those plays that I have a rather large affinity for. First of all, it is an amazing script, being filled with the rare combination of good humor and a quiet sweetness. The centerpiece relationship between the elderly couple, Ethel and Norman Thayer, is brimming with love, understanding, divergence, patience, and even hopefulness. Secondly, I directed the play at Westfield’s Main Street Theatre in 1998 and have therefore studied it and hold more than a few preconceived notions about it.

The latter factor can often make it a bit difficult to watch another director’s interpretations of a play. As always, decisions are made about characters and action that may differ from someone else’s impressions. I really do try to sweep those things aside as best I can – but, there is no denying that they can color a person’s perception of what is onstage in front of them.

For example, Ms. Wagner announced at the curtain speech that the company had concentrated on the humor of the piece and so we should feel free to laugh. Frankly, her statement sent a bit of an “ah-oh” through my brain – the script I remembered was rife with humor and one really did not have to push on it very hard for it to be funny. But I held back my thoughts as the play began.

The set for this play was very well conceived, I thought – with the pre-show open curtain, we got to inspect it as we sat and it certainly was well-done, with a very rustic quality to it. Pre-show music from what seemed to be an environmental DVD nicely set the mood.

Steve Demuth and his wife, Serita Borgeas star as Norman and Ethel Thayer in Epilogue Players' "On Golden Pond"

Steve Demuth and his wife, Serita Borgeas star as Norman and Ethel Thayer in Epilogue Players’ “On Golden Pond”


As Norman, Steve Demuth is a very good choice. His stage experience shows as he presents Norman’s propensity for dark and/or intelligent humor. His early scene testing the phone, one-sided in the original script, becomes more comical with the addition of Susan Townsend as the Telephone Operator, presented off to the side (indeed, all the one-sided phone conversations in the script are presented with both participants being seen and heard – a revelation I enjoyed as we had a better chance to realize the humors and emotions there).
Susan Townsend creates the role of Telephone Operator in Epilogue Players' "On Golden Pond"

Susan Townsend creates the role of Telephone Operator in Epilogue Players’ “On Golden Pond”


When Ethel appears, we are treated to a very solid portrayal by Demuth’s real-life wife, Serita Borgeas – whom we last saw as Carrie Watts in a fine production of Trip to Bountiful. Ms. Borgeas has Ethel totally figured out and easily shows us her range of sweetness and exasperation at life with Norman with a truthful steady conveyance. My favorite moment is her just-right handling of poor Norman’s confusion about where the old town road is – as it has been lost in his memory. It is truly touching, as are several other sweet moments between the couple.
Kevin Shadle (top center), Jack Razumich and Kelli Conkin (middle left and center), and Cormac Doebbling (bottom center) all play supporting roles in "On Golden Pond"

Kevin Shadle (top center), Jack Razumich and Kelli Conkin (middle left and center), and Cormac Doebbling (bottom center) all play supporting roles in “On Golden Pond”


The next character to appear is the light-hearted and headed mailman Charlie Martin, played here with a certain fervor by Kevin Shadle. Then follows: Kelli Conkin, giddy as the Thayer’s daughter Chelsea, Cormac Doebbling in the role of the teenager Billy Ray, and Jack Razumich as Chelsea’s anxious suitor, “the dentist” – Bill Ray. This skillful supporting cast moves the story along nicely, without too many languishing moments, providing the necessary quirks and the humorous content without too many hard pushes against the script’s built-in tempos. (I should point out that young Mr. Doebbling is the third member of his remarkable stage family that I have seen onstage now – following his talented mother and sister, Caroline and Bronwyn; also it should be noted that Razumich and Ms. Conkin are reunited with Ms. Borgeas, having taken the other two major roles in Trip to Bountiful.)

All in all, it was a pleasing and entertaining evening at Epilogue. My fears about the cast “trying too hard” at the humor were mostly unfounded, and the delightfulness of the play came through quite nicely. This is only the second weekend of a three weekend run, so there is plenty of time to make an effort to visit with Ethel and Norman. Subsequent show dates are July 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27 – with Fri/Sat shows beginning at 7:30 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Reservations are encouraged by calling 317-926-3139 or by emailing epilogue.players@yahoo.com .

* Photos are from the Epilogue Players Facebook page

“The Curious Savage” at Epilogue Players

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Last night Mrs K and I took in Epilogue Players’  production of “The Curious Savage” – John Patrick’s 1950 play about an elderly woman who is placed in a health sanitorium (read asylum) by greedy step-children after she has seemed to become frivilous with the family’s rather substantial monetary holdings. The show was directed by Margy Lancet-Fletcher with assistant director Joan Walker.

To me what is curious about “The Curious Savage” is why anyone still chooses to put on this dated nugget. I have seen it a few times over the years and it just never seems to be more than a vehicle for a bunch of actors to be employed, many of whom get a chance to play whacky characters while a heavy handed morality story is played out and placed in the audiences laps. I am sure at one time the wacky characters delighted and the story rang truly and adeptly for a post-war generation that was just finding it’s way back to some financially stable footing. But the play is 60 years old (!) and though we may still need morals and lessons about our human failures, this dated piece fills the bill about as much as a TV episode of “My Little Margie”  would. These old style plays have old style structure, with endless exposition leading thru innocent humor to a dated moral finish. I just do not think it is a very good play, especially by today’s sensibilities.

So while it was difficult for me to be carried along by the narrative of the play, I must say that the cast of 11 gave the experience some redeeming qualities. Given the ripe opportunities to dash off an oddball character, the actors playing the 5 other patients gave mostly strong performances. A standout was Tempiellen Knuteson’s Fairy May. In terms of character Knuteson hits the nail on the head with her airy, cute and innocent choices. In voice and movement she conveys the fragile Fairy to the audience in an enchanting way. Oppositely, Susan Gaertner’s Mrs. Paddy is a closed up bag of pressurized steam – letting loose with her list of hated items on rare occasion, then closing up into a perfectly stern but vulnerable casing. Gaertner has few lines but works the entire time at keeping her character in the moment with facial acting using her eyes and mouth as visually expressive tools. It is a good job that goes almost unnoticed.

The other 3 patients are Cheryl Fesmire as Florence, a patient with a baby-doll “child”, Jeff Pemberton as Jeffrey, who has deep scars but not where he thinks they are, and Rich Steinberg as Hannibal as the violin playing (not!) statistician. They all do admirable jobs, believable and fleshed out – given what the script gives them to work with.

Jeff Pemberton, Rich Steinberg, Susan Gaertner, Cheryl Fesmire and Tempiellen Knuteson play the asylum patients in "The Curious Savage"

The rest of the supporting cast – that is, the 3 adult step-children and the 2 person asylum staff – are all played by veteran actors I am accustomed to seeing around town. Except, that is, for Michaela Kruse, whom I have never seen, and who did a wonderful job with her strong portrayal of staffer Miss Willis. Sure-footed and confident, she was the perfect supporting character – never hoping to grab the spotlight until the story gave it to her. Also impressive was Bernard Wurger, whose even, steady portrayal of Dr. Emmett was reassuring and solid. The children, played by Susan Townsend as an aptly whiney Lily Belle, Steve Demuth as the confused and unsteady Samuel, and Michael Maloney as the overly important senator, Titus all found interesting aspects of their characters to project. I would have asked Mr. Maloney to find a more varied array of  emotions to cover his frustrations than just yelling, but for the most part all three gave solid performances.

Michael Maloney, Susan Townsend and Steve Demuth play the perturbed step-children in "The Curious Savage"

The lead actress was Ethel Booth as the put upon Mrs. Savage. Frankly, it is always delightful to see my friend Ethel work on stage. Let’s just say that she is a stage veteran and that her long and varied experience has formed her into a performer who seems so comfortable and at ease in the spotlight – she gives effortless looking portrayals that charm and command. Her Mrs. Savage was a wonderful blend of a feisty, enduring, life-loving, and love giving woman. Her sure approach to her character adds to every other actor’s portrayal and is a good reason to attend this show.

The incomparable Ethel Booth plays Mrs. Savage in "The Curious Savage"

But the show has problems that go along with the stage worthy acting. There never seems to be much cohesion between the characters. There are flashes of it here and there – but it is almost as if the actors are operating in vacuums – waiting for their cue lines to be said so they can be their character again. There is little meshing of emotions, in my opinion, and little or no spark between characters to carry the interactions along their way. This, I believe, is mainly the fault of the script although I see things directors Fletcher and Walker might have addressed. Pacing is unsteady or not even considered in several scenes. The disjointedness of the roles could also be the result of not enough attention paid to drilling the actors on the importance of cue pickup and tempo. I see in the program that this is only Ms. Fletcher’s second solo directorial stint (along with several co-directing turns with her husband) so missing some details can be excused, but the results are what they are. That being a lot of pretty good acting resulting in an unassembled event. Again, the outdated script did not help.

“The Curious Savage ” continues today (7/17) and one final weekend (7/22-24) with Fri-Sat shows at 7:30pm and Sun shows at 2pm. Reservations are recommended by calling 317-926-3139 or emailing epilogue.players@yahoo.com