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Brooksby's hams take to the stage

Knee-slapping comedy fills audience with laughter

Created date

June 25th, 2013

Life took a comedic turn this spring for a handful of friends in the eighth production of Theatre at the Pond (TAP), the theater group at Brooksby, in Peabody, Mass. Old Hams, a play by Robert Rinfret, tells the story of the retired live-in friends of a famous actress. When their benefactor dies, the friends find their living situation threatened. The leading cast of nine colorful characters kept audiences laughing throughout the two-act show, with well-timed one-liners and creative flair. Though not TAP s first comedy production, the show featured a new set, a new director, and new talent from people who live at the Erickson Living community. Set in California inside the parlor of the Victorian mansion once owned by actress Ophelia Davis, the scene becomes one of uncertainty shortly after the five friends return from Ophelia s funeral. Retired mystic Madam Clara Voyant (Frances Schonfeld) predicts troubled times ahead, a prediction that is soon fulfilled with the arrival of the Davis family attorney, Ben McAllister, Jr. (Tom Crone), who appears bent on buying the house himself if taxes cannot be paid on it. The plot twists with the arrival of Ophelia s granddaughter Sarah Davis (Betsey Woolf), the introduction of Ben s nephew David McAllister (Steve Barry), the search for an unclaimed lottery ticket, and a rocky relationship between the attorney and Nurse Crockett (Maureen Smith).

Show of character

The characters have memorable moments in the spotlight during the search for information about the attorney s plan. Nurse Crockett seems likely to have information, as she has romantic ties to Ben, but her unfavorable relationship with those living in the house makes her unlikely to divulge. That s where muscle relaxant pills, prescribed to Gus Hall (Bill Shine), come into play. Feisty Rose Blume (Dorothy Pickett) suggests putting them to use on Nurse Crockett, but her sister Iris (Ruth Kravtin) vehemently opposes the idea. The friends agree not to use the pills, but shortly after leaving the room, each returns one by one to stealthily put a pill (or two) in the nurse s coffee. Madam Clara Voyant animatedly crosses herself on the way out of the room, to great laughter from the audience. When the pills take full effect, the result is a stumbling, intoxicated Nurse Crockett, whose ramblings lead the group to believe the missing winning lottery ticket is in the house. In the search for information, Rose Blume becomes wrapped in the slap-happy embrace of Nurse Crockett, her nemesis. Ophelia s friends later host a yard sale, an excuse to don their own disguises in an attempt to trick Ben into paying thousands of dollars for the jewelry box thought to contain the winning lottery ticket. But their strong personalities give them away when retired actor Eddie Chambers (Dick Thornburg) misquotes a movie line his signature move and a source of laughter throughout the play. Despite the foiling of that plan, with help from Ben s nephew David, the group discovers the house was actually left to Ophelia s granddaughter, who welcomes the friends to stay.

Committed family

The nine Brooksby actors began rehearsals in February for their roles in the two-hour play, under the direction of Bill Gaylardo, a local theater director. During that time, producer Eileen Gallant, stage manager Janice Gershlack, assistant stage manager Esther Brown, scenic designer Andy Smith, assistant scenic designer Alice Gross, and costume designer Alice Johnson, among many others, put in hours of work behind the scenes. I had no idea you had to work that hard, says Dorothy Pickett, chair of TAP, who played Rose Blume. Adds Frances Schonfeld, who played Madam Clara: We re all in this together, and we re all committed to making this a success. My hat goes off to all the people who have donated and contributed so many volunteer hours, Dorothy adds. We get frustrated, but we do have fun, and you get to know a lot of people. And, of course, Brooksby has been wonderful and supportive. The performers recited their lines from memory during the two-hour show. Through countless hours of rehearsals, the group formed close bonds. You get to know these people on a whole different level, Dorothy says. We ve been working on it a good, long time. Director Bill Gaylardo agrees. I love them. They were great to work with; they made me laugh, they made me cry, he says of the cast and crew. It s like a family.