Dorset Players open 90th season
DORSET, Vt. — Ninety years is a long time for anything. At the Dorset Playhouse, time just seems to march on as the resident community theater company, also known as The Players, has survived and thrived in a world where success is hard to come by.
The Dorset Players are rolling out this celebratory season with 2013 Tony award winner "Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike," by Christopher Durang. The show will be directed by Player stalwart Paul Michael Brinker, and produced by relative newcomer Cheryl Gushee.
The play tells the story siblings. Vanya (Jim Young) and Sonia (Laura King) are the caretakers of the family home and — not unlike their Chekovian parallels — are not very happy with life.
Meanwhile, Masha (Elisabeth Hazelton) has become a famous movie star and returns home with her boy toy Spike (Bobby Leonard) to attend a high brow costume party.
Masha is going as Snow White, and arrives with dwarf costume for everyone else. What ensues is hilarious and absurd by deftly crafted characters at the tip of Durang's pen. It's a family reunion extraordinaire. Rounding out the characters are Cassandra (Tracy Hughes) and Nina (Lillian Kelly).
Brinker, the director, has been with the Players for eight years, having come back to the stage after studying acting, and performing in his younger years, before pursuing a career in culinary arts.
He said that Durang writes "such wonderfully basic yet complex characters," which Brinker tries to honor as a director by having his actors say the lines as written and understand them as they pertain to the person saying them and hearing them.
"As far as my approach to directing this show, I dig into the characters with the cast and try to get them to understand why they do the things they do," Brinker said. "We also layer in and discuss the facts that don't even make it to the stage. Knowing the background of the character really helps them to be in the present."
"Vanya" is also a modern play, Brinker continued, so his actors have to be as natural on stage as in daily life — although a very heightened daily life.
Gushee, the producer — who like Brinker had studied acting, and was in regional theater a few decades earlier — has immersed herself in all things logistical surrounding the production. Gushee returned to the theater after raising a family and pursuing a teaching career, making her Players debut last season as Gracie in "Bus Stop."
Still, as a member of The Players, the love of acting runs through her veins. So despite her current role of producer, Gushee makes sure to take in some of Brinker's rehearsals with the cast.
"Rehearsal is such a unique experience, a group of actors and a director coming together to take on new lives," Gushee said. "It's risky business [and] requires trust and faith. As producer, I was able to attend several rehearsals and watch the performances grow under Paul's skilled direction. The creative process is one to be revered."
Still, production is critical, and Gushee said she has had to "respond to what needed to be done yesterday, whether or not [I] had any idea that it needed to be done in the first place."
Gushee credited Players board member and past president Lynne Worth for mentoring her, something she saw as ingrained in the ethos of The Dorset Players.
For her part, Worth considered the rehearsals going on before her as the 90th season inched closer, and said that the company has survived for so long because it took on far more than just community acting.
"I started with the Players in 2004 as a cast member of `My Fair Lady,'" Worth said. "I had just moved to Vermont and didn't know anyone. [The Players were] very welcoming and I realized I found my home away from home in this amazing community theater."
Worth added that she is still "awed by the quality of talent and dedication" that dozens of local people have made to keep The Dorset Players "going strong for 90 years and putting on outstanding productions."
Locals involved with The Players "donate hundreds of hours because [they] love the theater and the satisfaction of pulling together to create a memorable evening," Worth said.
Gushee agreed, adding that The Players stress community involvement in every production and are welcoming to anyone who wants to participate
"There is an incredible amount of work and organization that goes into every production," Gushee said. "The energy and commitment that goes into each and every show I have been a part of is what makes theater happen. That includes the audience, without whom there would be no theater. To have been able to sustain this for 90 years is a tribute to all."
Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @TellyHalkias
If you go ...
What: "Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike"
When: Oct 6-15
Where: The Dorset Players, 173 Cheney Road., Dorset, Vt.
Information: dorsetplayers.org or 802-867-5570
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