New River Stage presents the play Dearly Departed by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones at Warm Hearth at 7 p.m. today, tomorrow, Oct. 22, and next weekend, Oct. 28 and 29 with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m.
First produced in 1992, the play, called “deliciously hilarious,” and “drop dead funny,” throughout its long run, is a comedy set in the Bible-belt South revolving around the coming together of the shards of a semi-functional family for the funeral of its late, little lamented, patriarch. Southern-accented, the play presents kudzu-draped, but universal truths about family, faith, love, and grief.
“So many times you see happy-go-lucky lives…life is perfect, but you peel back those layers, and you get reality. And reality is complicated. There’s struggle, but at its root there’s love.” A.J. Moose, president and founding member of New River Stage said.
And much like a family, New River Stage, and director Michael Vaughn, are creatively resourceful in telling this slapstick-serious story of family dysfunction and human relationships using double-casting, minimal props, pantomime, comedic timing, and duct tape.
“For example, we don’t actually use a casket,” she said. “The casket is imaginary…because you want the audience to focus on the relationships between the characters, not on a dead body in the middle of the room.”
As the show progresses, an audience begins to imagine the casket too.
“We can have minimal props and really focus on those relationships,“ she said.
Moose, who has been with the company since 1983, directs plays, teaches classes, and will be playing Marguerite, the Bible-thumping, mixing-spoon wielding sister of the dearly departed.
At a recent dress rehearsal, Anna Dalton, co-producer of Dearly Departed, hands safety pins to Moose and talks about the teamwork of putting on a play.
“If you want to know theater, do community theater. Everybody does something,” Dalton said.
And she’s done everything. Except lighting, she’s afraid of heights, but her role as co-producer seems, in an interesting metaphor, to revolve around emergency mending. She comes to the play equipped with pins and tape, double-sided and duct, both black and white.
More than metaphor, all small theater companies struggle to find an affordable stage home. New River Stage is delighted to have found one at Warm Hearth. Performing for – and with – the senior community, the actors are well mic’d and the stage has been raised for easier viewing.
“We have this lovely partnership with Warm Hearth where we’re supporting our senior community helping them to go out and have a night of live entertainment for minimal or low cost. You can’t go to the movies for $10 any more. You could get popcorn.”
Like Moose and Dalton, New River Stage itself, as a community resource, plays many roles. “We like to say we serve from 6 to 106,” Moose said.
New River Stage holds acting classes for all ages. Theatrical training starts early, “We have a class called Opening Act which covers kindergarten through 5th grade, and our Second Act class covers 6th grade through 12th grade,” Moose said.
The Youth Theater show is Saturday Nov 4 at 10:30 a.m.
Young people have emerged from these classes to teach drama to others. One New River Stage youth theater actor, Jack Champion, is currently playing a role in the movie Avatar 2.
Theater training for children hones skills like public speaking and working together, even designing costumes.
“They learn all the things that goes into making shows. Learning how to come together as a team.”
“We are a community theater. We’re an ensemble theater. We want to produce quality shows on an affordable budget,” Moose said.
For more information www.newriverstage.org/classes.html. For online ticket purchases visit www.squareup.com/store/NewRiverStage Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.