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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Comedy, tragedy mark observance of Playhouse's 50th season

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reminiscing about the early days of Putnam County Playhouse, John Franklin talks to the luncheon gathering at the Inn at DePauw Saturday before an open house at the Hazel Day Longden Barn Theatre.
For most, if not all of its 50 years, the Putnam County Playhouse has used the ancient symbols of Greek theater -- the twin masks of comedy and tragedy -- as its distinctive logo.

Saturday at the theater group's 50th anniversary celebration, laughter and tears had joint billing. And thanks to some unscripted reality, comedy and tragedy shared the stage.

While longtime Playhouse actors, board members and volunteers were reminiscing, the mood suddenly changed from mirth to alarm at the end of a celebratory luncheon at the Inn at DePauw.

Ernie Ford, a member of the current board of directors, collapsed at his table, requiring emergency medical attention. As of Monday afternoon, Ford was still hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit at Methodist Hospital, Indianapolis.

Up until that point in the program, the memories shared had been whimsical with old friends renewing acquaintances with old friends and old stories. Such as retired Greencastle High School civics teacher John Franklin returning from Florida for the occasion. Or Judith Berry choking back emotion to recall how Vickie Parker convinced her late husband, Bob, to play a Russian soldier in "Fiddler on the Roof."

Board President Michael McClaine addressed such moments in his opening remarks, noting that many of them were etched in their collective memory bank, including "the image of Jim Poor wearing cocoanuts (as a bra in two separate runs of 'South Pacific') has been burned into our memories ... twice."

Longtime Playhouse actor, director and board member Poor said the occasion certainly "caused memories to come flooding back."

Poor recalled how theater is like life itself. "Every show closes. You take your bows, and turn out the lights, strike the set and move on to the next one.

"But the memories stay with you," he stressed.

Memories like the time his brother Bob replaced the warm soapy water in the "Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair" scene of "South Pacific" with iced-cold water, and actress Romilda Hamontre never broke character.

Or Poor's first big laugh in "Little Mary Sunshine." He noted how the scene called for him to pick up a bow and arrow and shoot the arrow offstage. Poor got big laughs with his line, "Oh, I didn't know it was loaded."

Poor said he was so hooked on those laughs that one night when another actor, playing an Indian in the satire, forgot to bring the bow and arrow on stage, Poor had to improvise. His first-ever ad lib resulted in: "You got anything else for me, Chief?" And out came the bow and arrow.

Dale Grove reminisced about how castmate Dan Stockton forgot to bring his knife to the stage for the big knife fight scene "West Side Story." The trio of gang members struggled to share two knives back and forth until Grove was supposed to stab one of them and was left weaponless.

"That's when I hear this 'clunk, clunk, clunk,'" Grove said, "and Dan had tossed me over the knife he had."

Such are the hazards of live theater.

Meanwhile, Jack Randall Earles recalled how his off-key contribution to the "Annie" chorus for the 1984 production urged the musical director to order: "And Jack, you just move your mouth."

Enjoying a conversation at the barn about the theater group's first 50 years are (from left) Emily and Jim Poor, Ann Cooper and Marc Adams.
Lita Sandy remembered her debut in "Hello Dolly" in 1971, crossing the stage wearing a pink dress with yellow shoes, an ensemble that caused her sister to laugh out loud in the audience.

"All I could think was, 'Oh please don't break character, please don't break character,'" Sandy recalled telling herself.

Several times during the day, Playhouse people pointed to the group's original to-the-point mission statement of offering Putnam County residents a chance to participate in and enjoy live theater.

"That has been accomplished and continues to be (accomplished)," board president McClaine assured.

Despite the sad turn of events at the luncheon Saturday, the group was true to "the show must go on" theater tradition and assembled for the public open house at the Hazel Day Longden Barn Theatre for the remainder of the afternoon.

It is there that the 50th season of Putnam County Playhouse will commence Thursday night with the opening of the musical "The Music Man." It will be staged at 8 p.m. June 2-4 and 8-11.

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