The retirees-turned-thespians of Theatre Lawrence’s Vintage Players call it “An Evening of Senior Moments,” but, as members of the group will attest, the annual comedy performance is more than colonoscopy jokes and predictable bits about failing memory.
“It’s funny,” Vintage Players director Mary Ann Saunders says of that particular brand of comedy. “But at the end of the day, it’s sort of depressing.”
“Senior Moments,” she says, is more about the kind of idiosyncrasies and human foibles we all experience, even those of us yet to experience the worst of the aging process. This year’s production — a mix of one-liners, “old vaudeville jokes” and improvised skits, from the minds of Vintage Players themselves or outside scribes — will be staged at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive. The performance is free, but a suggested donation of $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous) is appreciated.
A Theatre Lawrence staple since 2002, the comedy troupe performs regularly at area nursing homes and schools, including Cordley and Deerfield Elementary, where the actors share fairy tales with second graders through re-enactment. The idea, particularly with audiences who are older and often not as active as they once were, is to lift spirits and challenge preconceived notions of senior citizens.
“It lets us entertain them, because they’re confined and some of them are in ill health,” says longtime Vintage Players member Jane Robshaw. “And to see older people, that we’re still out there and performing. I’m 74 and I’m still going.”
Over the years, Saunders has seen Players come and go. Some are more active in the summer months after vacationing outside of Lawrence during the winter. Others, tasked with caring for sick loved ones, might not make every meeting, but find themselves healed — at least momentarily — when they do.
“We read new materials and share stories and laugh at each other quite a bit,” Saunders says, recounting anecdotes from fellow members with chronically sick loved ones. “I think there’s a lot of therapy in laughing. Good therapy.”
But mainly, she says, it’s about having fun. The mission statement of the Vintage Players quite literally is “Just have fun.” And that they do.
Saturday’s iteration of “Senior Moments” (Vintage Players never performs the same show twice in a row, as Saunders prefers to review new scripts and devise new material every year) will make use of the upcoming summer Olympics, bits inspired by “The Ellen Degeneres Show” and other topical elements.
And even though there’s more than a sprinkling of retiree-centric comedy involved, Saunders hopes the show will have a broad appeal.
“Some of the humor is based on the fact that we can’t hear as well or see as well, but there’s an awful lot of stuff in the world that’s funny no matter at what age you’re experiencing it,” she says. “You can find humor in just about everything, and I’m a firm believer that there’s not much out there that you can’t laugh at.”
Ostensibly no one is more familiar with the Chekhov’s gun principle than Sidney Bruhl, the once-successful playwright now struggling with writer’s block in “Deathtrap,” Ira Levin’s Tony-nominated thriller.
The well-known theatrical rule dictates that if a gun is seen on stage in the first act, it must be used by the play’s end. And yet Bruhl, played by David Innis in Theatre Lawrence’s production, opening Friday at 7:30 p.m., himself the author of several murder mysteries, chooses to decorate the walls of his writer’s den with a full-blown arsenal of prop weapons.
Swords, axes, handcuffs, a machete, a mace, several blank guns that are fired in the show and one dramatically crucial crossbow (it plays an important role in the play’s final act) all hang there, making very clear to audiences that something horrible will happen. The matter of how and when, and to whom, isn’t so obvious.
“It’s a comedy that’s aware of the rules of the thriller,” says Theatre Lawrence technical director James Diemer. Not only that, “Deathtrap,” he says, “is playing with those rules that were so prevalent in these kinds of plays for so long and making something new of it.”
Sidney Bruhl is struggling with a creative “dry spell” when we first meet him, living in the shadow of his past successes and living off his wife’s (Myra, played by Erica Fox) money in their faux-rustic Connecticut home.
His desperation turns violent after receiving a manuscript in the mail from a student of his (Nicholas Johnson) named Clifford. Deeming the play a sure-fire hit, Sidney tells Myra he would “kill” to have written a script like Clifford’s. And so it begins.
The play in question? A one-set, five-character thriller titled “Deathtrap.”
It’s all very “self-referential,” says Charles Whitman, a local attorney and occasional Theatre Lawrence director who stepped in to helm the production.
What makes “Deathtrap” so challenging for its cast — and what separates it from countless other murder mysteries reliant on over-used tropes of the genre — is Levin’s avoidance of predictable stock characters.
“The characters are all doing things other than what you expect them to do,” Whitman says, not wanting to give away too much. “They all have really layered motivations, different intentions that you don’t expect when you first meet the characters.”
The late Levin, perhaps best known for his bestselling horror novel “Rosemary’s Baby," was no stranger to the macabre when he penned “Deathtrap" in 1978. Much like his darkly comedic thriller “The Stepford Wives,” in which Levin critiqued the emphasis on youth and beauty in American media, “Deathtrap” satirizes show business and the classic whodunnit.
“There’s twists and turns and people in danger,” says Whitman, but “Deathtrap,” he adds, isn’t without (very dry) humor. “It’s most frightening and more horrifying if you identify with the characters and if there are occasional elements of fun.”
If you go:
- What: Ira Levin's "Deathtrap"
- Where: Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive
- When: The play opens Friday at 7:30 p.m., with additional performances this weekend at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Catch it through March 13.
- Cost: Tickets range from $21.99 to $24.99 and can be purchased at www.theatrelawrence.com or by calling 843-7469.
More than a quarter century has passed since Jason Edmonds and Matt All last shared the stage together, when the two then-students tied for the big prize (it was something along the lines of “best male vocalist” or “best male performer,” though neither can remember for certain) at Kansas University’s annual Rock Chalk Revue.
Trouble was, only one trophy had been made. The young men “jokingly” engaged in a tug of war for a few brief seconds, but then All grabbed hold of the trophy and that was that.
“I never let go of the trophy and still have it today,” says All, who has found himself drawn into competition with his former classmate again, this time at Theatre Lawrence’s sold-out Dueling Dukes, slated for 7:30 p.m. Saturday. “I should probably give it to him and let him have it for another 25, 30 years,” he jokes.
Edmonds and All are among the eight Lawrence-area men selected to battle it out, “American Idol”-style, in the twist on Theatre Lawrence’s popular Dueling Divas event, which in previous years has enlisted local women to perform in support of the community theater.
The basic premise is the same this time around.
Each contestant sings two songs, in addition to a group number, and the audience members vote for their favorites. Each vote equals a dollar donated to Theatre Lawrence. Folks can also pledge support before the performance at www.theatrelawrence.com.
The evening begins at 6:30 with an hors d'oeuvre buffet, wine and cocktails, with the "dukes" taking the stage at 7:30.
“We just wanted to shake it up a bit,” Kay Traver, Theatre Lawrence marketing director, says of the gender switch.
“We try to choose contestants, some who are closely tied to the theater but also some who are community members who the general public may not realize have singing talent,” she says. “It’s always nice to see your friends and community members strut their stuff.”
Edmonds, 46, and All, 44, did their fair share of musical theater growing up. Though, with the exception of the occasional wedding and funeral over the years, it’s been decades since they sung for an audience of Theatre Lawrence proportions. Family, career and the general obligations of adulthood put performing on the back burner.
“I’m mostly excited about it,” says Matt All, now senior vice president and general counsel at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, of his return to the stage. “With occasional fits of wanting to vomit,” he deadpans.
Nerves aside, he and Edmonds both say they’ve enjoyed the experience so far. Theatre Lawrence’s musical director, Mary Baker, is providing musical accompaniment and direction, but the competition largely leaves contestants to decide how much time and effort to put into the show. Aside from a handful of “formal” rehearsals since October, Edmonds says his preparation has mainly been limited to singing in the car. (He does it every day, though.)
“It’s hardly competition. We’re all genuinely having fun,” says Edmonds, a founder and partner at Lawrence’s Edmonds Duncan Registered Investment Advisors. “It’s a much more talented group of guys — I am the rank amateur of the group, as much as I’m looking forward to it.”
He’d like to win Dueling Dukes, of course, but Edmonds has his eye on another prize too: the much-coveted Rock Chalk Revue trophy from all those years ago. Edmonds says he has instructed his old friend to bring the award to Theatre Lawrence on the night of the show.
“I met my wife (Michaela Edmonds) that year,” he concedes of the Rock Chalk Revue snub. “There are three young people who have that silly show to thank for their lives, I guess.”
Still, Edmonds says, good naturedly, “I think it’s my turn to keep the trophy, Matt.”
When Mary Doveton gives backstage tours at Theatre Lawrence, she’s frequently asked, “Doesn’t this stuff just come with the script?”
No, it doesn’t, Doveton, executive director of the theater, explains good-naturedly. When Theatre Lawrence signs on to stage a big-budget, high-tech production like, say, “The Little Mermaid,” Disney doesn’t supply ready-made backdrops or costumes or, in this case, an oversized remote-controlled seashell.
“Oh no, all of that comes from our designers,” says Doveton, who, along with her crew, has created a whole new world for Theatre Lawrence’s production of “The Little Mermaid,” which opens Friday and runs through Dec. 20.
Other than a few minor changes to the story and some added songs by composers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, “The Little Mermaid” remains mostly faithful to the beloved children’s flick that spurred such hits as “Under the Sea,” “Part of Your World” and “Kiss the Girl.”
They’re all there in Theatre Lawrence’s version, which is, well, very much Theatre Lawrence’s version, with aquatic lighting and aerial dancing apparatuses and sea-witch tentacles all conjured from the script and technical crew’s imagination.
Doveton, who steps in once a year to direct and chose to helm “Mermaid,” has yet to see the show performed live, other than the dress rehearsals at Theatre Lawrence.
“It’s always comforting to see someone else’s productions and see how they did something,” she says. “But in a way, this has been very liberating because it’s given us the opportunity to create our own moments.”
Among those moments: special-ordered atmospherics, special effects and water lights designed to simulate the view of looking downward to the bottom of a swimming pool as conceived by Theatre Lawrence technical director James Diemer, Cirque du Soleil-esque Spanish rope dancing by choreographer Molly Gordon, and costume designer Jane Pennington’s many whimsical ensembles.
“I tried to stay true to Disney’s vision as much as possible,” says Pennington, who admittedly — and gladly — went heavy on the glitter in the production. “There’s a lot of iridescent and reflective materials.”
Her biggest challenge has been translating Disney’s animated characters to the stage, a tough act when most of the characters are sea creatures, both real and mythical.
“How do you create a mermaid out of a two-legged person as opposed to a creature with a tail and arms?” Pennington asks. “It’s about trying to figure out how to look like the animal it’s supposed to represent while making it a practical costume that people can move in and dance in.”
Pennington found her solution in mixing street clothes and beastly features — i.e., dancing seagulls dressed in denim cutoffs, orange rubber boots and baseball caps outfitted with feather plums and elongated foam beaks.
She went through about three or four versions of Ariel’s costume before settling on the winner: a glittery contraption with a tail that moves independently and a skirt that covers actress Amy Nystrom’s legs.
But the crowing jewel, as far as Pennington’s concerned, might be Ursula, the larger-than-life sea witch who steals Ariel’s voice in exchange for a pair of legs. Made from hundreds of foam squares hand cut by theater volunteers, Ursula’s costume (she's played by Secily Krumins) features eight detachable, contractible tentacles each measuring 8 feet long.
They’re Doveton’s personal favorite, too — “Jane has outdone herself on that costume,” she gushes.
Following Theatre Lawrence’s tradition of staging family-friendly shows during the holidays, “The Little Mermaid” should attract its fair share of kids — “every little girl comes to see Ariel,” Doveton says of the titular sea princess — but for older theater goers who might not have grown up with the 1989 flick, there’s still plenty to enjoy — for example, the one-liners and physical comedy of Ursula and her eel sidekicks, Flotsam and Jetsam, she says.
But there are also slightly weightier themes at play. Ariel, in leaving her ocean home to chase her dream of living above the waves with her beloved Prince Eric, is given more agency than earlier Disney princesses.
“She has a sense of adventure,” Doveton says. “We’re concentrating on Ariel’s journey, on her adventure, on her idea of home.”
At one point, Ariel has a conversation with her friend Flounder about that very theme — “what constitutes as home and how sometimes home isn’t what you thought it might be and how we form communities of friends and like-minded people.”
Without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say Ariel does find her home in the end. (Really, which Disney stories, with the possible exception of the gut-wrenching “The Fox and the Hound,” don’t conclude on a cheerful note?)
“I think all of us like stories with happy endings — we all yearn for love and for laughter and for song,” Doveton says. “I think especially during the holidays, it’s a time to bring people together and celebrate love and family."
That’s partly what makes the little mermaid’s tale so timeless, she says.
Tickets for "The Little Mermaid" range from $15.99 for children 14 and under to $24.99 for adults. They can be purchased in person at 4660 Bauer Farm Drive, online at theatrelawrence.com or at 843-7469.
Play time: KU Theatre staging ‘A Doll’s House’; EMU Theatre performing one-acts with local ties at Percolator
The next few weeks — this weekend in particular — promise more than a few options for theater lovers in Lawrence.
If you’re a recovering theater nerd like me (shoutout to Thespian Troupe 1820 at Wichita Southeast High School) who routinely listens to the “Les Miserables” soundtrack to get pumped for work in the morning, this is very exciting news.
Let’s review the selections, shall we?
First up: Kansas University Theatre’s take on Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” opening Saturday at Stage Too! in Murphy Hall’s Crafton-Preyer Theatre. This classic drama, penned in 1879, boasts some pretty ahead-of-its-time attitudes regarding gender roles.
In “A Doll’s House” (spoiler alert for a 130-year-old play), the housewife protagonist ends up leaving her condescending and overbearing husband in order to discover her own identity. It’s a decidedly modern take on what it means to be a woman in a man’s world that still feels relevant more than a century later, and as of 2006, the centennial of Ibsen’s death, held the distinction of being the most performed play in the world that year.
Saturday’s show is sold out, but tickets for Sunday’s staging are still available. You can also catch “A Doll’s House” next week, Thursday through Nov. 22.
Elsewhere this weekend, EMU Theatre is staging “Single Shots and Sunday School,” a series of monologues, most of which boast plots and/or authors with Lawrence ties.
Slated for Friday, Saturday and next Friday, Nov. 20, at 8:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Percolator, “Single Shots and Sunday School” features seven monologues, among them “Hot Georgia Sunday” by off-Broadway playwright and Kansas resident Catherine Trieschmann and “Upon the Occasion of Uncle Milt,” written by Lawrence’s Will Averill and performed by Jerry Mitchell, aka Victor Continental.
Other plays include “Warning Shots,” written by Everett Robert about Quantrill’s Raid, and Dan Born’s “Bang,” which recounts the life of poet Joan Vollmer before she was shot in the head by her husband, William Burroughs, in Mexico City.
(If you don’t know much about this incident, Wikipedia is a treasure trove of fascinating tidbits. Read when you literally don’t have anything else to do, because this stuff sucks you in.)
Tickets are $8 at the door. Check out Facebook for more information.
Next up for the Lawrence theater scene: a staged reading of local playwright and retired KU professor Paul Stephen Lim’s “Flesh, Flash and Frank Harris” at the Lawrence Public Library on Dec. 3, plus “The Little Mermaid” comes to Theatre Lawrence on Dec. 4.
Here's a little something to get you hyped in the meantime. Can you feel that (red) blood stirring in your veins?
Whether you're a kid (or a kid at heart), you won't find a shortage of fun and creepy things to do this Halloween weekend in Lawrence.
Here are just a few ideas — check out our Datebook for more.
A Festival of Magic & Mystery
5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive
Not in the Halloween spirit yet? This family-friendly event at Theatre Lawrence should get you there.
Among the attractions: magic shows from renowned illusionist Tom Burgoon (he’s performed in all 50 states, and even for President George W. Bush) and Kansas City’s own Korso the Curious.
Also, shadow puppetry for younger kids, a jack-o’-lantern contest and display featuring the work of Van Go Inc., Pinot’s Palette and local artists, and plenty of grub ranging from sweet treats to barbecue.
General-admission tickets cost $10, or $5 for kids 5 and under.
For more information, including where to buy tickets, visit www.theatrelawrence.com or call 843-7469.
Kansas University Symphony Orchestra Halloween Concert
Concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Lied Center of Kansas, 1600 Stewart Drive
A beloved tradition returns Friday evening with the KU School of Music’s Halloween Spooktacular.
On the program this year: plenty of magical and macabre music, from “Night on Bald Mountain” by Modest Mussorgsky to Richard Wagner’s “Overture to the Flying Dutchman” to “Suite from The Fellowship of the Ring” by Howard Shore.
Festivities begin with an “instrument petting zoo” for kids at 6:30 p.m. in the Lied Center lobby. The annual children’s costume contest will be held during the concert, with prizes for the winners.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children, seniors and students, though kiddos (we’re talking up to 18 here) wearing their costume get in free.
For more information, call 864-3436 or visit www.music.ku.edu.
Spooktacular Four-Person Scramble
1 p.m. Saturday, Eagle Bend Golf Course, 1250 E. 902 Road
Join in on some sporty yet “spooktacular” fun with this four-person, nine-hole golf scramble.
Being that this is Halloween, costumes are encouraged, and teams with all members in costume will receive a five-stroke advantage. Prizes await, both for top performers in the golf portion and in the costume-judging contest.
The cost is $100 per team, and includes green fee, cart and prizes. Call 748-0600 for details.
Trick or Treat at the Watkins
5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St.
“Meet the ghost of J.B. Watkins as you make your way down Massachusetts Street,” this kid-friendly (and free) event promises.
We’re not sure how the late Lawrence financier plans on making his appearance Saturday, but the museum that bears his name should remain lively long after closing time with trick-or-treating and a special scavenger hunt. And yes, prizes will be awarded.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/watkinsmuseum or call 841-4109.
Downtown Lawrence Halloween Trick-or-Treat
5 p.m. Saturday, along Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence
Celebrate Halloween in the heart of Lawrence (i.e., along Massachusetts St.) with this family-friendly event. Downtown merchants will hand out treats from 5 p.m. until the candy runs out.
Lawrence Arts Center productions
Various showtimes Friday and Saturday, Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.
The Arts Center’s spooky stagings of “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers” and “A Midnight Visit to the Grave of Poe: A Grotesque Arabesque” both close on Halloween.
Catch them while you still can with showtimes Friday and Saturday: 7 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively, for “Shivers,” and 7:30 p.m. both nights for “Midnight Visit.”
“Midnight Visit” tickets range from $10 to $25; “Shivers” tickets range from $8 to $12. For more information, visit www.lawrenceartscenter.org or call 843-2787.