Maria Romine, Kevin O’Brien & Tom Leith in “The Surprise”
Every dog has his day, and I am a stray dog that has had an amazing few days.
The Theater of the Word, Incorporated performed Chesterton’s play “The Surprise” this past Friday and Saturday night in a packed house both nights. Now, that was a surprise even to the producer. Or especially to the producer. I was privileged to be a cast member — The King of Fontarabia!
Kevin O’Brien invited two rank amateurs to join the cast. Well, that’s not fair. An amateur is one who pursues an activity as an avocation or diversion. Neither Scott Wilson nor I fit that description, at least not before two weeks ago. We were not amateurs: we’d never done any acting before, and here we were on stage with some truly talented professionals. And so here’s a plug I suppose: if Kevin and Maria Romine can get Scott & me up to speed in about two weeks, their children’s theater workshops should be terrific.
Jeremy Stanbary, who has his own Catholic Theater company called epiphany studio productions came from Minneapolis to play the role of The Puppeteer (or The Author). Jeremy has quite an interesting story, and man! is he a terrific actor. At our first rehersal on Tuesday he was still reading off the script (he was “on book” in the parlance of the craft). But Thursday he was fully off book and doing a knockout job. I couldn’t believe it. He made The Puppeteer the perfect combination of showman, salesman, and philosopher. At one time, Kevin told him something like “sound jealous or rivalrous in that spot in the script” and then ever after, he sounded jealous or rivalrous there. He has more “color” in his voice than I’ve got. He teaches theater workshops in Minneapolis — hint, hint. I learned a lot just watching him perform, but mostly that I’d have a lot to learn if I want to really act. The King role is not so much of a stretch for me; I am the eldest among my siblings and I practiced for years.
Julian Ahlquist, son of American Chesterton Society President Dale Ahlquist, played the part of The Friar. His role is to help “frame” the story, and to ask enough questions to draw-out the Puppeteer. And of course, to pray for a miracle. Julian can recite essentially all the dialog of the three of the original Star Wars films on demand. I am not sure what to think of this, but Maria was sure impressed.
Molly Comer played The Handmaid — a small part so far as lines go, but one that had to be played with perfectly believable innocence and romance in order to make the whole play work. She nailed it from the git-go. Molly teaches drama at Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Missouri and at east Central College in Union, Missouri.
St. Louis Chesterton Society founder Scott Wilson played opposite Gary Wells as the Incompetent Captain of the Incompetent and Drunken Guard in a couple humorous scenes that were humerous for different reasons. Scott was sort-of the Straight Man in both scenes, and provided the foil to the antics of The Guard and The Poet. Gary was comic in two styles of comedy: a dramatic sort of comedy in the first act, and some physical comedy in the second. I do not think I could be so convincingly a drunk as Gary was. He tells me doing the research for the role was hell.
My two scenes were played with The Poet and The Princess, Kevin O’Brien and Maria Romine, and they were both so very patient with me. I shall never forget Maria’s Eyes of Fury that make that intense scene in the second act work so well. You may have heard it said that women are never so beautiful as they are when they are angry. I think I believe it.
And what can I say about Kevin? He can slip from drama to comedy and back again with a smoothness that is facinating to watch. I guess that’s what 35 years’ experience will do for you. And he’s really playing three roles: Director, Producer, and Actor, all at the same time. He was pretty frazzled until the lights came up and the curtain opened. Then it was entirely game-on for him. I am quite flattered that he’d invite me to join the cast especially in the role of The King. I had a great time, and will be forever grateful for the experience.
So, did anybody out there see the show? How `bout some reviews? I may start a discussion topic tomorrow — oooops! Later on today, I mean.