Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Great Local Play

Greetings All:

Last night Dawn and I saw a great local production of a local playwright.  "Altar Call," authored by Melissa McBain, opened at the District Theater in Rock Island.  (The above image used with permission of Ms. McBain.)  It is a super show!  The cast includes Angela Rathman as Maggie Stone, Jerry Wolking as the Rev Silas Elmore and Bobby Duncalf as John Stone.  The rest of the cast is terrific and bring to life a compelling and thought-provoking story. 

Please be advised, this is not a laugh-out-loud comedy for the whole family.  Although there is humor in the show, it is sprinkled throughout, much like Parmesan cheese on an otherwise spicy pasta dish.  It pulls no punches in showing just how complicated life can be and the choices people make.  The story focuses on, as Johnathan Turner summarizes in his review, "Maggie Stone, (Ms. Rathman) a 40-year-old minister's daughter, is trapped between the needs of her gay son, the demands of her Baptist father's church, and the desires of her physician husband."  The review in full is carried by the link below:

I do not get out to see much live theater.  In fact, with my daughter's recent performances at Jr. Theater and last night, I have seen more of it in the past two months than in the last few years.  In fact, probably longer than that.  Until last night, I had forgotten how much fun live theater can be and how good an experience it is for a person.  Of course, that presumes a couple of things:  1.  The actors are serious about their craft; 2. The theater is set up for the experience; and 3. The audience (er, me) is sincere about receiving the performance.  

1. The Actors

Last night, I saw actors who were serious about their craft.  Although I am friends with Jerry (Rev. Stone) I had never seen him perform.  I was impressed with him and the rest of the cast the way they gave themselves to the show.  In film or TV, retakes are expected.  In live theater, it is one go.  There were interactions between the characters that were funny on occasion, difficult in others, and in a few, painful to watch.  This story is the emotional equivalent of a rear-end crash at about 45 MPH without deploying airbags.  It is a great and powerful story but at times hard to watch.  It is the actors who made that happen.  They took the words of Ms. McBain and brought them to life,...and in the face of the audience. 

This is community theater.  It was not perfect from a technical sense.  However, as far as I am concerned, that made it all the more meaningful.  There is something about community theater, of people who have day jobs, and school and families and life and bills and oil to change and all the other "stuff" in life.  While we are home or doing something else, they are rehearsing.  I suspect (but do not know) that many of the props, the costumes, and so on were supplied by the actors.  It is a credit to their craft and an acknowledge of their love for theater.  To paraphrase Mr. Billy S, they did, "Act well their parts."

2.  The Theater

I love The District Theater.  I wish now I would have taken some pictures of it from the inside before the show.  It is an intimate setting (about 65 seats) and utilizes both a main stage (I think that is the right term) and staging up above to the stage left.  (I think I got this right, I just asked my daughter.)  It does not "look" like a theater from the outside which (to me) just adds to the cool effect of walking into it.  I have not seen a lot of big-city theater, but of what I have seen, I would put this place up against anything "The Village" offers.  Here are the links to the theater and to their Facebook page, please check it out if you' like:

The place was transformed from a church to a home with ease, the illusions of scene changes maintained.  There was clever uses of props and set pieces.  (I will not say more, go see for yourself please :)) While the lighting cues were not perfect, it was still an effective use of the "tech" aspects of the show. 

I should also give a word of appreciation to Mr. Bryan Woods, the Director, and Ms. Martha Davenport, the Stage Manager.  Without their work beyond the spotlight the actors in it would not have shown through as they did.

3.  The Audience

From all accounts, this was an appreciative audience.  I know that I tried to be and it was one of the reasons I slammed a cup of coffee before the show to not be groggy.  I heard years ago how Celine Dion was furious at audience members who would fall asleep during her shows in Vegas.  She lamented (and with some reason, I would surmise)

"People come here for four days, they eat too much, drink too many free drinks, they get sick from all that, they are jet-lagged sometimes so they just sit in the seat and sleep."

I saw no one on their smart phones, no sustained whispering, appropriate laughter and hearty applause at the end.  The only confusion was when intermission came as we were not sure it was intermission.  That may have been the idea.  In any event, I think the audience did their part, that is sitting back and enjoying the show.  

For me, the one thing that stuck with me were the set changes.  Obviously, you knew there was a pause in the action.  However, it was as if the audience made a pact with the actors-"We will suspend the show together, yet keep the illusion of the story alive until the lights come up."  To me, it is one of the coolest things about theater.  

This was a great local play, put on locally by local actors and written by a local playwright.  I am glad I got to see it and experience that wonderful experience of seeing art brought to life on a stage.  I am already looking forward to my show.  Who knows, maybe someday I will audition for a role.  What shows or performances have you seen that moved you?  What would you like to see?  How about telling your own story?  Please let me know your thoughts, thanks.

"Altar Call" runs Dec 1, 6-8, (curtain 8:00 p.m.) and Sunday, Dec 9th.  Tickets are $15.00, available at (309) 235-1654 or email,


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