La Plata, MD – The Port Tobacco Players’ (PTP) current production is a dazzling special-effects version of Ellen Raskin’s 1978 Newberry award-winning novel The Westing Game. Program notes advise that the special effects include a strobe light and loud noises simulating explosions. Credit for these special effects goes to Steve Claggett, who also serves as assistant stage manager. The book has been adapted for the stage by Darian Lindle and is presented by arrangement with The Dramatic Publishing Company of Woodstock, Ill. The book is a childhood favorite of many people, and is required reading in some school systems.
Set in the present day in the town of Westingtown, Wisconsin, the plot centers on the adventures of Sam Westing’s heirs after they are challenged by him to learn the secret behind his untimely death. All of the heirs coincidently have chosen to live in the Sunset Towers Apartment Building on the shores of Lake Michigan. They gather to hear the reading of the will of millionaire Sam Westing. The will is in the form of a puzzle dividing the 14 heirs (16 heirs in the book version) into pairs. Each pair receives $10,000 and a different set of clues using the lyrics of the song “America the Beautiful,” challenging them to find Sam’s murderer.
The winning pair will inherit Sam’s two-hundred-million-dollar fortune as well as his Westing Paper Products company. Can you solve The Westing Game?
This show opens PTP’s 2015-16 season and it runs through Oct. 11 with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3 pm. For tickets you may call the Box Office at 301-932-6819 or you may purchase tickets online from the website at www.ptplayers.org
Produced by Kathy Mead (in her sixth main-stage production with PTP) along with assistant producer William Righter (who served as AP for PTP’s “Annie” last year), The Westing Game results in an exciting theatrical experience. Ms. Mead is well-suited to the demanding task of bringing this work to the PTP stage as by day she is chief of staff to an admiral at the Naval Sea Systems Command. Managing the multiple facets of administration for an organization of 200-plus people must seem like a walk in the park for her compared to the demands involved in casting and executing all of the facets of this production!
Director and sound designer, PTP veteran David Standish, has been an active member since 1997. Previous directing credits include “A Christmas Carol” and “Death by Chocolate.” He recently directed “Superhero Sanitarium,” which won best show at the MD Community Theatre Festival and which subsequently placed third at the regional competition. Assistant director is Tina Vance in her first PTP show. Mr. Standish has achieved a perfect match between the actors he has cast and the characters they portray in The Westing Game.
The imaginative and serviceable set construction (which easily accommodates a wheelchair-bound character) is by multi-talented PTP veteran Master Carpenter Joe Stine, with design by John Reckeweg, who again works his engineering wizardry with this current set which has a distinctly different look than anything previously seen at PTP. Be sure to note the subtle prominence of the chess game which appears downstage center throughout the show.
With such a large cast of characters, an audience might expect a plot that features both major and minor characters. Part of the dazzle of this production and of Mr. Standish’s directing skills as well as the playwright’s expertise, is that all of the roles have equal importance. Each actor and each character has his or her opportunity to shine in the spotlight.
The heir pairs are as follows: 13-yr.-old Turtle Wexler, the vivacious, ebullient, outstanding “screamer” Kaylin Beach who is a Towson University student; and demure dressmaker Flora Bambach, Christin Lockhart in her PTP debut.
Birdwatcher Chris Theodorakis is played by 13-year-old Brandon Tuthill in an amazing PTP debut. Brandon spends almost the entire show in a wheelchair in what must be an exhausting role requiring lots of energy to maintain his character.
Intern Dr. Denton Deere is played by Seth Lohr in his PTP debut. It is Dr. Deere-to-the-rescue at the play’s end with his compassionate attention to Chris’ condition. Dr. Deere is engaged to Angela Wexler.
Lovable Doorman Sandy is Gregory Pruitt, in his 6th PTP performance, who carries out the multiple demands of his characterization with ease.
Judge J.J. Ford is played by Frankee Brown, who uses her warm and resonant voice to great advantage along with a commanding stage presence here in her PTP debut. Her goal in the play is to learn the past of each heir.
Restauranteur James Hoo, is played by PTP veteran Chad Mildenstein. This role as the Chinese restaurant owner, complete with convincing accent, is in marked contrast to Chad’s recent role as Seymour in Newtowne Theatre’s “Little Shop of Horrors,” which won him the Best Lead Actor Award. Chad is a University of Maryland graduate with a degree in theater. He served as music director for PTP’s Fiddler on the Roof.
Heiress Grace Wexler, mother of Turtle and Angela is played by seasoned actress Andrea Watkins, who is a standout in her tipsy scene.
Mysterious housekeeper Bertha Crow is played by retired Charles County Public Schools music teacher Kathy Keough.
The slightly deranged 62-year-old delivery”boy,” Otis Amber, is played by William Righter in his eighth PTP appearance. He was recently seen as Cyrano at PTP.
Chris’ brother, Theo Theodorakis is played by St. Mary’s Ryken junior Dominic Delcoco in his first play outside of school.
High school sports enthusiast Doug Hoo is played by Chopticon High School sophomore Colin Maher, who is currently preparing for his role in the Ghosts of Sotterley tours.
Busybody Sydelle Pulaski is played by scene-stealing Carol Charnock, an active PTP member since 1986.
The 20-year-old sister of Turtle, the lovely but troubled bride-to-be Angela Wexler is played by Brenna Prestidge in her third PTP show in a row. Brenna holds a degree in theater from the University of Wisconsin.
Appearing in the dual roles of the bubbly lawyer E.D. Plum/Dr. Sikes is Amy Statz, who is seen here in a delightful performance in her first-ever straight play. She is a PTP veteran of four musicals. She is former MSgt Dolan of the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants.
By the time the play concludes we have witnessed remarkable transformations of some of the characters. Chris has made great progress with his physical condition (thanks to Dr. Deere), and Turtle has transformed from a youthful tomboy prankster to a lovely young lady who just happens to be a financial genius. Sydelle offers up a show-stopping rendition of “America the Beautiful” (no, really – the other characters insist that she stop singing!) and Grace and Mr. Shin indulge in a few too many beers. Otis reveals his secret double-life. Sadly, Sandy is fired, but he harbors secrets, too. And who, really, was Sam Westing?
Truly, these personalities are unlikely pairs; but as one of the characters states at the end of the show: they ended up as perfect matches.
Special kudos go out to costume designer Quentin Nash Sagers, veteran PTP costumer, especially for his over-the-top costumes for Ms. Charnock who manages to stop the show just by making entrances in her color-coordinated outfits (complete with the occasional matchy-matchy crutch at her side).
Frequent PTP contributor Ted DeMarco-Logue, lighting designer, has created distinctively unique touches for this production which include an electronic character board and a video display which tracks the clues.
The delicious refreshments served during opening night’s intermission were also another nice touch and included chess-piece-shaped sugar cookies and Chinese fortune cookies.
Mention must be made of the exceptional members of the Production Crew, who worked so hard to make The Westing Game such a success. They include stage manager Allison Claggett, running crew/dressers Joselle Gilpin, Chloe Lateulere, Austin Lockhart, Carol Russell, and Janice Sagers: assistant carpenters Rick Albert, Kaylin Beach, Richard Gilpin, Doug Graupmann, Kathy Keough, Chris Magee, Gary Maynard and Ryan Mudd; set decorators Christine Schubert and David Standish; set painters Christine Schubert and Tom Schubert; assistant set painters Rick Albert, Savannah Cox, Kathy Kough, David Standish and Marcus Stine; assistant lighting designer Draper Carter; light board operator Allison Claggett; suspect board operator Kerry Ward; clue board operator Tina R. Vance; sound designer David Standish; sound engineer Draper Carter; sound operators Bobby Spruill and Matt Jones; properties designer Christine Schubert; assistant properties designer Greg Rumpf and David Standish; costume crew Kim Ball, Carol Charnock, Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, Joanne Fuesel, Joselle Gilpin, Kim Haselberger, Mallory Haselberger, Sue Lateulere, Lisa Magee, Tina Monk, Brenda Mudd, Carol Russell, and Ben Simpson; hair and makeup designer Sheila Hyman, hair and makeup crew Nancy Belle, Madelyn Mudd, and Ronna Johnson; fight choreographer Chad Mildenstein, special effects crew Steve Claggett and David Standish, photographer/videographer Greg Rumpf, projection engineer Joe Stine, projection designer David Standish, house manager Kim Ball, and program designer David Standish.
Port Tobacco Players is a charter member of the Washington Area Theatre Community Honors. Its Mission Statement is as follows: “The Port Tobacco Players, Inc. strives to entertain, educate, uplift, challenge, enlighten, and enrich their audiences, volunteers and community by providing consistent quality productions at affordable prices.”
The 2015-16 Season will continue with productions of A Christmas Carol, See How They Run, Hairspray, Rabbit Hole, and 1776.
PTP is supported in part by the Charles County Arts Alliance, the Maryland State Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
For more information you may contact www.ptplayers.org