For theater fans who love getting lost in the language of great literature, nothing beats a staged reading.
“A lot is left to the imagination, and our audiences seem to love that,” said Carol Charniga, who is directing the Theater Voices’ production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” opening Friday at Steamer No. 10 Theater.
“The language is what becomes very important, so we choose plays that are very limited in their physicality. Our audience becomes lost in the story.”
For 25 years now, Theater Voices has been providing staged readings free. While the experience is something short of a full-scale production, it is still an enjoyable night out for the group’s fan base, which seems just as loyal today as it was in 1988 when Gazette writer Eleanor Koblenz put together the first show.
“Eleanor started this group 25 years ago when nobody was doing staged readings,” said Charniga, who has been involved as both director and performer since the 1990s.
WHAT: A staged reading by Theater Voices
WHERE: Steamer No. 10 Theatre, 500 Western Ave., Albany
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: www.theatervoices.org
“It was very unique. Now a lot of people are doing it but Theater Voices still does it the best. We get great talent, we make the right choices and our audience keeps on coming back.”
Veteran actress Eileen Schuyler was in that very first production back in 1988, “The Little Foxes,” and has remained active with the group as a director and performer. And, if she’s not directly involved in a show, she’s usually there watching a performance.
“We get 300 to 350 people at our shows, and we do plays that we wouldn’t normally do otherwise,” said Schuyler, the group’s artistic director, who will be playing Essie in “Ah, Wilderness!”
“The audience loves it, and it’s great for the actor. We don’t have to get off book, so we don’t need as many rehearsals, and we don’t have to worry about props and all the other technical stuff. We really get to explore the characters, and we really get into the text with our audience.”
The performers in “Ah, Wilderness!” won’t just be standing on stage reading from the script. Their movements are carefully laid out “but without the usual props or anything like that,” said Charniga.
“There are suggestions of furniture and other items, and typically we do it in our performance black and white clothes that Eleanor used way back in 1988. Lately, we have been doing suggestions of costumes. If it’s a period piece, like this one set in 1906, the men might be wearing suspenders or bow ties. But it’s really just a suggestion to help the audience along.”
First time for O’Neill
Remarkably, despite Theater Voices’ affinity for classics, the troupe has never before performed a Eugene O’Neill play. “Ah, Wilderness!” was first performed on Broadway in October 1933 and is a coming of age story about 16-year-old Richard Miller. The play is set in a small Connecticut town on the Fourth of July, 1906. The title was a salute to Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” a collection of poems by Khayyam, a Persian poet who lived from 1048 to 1131.
“He’s the most celebrated American playwright out there, and we’ve never done a Eugene O’Neill play,” said Charniga. “He’s only won the Nobel Prize and four Pulitzers so I guess it’s about time. I’ve always loved this play, but it’s the only comedy O’Neill ever wrote. I think he was the first playwright to realize that out of tragedy, there could suddenly be a funny moment, and vice-versa. Either way they both happen.”
Bethlehem Central High senior Dan Light is playing Richard. Schuyler is his mother, and Ron Komora plays Nat Miller, the boy’s father. Also in the cast are Brian Massman as Uncle Sid and Janet Kimlicko as Aunt Lilly. Multiple roles are played by Evan Jones, Kristyn Youngblood and Robin Macduffie.
For the actors, the idea is to keep the script fresh. Don’t memorize your lines, but know your character, according to Schuyler.
“You have to know where you are and where you are going, but we don’t want to memorize our lines,” said Schuyler. “So, we try to get to the point in rehearsals when we’re almost off book, but not quite.”
Also opening Friday night at Proctors’ Fenimore Gallery and running for two weekends will be the Classic Theater Guild’s production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”
Andrew Pattenaude will play Eugene Morris Jerome, a Polish-American Jewish teenager who is experiencing puberty, discovering his sexuality and searching for his own identity, all while sharing his home with six other family members.
Aaron Dorman is playing Eugene’s brother, Stanley, and Anna Groper and Mark David are his parents, Kate and Jack. Also in the cast playing family members are Jen Werner, Mandy Clemente and Sophia Casabonne. Frank Leavitt is directing.
The play, set in 1937, was the first installment of Simon’s semi-autobiographical Trilogy, which includes “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound.”