Just as one’s drawers should be out of plain sight when appearing in public, much of what took place last weekend at the Chapman Auditorium stage was unseen by the audience.
The show, indiscreetly named “Nana’s Naughty Knickers,” which I helped Renee Valentine direct, required eight able-bodied actors to work, as they always must do, with a tech crew back stage. But the assignment was more complicated than most plays call for, much more than going through a door twice. It isn’t like a props person handed an actor a newspaper, and the character just had to walk onstage to read it, and when he or she were done, walk off, a brief, uncomplicated acting assignment,
This was far more complex, from start to finis, beginning with a set that required the building and implementing of at least two large mechanisms, and a third one, smaller but as necessary. Beginning in early December, set department head Mark Parsley reassured me he had this, and together with wife Natalie - who by the way is not a penny more unpaid than he is - proved it. Mark and she and Ed Aguiar, the Panhandle Players president, constructed it New Year’s week, and Natalie took over from there, morphing into stage manager over the next month.
The more dominant of the two large dynamic fixtures was a giant bookcase that swung open to reveal a boudoir closet of cherry-red lacy undergarments. Second was a coat closet whose wooden back slid open and out rolled a clothes rack full of an icy blue lingerie collection of more demure colors. The third was a painting over the fireplace that swung open to reveal two shelves of more glittery outfits.
Each had to look authentic, and there was no doubt about the look there, the final painterly touches and style of design added to the Parsleys’ workmanship by Renee, not long after she completed creating the poster. Each moveable gag had to be timed right, to effect the surprise, and none was given permission to malfunction. Their walls had ears, and they listened and obeyed.
The gags were the main part of the effect, but without characters to do silly things with them, their vacant presence would have rang as hollow as watching a weathered screen door constantly slam against an old house.
The believability of the gags depended on the workings of four of the five women in the show, but none of the three men, each more comically oblivious than the next. The story took place inside the Upper East Side apartment where Sylvia Charles lives, an entrepreneurial widow prompted by boredom into creating her own negligee line, Saucy Slips Etc., which she has to keep from the prying eyes of her best friend Vera, and her granddaughter Bridget, a vivacious pre-law student preparing to start NYU in the fall.
Liz Sisung’s Sylvia, I dare to claim, was a high point in her career, the realization of a sweet, cheerful, master of her fate, summoning laughter with a smoothness achieved through much experience on stage. Across from her, as Vera, Sue Bernagozzi was the sandpaper that polishes with the grain, a blunt, wise-cracking buddy. The two jumped and danced and fought like 12-year-olds, and if that alone was what tickled the audience, I see the play as a success.
Rounding out the trio of leads was Alicia Scully, wife of sheriff’s deputy Don Scully, a veteran actor with professional credits but new to the Panhandle Players. They agreed two weeks into rehearsals to join the cast, as Bridget and her love interest, NYPD officer Tom O’Grady. They came as a package deal, like Ricky and Lucy, and if Renee and I had asked Don to play bongos, or Alicia to take a pie in her face, they would have done so without hesitation, in the service of the show. Such dedication to a new assignment within an unfamiliar thespian clique, brought unblemished joy to the production. Don led the actors in prayer before each performance, in gratitude not in supplication, since all of them - as with Natalie and the rest of the production crew, Karen Berkley on curtains, Ramon Valenzuela on sound, Patrick Leach on lights - were amply well-prepared.
The two other actresses, Michele Boston as Heather, a Daisy Duke-wearing hottie sales associate, who had to work the wall machines as well, and Bobbi Sewell, as Claire, the landlord’s domineering wife, completed the female ensemble like a flounce on a dressing gown. The two other males, Bob Inguagiato as Gil Schmidt, the obnoxious landlord looking to oust Sylvia from her rent-controlled apartment, and Gary Niblack as a befuddled UPS man, tantalized to see customers in lingerie, were spot on as well. All four of these actors have appeared in several Panhandle Players shows, and their experience showed. Renee and I couldn’t have asked for better performances.
And I couldn’t have asked for someone better at the helm to ensure the play would be the success I believe it to be. To Valentine, and to all the others who proved Panhandle Players continues to be a vibrant provider of live theatre for Franklin County and the entire Forgotten Coast, Happy Valentine’s Day.