New Albany can lay claim to true community theatre once again if Friday’s performance at the newly repurposed TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana building on East Main Street is any indicator.
An appealing cast of nine, under the direction of Chris Bundy, delighted a sellout crowd with a rousing interpretation of Neil Simon’s hit Broadway comedy, “Rumors.”
Until now, live theatre in New Albany has, for the most part, been limited to high school musicals (not that there’s anything wrong with that; New Albany boasts of one of the elite drama programs at New Albany High School). A few area churches sponsor occasional shows, but to find more eclectic offerings, a trip to another city had been required.
The cast, though experienced, was composed mostly of semiprofessionals. But the night’s performance approached professional grade. The set was more than adequate to communicate the setting – an upscale New York drawing room – and was strikingly good considering the inherent limitations of the stage space.
As for the audience space, the room was surprisingly comfortable – and cool. Despite having only some 90 (very relaxing) seats available, there was no sense of crampedness, allowing the crowd to maintain its concentration on the performances.
The play itself, whose setting implies a comedy of manners, is more of a manic farce. Any thoughts of restraint were quickly dismissed by the high-voltage appearance of Margot Morgan, essaying the role of Chris Gorman, the distaff side of the first of four couples attending the 10th anniversary party for their hosts, a fifth couple that never appears on stage. That role was portrayed on Broadway by Christine Baranski, who earned a Tony™ for her efforts, and you can see Baranski-like elements in Morgan’s own interpretation of the role.
Much of the weight of dialogue was carried by a game Jason Roseberry as dinner guest Lenny Ganz, who tries to help cover up what appears to be the attempted suicide of Charlie Brock, the host and the Deputy Mayor of New York. Roseberry stood out in what was a highly physical role.
Special notice goes to Amy Harpenau, who took the relatively small role of Cassie Cooper and captured the crowd with her at-first petulant and then overtly sexy performance.
The crowd, though appreciative, was slow to warm up during the expositional moments in Act 1. That was more than offset by the audience’s engagement throughout Act 2. The ensemble drew roars of laughter as the play approached its climax.
That said, the director, cast, and crew can rightfully consider Friday night’s outing a triumph. Live theatre depends as much on timing as on the playscript and on that measure, the team kept things humming as well as any cast at the highest level would have. There were no weak roles or actors playing them. The voice and sound levels were nearly perfect.
Speaking personally, I’m hopeful that the main stage or the ballroom can be used by other companies during the year, as TheatreWorks Southern Indiana plans only six different shows in its first year. New Albany had a need for a drama venue and now it appears to have one that is in it for the long haul. I look forward to seeing an occasional one-act play or one-woman show that can mesh smoothly with the ambitious schedule. I’d even welcome casual readings in either of the performance spaces, although the small upstairs ballroom, which is available for rental, is mostly designed for private events like receptions and group dinners.
“Rumors” continues through June 11, with matinees this and next Sunday at 2 p.m. and shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Running time for the 2-act play, including intermision, is about 2 1/2 hours. Refreshments, including adult beverages, are available.
TheatreWorks Southern Indiana is located at 203 E. Main Street in New Albany, Ind. The building, colloquially referred to as “The Parthenon” or “Bank of Indiana,” was built in 1837. For more information visit theatreworksofsoin.com/.