Dorset Players One Act Festival an excellent weekend destination

The 16th annual stage celebration boasts four works in an expanded format

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DORSET - Just as they have for the past 15 seasons, the Dorset Players, one of the nation's longest running community theatre troupes now in their 91st overall season, will continue their annual one-act festival, offering audiences four different set pieces, meant to entertain as well as flex the acting muscles of both stages rookies and veterans alike.

The festival opened last weekend and for the first time, is running over the course of a second weekend, due to high demand.

Members of the Players are able to take on different assignments, from cast to crew, from directing to producing to house management. In this way they learn the theater trade from top to bottom, and the one act plays are often the start point for new actors, but seasoned members also take part.

This year's four plays cover both the drama and comedy genres, and delighted the opening night audience non-stop. The directors did a most capable job of have their charges ready to play.

" H.R." by Eric Coble and directed by Janet Groom. The story focuses on an office in 1990s Cleveland, Ohio, where the dreaded term "H.R. (human resources) is coming today" strikes fear in the heart of the office staff, as in, is someone going to be fired? Kristen (Maripat Barlow-Layne), Margaret (Joelle Greenland), Chip (Jon Mathewson) and Frank (Kevin O'Toole) very nicely caricatured the corporate workplace and its inane fear of being summarily dismissed, to nice effect. A charming way to open the festival and warm up the audience.

"The Game" by Natalie Bates and directed by Peter Van Haverbecke. While you would think by the accents used you might have been in Brooklyn, you're actually in Santa Monica, Calif., as three elderly women meet for their monthly card game - while they muse where their missing fourth partner might be, and start taking apart the past. Elaine Marcus (Dawn Goetz), Sophie Eidelbaum (Debby Goldman), and Louise O'Brien (Danica Stein), are tremendously convincing in their roles, while being very funny - but also quite poignant. If you close your eyes long enough and just listen, you may just hear an en echo of your mother or grandmother, depending on your own generation. Eerily convincing staging.

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"A Marriage Proposal" by Anton Chekhov and directed by Don Petersen, where the action unfolds in the reception room in a Russian country him at an earlier time. Chekhov gives an inside look at a marriage proposal in Russia, in his own unique way, of course. We may guffaw at the Russian slapstick on display in the characters of the sought-after Natalia Stepanova (Erin Norton), the father Stepan Stepaniovitch Tschubukov (Tom Norton), and the pursuer Ivan Vassiliyitch Lomov (Jack Workman). The triad in this short took silliness to great heights, feeding off of the simple formula of gender wooing that Chekhov masterfully brewed.

"Compos Mentis" by Marilyn Millstone and directed by Janet Groom, her second play direction of the fest. This story takes place at Silver Glades Senior Living in the 1990s. An older couple is being interviewed for a retirement community - but is that what they want for the rest of their lives? Wife Alese Langford, MSW, (Susan Altoft), feeds Patricia Ambrose, MSW (Joelle Greenland) with carefully targeted information, all while conspiring with hubby Robert Langford, PhD (Kevin O'Toole) on how to manipulate the case worker. If these two can be so conniving, do they really need to go in a home? And conniving they are - very well played all around.

The festival overall ran about two hours which included a 15 minute intermission after the first two plays.

The Players crew carried its distinctive mark of excellence, including the infallible production of Lynne Worth, stage management by Trish Weibrot and Worth, lights and sound by Angie Merwin and Peter Witter, costumes by the inimitable Suzi Dorgeloh and Cherie Thompson, and quick-change, cleverly modular sets by Drew Hill.

The One-Act Festival is all about fun, and along with helping out sometimes-rookie stage actors and directors, it's also a great primer for the nascent theatre-goer. So grab a partner, and make the drive to Dorset to see all the fun over the fest's second weekend: you won't be sorry, guaranteed.

The 16th Annual Dorset Players One-Act Festival will continue and conclude on Friday, April 5, at 7:30pm, Saturday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 7 at 2 p.m. at the Dorset Playhouse, 104 Chaney Rd. Info: 802-867-5570 or dorsetplayers.org.

Telly Halkias is a member of the American Theatre Critics' Assn. (ATCA). E-mail: tchalkias@aol.com, Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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