Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012

Actresses Playing Actresses In Elm Grove

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It was a welcome break from the rest of the month. This past weekend there was only one opening. In Elm Grove: The Sunset Playhouse's production of Stage Door.

Any prior research I have done on the show had been well in my past. Was not terribly familiar with it. And so I had one of those rare opportunities to go to a show without much in the way of expectation. All that I really knew about this show was that the ensemble was rather large, and it featured quite a few actors that I had enjoyed in the past. It's the story of a boarding house for New York stage actresses in the '30s. 

I ended up seeing a few names that I hadn't quite pictured working together in the full ensemble. One of those names was attached to an actress who played only seen in a couple of productions before. Gemma Fitzsimmons was someone who I'd seen before in a couple of different shows. I figured that she was probably part of the overall ensemble without being real central to it as she was kind of new to local theatre and hadn't ever appeared with Sunset before. 

I was right. She was only present in bigger scenes for the most part. Director Tommy Lueck seems to have a knack for bringing big crowd scenes to a relatively big stage and still managing to make ti look casual in spite of the fact that the blocking on these things must have been absolute murder . . . 

But when Fitzsimmons finally had a few lines of her own outside of the larger groups, I was kind of surprised. She spoke with what sounded to me like a very authentic Texas accent. I've seen other actors struggle with various Southern accents before. I had to chuckle. Not what I'd expected at all. Fitzsimmons is from England. (Only recently became a citizen of the US as I understand it.) Seeing her in the cast list, I was expecting her to be playing some British actress trying to make it big on Broadway. 

I would imagine it's probably a little bit more difficult crossing over the Atlantic to do a Texas drawl. Haven't heard her offstage, but from what I've heard she has what I've seen referred to as a "BBC English" accent. Most of the local actors I know have a natural "American Broadcast" accent. I would imagine it'd be a bit more difficult making the crossover from the other side of the Atlantic, but I wouldn't know. It's fun to think about, though--just one of those interesting little details that comes out of a cast larger than 20. 

The cast of the Sunset Playhouse's production of the Stage Door is diverse enough. There's a lot of different things going on--a lot of individual stories that are all really interesting. These are actresses playing actresses playing rolls at times. It's the kind of idealized image of what it's like beyond the stage. One imagines that every actor in town knows every other actor in town and they spend all of their spare time hanging out together and talking about theatre. It simply doesn't work that way. But it's fun to go an watch actresses play actresses in a world where that's actually kind of happening. There's a central theme going on there about integrity and art vs. commerce, but what's really interesting here is the matter of 

The Sunset Playhouse 's production of Stage Door runs through September 30th. For ticket reservations, call 262-782-4430. A comprehensive review of the show runs in the next issue of the Shepherd-Express

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