Daily Sitka Sentinel

'Buffalo' to bring Laughter, Falls to Stage

    The final days before a community theater production opens can be a bit of a scramble.
    Actors cram to learn their lines and the nervous director frets over blocking, the thespian term for knowing where you have to be on the stage and when.
    But the cast of “Moon Over Buffalo,” which opens a three-night run at the Performing Arts Center April 6, is on top of things, director Stacey Woolsey said this week.
    They’ve been off book for a couple of weeks and are using the final days leading up to the opening show to fine- tune their performances.
    “I have to say this play is more polished than any I’ve ever directed,” Woolsey said.
“They have the luxury to work on interpretation and characterization, things you can’t do if you don’t have your blocking and lines down. You tell them once and they’ve got it. The whole cast has been that way.”
    “Moon over Buffalo,” written in 1995 by Ken Ludwig, is a comedy about a theater company that is performing two shows: “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Private Lives.” The action, set in the 1950s, takes place in Buffalo, New York.
    The company is led by George and Charlotte Hay, a husband and wife team played by Ed Ronco and Stephanie Ask.
    Charlotte has dreams of making it big in Hollywood and her “big break” is a major plot point in the play.
    Ronco, who directed last year’s production of “Rumors” and is now set to have his first major role in a Sitka play, agreed with Woolsey that the cast’s familiarity with the script has allowed for the kind of experimentation during rehearsal that should lead to good things when the curtain goes up next Friday.
    “It’s given us a lot of time to play around and add layers to our character,” Ronco said. “It’s a comedy, so I’m not going to say we’ve found deep meaning in the text, but the less you look at the script, the more time you have to kind of become that person and act like a normal person would who’s not reading lines from a book.”
    He added: “We’re in a really good place. We’ve kind of built the house and now we just have to clean up for company.”
    The polishing, as Ronco put it, includes the actors’ figuring out exactly how they’ll play their scenes, in addition to things like dressing the set and locking in other technical aspects of the show.
    Ronco also has to practice some of his stunts.    
    Ronco said he was often cast as the “wacky sidekick” when he did community plays back in Indiana, but he called the role of George Hay “one of the most physical roles I’ve ever played.”
    The script calls for Ronco’s character to fall into the orchestra pit and trip down some stairs. He also gets attacked and has a sword fight, among other things.
    The fall into the orchestra pit is on Woolsey’s list of things to work on this coming week. She’s decided to use the high school’s high jump mats to pad the fall, though as of this morning the stunt had not yet been rehearsed. Ronco didn’t sound worried. He was not a high jumper in high school, but didn’t think it would be too hard to figure out how the mats work.
    “This is gravity, so I’m going to trust in gravity,” he said.    
    For fellow star Ask, the role of Charlotte Hay has some special meaning.
    She traces her interest in community theater to a production of “Moon Over Buffalo” she saw in Aberdeen, Wash., near where she grew up.  A young high school student at the time, Ask was taken with the performance of Kathe Rowe, the amateur actress who played Charlotte.
    “I just could not take my eyes off of Kathe,” Ask recalled this week.
    Ever since, Ask has hoped for a chance to take on the role. She wasn’t directly involved in picking the play for this year’s community theater production, but last fall, when Ronco and others were reviewing potential plays, Ask was “rooting from the sidelines.”
    Ask, who is currently directing a Sitka High play for the second straight year, said it’s common during rehearsals of a comedic play for the actors to lose track of what’s funny. It’s a natural part of the repetition that comes with memorizing lines and performing them day after day in rehearsal.
    But that hasn’t happened in the lead-up to “Moon Over Buffalo.” Fits of laughter have been common during recent rehearsals, the actors said.
    “Hopefully, that’s a really good sign that the play and humor is really kind of blossoming,” Ask said, adding: “It’s been a pretty hilarious experience. The play itself is so funny and watching everybody grow into their characters and try things has been great.”
    There will be performances of “Moon Over Buffalo” April 6, 7 and 8, with curtain time 7 p.m. all three nights. Tickets, $10 for adults and $7 for students and seniors, are available at Old Harbor Books and will be sold at the door.
    Other cast members: Ira Snelling (Howard), Seaton Bryan (Paul), Meghan Doughty (Eileen), Emily Pratt (Rosalind Hay), Tracey Marthaller (Ethel) and Alexander Allison (Richard).

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