As we approach Labor Day weekend, the creative teams have been busy preparing for the final show of our 2017 season, “Almost, Maine.” While the scenery, properties and costume shops are busy crafting the world of this fictional small northern town during the day, they are assisting in pre-show duties and running our production of “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” at night. You may see members of the creative staff serving as parking attendants, handing out tickets at will call or even bartending.
Director Patrick New, who last appeared at Peninsula Players in “Around the World in 80 Days,” is busy in rehearsals during the day leading Erica Elam (“The Actuary”), Joe Foust (“The 39 Steps”), Matt Holzfeind (“Dial M for Murder”) and Karen Janes Woditsch (“Always…Patsy Cline”) through the love lives of nine different couples.
Matt, Karen, Joe and stage manager Alden Vasquez are in what we call “double-duty” during this process, rehearsing during the day and performing in the evening. Matt is performing as Lord Arthur in the evenings under Alden’s stage management and Karl Hamilton is his trusted butler, Baines. Matt also portrayed Captain Robert Falcon Scott in “Peter and the Starcatcher” and Karl was Alf, a scallywag and played Bud, an Iowa farmer, in “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Matt has been with us since the first day of rehearsal for the opening show, “The Actuary,” in which he played a career driven husband who appears to neglect his new bride for his business ambitions.
As Lord Arthur, Matt’s character is the exact opposite. Lord Arthur is a groom who has been told that he will commit a murder, and so endeavors to do the “honorable” thing of getting it out of the way before he marries. I was able to visit with Matt and Karl, who plays his butler, Baines, about Oscar Wide and the frothy comedy they are performing through September 3.
Q. What was your introduction to Oscar Wilde?
K.H. In high school, “The Importance of Being Earnest” was required and I loved every line of Lady Bracknell.
M.H. “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Despite it being a school assignment to read, I remember truly enjoying it. I have come back to it over the years, and it remains a favorite of mine.
Q. Why do you think Oscar Wilde’s story works so well as a piece of theater?
M.H. I love Wilde’s use of language. It’s so intelligent. But beyond his witty commentary on high society, and his clever plot points; his work is just very, very funny. It’s a blast to play.
Q. How do you describe the relationship between Baines and Lord Arthur?
K.H. Baines is a surrogate father to Lord Arthur, but hierarchy and station require the distance of formality.
Q. What pickle does Lord Arthur find himself in?
M.H. The soon to be wed Lord Arthur has just been told by a Cheiromantist (a palm-reader) that he will commit a murder, sometime in the near future. Arthur (who is described in the script as “young and pleasant, but not overburdened with brains”) decides that if he must do this murder, it would be the noble thing to get it out of the way BEFORE he gets married. So he begins a quest to knock off members of his family –usually inflicting more harm on himself than anyone else.
Q. What quality of Lord Arthur is your favorite?
K.H. His lordship’s guilelessness and his earnest desire to make all right and ready before attaching his life to another.
Q. How do you describe the relationship between Lord Arthur and Baines?
M.H. It is the classic servant/master relationship (something like Jeeves and Wooster, is a very good comparison). But despite being from different classes, and one definitely serving the other, they become equals during the course of the play by working together. And the two, at heart, certainly have a great deal of affection for one another.
Q. How is Lord Arthur a comedy of manners?
K.H. Blind adherence to what is “proper” leads to unlikely hijinks.
Q. How is preparing for an Oscar Wilde comedy different than preparing for a contemporary piece – or Shakespeare?
M.H. There is a LOT of text. Unlike say, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” where there is a lot of visual storytelling. In an Oscar Wilde/Constance Cox play (and this one in particular) the story is told almost entirely with the language. So it’s necessary to get that down (and in the brain) as soon as possible. And also not to forget the language when telling the story. In that way, it is very similar to Shakespeare.
K.H. As with most great works that stand the test of time, it is mostly about the richness of language. I’d say Wilde is comparable to Molière – comedy of classes and always with an edge.
Q. What quality of Baines’ is your favorite?
M.H. Baines is the brains of the operation. He is also proud and the most dutiful servant (think Carson, from “Downton Abbey”). But even though it’s his job, you really feel like he cares about Lord Arthur–almost like a father figure.
Q. How many times does Baines answer the door throughout the play?
K.H. Let’s put it this way – they don’t call this Door County for nothing.
Q. What are your next projects?
K.H. I just received an offer to reprise the role of The Amazing Karnak in “Ride the Cyclone.” This will be its third US production running March through May, 2018 in Seattle.
M.H. “Almost, Maine!” Right here at Peninsula Players
There is still time to catch a performance of this delightfully funny comedy. “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” is on stage nightly at 8 p.m. through September 2 and will close Sunday, September 3 with a 4 p.m. matinee. With the opening of “Almost, Maine,” curtain times change to Tuesday through Sunday at 7 p.m., except for Sundays September 17 and October 1 and 15 at 3 p.m. For information or tickets please call the Box Office at (920) 868-3287 or visit www.peninsulaplayers.com. I’ll see you by the bay, where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine!