Beckwith Theatre prepares for ‘Sylvia’ production

Published 6:00 am Saturday, April 8, 2023

DOWAGIAC — The Beckwith Theatre Company is gearing up for its next production.

The company will be presenting “Sylvia,” a play by A.R. Gurney.

Performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. April 14, 15, 21, 22, and 2 p.m. April 16 and 23 at Beckwith Theatre, 100 New York Ave, Dowagiac. Tickets are available at $15 apiece.

Directed by Susan Plee, “Sylvia” is a comedy centering around Greg and Kate – a married couple portrayed by Jim Richards and Jamie Miller – that moved to Manhattan after 22 years of raising their family in the suburbs. Greg’s career in finance is winding down, while Kate’s career as an English teacher is beginning. One day, Greg brings home a dog he found in the park named “Sylvia,” portrayed by Dowagiac graduate Christianna Schommer, who becomes a major bone of contention between the couple. Rounding out the cast is Jessica Lewis, who portrays two characters in Leslie and Phyllis, and Allen Pille, who portrays Tom.

For Richards, Greg is a character he has enjoyed getting to know.

“Greg is an absolute riot,” Richards said. “I kind of play the straight man as opposed to Sylvia’s  star; the dog always gets to be the star, right? I am the guy that’s just like, wow, I love this dog and I can’t give her up. She becomes the new love of my life and I’m trying to incorporate her into the life that I have. My kids are grown, I’ve been married a long time and now I’ve got this new facet that I need to bring in my life.”

Schommer plays the titular character, an unorthodox role she has enjoyed bringing to life.

“It’s pretty unique portraying an animal that doesn’t otherwise speak,” Schommer said. “Having to completely go from having a conversation to ‘squirrel!’ That’s very much ADHD and it’s helping me to understand those people in my life who are ADHD. It’s something that even though it’s really hard to completely switch gears, it helps me to understand those people in my life better who just think like that naturally.”

A Southwestern Michigan College alumna, Miller portrays Kate, who is struggling with the new family dynamic. She has enjoyed her time getting to know her character and interacting with the cast.

“It’s been really fun to work with other people from different theaters and stuff like that and to build a character and figure out who she is and what drives her,” she said.

For Plee, directing “Sylvia” has been a special experience. She was in charge of props for the Twin City Players’ production of “Sylvia” in 1998, which was directed by one of her mentors, the late Jim Keech.

“When I picked the play, I had forgotten that Jim had directed it,” she said. “I remember doing props for it and then I’m also doing set dressing for this show. When I took home the covered panels turned one of them over, the line drawing that was on the front of it was done by Jim. I worked with him on other productions as well and when I saw that, I thought I’ve got divine intervention going on. I enjoyed working with him. He was like a mentor to me and I learned a lot just working with him.”

When the curtain rises next Friday, Richards hopes the audience enjoys the show and can relate to what the characters are experiencing.

“My hope is that they see the humanity of it,” he said. “I want the audience to go along for the ride. I want them to see if I can really make them feel ‘oh, I’ve been there.’ ‘I know what he’s talking about,’ ‘I know what the author meant when he wrote that there,’ ‘that dog really seems to know what’s going on.’ and ‘I can see what that guy’s going through right now.’”