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University Theatre at N.C. State will present two edge-of-your seat thrillers and a rib-tickling comedy of about an average British bloke tempted to keep briefcase full of cash that he finds in a tube (subway) station-in rotating repertory-during TheatreFest 2003, which runs Wednesday-Sunday from May 29 to June 29 in NCSU's Thompson Theatre. The trio of superb scripts chosen for the 2003 edition of Raleigh, NC's top-rated summer theater festival includes The Hollow by Dame Agatha Christie, Funny Money by Ray Cooney, and Deathtrap by Ira Levin.
The Hollow starts tonight [5/29/03], Funny Money opens June 5, and Deathtrap begins June 18.
* * *
The Hollow starts tonight [5/29/03]. It may be the least known of the three scripts.
"I was given a program from a play festival in Scotland that included the play in its season and obtained a copy of the script," says director of University Theatre John C. McIlwee. "I had never seen or read of The Hollow, but liked the melodrama and the humor in this particular script.
McIlwee, who will direct The Hollow for TheatreFest, adds, "Our audiences at University Theatre have requested Agatha Christie plays time and again, so when I enjoyed the script, and especially the characters, I decided to include it in the summer season where [Dame Agatha's whodunits] have been most popular."
The plot of The Hollow is vintage Agatha Christie. "Many members of the extended Angkatell family are arriving for a weekend at the Hollow, the present home of Sir Henry (Farrell Reynolds) and the eccentric Lady Angkatell (JoAnne Dickinson)," explains John McIlwee. "Cousin Henrietta (Dorothy Brown) also awaits the arrival of her current lover, Dr. John Cristow (Jon Pheloung), and his dull wife, Gerda (Collette Rutherford). Edward Angkatell (Gregor McElvogue) motors in from the much-loved family seat to try to woo Henrietta with visions of his estate.
McIlwee says, "The Angkatells marry their cousins, so second cousin Midge (Nicole Quenelle) is also on hand to capture Edward's heart. [But] nothing seems as exciting as the Hollywood star who lives down the lane (Lynda Clark), who still holds a torch for her old boyfriend, John.
"Naturally, murder is afoot," McIlwee says, "and it must be solved by Inspector Colquhoun (David Hudson) and his Detective Sergeant Penny (David Klionsky). Even the faithful butler (Fred Gorelick) and wacky maid (Ida Bostian) could be guilty-everyone is a suspect until the tricky Agatha Christie climax."
McIlwee, who doubles as costume designer for The Hollow, heads a production team that includes set designer Corky Pratt and lighting designer Terri L. Janney. McIlwee admits that relishes the challenge of moving TheatreFest patrons to the edge of their seats-and keeping them there.
"No play presents challenges to me if I want to direct it," claims John McIlwee. "I just solve things creatively and, I hope, in an entertaining manner. I like this play, so I will enjoy falling into the 'style' of the genre and the 1950s in which it is set. Period plays always require extreme attention to detail, but that is what makes the research and the culmination in performance stimulating to a director or designer."
* * *
Funny Money, which opens June 5, features a misplaced briefcase full of money and a death body that just might be that briefcase's former owner. Director Terri Janney says new University Theatre technical director Corky Pratt brought this Ray Cooney script to her attention.
"The last theatre that he worked at performed the play to great success," says Janney. "It's always great to have new people in the theater, because they bring new plays and experiences."
Janney says, "What I like most about Ray Cooney-and particularly this play-is the wide-open, side-splitting farcical elements of the play. This play is incredibly funny and represents the modern-day farce without the mean-spiritedness of many of the plays today."
In Funny Money, Janney says, "Average British bloke Henry Perkins (John McIlwee) accidentally switches his briefcases in the tube station. On the way home, he finds that the briefcase is filled with an ill-gotten £750,000.
"Once home, he decides to run off to Barcelona and start a new life," says Janney, "but he has tremendous trouble getting out the front door. His wife Jean (Dorothy Brown) doesn't want to go, and his friends Vic and Betty (Danny Norris and JoAnne Dickenson) are split on the decision."
Then Henry receives two visitors, Janney says. The first visitor (Linh Schladweiler) claims to be a cop, but he is actually a criminal who really wants a payoff.
Then, Janney says, "The real [police] inspector (David Klionsky) delivers the news that a Henry Perkins has been killed and brings [Henry's lost] briefcase [back] to Henry, who now goes by the name Freddie. Add [to that] a busybody taxi driver (Eric Corley), who can't get the Perkinses out the door to London airport, and Mr. Big (Ben Kraudel), who is trying to get the money briefcase back. [Funny Money] is a murder, mystery, and mayhem farce!"
Besides Janney, the Funny Money production team includes set designer Corky Pratt, lighting designer Wil Kiser, and costume designer Ida Bostian.
Janney says the hectic TheatreFest schedule always presents major challenges to the three directors and their creative teams. "In a very short time, a difficult play must be mounted," she explains. "As a director, I must sit and watch rehearsals without stopping often. A farce must be allowed to keep its momentum, or the actors get lost in the lines and action stops dead. Lines are usually very difficult to learn due to the absurdity of the situations. I have to give notes to actors after the rehearsal, instead of stopping and working scenes as one would in most plays."
Nevertheless, Terri Janney claims, "Funny Money should be a lot of fun for the audience. It a great chance to see John McIlwee in action as Henry Perkins. I think John has some of the best timing in comedy that I have ever seen. It's a great cast, and Danny Norris might steal the show. Also, most audiences have never seen Dorothy Brown in a role that requires her to be falling-down drunk."
* * *
Deathtrap, which begins June 18, is another nail-biter from the author of Rosemary's Baby. The show is set in October 1978 in a famous playwright's home in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
"If you lived in New York City in the late 1970s to the early 1980s," says Deathtrap director Fred Gorelick, "it was difficult to not know about Deathtrap, [because] it ran for nearly 1,800 performances and went through several cast changes along the way, except for Marian Seldes, who played Myra Bruhl throughout the long run."
Gorelick says, "The play is a true thriller in that I did not remember who did what to whom, how and when. I am drawn to the text's wit and bite. I rarely direct plays where I get to frighten an audience as well as make them smile."
Fred Gorelick says his production team for Deathtrap includes set designer Corky Pratt, Lighting designer Jeff Besselman, and costume designer Ida Bostian.
The setup for Deathtrap is deceptively simple. Gorelick says, "Sidney Bruhl (Farrell Reynolds) is a playwright still living on the memory of his last triumphant production, 18 years prior. When a student of his, Clifford (Gregor McElvogue), sends Sidney his first play, Bruhl and his wife, Myra (Diane Gilboa), smell a smash hit that will restore Sidney's reputation and finances. The 'success wish' both the older and younger writer share is complicated by the objectives of a psychic (Sandi Sullivan) and Sidney's lawyer (David Byron Hudson)."
In the subsequent wrangling over who can claim credit for this surefire script, angry words are exchanged and weapons are brandished. "The use of weaponry is always tricky on stage," Gorelick admits. "These scenes must be very carefully choreographed so that the actors are safe, while the audience must believe the action is actual."
Gorelick adds, "If you think you remember Deathtrap, you don't! Come join us for a thrilling ride."
University Theatre at N.C. State presents TheatreFest 2003-The Hollow (8 p.m. May 29-31 and June 4, 7, 11, and 13 and 3 p.m. June 1), Funny Money (8 p.m. June 5, 6, 12, 14, 18, and 21 and 3 p.m. June 8 and 15), and Deathtrap (8 p.m. June 19, 20, and 25-28 and 3 p.m. June 22 and 29)-NCSU's Thompson Theatre, Raleigh, NC. $33 season ticket ($27 students and seniors, $25 NCSU faculty/staff/alumni association member, and $15 NCSU students). $13 single ticket ($11 students and seniors and NCSU faculty/staff/alumni association member, and $6 NCSU students). 919/515-1100. http://www.fis.ncsu.edu/University_Players/theatrefest2003.htm [inactive 9/03]. To download TheatreFest 2003 brochure in PDF format: http://www.fis.ncsu.edu/University_Players/files/TFest%20Brochure2003.pdf [inactive 9/03].