Thursday, May 15, 2008

Community Theater

I chose the title for this post completely without malice. The Suffield Players are a community theater in the best sense of both words. Catherine and I first saw their work last year when our friend Rob Lunde was doing The Real Inspector Hound with them (Rob and I went to college together in Denton, and Catherine was in a play with Rob in Fort Worth). Having never seen them before, I'll admit my expectations were not high: British comedy—especially Tom Stoppard—performed in a small town in northern CT (Suffield is near the MA border, about 30 minutes north of Hartford) by non-professional actors... not a combination that inspired a lot of confidence, really.

Needless to say, the production was far better than I had imagined: the actors all did a great job, the play was tightly directed, beautifully designed and, to be quite honest, quite a bit better than many Off Off Broadway or showcase productions I've seen here over the years. They produce three shows a year and while they'll always include at least one sure-fire crowd-pleaser (Morning's at Seven next season, Harvey a few years ago), they're also willing to take on riskier material (the second show in '08-'09 is John Patrick Shanley's Four Dogs and a Bone, and they've done Giraudoux and Lee Blessing in the past). It's clear, too, that they have a firm foundation in their community: they regularly sell out their performances and, as their board president was telling me, that's pretty impressive considering the number of people they can accommodate over their three-weekend runs is equal to about half the population!

This past weekend, we went to see their Blithe Spirit, directed by Rob, and it was another delightful evening. Rob kept everything moving nicely along—no easy trick with Noel Coward and all those words—and he staged it all very well; the actors gave strong and very funny performances (especially Kelly Seip as Madame Arcadi, and not a trace of Margaret Rutherford in her performance); the set was sumptuous and all the special effects were very professionally executed. The Players perform in a late 19th century meeting house, Mapleton Hall, that they're doing a fantastic job renovating and modernizing without taking away any of it's original charms. 

Catherine and I like to say that if we can't make our living in art, we can still make our life in art: I think the Players would definitely agree with us. We joined them for their post-show party—which they have after every performance... because it's a universal truth that theater people love to drink, eat and talk into the wee hours of the morning—and got a real sense of the community they've built and the joy they get from working and playing together. We may not have the same artistic experiences or goals but it was gratifying to realize that hanging out with the group up in Suffield still felt familiar. I hope I'll have other opportunities to join them in the future.

1 comment:

Aisling Arts said...

Oh, Barry. Let me tell you, the Suffield Players have the best damned parties. I had such a blast and made so many friends during the one little one act I did there in 1998. In fact, they let us do the very first Calliope's Umbra production that year. Calliope would become Free Shakespeare and would settle down into Aisling Arts after many iterations.

Needless to say, the wine was good, the theater fun and the people lovely. In many ways, Off Off is the Community theatre of NYC. And why should we be above theatre of our community. Really. Why?