Stage West Playhouse in Spring Hill has once again shown its versatility in repertoire and local talent with its latest production–Four Old Broads. Over the years, this theater has performed musicals, such as Camelot; comedies, such The Odd Couple; and dramas, such as To Kill a Mockingbird.
Four Old Broads takes place in an assisted living facility (ALF). If the characters seem reminiscent of those in the TV series Golden Girls, it’s not by accident. The director, Mark Burdette, has even chosen to use the theme song from the show during scene breaks. The seven cast members all agree that this play will have the audience rolling with laughter. During rehearsals, the actors, themselves, often broke down laughing even after hearing the same lines over and over.
Betsy Glasson, who plays the part of Imogene Fletcher, has been with Stage West for thirty years. It was a teacher who got her into theater.
“I was very shy and when I was a freshman in high school, the speech teacher asked me to help with a play by passing out scripts. I did that for about thirty minutes and then she asked me if I would mind getting up and reading just one small part. She conned me like you would not believe. I got the comedy lead in the show and I became hooked.”
One of her most challenging, yet favorite, roles was the lead in Victor, Victoria because she had to play both a man and a woman with thirty-two costume changes.
“Acting gives you the opportunity to do things you would never do. It makes you free,” Betsy comments.
Dalton Benson, who plays Sam Smith, the only male in the cast, is a physician and has been with Stage West for twenty-seven years. Not only has he acted, but he has also directed. His debut role at the playhouse was Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha and it was the first time he had been back on stage in twenty-five years. Some of his favorite roles were the emcee in Cabaret, Ben Franklin in 1776 and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof primarily because he enjoys musicals.
“I’m a doctor to support my acting habit,” Benson quips. “I love everything about it, although I don’t much like auditions because they’re nerve-wracking.”
The most challenging part of acting is what he calls “hell week,” the last week of rehearsals where you put in the final touches of the production and pull it all together.
Benson has directed about twenty shows at Stage west–from dramas like A Streetcar Named Desire to musicals, such as Ragtime and comedies like Young Frankenstein.
Michelle Root recently directed Death by Chocolate. Now she’s putting on her actor’s hat and playing the part of Beatrice, an ex-burlesque dancer. Michelle likes playing the part of Beatrice because “she is sassy and outspoken. She knows what she wants and she goes for it.”
Her favorite role was Dotty in a comedy entitled Noises Off because, as she states, “I’m a huge Carol Burnett fan and loved the movie. The biggest compliment I got was when one of the audience members looked at me and said, ‘Carol Burnett would be proud’.”
Being an actor requires flexibility. Jeanine Rogers plays Ruby Sue, one of the nurses and she just got the role a few weeks ago.
Jeanine started dancing when she was five years old. Later, she began playing the flute and also joined the choir. All of this prepared her for the theater. Then in middle school she started acting in musicals. Jeanine was often in the chorus line because she was a gymnast and could do cartwheels and other acrobatics.
When she came to Stage West in 2004, her first role was Maria Callas in Master Class. It remains one of her favorites.
“It took me four months to learn that show because it’s a one-woman show. It’s a difficult part because I’m on stage the entire time,” Jeanine remarks.
Another of her favorites is Nurse Ratchett in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest because “it was a very complex character and she was so evil.”
She portrayed the part so well that the first time she came out for her curtain call the audience “booed” her.
“At first I was taken aback because I thought they didn’t like my performance. The cast was happy for me that I got ‘booed’ because it was actually a compliment.”
Lynda Dilts-Benson plays Edie Mae, one of the residents. Lynda is married to Dalton and, like her husband, also directs. She joined Stage West in 1998, working behind the scenes. It was almost by accident that Lynda went from behind the curtain to being in front of it.
“They were doing Funny Girl and couldn’t cast the part of Mrs. Brice [Fanny Brice’s mother]. The only reason I agreed [to do the part] was that I had only seen the film and in the film Mrs. Brice has a very small role.”
In the play, however, the part is much larger and the character sings several songs. Lynda was up to the task, though, and even won a HAMI−Stage West’s equivalent of a Tony. Her favorite part, so far, has been Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter.
“I have loved that character and that play ever since I was fifteen. My history teacher in high school took us to see the film when it came out.”
Lynda likes being able to pretend that she’s somebody else and she enjoys the camaraderie of creating magic together as a team.
“I don’t do it to get applause from an audience, but you want those accolades for the theater, not for the individual.”
Sheryl Depp plays another of the ALF’s residents, Maude. This character is addicted to a particular soap opera and spends her time planning her funeral. She got into acting when she was in college because she wanted to “reinvent” herself. After several decades’ hiatus from the theater, Sheryl joined Stage West in 2008. She feels that her current role will probably be her favorite.
“It’s funny and I get a chance to be funny. I’d done a really sad role several years ago and I actually made people cry. I like making people laugh rather than cry.”
When Lynda was still working it was challenging to fit acting into her busy work schedule. Now that she’s retired, she has more time and it’s more fun because she doesn’t have to worry about going to work the next day.
Nichelle (Nikki) Mohre-Cassidy plays Pat, the other nurse in the show. She developed her love for theater from her father.
“He raised my sister and me with all kinds of musicals. He used to take us to see The Nutcracker Suite every Christmas and to see Phantom of the Opera several times.”
Nikki has had many years of acting experience. She acted in community theater when she was in high school and majored in Theater in college.
Nikki just finished playing one of the narrators in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and describes it as her “dream role.” Her favorite role, however, was playing Jacqueline in Don’t Dress for Dinner, a British comedy.
“What I find most rewarding about acting is the ability to entertain an audience. The best thing about theater is the way it helps kids of all different personality types and different abilities. It brings children out of themselves in a way like nothing else I’ve ever seen. It takes hyperactive children and focuses them. It takes shy children and brings them out of their shell. To see children blossom on stage and backstage is a remarkable journey.”
The play has constant back and forth banter among the main characters with plenty of funny lines containing sexual innuendoes covering such topics as Viagra; memory loss; Beatrice’s love life; and the conquests of Sam, the resident ladies’ man. The actors feed off each other’s lines and don’t miss a beat. The exaggerated facial expressions will have you laughing, as well.
One of the funniest scenes takes place at the end of the first act. Three of the ladies enter a darkened stage, wearing camouflage attire, complete with branches and flash lights attached to their heads. They are investigating some suspicious activities going on at the ALF. The results are hilarious.
Each character has their unique personality−even the two nurses, who have minor, but very pivotal roles to play. The contrast of the personalities and how they interact is one of the factors that give the play its charm.
If you want lots of laughs you can still catch Four Old Broads. There will be three more performances this week: Friday, Apr 15 at 7:30 pm; Saturday & Sunday. April 16 & 17 at 2 pm. Tickets can be ordered online at www.stagewestflorida.com or by calling the box office at 352-683-5113.