Players Pen – August 19

Many members of the company were very sad to see Sean Fortunato and Matt Holzfeind sing their final duet Sunday afternoon in Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me A Tenor.”  Within the comedy the great opera star, Tito Merelli, is resting in a hotel room before his highly anticipated concert and decides to give Max, the harried young assistant assigned to look after him, a free lesson.

Yes, the music was pre-recorded, but Matt and Sean were not Memorex.  They sang nightly and sounded beautiful.  Prior to opening the two spent many hours training with a voice coach to help create the operatic sound and upon opening their resonant voices filled the theater for three weeks.

Each night their efforts were rewarded with a round of applause.  As were the high energy performances of the rest of the cast including Joe Foust, Ashley Lanyon, Katherine Keberlein, Maggie Kettering, Tim Monsion  and Peggy Roeder.

Quickly after the last curtain call, the Players Company burst into action and took down the set of a 1934 hotel room in Cleveland and cleared the stage to load in our next offering in which we travel all the way to two farm kitchens in Ireland.

Tonight, Wednesday, August 19, is the Wisconsin première of John Patrick Shanely’s quirky love story, “Outside Mullingar.”   Shanley is the son of an Irish immigrant but until “Outside Mullingar” he had never written about his Irish heritage.

Shanley’s father, who didn’t want to travel alone, asked his son to accompany him on a visit to the family homestead.  Shanley became entranced not only with his Irish relations, but with how they communicated with full emotion and conviction, as well as how openly they loved and fiercely supported one another.  The visit to the farm was in 1993 and it took Shanely another 20 years to be inspired to write, but once he did the family farm became his muse.

The Players design team for “Outside Mullingar” is crafted a very different world from “Lend Me A Tenor.” Audiences will travel from an art deco hotel to the focal point of any farm home – its cozy kitchen.  Around the kitchen table serious discussions about animal feed and affairs of the nation are discussed.  This is where brothers razz their sisters and mothers wipe tears, where fathers hesitantly discuss the birds and bees and where sons and daughters learn their family history by listening to their elders’ tales.

The scenic staff has been hustling to build moving platforms to create the world of the farm as scenes shift from both families’ kitchens, to another interior room and even to outside fields.   Properties has been building and collecting sideboards, tables, dressers, a bed, chairs and crockery appropriate for the world Shanley crafted from memory and upon which he expounded.

Anthony and Rosemary are in their 40s and have lived on neighboring farms all of their lives, she with her mom and he with his dad.  Rosemary has been smitten with Anthony since she was a little gir.  He is shy and unware. They work their farms.  They live off the land.  They often work in solitude, and because of their eccentric dispositions, they enjoy it that way.

Shanley’s slice of Irish farm life takes a peek at the mysterious ways of the heart as well as the relationships these family members, and all families, have with one another. They bicker, they disagree, they tease and they love one another deeply.

Jay Whittaker, who played Tony in “Dial M for Murder,” returns to the Players’ stage as Anthony and Maggie Kettering, who played Tito’s wife, Maria, in “Lend Me a Tenor,” is cast as Rosemary.   Peggy Roeder is Aoifee, Rosemary’s mother and William J. Norris is Tony, Anthony’s dad.  Patrons may remember Peggy as the mother in “Making God Laugh” and “Miracle on South Division Street” or William from his performances in “Noises Off,” “Fools,” “The Foreigner” and “The Elephant Man.”

Stylish and elegant evening wear, as worn to the opening night of an opera, are not in this costume design plot for this talented cast. Costume designer Kärin Simonson Kopischke visited with Megan O’Merea and her staff at the O’Merea’s Irish House in Fish Creek to confirm her research as authentic – “What would an Irish farmer wear?”

Hand knit sweaters, tweed trousers, wool scarves, “wellies” and other boots were selected, shopped for, and pulled from, the Players costume storage.  But there was one problem when the purchased items arrived – they looked too new.  Much time has been spent creating runs and holes in the knitwear so much so that each time I walk past a sweater I want to pick up a darning needle.  Sandpaper and diluted dye have been applied to shoes, trousers and shirts to create that well-worn, natural wear-and-tear look appropriate for the play.

If you are feeling the call of the Emerald Isle I hope you will join us by the bay. “Outside Mullingar” is performed as a 90-minute one act play with no intermission.   For tickets or more information on our pre-show seminar Wednesday, Sept. 2 with Megan O’Merea of O’Merea’s Irish House or backstage tours visit or phone the Box Office at 920-868-3287.  I look forward to seeing you by the bay this season, where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine!