Stage Rats work the fringes of local theater scene
SARANAC LAKE — After Wednesday’s column about Adirondack Shakespeare Company, today I’m writing about an even newer theater troupe, which opens its second show tonight at BluSeed Studios.
As a layman, it had seemed to me that there’s already a lot of community theater around here: Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake, the Depot Theatre in Westport, Community Theatre Players and the Upper Jay Arts Center (aka Recovery Lounge). But local drama people don’t necessarily see it that way, as I learned from the recently formed Adirondack Stage Rats while they wrapped up their second-to-last dress rehearsal of “The Last Romance” Tuesday night at BluSeed.
These devotees, who have other jobs but see theater as their true vocation, want to perform more, and they see plenty of room to fit it in — especially in slow times such as winter and spring.
Actor Jordan Hornstein explained that theaters such as Pendragon and the Depot are mostly busy in summer. They might extend a show or two into the fall, and do small projects such as play readings at other times, but he’s hungry for more. CTP does big musicals, but those aren’t for everyone, he suggested.
Meanwhile, Karen Lewis, who co-founded the Stage Rats with Beth Glover, wants to stage plays she loves that may not draw big audiences — and don’t need crowds to pay for themselves. While a bigger theater might have to fill 100-plus seats a night to pay its bills, she said the Stage Rats can probably cover royalties, their biggest cost, with 20 people at $10 a head, less than most other theaters charge.
“The Last Romance” is a three-actor show with minimal set pieces, props and costumes. Only five people were there Tuesday night: Lewis, director Bonnie Brewer and actors Kathy Recchia, Annie Scavo and Hornstein. It’s a quiet play, so I couldn’t hear them rehearsing until I was in the room with them. Nevertheless, I could feel that hectic, nervous energy that always precedes opening night.
This was supposed to be the Stage Rats’ first production back in February, but Hornstein broke his leg — “literally instead of figuratively,” as Lewis put it — so they launched with what they had planned to do next, A.R. Gurney’s “The Fourth Wall.” I didn’t see it, but the plot involves a woman who baffles her husband by redecorating their living room in a way that resembles a stage, with everything oriented toward a blank wall — which is, in fact, the audience. The wife also claims the newly elected President George W. Bush objects to her redecoration and is trying to kill her.
“The Last Romance” is about an older man who lives with his overprotective sister and falls for a woman at a local dog park. Lewis, who selected it, said she likes it because “it’s sweet, and it gets people feeling that their lives aren’t over.
“It’s got a lot of heart, and it’s about people discovering their potential, no matter what age they are, and the power of love and what that opens up for you, and the importance of family — you know, all that good stuff.
“And Joe DiPietro, the guy who wrote it, he’s amazingly prolific, so you could really do seasons and seasons of just Joe’s work.”
The Stage Rats will stage “The Last Romance” six times and then take the summer off, partly to take part in other productions and partly because the un-air-conditioned BluSeed can get pretty hot, Lewis said. They plan to resume in the fall and winter with more “cutting edge” productions, she added.
Beyond that, their plans are pretty open-ended. Lewis was non-committal about what their parameters might be.
“We can do anything as long as we can find wonderful people who are crazy enough to do this,” she said. “Really, if you can pay the royalties, you can do the show.”
BluSeed has been an excellent host, she said, but they plan to perform elsewhere, too.
“The idea truly is that, at some point, we can take these plays anywhere,” she said. “If somebody said, ‘Oh, I’d like to have a bunch of my friends over, and you could do that in my great room,’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, we could.'”
Toward that end, they’ve acquired chairs the Depot Theatre was replacing, as well as some lights, which Brewer set up as we spoke. Brewer has done tech for countless local plays, but “I’ve never worked with DJ lights to light a show before,” she said.
“Right now we’re certainly keeping it small and easy to produce,” Lewis said. “It’s so difficult with people’s schedules to arrange for a cast of 13 or something like that. Ugh. I wouldn’t want to try to do it, but if anybody else did … then fabulous. But I kind of prefer smaller pieces myself.”
“It’s making it up as we go,” Brewer chimed in.
I can’t review “The Last Romance” because I only saw the last two scenes, but I liked what little I saw. I also admire the Stage Rats’ scrappy willpower to make what they love happen. They have the passion and the know-how to do shows like this whenever and wherever they want, and the courage to nibble around the edges of the local theater market.