Sexy or saintly: Two new plays offer contrast in Collier County
George Bernard Shaw's "Joan of Arc" only has heroes. That's a perfect scenario for conflict, temper tantrums, accusations and potential tragedy.
All of the characters are sure they're doing the best thing for the constituency dear to their hearts, and their reasoning is laid out with keen understanding and abundant wit.
"Every scene is like an argument," marveled Eric Tucker, co-founder of the Bedlam theater troupe, whose company brings the play to Naples next week.
"Bedlam's 'Joan of Arc'" production takes the stage for Gulfshore Playhouse on Oct. 19 (there are preview performances Oct. 17 and 18; see information box for details) and all of these heroes will get their say.
Of course, history has clued us in to the ending, but Shaw's way of laying out its characters' world views and their ardor is still seat-edge theater. Tucker calls it one of the greatest plays ever written.
"I think it’s the language. Shaw is just right there, like a notch, below Shakespeare. His language is so poetically perfect and so … perfectly written," he said.
There's even humor in it: "People forget how funny it is. It's incredibly funny," he said, referring to Shaw's switchblade wit. "And yet it's so stirring."
Tucker tempers his Shaw-Shakespeare comparison. Shaw's dialogue is 20th century, he emphasizes. No iambic pentameter and 16th century flourishes needed. This four-person production developed by Bedlam also works with minimal props and casual contemporary costumes.
The play is a heavy-duty three hours, "but it just flew by," declared Kristen Coury, founder-producing artistic director for Gulfshore Playhouse. "When I left I thought 'Wow did they contemporize the language or cut it?' Fact is, they didn’t. It all holds together so beautifully and so seamlessly."
Coury determined to bring in the production after seeing Bedlam do it at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. It will be the first outside production to play here, she said, and it comes with a definite advantage with Bedlam's small troupe and portable staging.
Bedlam brings the audience into the play, rotating some audience seats onstage for each act. And the court will even come out to them in its deliberations over whether Joan should be put to death. There will be no pressure for your votes, of course.
There's an additional treat for audiences familiar with Gulfshore Playhouse offerings. Dria Brown, who played the fiery Marianne Angelle, the Haitian spy of "The Revolutionists" last season, is Joan of Arc. Brown has been creating the role of Joan for nearly three years, and loves the intimacy of the Bedlam production.
"There's no fourth wall. We're really looking at you .. as if you are in court condemning me to death," she said. "We aren’t wearing time period clothing or using a lot of props.
"The audience is no longer off the hook," she said. "It becomes just as an important story as it would be right now."
Brown also loves the humanity in Joan that Shaw brings out: "Her bigger flaw is that she could be headstrong and argumentative." But her intensity and dedication are make her an inspiring character to play.
"I think Joan really is really just a testament to having a purpose-driven life that requires no permission to pursue that purpose — and to also keep yourself motivated. To galvanize your own inner troops, if you will."
Meeting the rent with a racy business
"Foot-long Frankie" does not make an appearance in the Marco Players production of "Old Ringers." But let's give him a round of applause anyway.
His lascivious phone call to a wrong number gives rise to — should we use that expression? — a new career as phone sex entrepreneurs for four financially pinched friends in this play. The Joe Simonelli comedy runs Wednesday, Oct. 16, to Nov. 3, a lacy, racy confection of double entendres and bewildered phone handoffs (See information box for details.)
The premise: The promise of $50 for five minutes of racy talk with invisible patrons entices four friends to learn terminology that isn't usually in Medicare manuals. The conflict: They'll also have to somehow keep Diane's moralizing daughter and her new police officer suitor out of the loop.
The cast is even laughing in rehearsals, according to Alexandra Bates, director for the Players' opening production. Bates can't resist joining because she's in the play as well, as Diane's killjoy kid, Amanda.
"The play is hilarious. We've just been laughing our way through rehearsals," said Alexandra Bates, director for the Players' opening production.
Bates could reserve a few kudos for herself. She stepped in to direct after the death of its initial director, Players veteran Richard Joyce. (This production has been dedicated to his memory). Then a personal matter demanded that the actress playing Amanda leave the role, so she joined the cast she was directing.
Bates is a veteran of TV commercials and a lead elsewhere in roles such as Roxie Hart in "Chicago." She teaches acting and handles the readers' theater program of Marco Players as well.
In fact, one of Bates' students for her first year of teaching for the Players, Ty Szumigala, plays Harry, long-suffering boyfriend of one of the women. Harry finds himself as administrative assistant to the ringers, even serving as phone-sex concierge several times. And Harry dresses the part, emerging in a Speedo, chaps and a cowboy hat at one point.
"I knew that he would be really game to go after this role," Bates said. He's one of the troupe that has made her as comfortable as she can be with the production. Her final challenge is that the playwright, Joe Simonelli, will actually be in the audience Oct. 18 and 19 and will conduct post-play talkbacks.
"They say that directing is 80 percent casting. I do believe that is the case," Bates said. "It's not just finding actors who can play the part but who are willing to jump into some kind of wild, even raunchy, stuff."
"I got a great cast. They're all fantastic," she added. "I've got some really seasoned actors and others for whom this is their very first play. And I'm not sure you'll be able to tell who is who."
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Bedlam's 'Saint Joan'
What:Production of the George Bernard Shaw drama by Bedlam theater company for Gulfshore Playhouse
When: 7 p.m. (note early time) Wednesdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays Thursday, Oct. 17, through Sunday, Nov. 3. See website for dates on post-show talkbacks or preshow discussions
Where: Norris Community Center, 755 Eighth Ave. S., Naples 34102
Tickets:gulfshoreplayhouse.org or 866-811-4111
What: Production of the Joe Simonelli comedy by Marco Players
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays Oct. 16 through Nov. 3
Where: Marco Town Center Mall, 1089 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island 34145
Admission: $32 and $34
Tickets:themarcoplayers.com or 239-642-7270
Something else: The playwright, Joe Simonelli, will be a guest for talkbacks after the play Oct. 18 and 19
And there's more: There are complimentary Champagne and strawberries on opening night, Wednesday, Oct. 16