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Beckwith reprising 2006 DUHS comedy

Published 11:39pm Wednesday, August 18, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Director Rich Frantz must really like Joe DiPietro’s poignant 1980s Jersey comedy, “Over the River and Through the Woods.”
After staging it Nov. 17-18, 2006, with Union High School Drama Club at the middle school Performing Arts Center, he put together an adult cast which opens a two-weekend run Friday at Beckwith Theatre, 100 New York Ave.

Here’s the situation in Jersey: scheming grandparents Max Sala, Mary Ann Bengtsson, Marilyn Haslett and Jack Gannon fixed up Jeff Gunn with Karen Dorman to keep him from accepting his dream job as a marketing executive and moving to Seattle.
Here’s the situation in Jersey: scheming grandparents Max Sala, Mary Ann Bengtsson, Marilyn Haslett and Jack Gannon fixed up Jeff Gunn with Karen Dorman to keep him from accepting his dream job as a marketing executive and moving to Seattle.

“I like the play and I wanted to see how it goes with adults,” Frantz explained at Wednesday night’s rehearsal with his actors, who combine some of the Beckwith’s most familiar veterans with a Chicagoan Paul Pugh drafted out of the audience and a military mom of four children who will be moving to Indiana after overcoming her stage fright.
With DUHS the cast, which required hours in makeup to crease their unlined faces and to gray their hair, featured seniors — not senior citizens — Kristin Krueger (Emma) and Jordan Eby (Frank), Frantz’s junior daughter, Aislinn (Aida) and Josh Jerz (Nick) and sophomores Tyler Hall (Nunzio) and Elizabeth Kolden (Caitlin O’Hare).
The cast rehearsing for shows Aug. 20, 21 and 22 and 27, 28 and 29 (7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays) includes Max Sala as Nunzio, Mary Ann Bengtsson as Emma, Jeff Gunn as Nicholas, Marilyn Haslett as Aida, Jack Gannon as Frank and Karen Dorman as Caitlin O’Hare.
Nick is a single Italian-American guy from New Jersey. His parents retired and moved to Florida.
That doesn’t mean his family isn’t still in Jersey. In fact, he sees both sets of his grandparents every Sunday for dinner.
This is routine until he must inform them he’s been offered a dream job.
The job he’s been waiting for — marketing executive — would take him away from his beloved, but annoying, grandparents.
He tells them. His news doesn’t sit well and sets in motion a series of schemes to keep Nick around.
How could be betray his family’s love to move to Seattle for a job? his bewildered grandparents wonder.
Well, Frank, Aida, Nunzio and Emma do their level best, and that includes bringing as bait to dinner the comely Caitlin, who is single.
Sala last appeared two summers ago with Aislinn in Neil Simon’s “You Oughta Be in Pictures.
“We only usually do plays that Rich directs because we can’t get into others,” Sala, a retired educator, kidded.
Haslett, a Brandywine Middle School guidance counselor whose husband, Tom Hoff, designed the sets, has performed with Beckwith nearly ever year since it began in 1990.
Her favorite shows include “On Golden Pond,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Always Patsy Cline” and the five-night cemetery Ghost Tour, which also involved Gannon.
Marilyn played Kate Beckwith.
It was Gannon, the Chicago commuter, seated in the audience for “Belle of Amherst” that Pugh plucked out two years ago to cast in his House of David trial recreation.
For Cemetery Tour Gannon, who has been married for 36 years, portrayed James Heddon’s father, Thomas, who is buried in Riverside Cemetery.
In fact, he seems to still be in character.
“The Heddons started the newspaper,” he says, “and my son invented the artificial fishing lure. Another son was a golf pro out in California. My wife and my daughter are buried here. James isn’t. That was the first play I was ever in and I really loved it. I didn’t even have to audition.”
Dorman has a similar story, except she encountered Frantz’s persistence.
Karen was ushering at the Beckwith when Rich informed her she was going to be in a play. “No, I’m not,” she replied.
After surviving flooding in North Dakota and living in her husband’s hometown for six months, “now I’m moving to Indiana. It’s an (Air Force) thing.”
Dorman patronizes Frantz for his “patience,” but actually, “I’m deathly afraid of him.” she laughed. “When I was in seventh grade we did ‘Annie,’ but back then I was fearless. I didn’t want to get back to it, but Rich made me. I’m scared of public speaking. That’s why I’m doing it. These guys have helped me a lot” with their tough love.
Moving her family around to military assignments made it difficult to follow her own dreams, so when she hit 39 she made a list of things put off long enough, including playing piano, getting and using a passport and placing in a video production.
“I had people in mind for five of the parts,” Frantz said, “and Jack actually saved us because Tony Meloche got a job.”
Not to be confused with Cemetery Tour was Cemetery Club, which featured retired French teacher Mary Ann Bengtsson as Doris in one of her three Jewish roles, even though she’s Italian.
She and Sala, given their heritage, feel right at home in “Over the River and Through the Woods” — except Mary Ann fights an urge to cry out “Oy Vey!”
“Growing up Italian,” Max said, “you can tell it’s written by someone who grew up Italian. Mary Ann feels the same way. On one hand, it’s light with some very humorous parts to it, but a little bathos at the end. Joe DiPietro won a Tony for ‘Memphis.’ ”
Sala saw the DUHS version, but scoffs at Karen’s stagefright, “I have a phobia about sitting in the audience.”
The cast cannot come up with a single play they’ve all appeared in together, but it jogs their memories and Gunn and Haslett realize they shared the stage in “Prelude to a Kiss.”
Jeff donned a tuxedo for his one line in “Plaza Suite,” which Bengtsson recalls.
“It was a good line, if she remembers it,” Gannon said.
Bengtsson’s credits also include “Barefoot in the Park” and “Memories in Blue Chiffon.”
Last summer Gunn was Mandy Patinkin in “Forbidden Broadway.”
Other productions growing up in the Beckwith include “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues” and “Escanaba in Da Moonlight.”
Assisting Frantz, a founding Beckwith board member who just retired from teaching, for the six weeks since the first read-through in July are Stage Manager Ordeana Sala, assistant Gabbi Dorman and Maycie Boyle, lights and sound.
Deanie, a current Beckwith board member, deserves a cooking credit because all that real Italian food the cast consumes on stage she prepares.
Instead of a cast party they’ll be starting diets.

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