Grief, loss and family make for dramatic fare, especially in the personal and intimate productions put on by Theatre Wellesley, where the setting lets audience members feel like they are right in the scene with the actors.
The community theatre group is set to stage Joan Burrows’ Willow Quartet, which follows the story of protagonist Kim, played by veteran Lori Hoelscher.
Kim finds herself back in her childhood home – a quiet farm, far from the city – after a tragedy that ends her marriage to Ben. She invites Jim, a visiting musician, to stay with her in a bed-and-breakfast arrangement, much to the chagrin of Ben and Marjorie, Kim’s mother.
It’s not long before Kim becomes infatuated with Jim’s charm and sophistication, along with his talent for helping her forget about her pain temporarily – until it inevitably boils to the surface. With Jim by her side, she struggles to navigate her unresolved grief, rediscovering what can be her new normal.
“The spring shows have the depth and the meat and the drama. The fall ones are the [comedies], with the bigger cast and the farces,” said Hoelscher. “This is more intimate, with the more intimate setting – it gets a lot meatier, which is great. This particular play has a really fascinating story: it’s got the drama, it’s got some humour, the dynamics of family. It really touches you. It challenges you.”
Joining Hoelscher is experienced amateur theatre actor John Settle as Ben, former drama and English teacher and Theatre Wellesley newcomer Mary Beth Jantzi as Marjorie, and jack-of-all-trades Dave McNorgan as Jim to make up the quartet.
“This is the best character I’ve ever played,” said Jantzi. “She’s got more depth. She’s funny. And she’s got really contradictory motivations. So she’s a little pushy, a little controlling, but very protective as well.”
The production is directed by Alan Strong, who has been a fixture of Theatre Wellesley since its inception 25 years ago. Strong previously played the dad in the fall show, In-Laws, Outlaws, and Other People (That Should be Shot). While he enjoys acting, his real passion lies in directing the performances.
“I don’t have to memorize lines, I just get these guys to do it,” said Strong with a laugh. “There’s always that fear onstage that you’re going to forget something. And then once the run starts, I’m done. My job is to get these guys ready to do that.”
With this play, in particular, the Willow Quartet cast was especially grateful to Strong for uncovering the layers of depth of each character. He added that it’s a fun environment that welcomes anyone to come out and try their hand at acting.
“We’re always open to new members,” said Strong. “If you enjoy theatre or just want to do something, come on out.”
The show runs April 26, 27 and 28 and May 3, 4 and 5. Friday shows are at 8 p.m., Saturday shows are offered at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday shows are 2 p.m. matinees. Tickets are $17 and can be ordered online at www.theatrewellesley.com.