BROOKE HILLS PLAYHOUSE: A COLLECTIVE MEMOIR, Part 11B

1973 Season Poster.  How about those prices?  It cracks me up that we were still using
my mom and dad’s address on Marianna Street for correspondence.  I don’t think we had much!

SEASON TWO, 1973, CONTINUED

The eight-show, second season rushed on with the delightful, small-cast musical The Fantasticks.  On seeing some old photos of the show, T.C. (Tom Cervone) wrote,

“OMG! Those photos are hilarious! Thank you! Gosh, we had so much fun in that show, and others, of course, but this was the first time I actually “worked” with Stanley, on stage, as an acting partner.  Since I was still his student at West Liberty, I was a bit nervous at first, but he quickly put an end to that. Plus, the show is so doggone silly. We just had loads of fun.”

Cast and some crew members of The Fantasticks, Cast and some crew members of The Fantasticks. Front row from left: Richard Ferguson, Wendy Hopwood, Tom Ott, Linda Casto, Michael Lenarz, Rich Dettore, Unknown, Back row from left: Two unknown guys, Stanley Harrison, Tom Cervone. The three unknown guys were the musicians. Two were pianists (Gary Ryan and Daniel Bruno).  The third was a percussionist. Sadly, his name is lost.
Press release for The Fantasticks. Notice in the article’s first line that the Playhouse has been transported to Wellsville!
Wendy Hopwood as The Wall and Tom Ott as El Gallo in The Fantasticks
Stanley Harrison as Henry (The Old Actor) and Tom Cervone as Mortimer (The Man Who Dies) in The Fantasticks. Grace Hopwood’s hands!

Jo Lynne Nugent of Wheeling became active at the Playhouse during the second season.  I received the following from her:

“Hi, Shari,

“I don’t believe I was at the Playhouse in 1972 that I can remember.  I worked props for Hello Dolly at the Capitol Music Hall in Wheeling in 1972, but I can’t recall being at the Playhouse that summer. 

“I did work there the summers of 1973, 1974, and 1975. I had a day job at Wheeling Clinic, so I drove to the Playhouse every night after work and every weekend. I worked every show either acting or stage managing or props. I cleaned toilets a lot, amongst other things. I’m sure I helped with the box office on show nights. I talked you into paying me after I found out T.C. was getting paid.  You gave me $10 a week!

Jo Lynne Nugent in one of her stage-managing roles with the prompt book for one of the 1973 plays.

“I kept busy.  In those three summers, I acted in four shows in 1973–Mary, Mary, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Bus Stop, and The Clown Who Couldn’t Laugh,  three shows in 1974–Harvey, See How They Run, and Born Yesterday, and two shows in 1975–Not Now Darling, Poole’s Paradise. There may have been more, but those are the plays I have reference to in my records. 

“It was a wonderful time in my life.  It was so much fun (in general, maybe not the toilets!), and I have been forever grateful for my time there. I’m also glad to have been able to attend the events this past weekend celebrating the Playhouse’s 50th season. What a fun way to remember it all! I’m so glad to have seen you and met your husband.” 

Eventually, I asked Jo Lynne to update us on her life.  She wrote:

“I took a year off after I graduated from West Liberty, and in December 1975 I applied to graduate school.  I was accepted at the University of Virginia, and I got my MFA. In 1979, I moved to Chicago and worked in the trust department of a bank for a year and then went to nursing school at a hospital school of nursing and got my diploma in nursing. After working for a couple or three of years in ICU and ER, I went to law school and graduated in 1989. Then I came back to Wheeling and began working as a lawyer with a firm in Wheeling.  After four years another lawyer and I started our own firm. I practiced for 30 years as a lawyer and am now retired.”

FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BUILT A BOAT IN THE BASEMENT

The sixth show of the season was a crazy, little farce called U.T.B.U. which stood for Unhealthy To Be Unpleasant. It was written by James Kirkwood (better known for co-writing the book for A Chorus Line) and featured Stanley Harrison, our acting and directing professor from West Liberty, playing a maniacal, aging actor who is mean to his sweet but nutty, little mother, played by Judy Hennen. T.C. (Tom Cervone) played a demented, blind bomber who worked for the U.T.B.U. organization, and he went around presenting “awards” to nasty people which ultimately blew them up! Hard to believe, but it is a very funny show!

I was tapped to design the scenery. I was so happy to be designing and putting my college design classes to work. My only other design to be built had been a set for The Odd Couple which was produced during my senior year at West Liberty.  The U.T.B.U. set was a simple box set with a couple of doors, an arch, and a large, practical up-stage center window with a window box seat beneath it. The set also had to have a step-up end table which could be moved over to the window box during the course of the play. The blind bomber would climb the “steps” (end table), take a step onto the window box, then step through the open window, falling to his death. This meant that the center window had to be tall enough for someone to walk through and wide enough to make it look proportional. 

Ironically, Bill and I actually had a step-up end table. We had inherited it from Norma Stone along with a sofa when she bought new furniture for her new house. So, it was easy enough to build the window box the height of the top “step” of the table and the double window to sit on top of the box.

The set for The Fantasticks, had been very simple, so the strike would be easy. The Fantasticks set was down in 20 minutes, and the crew started carrying up the elements of the U.T.B.U. set. Everything was going like clockwork until they got the massive window unit (two windows with a decorative panel between them) to the top of the stairs at the back of the house. The darn thing wouldn’t fit through the door. No matter how the crew turned or finagled that window, it wouldn’t fit.

The monstrosity was taken back down to the lobby, where I met the gang with circular saw in hand. I cut through the frame and facing, cutting off one window. The two pieces were carried upstairs, re-assembled on stage, and the audience was none the wiser. I did get teased a lot after that, mainly about people who build boats in their basement, and I never made that mistake again!

The cast and crew of U.T.B.U. Can you see the vertical panel with a window on either side upstage center? That was the bear that had to be unceremoniously cut into two parts to get through the upstairs doors! 
Dean Muriel Shennen, West Liberty’s Dean of Women from 1966 to 1975, sitting on the couch far left, was very funny as the maid.
From left: Unknown actor hands something to Stanley Harrison, playing the egotistical, money-grubbing, over-the-hill actor J. Francis Amber, Tom Cervone, seated, as the mad bomber, Janie Miller as a horrible stage mother, and my little cousin Holly Hamilton, who was drafted for the part and had to sing “La Donna E Mobile” from the opera “Rigoletto”!
Somewhere in the show, J. Francis says to his mother, “I’ll turn you upside down so fast you’ll wonder where the floor went!” And later he does just that to Judy Hennen who played his mother.  Beverly DeBord, right, played J. Francis’ shy, retiring sister.

The nasty J. Francis Amber employed several methods while attempting to eliminate the U.T.B.U. agent, a rifle in the first photo and an ax in the second. The rifle fell apart on cue, controlled by the actor. The ax bit was tricky as the ax head had to fall off on cue when J. Francis pulled the handle back over his shoulder getting ready to strike.  When the ax head hit the floor, the line, “Oops, dropped my watch!” always got a laugh.

HAVING NO FRONT CURTAIN WAS TOO BIG A TEMPTATION

The penultimate show of the 1973 season was Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers with John Hennen playing the “lover” who sneaks into his mother’s apartment one afternoon a week to conduct an affair while his mother is volunteering at a hospital.

On this particular evening, we had a large group in attendance, the Belmont County (Ohio) League of Women Voters, and they were sitting in the first four rows. They had all gone to the Drover’s Inn for dinner before coming to the theatre, and apparently, some of them had had a few drinks with dinner. One woman, in particular, was entertaining the group before the show and had done something the stage manager hadn’t seen from backstage.

The house lights dimmed. The lights onstage stayed down; the doorbell rang; a key was heard in the lock. The door opened, and John popped his head through the door.  He reached for the light switch while saying, “Mom?” The stage lights came up, and a woman from the group was stretched out on the sofa downstage center! 

John got quite a jolt and pulled back out of the door. The audience got a laugh. The woman took a bow (damn her!) and returned to her seat in the audience. The stage lights went back down, and we started again!

Couch back: Marlene Marston Bringarden, Couch Arm: Judy Porter Hennen,
Floor: Jo Lynne Nugent, Couch: John Hennen

NOTE: Every Neil Simon show we did at the Playhouse over the years was a crowd pleaser.  He was an incredible talent and a boon to Broadway and little theatres everywhere.  

It’s just my personal opinion, but I honestly, believe that The Odd Couple is right up there with Shakespearean comedies.  Consider:  The Odd Couple had been produced thousands of times on numerous continents.  It was made into a very successful movie and a TV show that ran for 114 episodes!  AND nearly every episode had a line or two from the original play.  Finally, Simon re-wrote it for women, and it was every bit as funny and successful.  I can’t think of another play with that much staying power.  Funny, to my knowledge, it was never made into a musical—probably a good thing!

A PRETTY BAD IDEA

In late 1972, plans for a Brooke County Fair were announced for the week after our last show in 1973. We eventually learned they would be setting up the carnival around the Kiwanis Shelter just a hundred yards or so from the barn, and for some reason, we decided to get in on the action.

Bill suggested that I write a children’s show that we could do several times throughout the day while the fair blared next door.  I wrote a pretty dreadful half-hour show called The Clown Who Couldn’t Laugh, and we produced it. There was no royalty, or we would have lost even more than the few bucks we had spent on several props and costumes.

We soon learned that fair-going people aren’t big on plays, or perhaps they just don’t want to combine their fair-going with their play-going.  It was also eye-opening when we realized that the carnival people were using the Playhouse toilets and our restroom sinks, which had no hot water, for bathing.  One of our staffers walked into the restroom one afternoon to find a half-naked woman washing in the sink.  She told the shocked staffer, “Carnies have to take it wherever they can get it.” Trying to be a part of the fair was a bad idea, but we have no photos to prove it!

A HAPPY ENDING

Bill and I had moved back to Wellsburg in the spring of 1973 just before we opened the Playhouse and found the pigeons.  Our new home was the apartment Norma Stone and her father had recently vacated, on the corner of 6th and Commerce Street, diagonally across the street from DiCarlo’s Pizza! 

The second season ended after the final performance of Clown on Saturday afternoon, August 25, 1973, and we went our separate ways following a last strike and closing up the barn.  Many of the crew returned to college or settled back into their day jobs without evening rehearsals or performances. .  Bill planned to work with his dad in Chester, W. Va.  His dad was putting in a mobile home park on the family farm.  I got a job teaching seventh and eighth grade language arts right there in Brooke County at Follansbee Middle School. 

At the end of that first season, 1972, we were in debt.  We owed Mr. Charles Beall, the owner of Robert Scott Lumber in Wellsburg, $1,256.  He had been so wonderful to carry that debt for us over the winter.  Of course, I had to go to him in the spring of 1973 and ask him to extend our credit so we could buy lumber, hardware, paint, etc. to get the new season up and running.  Again, he agreed and bought an ad in the season’s program as well.

Although another season passed without any sold-out houses, it had been a good season, both artistically and monetarily.  We hadn’t made much, Bill, John, and I still could not take a paycheck, but we had given our staffers a little something each week–$5 or $10, and most importantly, we were able to pay off our entire bill at Robert Scott Lumber, and that felt like a major accomplishment, like a million bucks!

************

We have found no photos from The Clown Who Couldn’t Laugh (probably a blessing!) and just the one above from The Last of the Red Hot Lovers.  If you want to see more photos from the 1973 season, follow these links with a double click:

The Fantasticks, 1973– https://share.photomyne.com/share?u=9DEA9372-643E-4BF9-BFC9-1CF7842C325F&s=9f0729ca-0e47-450f-8674-d11eabeb05d7&source=Mail

Bus Stop, 1973–  https://share.photomyne.com/share?u=9DEA9372-643E-4BF9-BFC9-1CF7842C325F&s=96ba4645-de8b-419a-b750-05a4783e21d1&source=Mail

Butterflies Are Free, 1973– https://share.photomyne.com/share?u=9DEA9372-643E-4BF9-BFC9-1CF7842C325F&s=b87fa43b-e02d-426a-951d-55ea721dacbd&source=Mail

The Owl and The Pussycat, 1973 (First 8 photos) and Mary, Mary, 1973 (Last 32 photos)– https://share.photomyne.com/share?u=9DEA9372-643E-4BF9-BFC9-1CF7842C325F&s=57996426-b9d1-4dcc-a6ca-f91e1c1035b5&source=Mail

U.T.B.U., 1973– https://share.photomyne.com/share?u=9DEA9372-643E-4BF9-BFC9-1CF7842C325F&s=b3d7439f-5883-4fd8-b85f-7f1545fe3c5f&source=Mail

1 thought on “BROOKE HILLS PLAYHOUSE: A COLLECTIVE MEMOIR, Part 11B”

  1. We did UTBU again in the 1980’s when I worked there, and it continues to be one of my very favorite shows. I have never seen it produced anywhere but at BHP, but I keep my eyes open for it because my family would love it. It’s funny how lines from shows get stuck in your head (and written on the walls of the staff bathroom at the barn), and you drop them in conversations like everyone else knows what you’re talking about. I have said, “Oops! I dropped my watch!” hundreds of times over the years when I have caused a cacophony. I did finally explain to my husband and kids why I say it. 

    Mary GeibSent from iPhone 

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s