When I say actors, I use the word in its widest sense as these people are all seniors who often find themselves standing in the middle of WalMart with no clue why they are there. Myself included. Learning lines doesn't come easy and some have to get along by having their script glued to whatever prop is available, from a table surface to, in the case of those pretending to be ladies, their fans. Even this doesn't always go well as trying to read lines which are on the back of a wafting fan is an art none of them have really mastered.
It's all good fun and the audience laughs along as these actors are their friends and neighbours in the park so all is forgiven. And believe me, there is a LOT to forgive !
Being the theater photographer and videographer, I've watched these plays so many times (from initial practice through dress rehearsal and finally to the performances this week) that I feel I know all the lines myself. In fact at times I've stood in for 3 of the actors when they've not been able to make a rehearsal. But I couldn't do what they do. I can't remember lines to save my life so good on those who get up and volunteer. They may never be up for an Oscar but I for one admire their efforts and I'm always glad when I hear the positive comments from the audience afterwards. They love it all.
I've videoed every performance so that the best of the week can be copied to dvd to have as mementos for anyone who might want one. Lets just say that I've a basket load of eggs going into tonight's performance !
Last night though, we had a classic rendition of Charley's Aunt even by our own standards. The usual fluffed lines were fluffed, the usual unintentional pauses were paused and the usual giggles and laughter from the cast and (thankfully) the audience were forthcoming.
Then we had two 'incidents' that almost brought the house down, one of them literally. Let me set the scene....
Lord Babberley is on stage dressed as a woman, deciding if, as a woman, he'll be able to help out his two friends by playing the role of a chaperon so they can be with the two ladies they want to marry. The two friends are with 'her' on stage discussing if this ruse will indeed work and the two ladies are out walking backstage in the garden. Now the idea is that as soon as 'Babbs' says he's not going to do it as he feels ridiculous, the ladies enter, see 'her', and are delighted to have a chaperon as they fancy the friends anyway and wish to be with them.
Each enters the stage through a porch holding a small flower picked from the garden and they offer these flowers to Babbs while being presented to 'her' and then Babbs whispers to the male friends "what do I do with these flowers?" and one of them whispers back "put them in your pocket." At this point Babbs puts the small flowers into a pocket on 'her' shawl. Perfect.
Last night the cue line was said and we waited for the entrance of the two ladies (Amy and Kitty) from the garden. Kitty entered but there was no sign of Amy. We all waited and waited and the laughter from the audience was mixed with some laughter and a lot of confusion from the cast. Where was Amy ? I mean when all the cast are seniors, and often senior seniors, you just never know what may have happened off stage !
There is a window beside the garden entrance porch and there is a large bunch of plastic flowers on view behind this window to add to the impression that there IS a garden back there. Suddenly these flowers moved violently as if in a localised hurricane and my first thought was that Amy had caught her dress in the flowers as there isn't much room backstage. The violent flower rustling went on for some time without any sign of Amy, which was quite an achievement in itself.
Finally the flowers stopped moving and to much applause from the audience and relief from the rest of us, on came Amy...with a large bunch of flowers ! She told us later that she had dropped her one little flower as she was preparing to come on and it had gone where she couldn't get to it. Rather than arrive empty handed (which would've been ok as Kitty still had her flower to present) she thought she would just pluck a flower from the bunch by the window, not realising they weren't separate flowers. The violent shaking we saw was Amy trying her best to rip off one flower !!
So back on stage, we now have a situation where Kitty presents her single small flower to Babbs, followed by Amy who presents him, sorry her, with a bouquet worthy of a wedding ceremony. Ever the semi professional, Babbs still whispers 'her' question about what to do with these flowers and gets the same reply...to put them in 'her' pocket.
I think you can imagine the next scene ! Babbs struggles valiantly to put 'her' cuttings from Kew Gardens into a small pocket and as we could all clearly see, it wasn't going to work. We briefly lost sight of Babbs, 'her' face having been obscured by the flowers and thankfully the actor realised it was impossible and flung them on the stage, to much laughter from all present.
Later on, near the end, a line was said in the wrong place and a small chunk of script was therefore skipped. For some reason no one could get things back on track and they improvised by going back a few lines and trying to start again. That didn't work and disastrously as it turned out, it was tried again.....and again. One of the lines in this Groundhog Day version was "I've been cheated" and the actor saying it got into the mood of the occasion by adding 'again' when it came around the second time and then even adapting this to 'for the 3rd time' and 'for the 4th time.'
Worried that the play would now run into Friday, someone at last took the initiative and used a line BEYOND the part that was being repeated ad infinitum and suddenly the play moved along. By now the audience was in hysterics and the sounds of laughter mixed with rattling false teeth, clinking oxygen canisters and creaking walkers actually drowned out a lot of what followed. The cast could've been swapping peanut butter recipes for all we knew. It was a hoot.
When the cast lined up at the end for their bow, the applause and cheering was deafening and the audience would've been on its feet - if they could've managed it in time.
When Brandon Thomas wrote "Charley's Aunt" around 1892, it was described in theatrical parlance as a farce.
In Buttonwood Bay last night, it was certainly performed as such !! And much fun was had by all.