Bennington Community Theater opens with `The Curious Savage'

Amateur acting company launch under Oldcastle's umbrella

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BENNINGTON — There's something new brewing in the performing arts in Bennington, and it's coming your way on Dec. 7 and 8.

Welcome to the people's theater, also known as the Bennington Community Theater (BCT), the launch of a reimagined project now affiliated with a parent organization, Oldcastle Theatre Company.

BCT will open its doors for the first time in this new format with three performances of John Patrick's "The Curious Savage," directed by professional actor Christine Decker, who also doubles as Oldcastle's director of education.

"The Curious Savage" is a comedy about Ethel Savage, a wealthy widow who — to the distress of her grown children — intends to leave her wealth to help ordinary people pursue their dreams. Convinced that she's become mad — and wanting her money for themselves — they have her committed to a sanitarium, The Cloisters, whose patients seem saner than the Savage children do.

The play represents the formal restart of the BCT under Oldcastle's performing arts umbrella, where the two organizations share the same board of directors but essentially operate independently.

Oldcastle and BCT board president Anthony "Tony" Marro said that when Oldcastle's leadership studied expanding the theater into a year-round performing arts center, one of the goals was "finding ways of putting Bennington people on the stage as well as in the seats."

Marro added that amateur community theater is one way of doing this, and "if financially successful we might be able to stage multiple performances every year."

"We're keeping it very separate from professional theater, so it's being directed by Christine Decker, not [Oldcastle artistic director] Eric [Peterson]," Marro said. "But it's a part of our plan to greatly expand offerings other than professional theater."

That blueprint, Marro continued, is that the BCT will offer opportunities for the graduates of Decker's popular Acting 101 class, to perform on stage. In turn, this should help attract more students into the actors' training.

Two graduates of that program are Erika Floriani, Oldcastle's marketing director, and Jana Lillie, Oldcastle's house manager. Both have been cast in "The Curious Savage."

Floriani was quick to acknowledge the BCT's history while pointing the way forward.

"Robert Ebert and Melissa Hepler founded the [BCT] a few years back," Floriani said. "They did a great job in bringing such well-known shows as `Arsenic and Old Lace,' and `Love Letters' to the community, but an endeavor such as this needed more hands than just two dedicated and driven individuals."

Floriani explained that both Ebert and Hepler are assisting with the current production, and that the cast is made up of 11 local amateurs. She said that the actors has been hard at work on rehearsals but even more help is welcome.

"Though the cast has been set and rehearsing for weeks, there are still other opportunities to help, and become involved," Floriani said. "We are looking for individuals that can assist with set building, painting, help with lights, stage hands that set up for the next scene. This is community theater and our hope is that the community becomes more involved as we progress."

The cast will include Sue McIntosh as Ethel Savage, Phyllis Chapman as Dr. Emmett, Patricia Gardner as Miss Wilhelmina, Mindy Border as Florence, Lillie as Hannah, Jennifer Marcoux as Fairy May, Mike Cutler as Jeffery, Leslie Bremner as Mrs. Paddy, D. Mark Blank as Titus, and Floriani as Lily Belle.

Lillie, who plays Hannah, one of the residents at The Cloisters where the play takes place, agreed with Floriani, and further spoke to the play itself.

"This is a warm, funny play," Lillie said. "The first time I read it, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. When I auditioned I told [director] Christine [Decker] to put me in whatever role she thought I can do. I think in this play the residents are sort of discarded people, and yet inside the Cloisters, they are anything but useless, `crazy' people. They interact and care so deeply that it sort of says, you should give them another look."

Lillie concluded with a nod to the plays' director. She noted that Decker helped her develop Hannah, into someone more complex that her trademark violin playing. As such, through Decker's guidance, Lillie emphasized that the entire cast has been able to take their parts and "put flesh and bones to these too-easy-to-be cartoon characters."

"So naturally I believe absolutely everyone should come see this play," Lillie said with a laugh. "I hope we sell out every performance. The amount of work my cast mates, and all of us, have been putting into the rehearsals, I know it will be a smashing, wonderful show."

There will be evening performances of "The Curious Savage" on the Dec. 7 and 8, and also a matinee on Dec. 8. The price of admission is $10, with premier seating for $15. Anyone interested in volunteering to help with community theater or this production, or for tickets, should e-mail oldcastletheatre@gmail.com or call 802-447-0564.

Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at tchalkias@aol.com or on Twitter: @TellyHalkias

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