An angel, a shirtless man, and the ghost of a lady living in a picture frame all walk into a diner and … No, that’s not the start to strange joke, but rather the premise of an even more bizarre production being staged by Theatre Wellesley this weekend.
Daddy’s Girl is another of playwright Gary Ray Stapp’s quirky, yet heart-warming stories to be brought to life by Theatre Wellesley. It follows on the popularity of last year’s Stapp play, The Trouble with Cats. Laughs will be had and tears shed, say the cast, as this year’s play boasts the same collection of Stapp’s signature comedic stylings.
Bernard is the curmudgeonly but well-meaning owner of Maudie’s Diner, around which the story, and all the characters, center. Twenty-five years ago, Bernard lost his wife Maude, who passed away, as well as his daughter, who was given up for adoption.
“Bernard, he comes across as a bit of a grouch, but I think everyone learns along the way why he’s been grouchy for 25 years,” said Dave McNorgan, who is playing the lead character. “He’s lamenting his long-lost daughter that he gave up for adoption after his wife died.”
“It is now 25 years and, sort of, the universe is coming together and he is really hoping to find his daughter,” explains Rhonda Caldwell, producer and cast member.
With the help of his deceased wife, who has taken up residence in a picture frame, the patrons of his diner, and a little divine intervention in the form of a scurrilous angel named Michael, Bernard must seek out his daughter and, maybe, find his happiness along the way. Though not without first jumping through a few hoops, navigating several cases of mistaken identity, and contending with the quirky people who frequent his establishment.
“Oh my gosh, our characters in the diner!” said Caldwell.
“We’ve got like three different love triangles going on, and people voting on who the real daughter would be. So there’s a lot of little sub-stories going on.”
“When I read the script, I thought of a sitcom,” said director Tammy Smerchinski. “I thought of Maudie’s Diner kind of like the Seinfeld diner, with the regulars there and the people come in and everyone’s a little quirky. And they’re quirky!” she said with a laugh.
The story unfolds with the characters interacting on the single set, said Caldwell, “almost like it’s this bar sitcom, like Cheers, and these people have been kind of meeting for years and know each other for years. This is like three days in time of [Cheers], almost like it’s the season finale.”
Guiding Bernard in his quest is his deceased wife Maudie, played by Sascha West, who has taken up residence in the diner portrait.
“So everybody else just acts like it’s a picture,” explains Caldwell. “But she’s in there having her tea, and she’s got a harp at one point in time. She has these conversations and pays attention to the things that other people are doing and she chats back and forth with Bernard. So it’s like a live portrait, which we’ve never done before, so that’s kind of fun too.”In the diner itself are some of the regulars. Caldwell plays Daisy, who has been coming to the diner for years with her friend Violet, played by Faith Loft. There’s the aforementioned “Shirtless” Bob, played by Allan Cook in his first semi-nude performance, who frequently runs afoul of Bernard’s “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy.
“But we suspect that Bernard out of kindness – Bernard has this hidden kindness, I’d call it – [has] a shirt and a pair of shoes that hangs inside of the diner. So every time Bob comes in he puts them on,” said McNorgan.
Fighting for Bernard’s affections is the endlessly frustrated Darlynn, played by producer Judy Johnson Betsy, who routinely finds herself unable to attract the despondent diner owner’s attention. Betsy, the clumsy waitress played by Jamie Russell, routinely runs amuck of her boss, and is also secretly pine over by another of the cast, the ordinarily articulate yet painfully shy Walter, played by Grant Chapman.
Visiting the diner, there’s Big Earle Ella, a “biker-chick” played by Karen Reger, and her daughter Lizzie, an aspiring singer played by Mary Crawford, who is looking for a venue to break out into the big leagues. Lizzie is ordinarily the shy type, but when she throws off her glasses she becomes the star-act entertainer inside.
Skulking around the diner, and throwing a wrench in Bernard’s efforts to find his daughter, is tabloid reporter E.L. Edinbary, played by Renee Murray. A crafty character, E.L. is out to get her hands on the recipe to Bernard’s secret sauce. The only other person with the recipe, besides Bernard, is his daughter, hidden in a locket he had given her all those years ago, and E.L. hopes to use the secret to impersonate the long-lost daughter, and make herself the heir to his fortune. Alex, played Kevin Wakem, meanwhile is the smooth-talker with a long-line of ex-girlfriends, of which E.L. is one.
Finally, thrown into the febrile mix is the benevolent, if mischievous, angel Michael, played by Ted Shier.
“The thing about Michael is only Bernard can see Michael,” said Caldwell. “So Michael is actually there to help with this divine intervention, to help them find their daughter, but he’s only going to do it with a sense of humor. He’s not going to make it easy.” Michael appears first in a brilliant white suit to Bernard, and then in the guise of an inconspicuous homeless man, sprinkling a bit of the fantastical into the story.
It’s a play with plenty of quirk and chemistry, and plenty of heart.
“You’re going to laugh and you’re going to cry. These people are very talented and it’s a well-written show,” said director Smerchinski confidently about the play.
Daddy’s Girl is running over four days with four showings at the Wellesley Community Centre, starting this evening (Thursday) at 8 p.m., followed by a show tomorrow at the same time. On Saturday and Sunday, the play starts at 2 p.m. Tickets are $17, and people can reserve a spot by calling 519-669-9247 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. All the money raised goes back into Theatre Wellesley for future productions.