A fired actor, a broken leg, and a pregnant cat
Season 45, 1992-93 was full of challenges and landmarks. Just “little” things like a fired actor, a broken leg and a pregnant cat…
It all began in the fall with my production of “I Do! I Do!” by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. Bev Sperry was my music director.
She and I cast Barb Bentz (a veteran of 69 shows at Workshop) and another actor, who shall remain nameless, to play the roles in this two-person show.
By the time we were halfway into rehearsal it became clear that the actor playing Michael had serious emotional problems. I’m not sure about Barb, but Bev and I had become genuinely fearful of this man. I ended up firing him.
In spite of contacting every male I knew who could sing, there was no one available to step in, so I ended up playing the role. Valerie
Gerstenberger, who was my costumer, Loraine Ritchey, who was handling publicity, and Caron Kelley, who was production manager, jumped in to take over the directing duties so I could concentrate on the role.
The Journal critic wrote, “Workshop Players’ ‘I Do! I Do!’ is cleverly mounted, handsomely dressed and delightfully performed by Barbara Bentz and Dave Cotton.” The critic went on to point out, and rightfully so, that the singing range was a stretch for me. It was. But Bentz is a wonderful singer and actress and the audiences were kind to me.
The show played well and we had to add an extra performance. I said then and I will forever say thank you to Bev, Val, Caron, Loraine and especially Barb for getting me and the show up to speed quickly.
Caron Kelley assembled a great trio of actresses to bring Ivan Menchell’s “The Cemetery Club,” to life on our stage in November. Pam Pickworth, Pat Lindley and Kathy Whitmore played the three widows who met monthly to have tea and remember their departed spouses.
The stage was divided diagonally by a wrought iron fence of the “cemetery” which occupied half the stage. We made realistic looking headstones that had to be covered with ivy every night because it was “trimmed” during the performance by one of the actresses. The
other half of the stage was a living room. In spite of the odd combination of death and comedy the show was a delight.
In the Winter, Bill Reising directed George M Cohan’s “Seven Keys to Baldpate.” Casey Wolnowski anchored the cast as the lead, William Magee, an author who is looking to spend a quiet weekend writing.
In her review, The Journal’s Victoria Nash noted, “Wolnowski brings charm, experience and comfort to every role he plays…” Nash went on to lavish praise on a relative newcomer noting that “he flits about the stage as if he was born there…” She was writing of John Baumgartner whom she predicted, correctly, would soon be working his magic in California. Baumgartner had to step into his role late in the rehearsal process. He sent me this anecdote.
“I was called in at the last minute because an actor broke his leg. (Perhaps he took the advice ‘break a leg’ too literally?) It was a silly romp about a mountain top cabin with only one key, but nonetheless seven people show up, one by one, to complicate matters, each thinking they have the only key. I’ll never forget when the fourth person with a key arrived, around 30 minutes in, and an elderly woman in the audience delightedly murmured aloud, ‘My goodness, another key?’ The woman next to her, just a couple feet from where I was standing on stage, presented the front of the program to her and whispered very loudly, ‘Honey, there’ll be seven.’ I bit my tongue and went on.
“I had had my wisdom teeth taken out just a week before, and had a TWA ticket to Vienna, Austria, for the week after the play closed, so it was quite a slender window that allowed me to participate. I’m very glad I did, mouth infection and all!”
Baumgartner, now a film maker in Hollywood, included in his program bio that he was an active member of the LCCC Gay and Lesbian group. I believe that makes him the first openly gay actor to work at Workshop.
Our spring show was “I Remember Mama,” by Richard Rodgers, Martin Charnin and Thomas Meehan. This full-scale musical was the 67th and final directing gig for our founder, Valerie Jenkins Gerstenberger. I have enough material on that show (including the story of the pregnant cat) for a separate essay so I will save that for my next column.
During the summer of 1992 our air conditioning was installed. At the close of the 92-93 season Caron Kelley took advantage of this and introduced our first summer show, Willy Russell’s “Shirley Valentine,” starring Loraine Ritchey. This one-woman show was a tour de force for Ritchey. She was superb. The Journal’s Victoria Nash said, “Ritchey didn’t play Shirley Valentine. She BECAME Shirley Valentine.” And Nash called Kelley “One of the area’s more creative and progressive young directors.”
In spite of the challenges it was a terrific season that strengthened and added to our Workshop family. My thanks to John Baumgartner for his input to this column.