‘Tiny Houses,’ ‘Once’ and ‘The Sunshine Boys’ to open; directors talk about Schenectady, Latham shows

Sarah Wasserbach and David Quinones, Jr., in a scene from Curtain Call Theater’s “Tiny Houses.” (Jeanne Stephenson)

Sarah Wasserbach and David Quinones, Jr., in a scene from Curtain Call Theater’s “Tiny Houses.” (Jeanne Stephenson)

SCHENECTADY Three local community theaters will open this week and all of them are presenting plays sure to make their audiences laugh.


Opens at 7:30 p.m. tonight with “Tiny Houses.”

“I wanted to do something upbeat as a good start to the season,” said Carol Max, the show’s director. “It’s a strong opener to get people in a good mood and to do something new and because this season all the plays are regional premieres.”

Written by Chelsea Mercantile, the 90-minute piece had its first public performance in 2016 as part of Chautauqua Theater Company’s signature New Play Workshop. Mercantile has received numerous awards for her work including the 2018 Roe Green Award for this play. In 2019, the play got its official premiere in Cleveland where reviewers commented on its “wonderfully unique characters” and that it was a “tartly sweet romantic comedy.”

That’s part of what Max, who reads up to four hundred scripts annually, also saw.

“It’s timely and about young people who are not so different from older people in that they’re looking for a better life, searching for love,” she said. “All this stress after these last two years is too much. People have come to see that life is short and you may have to make better choices.”

Unique to this play is that the five-member cast had to learn construction skills because they’re actually building the set as the show progresses. For that, Max said laughing, she had to bring in her husband who is a general contractor to teach them how to hammer and nail.

This is the 30th season for the company that has produced more than 200 shows with generally six plays a year. As a special treat, audiences will be invited to stay after the show is over to watch the cast take down what they’ve built. An invitation is also extended to season subscribers to bring children age 10 to 17 to the show at no cost.

‘Tiny Houses’
Where: Curtain Call Theater, 1 Jeanne Jugan Lane in Latham.
When: Perfomances are Sept. 15 to Oct. 9: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.; and a matinee Sept. 24 at 3 p.m.
More info: Tickets are $30. Call 518 877-7529. Masks required for all performances


Opens at 8 p.m. Friday with “The Sunshine Boys.”

“It’s my favorite show,” said Amy Sarah LaMena, director. “To me it reminds me of the older generation of family. . .there’s also a lot of sadness. The show is a lot about loss, family, loving even when people are difficult. . . [it’s] heavy and profound.”

LaMena, who currently teaches at Schenectady’s Central Park Middle School, has acted on and off for years but this is her first directing gig. But years ago, she’d seen the show at a New Jersey dinner theater, then read it and then saw it on Broadway with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. She knew then, she said, that if she ever was going to direct a show, this was the one she wanted to do.

As an actress, she’d come to understand about comedy and pacing, but as a director she said she’s learned from working with her eight-member cast “how nice it is to have the trust of these veteran actors. It’s awesome.”

The play, which was written in 1972 by Neil Simon, is proving to have some surprises.

“The 1972 jokes play differently but the core issues are the same as today,” LaMena said. “But the show plays very well. There’s a tender sweetness. It’s not dated.”

This is the 95th season for the company, which has produced up to 450 plays with five plays given each season interspersed with staged readings and some dinner theater.

‘The Sunshine Boys’
Where: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 S. Church St.
When: Performances are Sept. 16 – 25: Friday, Saturday at 8 p.m.; Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
More info: Tickets are $25. Call 518 346-6204. Masks required for all performances.


Opens at 8 p.m. Friday with “Once.”

Based on a 2007 film, the two-hour play became a sensation on Broadway winning the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Album before hitting the road for several tours. Two of those performances are when James Alexander saw the show.

“I saw it on Broadway in 2013 and then saw the 2014 tour at Proctors,” he said. “When I heard the song ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up,’ I cried. It’s a core theater memory.”

So when SLOC was considering what plays to present for this season, Alexander put in for “Once” and was thrilled when he got the go-ahead to direct.

What’s unique about the show is that all the actors must be able to play some kind of instrument and that’s where Elizabeth Sterling comes in as the music director.

But there’s no pit orchestra.

“My role is to have the actors be self-sufficient and not look at me for direction,” she said.

The big challenge was where to find actors who could play and sing the music written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irablova. Enda Walsh wrote the book.

“The cast had to have a different set of skill sets,” Alexander said. “Some of the music was virtuosic.”

He not only found twelve actors who could play instruments like banjo, guitar, violin, and some percussion but that they took to the parts so quickly he had little to do, he said with a laugh. One actor actually straps his cello to the front of his body to move about, Sterling said.

“My goal was to have a cast feel like a band integral to the script,” he said. “The company had never done anything like this play before. But these actors have taken every idea and multiplied it by one hundred. We’d anticipated the show would be most difficult but it’s been the smoothest.”

The company’s first production was in 1928.

Where: Schenectady Light Opera Comany, 427 Franklin St.
When: Performances are Sept. 16 to Sept. 25: Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. On Sept. 23 for the first time an American Sign Language interpreter will be on hand.
More info: Tickets are $25-$32. Call 518 730-7370. Masks required for all performances.

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