Season 49: Success marred by tragedy
In our 49th season, we opened in New York with “Lost in Yonkers,” moved to Maine for “The Whales of August,” followed by the French Riviera for “The Boy Friend,” back to the USA for “All My Sons,” and then the world itself became our stage for Kander and Ebb’s “The World Goes Round.”
Once again, I have too much to share about season 49. So I will write about the first three shows today and save the last two for the next column.
Steve Brown of The Chronicle wrote, “Workshop Players opened its 49th season with a powerful rendition of Neil Simon’s ‘Lost in Yonkers’.”
Pam Pickworth directed and welcomed these new actors making their Workshop debuts: Charles Deremer, Diana Ralph, Dirk Malesevic and Jonathan O’Toole. Bev Sperry and Charles Deremer were both recognized by the audience with Best Actor Awards for the quality of their performances in this show. Pam’s marvelous set design created an environment that our founder, Valerie Gerstenberger, called, “comfy, realistic, and downright homelike.”
Bill Brumfield’s set design for “Whales of August” garnered him the 1996-97 Audience Award for best set. He combined a skeleton of a beachfront house with a gorgeous wall mural painted by Susan Schauer. The mural covered the south and west walls and created a vista of the coastline and the sea surrounding the Maine island where the story takes place.
Brumfield also cast five top-notch Workshop veterans in this show: Jimmie Looney, Harriet Michaels, Becky Presti, Ted Michaels, and Don Dickens.
The success of this show was marred by a tragedy.
In my article about season 32, 1979-80, I wrote about Dick Beal working on community theater right up to the week before his death. Pat Lindley-Brumfield reminded me that Don Dickens cut it even more closely with “The Whales of August.”
Lindley-Brumfield wrote, “When you asked the rhetorical question, ‘Which member worked on community theater right up to days before his death?’ I thought immediately of Don Dickens. Don acted in and directed several plays at Workshop. In November 1996, Don performed in ‘The Whales of August.’ The show closed on Sunday afternoon, the cast struck the set, and Don went home and died that night of a heart attack. It was a shock to everyone, but as Bill Brumfield said later, ‘Don would have found the timing appropriate.’”
The irony here, is that last fall we lost Pat Lindley Brumfield as well, proving once again that life is full of its own drama.
In the winter of 1996-97, Bill Reising and Jayne Bartish-Kacik directed that old-fashioned musical “The Boy Friend” by Sandi Wilson.
Steve Brown noted in his review, “With more than half of the cast under 21 years of age, there is a refreshing mix of youthful enthusiasm and energy that permeates this production.”
Making their Workshop acting debuts with this show were Jasmine Ray, Katie Pfrogner, Christine Adkins, Jennifer Pfrogner, Heather Bockey, Dustin Jasinski, Mark Mears, James Darvas, Betty Kaye, Jay Turton, Tim McHenry, Michael Molek, JoAn Miranda, and Greg Dziama, who also did choreography for the show.
One of the few Workshop veterans in the show was Claude Coller, who returned to our stage after a 17-year absence. Coller explains, “The long gap in my Workshop participation came about because after my daughter, Sharon, was born in 1979, I was finding it harder and harder to make time for family, school and outside interests — so good-bye outside interests. I retired in 1995 and had done LCMT in 1996. I don’t know if the role of Percy in ‘The Boyfriend’ had not been cast or if someone had left the show, but I got a call from Jenny and Katie Pfrogner asking if I would be interested in trying out. I went to the theater thinking I was auditioning and after reading some lines with the rest of the cast in a rehearsal setting the director told me I was in the show!
“This was perfect for me because I missed the contact I had had with my students and the cast was largely high school age actors. What a great bunch. They were so talented and so full of energy it really lifted me out of the dumps. It was a pleasure to watch them learn their roles and gain confidence. I feel Workshop has done a lot to encourage younger actors which is very worthwhile. I had a wonderful time in that show.”
Coller is correct about Workshop making it a habit to encourage young performers. Of the folks mentioned here, Katie Pfrogner, Turton and Darvas are all working professionally today; Pfrogner and Turton based on the east coast and Darvas out west. And Jonathan O’Toole has acted professionally in the Cleveland area.
Workshop Players is very proud of all our alumni who are working professionally.