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Published: Saturday, 9/17/2005

Theater troupes are sprouting in fertile landscape

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Near one end of the region's theatrical spectrum, Jean Mills says that the Village Players, the all-volunteer theater of which she is board president, is doing very well and is looking forward to completing its first half-century of productions.

"March 20, 2007, is the exact date of our 50th," she said. "Our first show was The Great Sebastian, and we put it on in the Ottawa Hills High School multipurpose room."

The troupe moved into its current Upton Avenue home around 1964, Mills said, after renovating the former First Unity Church, which had moved to larger quarters.

The Village Players tries to provide a mix of classics and the offbeat productions, and that aim is reflected in this season's schedule, which started earlier this month with Monky Business, a musical in the vein of Nunsense, then segues into the thriller Murder in Green Meadows in November, Gun-Shy, a comedy about relationships, in January, Wally's Caf, another comedy, in March, and the Neil Simon classic Barefoot in the Park in May.

For the past couple of seasons, the players also have produced a June performance that is outside the mainstream.

"We are very conscious not to offend," Mills said, "and people know that our summer show is more current, edgy, and daring."

On the other end of the spectrum, Bill Quinlan is looking forward to the Harvest Theatre's debut production.

Quinlan is the founder and producing director of Harvest Theatre, which will be making its bow in the Collingwood Arts Center in early October with the world premiere of Gary Giovannetti's Night by Michelangelo.

Quinlan, a San Francisco native, and his wife, Juliette, a New York City native, are professional actors who decided they wanted a little more easygoing area in which to raise their family. After looking around, they settled on Toledo, where Juliette has relatives.

"Now that I'm here, I think my blood pressure is quite a bit lower," Bill Quinlan said.

Ultimately, the Quinlans hope to make Harvest Theatre a semiprofessional troupe, much like actor Jeff Daniels' Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Mich.

"We're focusing on new and/or challenging shows," Quinlan said. Night by Michelangelo is about a woman's search for family and love after a cancer diagnosis. It will be followed in December by the comedy Inspecting Carol, Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie in March, and the musical Bed and Sofa in May.

Another new theater in the area is the Coming Attraction Players, based in Rossford. Formed by Ryan Mahaffey and Lora Pheils, the troupe has already presented Babes in Arms and is preparing a production of Heaven Can Wait, to be performed at the Maumee Indoor Theater in December.

Within the city, a second community troupe, the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, now in its 72nd year, also mixes the classic with the offbeat. It opened its season Friday with the musical The Last Five Years, about the relationship between a writer and an actress. The rest of the schedule comprises The Odd Couple, a Neil Simon comedy, in November, the Rep's traditional holiday show, A Christmas Carol, at the Stranahan in December, Shirley Valentine in January, Mornings at Seven, a comedy about four sibling spinsters, in February, and Return to the Forbidden Planet, based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, in April.

Theatergoers who don't often get to New York will have a chance to see touring Broadway productions at the Stranahan and Valentine theaters.

The Stranahan's schedule, presented by the Kansas City-based Theater League, includes the new-to-Toledo Defending the Caveman, Hairspray, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Blast, as well as the classics Will Rogers Follies, Cats, and the immensely popular Mamma Mia.

Among productions the Valentine is offering are Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma, Mark Twain Tonight! featuring Hal Holbrook, Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore, and Little Mary Sunshine.

A little further afield, the Broadway in Lima series will be offering The Full Monty, and the Fisher and Masonic Temple Theaters in Detroit have scheduled Golda's Balcony, Little Women, and Wicked, among many others.

And let's not forget the institutions of higher education.

The University of Toledo Department of Theatre and Film has labeled its season Conflict, Courage and Compassion: Our World on Stage and Film and has scheduled productions ranging from Homebody/Kabul, a look at Afghan history, culture, and politics by Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America, to The Jewelry Story, written by UT student Bill Lancz and entered in the American College Theatre Festival for student playwrights. Also scheduled are The Dragon, an exploration of the abuse of authority in Russia, and the classic Greek tragedy Antigone.

The production schedule of Bowling Green State University's Department of Theatre and Film is a little more mainstream and includes the comedy The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, and Frank Loesser's How to Succeed in Business. Among works fairly new to the region are Jose Rivera's Giants Have Us in Their Books, which is a collection of six fairy tales for adults, and Jane Martin's theatrical comedy Anton in Show Business, and Jason Robert Brown's musical Songs for a New World.

One aspect of theater that is often overlooked is productions for children. But Ronald Shields, head of BGSU's theater department, sees a lot of progress in this area.

"In my view the regional theater scene in Northwest Ohio is growing, especially in the areas of theatre for young audiences," he said. "With exciting ongoing programs at the BGSU Firelands College (The Caryl Crane Theatre), the BGSU Department of Theatre and Film programs (Treehouse Troupe and the Horizon Theatre Program), and the programming provided through Lourdes College, institutions are providing a full range of productions, classes, and workshops year-round for children and young adults."

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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