Laughter For Actors, Audience

March 31, 1995|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

When Manchester Volunteer Fire Company puts on its annual spring comedy, the laughs that the play elicits are as much from the actors as from the characters they portray and the script.

A seemingly natural group of clowns, these firefighters and their friends make themselves laugh so much that it is sometimes a wonder they get through the production.

For instance, at Tuesday's rehearsal, Janet Bangert, playing the lead role in "The Eager Miss Beaver," had the cast laughing so hard at her exaggerated country "hick" drawl that practice momentarily halted.

Be prepared to laugh a lot at this three-act comedy by Jay Tobias when the firefighters and their friends take the stage at 7:30 p.m. today and tomorrow and 2 p.m. Sunday at the firehouse theater, 3209 Main St.

"We get a bunch of plays and read the scripts, and try to pick one and match it to who we have available and what we want to do," said director Bobbi Vinson.

"We did 'The Eager Miss Beaver' in 1977," she said. "We don't ordinarily repeat plays. This was a surprise when they found out they'd done it before."

But by that time, the cast had been picked and the actors were naturals for the roles.

The story centers on Gazella Upshaw, played by Mary Ellen Burke; her daughter, Doreen, played by Lynne Feeser; and son, Harland, portrayed by Billy Dell. The family has just moved into an old mansion Mrs. Upshaw inherited.

Conniving and scheming begin immediately as Mrs. Upshaw tries to play matchmaker for her children while she has her eyes on the widower next door.

Throw in cousin "Bunny" Beaver from the hills of Kentucky, and the fun begins.

As if family matters aren't enough trouble, the mansion supposedly is haunted by a pair of lovers who were murdered 10 years before.

Add a superstitious cook, a gardener who is allergic to lunatics and a mournful English housekeeper, the neighbors and a couple of ghosts to the mix, and you have the setting for an evening of hilarity.

Mrs. Upshaw vaguely wonders why both her next-door neighbors, an uppity socialite and the well-to-do widower, offer to buy her mansion.

But cousin Bunny, who plays a country bumpkin to get back at Harland for nasty remarks he made about her, is suspicious of the offers.

In addition, numerous holes have been dug around the trees and the dead lovers' ghosts suddenly appear.

"The underlying theme of the play is that things aren't always as they appear," Ms. Vinson said.

The certainty is that this group of annual actors has fun doing plays every year; Manchester has been entertaining the community with this fund-raiser since the 1920s.

"Years ago, all the fire companies did plays, not just us," said Steve Hossler, who acts and does the sets. "I don't know of any company in the state that still does it. But the people look forward to it around here."

Mr. Hossler noted that third and fourth generations of town residents attend the annual play as well as perform in it. Mr. Hossler is one of several who are at least the second generation involved in the annual play; his father used to take to the stage.

"There were groups of firemen who would come out at intermission and entertain the audience," he recalled.

The stage that the firefighters use was once the town theater.

Tickets to "The Eager Miss Beaver" are $4 for adults, $2 for children, and free for youngsters under 5. Refreshments will be sold during intermission. All proceeds benefit Manchester Volunteer Fire Company. Information: 848-8167 or 239-2286.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.