Community actors do it for the love of theater

By Ron Hellman

“You Can’t Take It With You,” the hit comedy by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, opens in Forest Hills in a little more than two weeks.

The play has been revived on Broadway several times, has been done throughout the country in countless productions, and now the Parkside Players takes it on. It will have been rehearsed for a little more than two months by a cast of 17, for seven performances over three weekends beginning May 21.

This may seem like a long rehearsal period, but it is only three nights a week at 2-1/2 hours each night. The pros do it in much less time, and then have previews to work out the kinks. We community theater people have other things to do, like jobs, school, and family obligations. So a typical rehearsal may have two or more actors among the missing — they have conflicts with the schedule.

Director Mark Dunn works with what he has, while the no-shows’ lines are read by the stage manager/assistant director, Cailin Chang. Chang came under the influence of the legendary Kevin Schwab at Archbishop Molloy High School, learned a lot about acting and fell in love with theater. An events manager at a Manhattan finance company, she spends some of her free time reviewing historical romance novels on her blog “Say Yes to Historical Romance.”

The invaluable off-stage people have designed, constructed and decorated the set, and have come up with the props, while the actors struggle to get off-book. Methods vary on how to memorize lines, but constant repetition hopefully does the trick. There are no understudies in community theater, so the actors have to stay healthy as the final hell week approaches, when the technical work — lights and sound — meld with dress rehearsals.

Brett Hunter, playing Tony, is a native of Indiana, who spent some time in Florida, but for the last five years he has been here in New York pursuing his dream of becoming a working actor. He majored in theater at Butler University in Indianapolis, has performed in several shows with the Flea Theatre, his favorite role being Fustigo in the 1604 drama “The Honest Whore.” But it all started when he was 3 after watching “Snow White.”

Melissa Gabriel (Rheba), born and raised in Queens Village, attends college as a political science and communications double major, and talks about a possible career in the military.

Another Archbishop Molloy graduate, she did a lot of backstage work before returning to the limelight as Sandra in “The Pajama Game.” “Community theater is great fun and I love hanging out with theater people,” she said.

Roger McIlvaine (Paul Sycamore) is retired from the NYPD/Transit Police, and lives all the way out in Centereach. The commute doesn’t seem to be a problem as he is now in his 16th show with the Parkside Players. Tom Williams (Mr. Kirby) hails from South Ozone Park. A banker by profession, he has directed and appeared in more than 30 plays in the last 20-plus years. Recently he wrote and directed an original mystery/thriller, “The Gemini Killer.”

Perhaps voicing best about why people do community theater is Joe DiPietro (Mr DePinna), a retired lieutenant in the FDNY. New to acting but a play and movie writer for 20 years, he says “the feelings of camaraderie, teamwork and artistic accomplishment are really what it’s all about for me – I look forward to rehearsals, even when I’m exhausted, and I can’t recall the last time I was that dedicated to something.”

Contact Ron Hellman at rbhofc@gmail.com

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