Island theatre audiences can look forward to some much-needed comedy this spring when Salt Spring Community Theatre presents its take on the masterful farce Lend Me a Tenor.
Opening Friday, March 31 at Mahon Hall with dates across two extended weekends, the play promises to be just what the doctor ordered after a gruelling winter filled with bad weather and worse global politics. The winner of three Tony Awards and four Drama Desk Awards, the madcap script by Ken Ludwig has been called “a masterpiece” and “one of the funniest comedies ever written.”
At the helm of the Salt Spring production is Damian Inwood, a relative newcomer to the island and to the troupe but no stranger to community theatre. The retired Vancouver Province journalist began acting in 1993 and directing in 2005 with groups like the Deep Cove Stage Society and the North Vancouver Community Players.
Inwood and his wife Charley Miller got in touch with Salt Spring Community Theatre after they decided to move to the island a few years ago. They have since been involved doing sound and publicity for Rumors and The Shadow Box.
When the community theatre group invited Inwood to direct a piece, he made his selection based on their core participants and what would work well for them.
“I’ve seen Lend Me a Tenor a number of times, and it’s hilarious,” he added.
The play is set in 1934 on the 10th anniversary of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company. The world famous tenor “Il Stupendo” is set to appear as Otello for a special one-night-only performance when the farce-dependent accidents, misunderstandings and cases of mistaken identity ensue.
“He arrives and things go pear-shaped. Really, it’s about how they manage the situation,” Inwood explained.
Inwood is himself a tenor and has sung with community and higher level choirs for the past 28 years. His understanding of the drama to be mined in the performance world has been happily offset by an encounter with Luciano Pavarotti, whom he interviewed in Vancouver during a time when the great tenor’s marriage was publicly falling apart.
The play involves six different doors that players are constantly opening and closing — sometimes simultaneously — which means timing is even more important than it usually is.
“It’s quite challenging, but it’s lots of fun. We can’t wait to get in front of an audience,” Inwood said. “The script is packed with laughs, so it will be rewarding to finally get the reaction.”
Inwood’s casting includes some local community theatre stalwarts such as Vera Algoet, Wendy Beatty, Scott Merrick, St. Clair McColl and Rosanne Leonoff. New to the Salt Spring Community Theatre stage are Michelle Bauer, Daniel Squizzato and Rosita Larrain.
Inwood said the group has responded well to the script’s inherent challenges — which, despite the title, don’t actually include a lot of opera singing.
“We have very good talent here,” Inwood said, adding his key to eliciting a great performance is to make sure actors don’t just memorize their lines.
“I’m strict about the text; I like to really study the script and what the lines mean,” he said. “The other thing is having fun. I think that’s really important — I mean, we’re not being paid, so that’s why we’re doing it.”
The production promises to be visually enjoyable as well as funny, with costuming streaming both from the 1930s time period and the opera costumes for Otello. Audiences are encouraged to dress up as if they were actually attending a night out at a fine opera house, and the community theatre troupe will be doing its best to ensure the whole of Mahon Hall looks the part. And in grand opera tradition, a cash bar will be available at intermission.
Shows run at 7:30 p.m. March 31 and April 1, and again from Thursday, April 6 though Saturday, April 8. One matinee is offered Sunday, April 2 at 2 p.m. Advance tickets are available through ArtSpring.