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New theater company debuts
By Gloria Diaz
Fort Wayne Reader
When I got an email from Paul Allen, director of Stages Theater Company, about a play his group was doing called Faith County I was intrigued. It was described as “a white trash romantic comedy…”
A white trash romantic comedy? I am SOOOO there. I also thought, “Gee, this isn’t the usual play put on by the Firehouse Theater.”
Allen wants to emphasize that while Stages Theater Company uses the facilities located at 1245 E. State Street, Stages and the Firehouse Theater are two separate things. The Firehouse Theater’s founder carved a niche in local theater by producing family-friendly plays and productions that were geared towards children.
Allen, who has over 20 years of experience in professional theater, doesn’t want to take away from what (Firehouse founder Jeanette) Jaquish started, but adds that the plays he will be doing are not necessarily for the whole family. He shies away from calling them “adult entertainment,” because that phrase has a certain connotation. While there’s no nudity or excessive profanity in a Stages Theater production, Allen’s choices of plays probably aren’t something you want to bring the kids to. Of course, if you want to bring them, that’s entirely up to you. But consider yourself warned.
As Exhibit A, take Faith County, which opened on March 27 and ended its run April 4. Written by Mark Landon Smith, Faith County originally debuted in 1991 as a radio play, enjoyed a 35-week run on WLYX, and was even featured on NBC’s Dateline. Allen describes the characters as a cross between Roseanne and Mama’s Family. The action takes place in Mineola, a small town located “somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the South. ” As an article on the website of Nashville, TN’s The Renaissance Center puts it, “a colorful collection of good ol’ country folk gather at the Faith County Fairgrounds for this year’s county fair. In a place where beehive hairdos are still the rage and Saturday nights are reserved for the tractor pulls, there’s still competition in the arts and crafts category and plenty of gossip to be found at the lemonade stand run by the ladies of the church.”
From what I saw at rehearsals recently, the play is hilarious. The wedding scene features a not-too-intelligent groom reading his wedding vows, which have all the romantic punch of a form letter. The bride’s vows, written by the town floozy, ooze with flowery declarations and dramatic hand gestures. One can only imagine the refreshments at the reception. Can the moonshine and fried green tomatoes be far behind?
All-in-all, Faith County isn’t family fare in the way a Firehouse Theater production might be, but a lot of fun nevertheless. The actors certainly seem to be enjoying something new. Ashley Strickland, who plays Naomi, has acted in middle school and high school plays, and has been in a couple of short films at IPFW. “I’m really not used to having a main (character). I like being kind of, on the side. This is my first time being out front.” The prospect of being a lead didn’t scare her, but it did make her a little nervous.
Mike Hoover, who plays Delbert, has been doing theater since 1985, where he got his start in Columbia City with the Curtain Company Players. Faith County is his second Firehouse Theater production. His favorite part of the play, he says, is act one. “The scene where Delbert and Faye are talking, and Faye thinks Delbert is going to marry her. Delbert doesn’t want to. The last thing he wants to do is get married.”
One actor who didn’t want to be identified was asked by the director to be in the production, and “I’m really glad he did.” A favorite aspect of this play, said the actor, was how “everybody is psychotic in their own special way. They all have their quirks. And they don’t realize it.”
Shantay Grampton has been in music videos and worked with B.E.T. She was also in a dancing and singing group called The Essence. “I attack people with Bible scriptures,” she says, of her character Ruthann, who sounds like the Church Lady, the character made famous by former Saturday Night Live star Dana Carvey. Grampton also likes Naomi Farkle, who owns a beauty shop. “We go there and get our hair done,” says Grampton, of the other female characters in the play. “We hear about the hot topics, about the men and everything. It’s rejuvenating to us that we get to talk. When she’s fighting with Mildred, I love that, ‘cause I get to break it up and everything.”
Paul Allen’s goal with Stages is presenting it as an “open arms community theater group.” Those who would like to give acting a shot — experienced, inexperienced, Allen doesn’t care — all comers are welcome. He originally formed the group in 2002 in Lafayette, Indiana. In 1986 he was part of the national professional touring company of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, but when his run with that production ended, he found that going through the old routine of auditions was disheartening. Fed up with rejection, Allen decided he could do it on his own, “and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he adds.
Allen says future productions of Stages Theater Company will include The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden by Thornton Wilder; No Skronking by Shel Silverstein; Tender Offer by Wendy Wasserstein; and The Case of the Crushed Petunias by Tennessee Williams.
For more information about Stages Theater Company, or to buy tickets for upcoming shows, call Paul Allen at 750-8308. Or, visit www.myspace.com/stagesfw.