*** Published: March 19, 2009 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Bespectacled Fred Dunagan sat in Theatre Bristol's ARTspace [recently] with a clipboard on his knee, pen in hand and laughter from his belly.
Theatre Bristol's latest production, Trivial Pursuits, was the object of Dunagan's attention. Co-directed by Dunagan and Christopher McVey, the farce runs through March 29, 2009, at Theatre Bristol's ARTspace in Bristol, Tenn.
"Oh, it borders from funny to the outrageous," Dunagan said moments before the play's final rehearsal began. "It's a farce. It's a comedy. It's outrageous."
Tears from laughter on the cheeks of onlookers testified to the play's humor.
"This is like the British sitcoms; it's like "Are You Being Served,' " Dunagan said. "This
was originally very British, but we redid the lines."
Featuring an ensemble cast of 10, the play is set in the backyard of Nick (David Alford), executive director of the Appalachian Little Theatre Group. He invited everyone from the group to a barbecue to announce the next season's play and to offer roles. Only thing, several of them have hopes for particular plays and parts for themselves.
"This is such a silly little show with foibles," Dunagan said.
Teddy, played hilariously by Michael Locke, blackmails Nick for the lead in Oklahoma! Mona the choreographer, played by Sheena Looney, angles for West Side Story. Derek (played by McVey), the boring though rich soon-to-be ex-husband of Deidre, pays Nick $10,000 to help the financially ailing group, provided he cast Deidre as the lead in Sweet Charity.
"There isn't a lead per se in the show," Dunagan said. "It's an ensemble cast."
What a motley crew. There's eavesdropping and drinking, backstabbing and blackmailing, and loads of gossip. From the persnickety and flamboyant Teddy to the wickedly funny flirt Pearl, the play's characters interact with wildly vivid and quick dialogue that's woven skillfully.
Therein emerged a difficulty for Dunagan and McVey as directors, relative to staging. "One of the hardest illusions for this show is that it's on a small stage," Dunagan said. "Like when somebody over there [to the right] is talking, and of course, somebody over there [to the left] hears them, but the illusion is that they don't hear them. We have so many things going on in a small area."
Plays about plays demand great care. From the script to the acting to the directing, without great care, crowds may neither get the jokes nor the point.
"Shows about doing shows are funny with the theater crowd, because they get the jokes," Dunagan said. "However, there's a lot of slapstick in this show that the public will get."
As when Derek, sad about his impending divorce, drunkenly stumbles in the play's second act.
"And everybody gets blackmail," Dunagan said.
But that took work aplenty. About 150 hours of rehearsals for three to four nights per week for five weeks from the actors, directors and various Theatre Bristol personnel led to the show's final rehearsal.
"Oh, I've put them through it," Dunagan said, smiling.
The work showed. Talent shined, laughter flew from mouths and hands clapped loudly. And that was just a rehearsal.
"Everybody will get it," Dunagan said. "It's fall-on-the-floor funny."
IF YOU GO
What: Theatre Bristol presents Trivial Pursuits
When: March 20-21 and 27-28 at 8 p.m.; and March 22 and 29 at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Theatre Bristol's ARTspace, 512 State St., Bristol, Tenn.
Admission: $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, $8 for children under age 12