Neil Simon passed away just days before the curtain went up on Theatre In the Country’s (TIC’s) latest production of Rumors, so producer Reg Parks said he and the cast have gone over and above to make sure the play pays homage to its creator.
“It’s very poignant for us because, of course, he just passed away… so we feel like it’s fallen into – now – the mode of being a tribute to him. It’s kind of an honour to be in the middle of rehearsals with one of his shows when he passed away at the age of 91,” said Parks.
Simon, who was born and died in New York, wrote more than 30 plays and nearly the same number of movie screenplays, mostly adaptations of his plays.
“His plays have defined a generation of theatre,” Parks said, calling Simon a legend and a master of comedy.
“And so, to be a part of this particular one is unique in that it’s his only farce. He wrote it at a real low time in his life… he wanted to laugh, so he wrote this,” Parks said.
The artistic director for TIC, Parks is sharing producer duties for Rumors with his wife Erin, and also spends a great deal of time on stage as the character of Ken Gorman.
Theatre In the Country (TIC), with a cast of 10, is presenting this comedy as part of a three-week run that started last week.
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Set at the end of the 1980s, “when affluence was king,” Rumors brings together a bunch of successful people for a wedding anniversary dinner party that quickly “goes to crap,” Parks summarized.
“There’s no mercy in the humour of this show,” he said. “Like a true farce, there’s a lot of door slamming and people moving, and misappropriation of information, and trying to hide things from people. It’s chaotic and it’s fun, and the characters are unique enough that everybody is going to see a little bit of themselves in at least one of the characters up there, and how they act when things are falling apart in their own lives. Hopefully, they can do that with a little laughter.”
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Still relative newbies to the world of community theatre, TIC is heading into its sixth season with this production.
The group first started up in a rural church in east Maple Ridge, then expanded to include a second venue in North Langley more than a year ago.
Last November, however, Parks learned within the same week that the drama club would lose both venues as of the new year.
So the search began in earnest for new digs, and admittedly he never entered the Vineyard Church (at Logan Avenue and Glover Road) with an expectation it would be TIC’s new home.
But the fit is “ideal,” Parks said, noting the size of the venue will allow them to soon have their workshop on site, they have enough space back stage for set and costume storage, and actors don’t have to leave the building to go to the dressing rooms.
“This new venue is a space we are sharing now with Langley Vineyard Church. It is their space, and their home, and has been for three decades. But they are graciously allowing us to come in and make some changes and turn it into a great theatre space that they also have church in,” Parks said.
Sharing the same stage in the main hall, a sea of couches that typically adorn the middle of the room are easily moved off to the side for show nights and moved back into place in time for church services on Sunday.
“It’s really good cooperation,” Parks said. And the premises, while still being transformed, is “perfect.”
“You rarely find a space with so much breadth and depth that you are able to simply sit a whole theatre inside it,” he elaborated, noting the lights and sound, for example, were already in place and required only a little tweaking.
It’s also large enough to allocate space for rehearsing, and ample room for the caterer to finalize and deliver meals to the patrons.
They were able to add a 12 X24 expansion to the existing stage, and incorporate a variety of raised seating around the rear of the main hall, to accommodate guest only coming to catch the show.
“It’s kind of exciting how easy it was to move in here, and turn it into a real active and effective theatre space,” Parks added.
Admittedly, the space had to be larger than most traditional theatres. Since the beginning, TIC has always offered dinner theatre, and Parks wants to keep it that way.
“I like the dinner-theatre model,” he told the Langley Advance.
“It’s kind of my thing. I said we wanted it to be unique and interesting. We’re the only space that I know of, in the Lower Mainland certainly, that does ongoing classic dinner theatre. The Giggle Dam has, certainly, a presence and they do more of what I guess would be a cabaret-style-comic-song-and-dance thing, which is a lot of fun of course. But, they’re not doing full-length plays that I’m aware of.”
The closest dinner theatres on par with TIC, Parks said, are in Kelowna and Chemanius – both of which are a little far to travel for a night out.
So, what’s the appeal to TIC, which is selling out on some of its weekend shows?
“It’s an experience. It’s an evening out. You don’t have to plan anything,” Parks said.
“You show up, we greet you. We feed you. We make you laugh while you’re waiting for your dinner. Sometimes we’ll bring in music, sometimes we’ll have a little improv. Sometimes we’ll just let people sit and visit. And then, you don’t have to move from your table. You can have your coffee cup on the table and you can watch the show. Dessert arrives to your table during intermission… it’s just a great evening. We came up with the moniker early on that it’s a ‘great show, great food, great night out’… And, I think it’s novel enough.”
Adult tickets are $49.95 for a meal and show, and it’s 10 per cent cheaper for seniors and students (up to the age of 25 years old). There is a lower rate for children 12 years and younger, and for those not interested in dinner (provided by Mission’s Over the Top Catering) there are further discounted rates ranging from $10 to $25 – depending on the age and day of the week.
This latest show, Rumors, runs until Sept. 22, and auditions are already underway for TIC’s Christmas musical Two From Galilee.
Information is available online.