The brand-new Kentlands Community Players (KCP) are poised to put on their first show April 26 and 27 on the Arts Barn stage. The subject of Rick Abbott’s “Play On!”—a play-within-a-play about community theater—seemed a natural choice for the fledgling community theater group.
“It fit the KCP’s mission of producing accessible theater appealing to audiences of all ages and included roles for a variety of ages and types, with the possibility of flexible casting,” explained Meredith Fogle, KCP’s founder and the show’s executive producer.
“Play On!” met another important criterion, too. “Since part of our mission is to introduce younger audiences and perhaps even older audience members who have never been interested in live theater, we wanted to be sure the show would entertain and it does,” Fogle said, describing the work as “funny, light and fast-paced.”
Abbott’s play was new to Director Mary Beth Levrio, an original Kentlands homeowner who holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theater and has directed and/or taught for local groups including Montgomery Playhouse, ArtStream, Potomac Community Theatre and Imagination Stage.
“This play is a lot of fun, but does present many challenges,” Levrio said. “Because the play follows a group of actors in rehearsal for a play, the lines are often repeated, but with slight changes. As part of the comedy, characters often make mistakes, forget lines, skip scenes, etc. So, it is difficult to keep track of.”
Many cast members are playing dual roles—“the actor rehearsing for the mystery play and the character in the mystery play. They sometimes jump in and out of the roles very quickly,” Levrio said. “It should prove to be very funny, but requires focus
and skill for the actors.”
While some male actors play parts written for women, she noted, “the characters are very gender-neutral and it makes very little difference—other than remembering to change the names and pronouns.”
Despite these complicating factors, Levrio described the KCP cast members as “very talented, creative and intelligent. Their focus and willingness to embrace the character work makes directing a joy. I trust them to try new things and go beyond what is expected. As the director, I block the play, but they bring it to life and offer inspiration for movement or interaction between characters.”
Cast member Jenny Gleason, an experienced actor who teaches undergraduate psychology classes by day, moved from Illinois to Montgomery County in January. She acknowledged starting out with two main challenges: the first that she had neither seen nor performed in the Arts Barn. Until rehearsals began, she said, “It was difficult to imagine my movements, especially since my character needs to move throughout the house instead of standing on the stage.”
Her second issue, a factor of her role, is “trying not to step on Mary Beth’s toes! Because I play the director (of the play-within-a-play), I’m in this director mindset, so I have ideas about what the characters should be doing. It’s challenging to take ownership of the blocking without attempting to change it.”
For Corey Estoll, who works for the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology Products, KCP has meant his long-coveted return to the stage. “After high school, life intervened,” he said. “Even though it’s been an unspecified number of decades since I have acted, Mary Beth has been excellent in helping me recall all the techniques of acting that had become dormant.”
In this play-within-a-play, Estoll observed, “we’re challenged with not just creating our own character, but also our character’s
character.” In fact, Estoll “gets to work” on creating three: the actor, his character and the character’s alter ego.
Levrio “leads us in distinctly differentiating our characters from our characters’ characters,” Estoll said. “From our first formal rehearsal, Mary Beth coached us in deciding from where in our bodies our characters draw their energy. “For instance, my character, Saul Watson, is someone who jokes around and is a little flirtatious, so I feel his energy coming from the hips, kind of a ‘shooting from the hips’ idea. … But Saul’s character in the play-within-the-play, Dr. Forbes, is sinister and snooty, so his energy originates in his neck and shoulders. … Just by letting myself feel that difference helps me play these two characters distinctly differently because they feel different in my body.”
He also pointed out that Levrio “is very skilled at helping us work out the comedy, so that the audience will have as good a time watching the play as we are having in putting it together.” And, “she’s been highly collaborative in her approach, letting us show who we think our characters are and allowing the dynamics to somewhat grow organically as she sculpts just those pieces that need it.”
“Play On!” is “coming together fantastically,” Estoll said. “There’s a certain magic in theater. You read a script, and you know how the lines should be said, you can picture the scenes, but when it starts coming together, it’s so much more real than you could have imagined.”
Estoll has high praise for his “very talented” fellow castmates “who are putting in the work to flesh out their roles. We’re able to create the right kinds of dynamics that are vital to making this ensemble comedy as hilarious as it can be.”
Levrio expects “an evening of laughter with this first KCP show. It’s funny, relaxed, accessible and full of surprises.” She predicts that “KCP will be a wonderful addition to the talented groups that present at the Arts Barn.” Kentlands Community Players will present “Play On!” at 8 p.m. Friday, April 26 and Saturday, April 27 at the Arts Barn. A $20 donation per ticket is suggested.