Montgomery County is home to the oldest continuing community theater group in the metropolitan area―and one that is among the oldest in the country. The group that began in 1929 as The Montgomery Players and became The Montgomery Playhouse in 1982 is celebrating its 90th anniversary as well as its 16th year at the Kentlands Arts Barn.
Various venues have provided stages for the company. After 32 years at Bethesda’s Leland Junior High School, the Players moved to a renovated open-air picnic pavilion at Potomac’s Inverness School for a decade. The Gaithersburg building―1201 Quince Orchard Boulevard―that the group proceeded to lease for the next quarter-century led to a 1982 merger with The Kensington-Garrett Players, who also used the space; their partnership took on the new name.
Homeless after the building was sold, Montgomery Playhouse performed at Shady Grove Middle School and Asbury Methodist Village’s Rosborough Center until the Arts Barn opened in 2002. “The Montgomery Playhouse became one of the first members of the Theater Arts Program Partners,” said Shellie Williams, the City of Gaithersburg’s arts administrator and the Arts Barn’s facility manager. “That first year, Montgomery Playhouse presented their annual One Act Festival … and they soon became a regular presenter. MP has produced two to three shows a year since then.”
Williams cited examples of the group’s wide range of genres, including drama such as “12 Angry Men,” “Driving Miss Daisy” and “The Boys Next Door,” comedy like “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” and children’s theater like “The Reluctant Dragon.”
The group “is also not afraid to take artistic risks and present edgier, less well-known works,” Williams said. “A good example of this was the 2015 production of ‘Painting Churches’ by American playwright Tina Howe. The play deals with the changing parent-child relationships in a family named the Churches as the father deals with diminishing cognitive abilities and the frustrations, fear and anger this provokes.”
While “Painting Churches” was not a box-office sellout like many of the Playhouse’s other productions, Williams said, “it was a moving production by an outstanding cast. And we’re OK with that. Our job at the Arts Barn is to present a broad range of theater from the ‘golden chestnuts’ that reach a 90 to 100 percent seating capacity to new works that are still being discovered by theater-goers.”
She cited MP’s reputation “among the city and county’s theater lovers and thespians. The Playhouse is known for incredible sets designed by David Jones, directors, productions and members.”
Not only does MP “enrich our community by presenting quality theater,” Williams added, but also the group “encourages civic volunteerism. Artistic Director and Board Chair Loretto McNally sits on the city’s Cultural Arts Advisory Committee and participates in the city’s ongoing efforts to develop and support cultural, social and economic opportunities that allow artistic expression and creative excellence to flourish.”
“The Arts Barn and City of Gaithersburg are very fortunate to have this long-standing partnership,” she concluded.
Next up for Montgomery Playhouse at the Arts Barn, from June 7 through 23, is “How the Other Half Loves.” “This is one of Alan Ayckbourn’s earliest works (1969) and is credited with securing his runaway success as a playwright,” said Montgomery Playhouse Executive Producer David Jones.
“This play was performed by the Playhouse back in the 1980s and has been a long-time favorite with audiences and actors alike,” Jones said. “We have always presented four plays to the Arts Barn, and this is one of the ones they chose. It is the kind of play that the Playhouse does well, and we are happy to present it to the Gaithersburg community.”
Jones described the play as “a farce following the consequences of an adulterous affair between a married man and his boss’ wife and their attempt to cover their tracks by roping in a third couple to be their alibi leading to a series of complications, misunderstandings, conflicts and revelations.
“The play takes place in both the Fosters’ and the Phillips’ homes simultaneously, resulting in a massive dinner party scene―actually, two separate dinner parties―in which the young couple must function in both overlapping sets,” he added.
The cast is a mix of newcomers―Peter Rouleau, Margo Weill and Randy Lindsay―and regulars, Jones said. “Elizabeth E. Weiss has played for us several times, including a turn in ‘Love, Loss and What I Wore Last Year.’ Carole Preston was in ‘Postmortem’ and ‘An American Daughter’ in 2016 and 2017. Dino Coppa won a WATCH award for outstanding featured actor in a play as David O. Selznick in our ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ (2010). He is certainly an audience favorite.”
The production, he believes, does not involve any “severe departure from the intentions of the playwright and I’m sure he would recognize the piece. In fact, he states that this play does best when placed in the late 1960s because of the subject matter and the tone; this is advice we have paid attention to. Having said that, every production takes on a life of its own and develops its own flavor.”
Arts on the Green and Montgomery Playhouse present Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy, “How the Other Half Loves,” from June 7 through 23 at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg. Shows start at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $20, $18 for students, ages 15 to 21 with student ID. The play is recommended for ages 15 and older. Call 301.258.6394.