Theatre Albany preparing for national theater festival performance

Jun 18, 2015

By Jim Hendricks, Albany Herald

ALBANY — For the first time in its history, Theatre Albany will take the stage at the biennial American Association of Community Theatre National Festival, which will take place later this month in Grand Rapids, Mich.

But first, the folks at home in Albany will get three chances to see the already award-winning production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Lady of Larkspur Lotion.”

The production has garnered nearly a dozen awards — six at last fall’s Georgia Theatre Conference and another five in March at the Southeastern Theatre Conference, including best production at both competitions.

On June 26, the cast of Eddie McCarty, Jennifer Kirk Bowers and Joy Johnson will bring the 23-minute, one-act play to life in Grand Rapids, where 10 other productions from across the country and one armed forces production from Belgium also will perform.

“We’ve been to the SETC (Southeastern conference),” Theatre Albany Director Mark Costello, who’ll be at the helm for the “Larkspur” production, said last week. “This is the first time” Albany’s theater group has made it to the nationals, he said, adding he wasn’t sure whether Georgia had ever been represented at the national festival.

Theatre Albany has three special performances of “Larkspur” at its 514 Pine Ave. home stage, part of its “Ten Again for Michigan” fundraising effort to pay for the trip to nationals. Performances are set for 7 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, with a 2:30 p.m. Sunday performance on June 21.

All seats are $10.

Costello said the theater is hoping to raise about $6,000 to help defray costs of lodging, transportation of the cast and stage set, food and fees. He said the group has a good start with its fundraising, with a significant donation from a local patron and some funding from the Southeastern Theatre Conference. Theatre Albany also has set a gofundme account and has received individual donations from some members of the community.

But there’s still a good bit of ground to make up before Theatre Albany can take off on the trip to Michigan that will culminate a journey that started with the state competition in October.

The play, set in New Orleans, was written by Williams in 1941, three years before “The Glass Menagerie” propelled him into the national spotlight. Based on Williams’ experiences while living in a boarding house, it involves the frustrations between a practical boarding house owner (Johnson) and the dreamy problem tenant (Bowers) she’d like to get rid of. A writer who’s battling the bottle next door (McCarty) interjects himself into the situation.

“The part that Joy plays was based on his (Williams’) landlady,” Costello said. “She was quite the case.”

McCarty’s writer “is sort of Williams,” Costello said, while Bowers’ character is “some fading Southern beauty that he (Williams) encountered down there” in New Orleans.

Costello said some have suggested the plot is too depressing, but he sees it differently.

“They all have their personal problems,” he said, “but Williams writes about the compassion that people have for others to help them sustain their existence. I think that’s the real beauty of the play.”

Costello credits the cast with breathing life into Williams’ words.

“They’ve just worked so well together bringing the characters to life,” the director said. “It packs a powerful wallop.”

In addition to the best production award at the Southeastern competition at Chattanooga, McCarty won the award for Best Actor and Bowers for Best Actress. Costello won Best Director, and Steve Felmet was honored for Outstanding Scenic Design.

In the Georgia competition conducted last year, in addition to top production, Bowers won Best Actress; Eddie McCarty, Best Supporting Actor, and Mark Costello, Best Director. Johnson was named to the All-Star Cast and Felmet was honored for Outstanding Scenic Design.

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