Troupe follows tradition of bringing theater to an audience

Wheatfield: Arnold company specializes in nontraditional venues.

Arundel Live

Arts and entertainment in Anne Arundel County

September 16, 2005|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Live theater can happen anywhere actors create characterizations for audiences to experience in a unique moment. Arnold-based Wheatfield Theatre Company's actors are much like strolling players of the past who went from one village to another, performing in town squares, bringing their own minimal scenery with them.

In this tradition of bringing theater to people, Wheatfield Theatre Company was formed 10 years ago in Ellicott City by two New York-trained professional actors, Gerald Riley and Chuck Palenik. This summer, Palenik, Wheatfield's artistic and managing director, moved to Arnold, where he is now involved in bringing single theater performances to local audiences in nontypical venues.

Riley studied acting with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and has performed with the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, Colonial Players in Annapolis and was principal actor in a segment of NBC's Unsolved Mysteries series. Riley has toured for Wheatfield in Samuel Gallu's tribute to President Harry S. Truman, Give `em Hell, Harry!, through the Midwest and Middle Atlantic states, at prestigious Washington prep schools and libraries, and even on a Mississippi River steamboat. Now he envisions doing the one-man show floating on nearby rivers or at Annapolis political events.

Riley also enjoys playing Ebenezer Scrooge in Wheatfield's production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and performing with Annapolis resident Karen Lambert in The Bickersons, a comedy show from the golden age of radio.

Chicago native Palenik appeared in a dozen college productions at Chicago's Loyola University, where he majored in drama before enjoying a distinguished acting career that has included local productions. For Wheatfield, Palenik stars in David Rintels' Clarence Darrow, portraying the famous attorney who argued the Scopes and Leopold-Loeb trials, and in Jerome Alden's Bully!, portraying Theodore Roosevelt.

In performances this summer at the Annapolis and Arnold senior centers, so skilled was Palenik that one could hardly believe it was the same actor who played Darrow and Roosevelt in the space of a few months.

In a 20-year acting career, Lambert has appeared in Barry Levinson's Homicide: Life on the Streets television series and in the John Waters' film Serial Mom. She has acted with Colonial Players and the Spotlighters. For Wheatfield, she appears with Riley in The Bickersons and Love Letters.

Wheatfield's actors include former television personality Lary Lewman, who performs in the role of the narrator in productions of A Christmas Carol.

Wheatfield's productions entertain and inform audiences in settings where residents might not otherwise be able to enjoy live theater. Its repertoire consists of Broadway productions that were vehicles for leading actors such as Henry Fonda and James Whitmore. The actors bring history to life not only in senior centers and retirement communities but at public libraries, museums, fundraisers and corporate events.

For more information visit or to schedule a performance, call 410-349-1656.

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