I am in a play.
Me. The one who had three lines in her junior high school play and forgot them all. After a year or so of watching as others I knew participate in productions with the Grosse Pointe Theatre, I finally jumped in. Sure, I appeared in a chorus role in last season's finale--Scarlet Pimpernel-–but I had no lines.
This is different. This time I have a name – Miss Poppenghul – and I get to speak and act. And, hopefully, make people laugh out loud.
The play is a great comedy called Moonlight and Magnolias, opening at the Fries Auditorium inside the Grosse Pointe War Memorial on Sunday, March 11 at 2 p.m.; it plays seven more times through March 24. You can go to the theatre's website to see the full schedule and times, or call them at 313-881-4004.
Moonlight and Magnolias (or M&M, as we call it) is based on a true story about the filming of Gone With the Wind. You see, back in 1939, Producer, David O. Selznick shut down production after a month because he didn’t like the screenplay. He pulled Director Victor Fleming off the nearly completed filming of the Wizard of Oz and brought in screenwriter extraordinaire Ben Hecht to rewrite the entire script, then proceeded to lock them in his office for five days to assure completion of the work.
Trust me, there is really nothing funnier than watching grown men portray Scarlett O’Hara flirting with Ashley Wilkes, or delivering Prissy’s line about “birthing babies.” Miss Poppenghul, my part, is the ever-loyal secretary to Selznick.
Before the auditions even began, I was excited. Gone With the Wind is my favorite book and movie of all time. I read the script and laughed out loud many, many times. Oh, how I wanted the role of Miss Poppenghul, the only woman in the four-person cast.
I talked about the character with my husband and friends from the theater – Tim Reinman, Bob Montgomery, Arlene Schoenherr, Emmajean Evans and the director, Mike Trudel. I studied the lines, practiced “being in the moment” and readied myself for the auditions. The auditions were grueling. And when Mike Trudel called my name on that Sunday evening at the end of auditions, I was astounded. My husband said I was crying, but I’ll deny that to the end.
Rehearsals started a couple of days later. I joined Grosse Pointe Woods' Ron Bernas (Selznick), Dennis Martell (Fleming) and Kevin Fitzhenry (Hecht) – all accomplished theater veterans, as we read through the script, line by line. And for the next two months we met three nights a week at the theatre rehearsal hall at 315 Fisher Road, learning blocking (where to stand, how to move, etc.), line interpretation, cues and how to use our props.
At first I was nervous, afraid I would forget my cues or lines and ruin everything. Comparatively, the three men have an enormous amount of lines. My fear was taking them off their game because of my inexperience. But that worry was needless.
Mike has directed this so well, giving me small, timely and patient guideance. And my three fellow actors have been gracious and accepting. I even started laughing at their mistakes. I think my favorite was when, during a rehearsal, Dennis was supposed to be pretending to be asleep on the couch during a long exchange between Ron and Kevin ... and he actually did fall asleep.
On Saturday, March 3, the tech team moved the set over from 315 Fisher Road to the Fries auditorium to create the set. This is one of my favorite parts. All you have to do is show up and you can help construct the carefully designed and crafted set. Kathy Conlon, truly one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, designed the set, which is Selznick’s office. It’s beautiful, classy and very functional. I helped hang a door, saw pieces of wood and screw in decorative panels.
Then Tech Week started--rehearsals every night to work out the bugs, see how the makeup and costumes look, figure out the lighting and sound effects and refine the show for the opener. It can be grueling, but I tell you, I have enjoyed every moment and will continue to until the final curtain. The time has gone by way too quickly, and I will be so sad to see Miss Poppenghul go.
You don't want to miss this show. We all need to laugh. It’s good for the soul. Leave your troubles at the door, step into the Fries and get ready to be entertained. It doesen't matter if you like Gone With the Wind, hate it or have never seen it or read it. You will laugh out loud and so will your teenage kids (warning: there is some adult language).
And who knows? You, with no acting experience, might even be inspired to audition for one of Grosse Pointe Theatre's plays for next season. It’s been known to happen.