MARCO ISLAND — A bad year for tomatoes can make for a good night at the theater.
Marco’s new Island Players Community Theater debuted with “A Bad Year for Tomatoes,” their maiden production, Friday evening in the Rose History Auditorium at the Marco Island Historical Museum. With well-cast actors and outrageous plot turns, the broad farce kept the audience engaged and laughing to the last blackout.
The blackouts were necessary; there are no curtains at the Rose hall, set up as a venue for lectures. But the cast and crew made good use of the space, and their stagecraft, equipment and attention to detail served notice they are a “farce” to be reckoned with in the local theater scene.
Before the first act, co-director and co-founder of the group Pat Berry made an announcement. Veteran daytime drama star, Soapfest stalwart and Island Players advisory board member Walt Willey had been working with the cast, functioning as a “script doctor” and helping bring the production to its final form. Willey, though, downplayed his role.
“They were ready,” he said after the show. “All this group needed was an audience. Imagine doing this for three months in the dark.”
The setup is a classic “fish out of water” story. A Hollywood star decides to chuck her career, and hide away in a tranquil rural town where, she believes, she will find the peace and quiet to let her write her memoirs. But the little burg of Beaver Haven is anything but tranquil, and its wacky denizens can’t seem to stop invading the would-be recluse’s living room.
Myra Marlowe, the runaway actress, is played by Mai Puccio, who is onstage for nearly every moment of the show – but then, it is her living room. She finds her writer’s block comes in the form of a stream of over-the-top neighbors, including a reputed witch, a drunken teetotaler, and a manure-selling woodchopper. Driven to distraction, and unable to conceive of the notion of installing a deadbolt on her front door, she hits on a wacky scheme of her own in an attempt to guard her privacy, which – spoiler alert – backfires completely.
Much of the action finds Puccio reacting with scenery-chewing horror to the latest bizarre revelation or scheme, from juicy gossip about a neighborhood lad and his turkey, to the faith-healing of Brother Leviticus – “CURING the Addlepated since 1949!!!” The characters are broadly drawn, not nuanced; the company is playing it for laughs, and they got plenty throughout both acts on Friday night.
Joe Kelly as Piney the woodchopper, played as a “Country Bears Jamboree”-style bumpkin, is a standout in the cast, and Betsy Perdichizzi as witchy Willa Mae Wilcox has some great moments with Puccio. Norma Griffin, as Clara Thrupp of the Hospitality Ladies committee, brought the house down with the “walker shuffle,” shakin’ it to the tune of a tinkly piano during scene changes.
The cast had a wide range of acting experience, from numerous leads in community theater and university productions – Puccio – down to Scott Lilly, playing her agent, for whom Friday’s opening night marked his debut as an actor.
The other founders of the Island Players shared directing credits with Berry, and each will take the lead on additional productions during the coming season. Patty Ziesig will helm “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and Jean Rowles will take up the baton for “The Saga of Roaring Gulch,” a musical.
All of the group’s founders emphasized how well they work together. “The only drama here is on the stage,” said Ziesig.
“A Bad Year for Tomatoes” will continue through October 15, with evening performances Fridays and Saturdays, and Sunday matinees. The group’s website is TheaterOnMarco.com.