Monthly Archives: November 2009

Mr. Marmalade Auditions Coming Up Soon!

Mr. Marmalade is a shocking, dark comedy about Lucy is a four-year-old girl with a very active imagination. Unfortunately, her imaginary friend Mr. Marmalade doesn’t have much time for her. Not to mention he beats up his personal assistant, has a cocaine addiction and a penchant for pornography. Larry, her only real friend, is the youngest suicide attempt in the history of New Jersey. You won’t want to miss this hilarious dark comedy about what it takes to grow up in these difficult times.

Mr. Marmalade
by Noah Haidle
Director: Michelle Urbane

November 21 & 22: 12:00 PM – 3:00 PM

January 28-30, and February 4-6, 2010 at 8:00 PM

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Filed under Plays and Productions

Letter from the Managing Director

As the New Year approaches, we remain proud to bring you the best in entertaining, innovative, challenging and thought-provoking theatre. In September of 2009 we proudly launched our 29th season with our production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play Top Dog / Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks. This production was underwritten with funding from The Bob & Aleicia Woodrick Diversity Learning Center of the Grand Rapids Community College. Generous and enthusiastic sponsors, both big and small, allow us to continue to fulfill our mission to the level of quality and professionalism you have come to expect.

Cast of Well

"Well" September - October, 2008

As we look back on the successes of our 2008 – 2009 season, we are proud of our accomplishments. Actors’ Theatre received nine nominations for Grand Awards in theatre excellence and once again was the recipient of the Silver Townie Award from On The Town magazine. Regardless of past success, however, we cannot allow ourselves to rest on our laurels. Now, more than ever, Actors’ relies on the generosity and support of our community of patrons and friends. The important work we do would not be possible without your season ticket purchases and additional contributions. Thank you for your ongoing support.

In our 2009 – 2010 season our projected ticket income, including season ticket sales, only accounts for 34% of our annual expenditures. In addition to proudly paying our actors a stipend for their performances, we must also account for the general expenditures necessary to mount our quality productions such as royalties, designer stipends, sets, props, costumes and sound effects. All of these expenses will account for over $48,000 of our operating budget for 2009 – 2010.

The Clean House

"The Clean House" January 2009

With more focus then ever before on the artistic community of Grand Rapids, we find ourselves at an exciting yet pivotal time. Promoting diversity of thought and the desire to bring work to Grand Rapids that may not otherwise be seen here is what we thrive on doing. However, this would not be possible without continued support throughout our season. Therefore we present you with several opportunities to become involved with Actors’ Theatre:

As a business, you can become a Production Sponsor with a donation of $5,000 or more, an Artistic Sponsor for $2,500 or a Corporate Member for $1,000. At any of these levels you will receive exciting partnership and advertising opportunities – allowing us to mutually benefit one another.

As an individual you may:

  • Become a member of Directors’ Circle for a donation of $1,000 or more. Members receive special benefits throughout the season such as tickets to our annual gala and one-of-a-kind posters signed by the cast of each production. For more information on the benefits of becoming a Directors’ Circle member, visit our website at:
  • Become a season ticket holder, or purchase our mini-season subscription as a gift, good for our final three productions of the season.
  • Make a donation or pledge a series of donations of any amount to support the entertaining, innovative, challenging and thought-provoking work Actors’ Theatre presents. No donation or pledge is too small.

Actors’ Theatre is committed to the highest standards of artistic excellence. Your support makes a difference! We ask you to make a financial contribution to Actors’ Theatre; in return we promise that we will stay true to our mission and to our community.

If you would like to request further information about Actors’ Theatre, please feel free to contact me directly at (616) 234-3817. Thank you again for your continued support and patronage. We wish you the happiest and healthiest of holiday seasons, and look forward to seeing you in the days and months to come!

Best wishes,
Kyle Amanda Dutkiewicz
Managing Director
Actors’ Theatre

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Review of “Wishful Drinking”

Review by Shanye Dukevitch

EDITORS NOTE:  Our new New York corespondent, Shanye Dukevitch, is going be bringing us Grand Rapidians theatre fans a taste of the Big Apple.  She’ll be reviewing current plays in the big city and letting us know what to check out when we’re in town. Wishful Drinking

Wishful Drinking is a hilarious window into the life of a bona-fide Hollywood Princess.   Running at the famed Studio 54 on Broadway, Carrie Fisher’s one woman show invites the audience into the most embarrassing and horrifying moments of her life and encourages them to laugh along with her at the absurdity of it all.

The daughter of 50’s icons Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, Ms. Fisher was born into the surreal world of celebrity.  At the age of nineteen she earned super-star status in her own right when she landed the role of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars Trilogy.  Her unique insight into the effects of fame and the insanity that sometimes comes along with it is derived from having been both a spectator and insider in the world of icons.

Wishful DrinkingIn Wishful Drinking the audience is ushered right into the heart of Fisher’s weird and wonderful existence.  Staged on a set that purports to be her living room, the actress enters the scene in pajamas and robe and begins her stroll down memory lane by talking about the night a close friend died in her bed while sleeping next to her.  To break the tension over sharing such an unsettling story she raises the lights in the house and invites the audience to ask her any questions they might have about the experience.  Her wry sense of humor and quick wit swiftly has everyone laughing – which sets the tone for the rest of the show.  Whether she’s talking about her parent’s messy divorce, her own drug use, her failed marriage to singer Paul Simon or her struggles with bi-polar disorder, Fisher always manages to keep the audience in stitches.

Star Wars fans have a lot to love about the show.  Fisher takes great pleasure in poking fun at George Lucas, her own performance in the films and the horrors of merchandising.  Sporting a trademark Danish-bun wig she relishes in showing pictures of some of the more bizarre items that hold her likeness, like soap, (“Lather up with Leia and you’ll feel like a Princess yourself!”), Mr. Potato Head, (Princess Tater), and a stamp, (“Which is totally cool – and not just because of the licking.”)  She even brings out on stage a life-sized doll of herself and has some fun with it at the expense of a brave audience member.

Wishful Drinking The second half of the show is slightly darker than the first, as it deals more with the issues of Fisher’s past drug use and her struggles with manic depression. Still, she keeps the tone light throughout, reminding the audience that sometimes the only way to survive is to laugh.

Wishful Drinking is a truly fun and crowd pleasing night of theater.  It’s an unvarnished window into a world that many dream about but only a few have experienced.  Fisher is insightful, sarcastic, at times brutally honest – and always funny.  Her performance is wry and enjoyable, and the direction by Tony Taccone is appropriately quirky, just like the piece.  All together it’s a unique theatrical experience that shouldn’t be missed.

Wishful Drinking
Written and Performed by Carrie Fisher
Directed by Tony Taccone

Studio 54
254 West 54th Street
Tickets: 212-719-1300 or
Running Time: 2 Hours
Closes: January 17th, 2010

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Letter from the President – A Scene In Between


Actors' Theatre A Scene in BetweenAs you’ve already read in our newsletter, we continue to stay true to our mission with our next production, Frozen by Bryony Lavery.  The cast of Frozen includes familiar faces to Actors’: Kitty Carpenter, Rebecca Monterusso and Ralph Lister. We are also happy to welcome new to our stage, Steve VanderZee. Be sure and check out the interview with the director and some of the cast members, here.

Don’t forget – “A Scene in Between”, our partnership with Schuler Books Downtown, continues on Monday December 7th at 6pm.  Replacing our Friday Night Talkbacks, this is an opportunity to speak with the director and casts of Actors’ shows and learn more about the process and the plays.  Those who joined us for the Scene in Between for TopDog/Underdog in September can tell you that it is a fascinating look behind the play. The evening is appropriate if you have already seen the play, are just considering, or if you just want to come down and see what we are all about!

A Scene In Between TopDog UnderDog

Director Fred Sebulske and actor Marcus Woodswelch during the Scene in Between for "TopDog/UnderDog"

We invite you to join us at Schuler Books Downtown 40 Fountain St. NW on Monday December 7th at 6pm.  As an added incentive, the Café now serves beer and wine.  So, come grab a glass of wine and join us for a wonderful discussion!

I encourage you to read Managing Director Kyle Dutkiewicz’s letter in this issue of the newsletter.  As everyone knows, these are hard times for nonprofit organizations in Michigan.  In fact,we’ll even take your spare change!  Look for our “Mr. Peanut” change jar in the lobby.  Lighten your load by depositing that heavy change into the jar.

Finally, always keep in mind:  What would Grand Rapids be without Actors’ Theatre-The Off-Broadway of Grand Rapids?

Thank you so much for your continuing support.
Lisa Baars
President of the Board
Actors’ Theatre

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Interview with the Director and Cast of “Frozen”

Interview by: Shayne Dukevitch

Right now cast and crew are hard at work on the demanding task of bringing Bryony Lavery’s hard-hitting drama Frozen to life.  The play is set to premier on December 3rd and run through the 12th of the month.  It is a superb play about violent crime, emotional paralysis and the power and scope of forgiveness.  Recently Shayne Dukevitch had the chance to ask Director Stephanie Sandberg and principle cast members Kitty Carpenter, Ralph Lister and Rebecca Monterusso some questions about the process of bringing this challenging work to life.

Shayne: What is it about this play that drew you to want to be a part of it?

Director Stephanie Sandberg: I first read the play last year when Kyle mentioned to me that they were looking for a director and I was so disturbed by it that I felt I had to at least figure it out.  It’s a sort of thriller/puzzler of a play where the little bits and pieces of the scattered story come together in a kind of beautiful interplay of character and language.  It is, by and large, a character driven piece which means that it is also driven by the actors and I LOVE this kind of drama where each creative artist has a ton of dramatic meat to sink into and find the gems that make the whole thing run.

In addition, I became fascinated with the fact that it’s a piece about restorative justice and forgiveness.  There is a ton of work going on in the world right now on this topic of forgiveness where we need to learn to have grace toward one another even in the most difficult of situations.  People in places like Darfur and Iraq are dealing with this currently and there are some profound results.  If you look at the work in South Africa with the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, it’s the same deal.  We MUST MUST learn to forgive one another if we are going to move forward to create a more understanding and peaceful world.  This does not mean that its easy, it’s not.  It’s tremendously difficult and yet we must try.

Rebecca Monterusso

Rebecca Monterusso

Rebecca Monterusso (Agnetha): I got a call from Stephanie about auditioning.  I knew nothing about the play, but once I read it, I was hooked.  I love that the script is written in verse (being a big Shakespeare nerd myself). You can see where the playwright wants you to pause, to rush, etc.

I also love that the story deals with a seriously disturbing issue and gives the audience three different viewpoints to look into.  And my character is trying to get the audience to sympathize with a serial killer – now there’s a challenge.

Kitty Carpenter (Nancy): Well, I had to think about it a lot.  This is a hard play to live with for two months, but I love the arc of Nancy’s character; she starts out on a typical day with the family, goes to the depths of pain, despair and anger, travels to forgiveness and then moves on with her life.  The deep sorrow on the loss of a child will never go away, but she has learned to live with it, rebuild her life and move on.  It takes a special kind of courage to do that.

Ralph Lister (Ralph): The role of Ralph Wantage was likely to be as challenging as any I had faced in what is now almost a 40-year-long love affair with the stage.  To play anyone as complex requires an ability to both wholly immerse oneself in his psyche (his acts and emotional responses are entirely natural to him, and take place without remorse or self-blame) and simultaneously to maintain an arms-length distance to preserve one’s own personal sanity.  There are frequently times when I have to shake off the moments of his emotional crises as revealed in the play, but, largely, he is so thoroughly a psychopath that it is a relatively straightforward task to return to being the regular undamaged, un-traumatized human which I thankfully remain.

From an artistic standpoint, this is also a play that demands audiences to reconsider their own perceptions of what constitutes guilt and their own personal requirements for forgiveness.  How often do we get to work on contemporary plays that force audiences to sit up and take note of what they believe, and consider what they have experienced long beyond the drive home?  I wanted to be part of Frozen because it has this quality.  My preference, as an actor, is, and will always be, to be involved with plays which have this motivating, underlying artistic force running through them.

In addition, I researched Stephanie Sandberg’s work as both director and writer, met with her (before auditioning) to consider the play, hear her views on it, and find out more about how she was likely to be both working through the issues of the play and with her actors, should she then choose to cast me.  I happily concluded that with her the piece was going to be in safe, creative hands, and that I would be too.

Shayne: Stephanie, as a director this is a very emotional play to have to guide your actors through.  What was your strategy going into rehearsal for navigating the dark corners?

Stephanie: I created an atmosphere where the actor really has creative control, and then I led them carefully through a process of discovery, talking about the most dangerous of subjects and then slowly unpacking those moments in the play.  I’ve also made sure that there is a great deal of fun in discovering what makes these characters tick.  We’re never willing to stop at surfaces.  In fact, we’re still digging and I don’t think we’ll be done until the show is up.  And even then, we know that more discoveries will be made as we give this show away to our audience.  So, careful, intentional and thoughtful discussion of the difficult subjects – and then just enjoying the process completely of making such a difficult work of art come to life.  We know that if we can reveal the sense of deep forgiveness present in this play, it will all be worthwhile.

Ralph Lister

Ralph Lister

Shayne: Ralph, your character commits a despicable act.  It’s revealed in the play that he was abused as a child, which might have contributed to his choices later in life.  How much of Ralph’s behavior do you think is a result of his abuse, and how much can be attributed to his own personality?

Ralph: A close study of the play clearly reveals that Ralph Wantage was both physically damaged through brain injury and was sexually abused as a child, presumably repeatedly and over many years, and that these traumas were, without any doubt, the causes of his later serial abuse of young girls.  Ralph’s crimes were a result of those traumas; his personality was created by the traumas he suffered.  So is he or is his personality guilty?  Yes, he committed his crimes, but he is NOT guilty of evolving the personality which led him to them.  That is the result of the terrible mischief of the traumas which befell him.  This is clearly one of the main artistic thrusts of the play, for audiences to consider the nature of guilt and, in so doing, to consider the nature of forgiveness.  If someone cannot help themselves, truly cannot help themselves, can they be to blame for their acts, whatever their acts may be?  A dog, beaten daily or otherwise traumatized by some foul owner, when approached by a stranger, cannot stop barking out of its own constant fear.  Is the dog to blame for it’s barking, or should we blame the owner who, by having created the trauma, directly caused its unavoidable, understandable barking response?

Shayne: Kitty, one of the themes of this play is forgiveness.  Why do you think your character decides to forgive Ralph?

Kitty: She forgives, not for him, but for herself.  It’s the only way she can move on and not stay in a frozen state of anger, hate and despair.  It’s a difficult journey for anyone to go through and I feel a huge responsibility to portray it honestly and with respect and compassion for anyone who has had to make such a heart-wrenching choice.

Shayne: Rebecca, Agnetha struggles with the question of why people do what they do, both professionally and in her personal life.  Do you think she’s looking to excuse behavior or explain it?

Rebecca: Explain – definitely.  Stephanie and I talked a lot about what on earth would make Agnetha (or anyone, for that matter) go into a field like this, and we decided that she had a close family member – a brother or sister – who had suffered a brain trauma at an early age, and she wanted to help him or her; help them be understood as a person, actual and whole… well, maybe not whole, but actual.  And I think the more research she completed, she began to feel that she needed to defend these people, to be a voice for the voiceless, per say.  But there also has to be some underlying morbid fascination with the human brain and what happens to it when it “breaks.”

As far as her personal life goes, we know very little about her as a character.  We’re still trying to piece her together.  Much more is known about the other two characters just based on the textual evidence in the script than Agnetha.

Shayne: With a play that deals with such dark and emotional themes, how do you keep rehearsals light enough that you enjoy the process? How do you blow off steam?

Rebecca: Order two pints after rehearsal – always two. 🙂  Aside from that… we joke around all through rehearsals.  You have to be light when working with such a dark, heavy piece.

Kitty Carpenter

Kitty Carpenter

Kitty: Stephanie makes cookies – cookies make everything better!

We’re just starting to tap into the depths we all have to plumb.  The play is a lot of monologues and we’ve been working individually with Stephanie on those. Before we read the scene or monologue, we discuss it, read it sitting down, then get up and work on it.  Stephanie is always careful to have a break after each time we go through the scene or monologue.  It’s just a few minutes where we may talk about the scene, or talk about something else, or just go get water – anything to shake loose some of the emotional impact.  You can handle emotionally charged scenes for the few minutes they last during performance, but to rehearse scenes or monologues like that over and over for an hour can take its toll.

I don’t really ‘blow off steam’; I have other things in my life to focus on; my job, home, friends and family, so that takes me out of the play.  I can’t live with it 24/7 – although I do catch myself thinking about scenes or lines throughout the day.  Bad habit when driving – I should probably post my route so everyone can avoid traveling when I do!

Ralph: We make fairly constant jokes, to lighten the frequent moments of darkness.  There are times when we discover the depth of Ralph’s depravity, his killing/raping and disposal process, and we gulp for air when we recognize how appalling these acts are.  For me, I find acting hugely enjoyable, whoever I may play.  The enjoyment is in the very challenge of faithfully playing his character, of lending him my voice, body, and emotions, and always as truthfully as is humanly possible.

How do I blow off steam?  Drink heavily.  Look at the stars.  Dream of beauty, kindness, love, nature.  Be kind to all living animals.  Go for walks.  And get on with a very, very, very, very busy business life.

Shayne: Thanks to Stephanie and all the actors for lending their insights to this article.  From the sound of it Frozen promises to be a truly captivating night at the theater.  Here’s looking forward to a great show!


Filed under Interviews of Note, Plays and Productions