by ADAM GRUENEWALD
While waiting for a scene to start, Centre Stage Community Theater actor Alex Kayser was encouraged to pretend a cow, who was his mother, was chasing him.
Kayser, 17, obliged, racing around on stage with a frightened look, drawing laughter from his fellow actors.
As they have been practicing three days a week since mid-June, the camaraderie of the cast and crew helps members of the Centre Stage Community Theater stay up-beat as they prepare for their upcoming production, “Fools,” by Neil Simon.
Director Brian Isles, who just completed his first year teaching English at Central and also serves as Central theater director, said the comedy, his first community theater production, is starting to come to fruition.
“We’re keeping it fresh too and we’re still able to make each other laugh so I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “The thing with comedies is when you’re not able to make each laugh anymore you have to find a new way to do it. If it’s not fresh for them, the audience may not get into it.”
The group is reviving Centre Stage also, which dates back to its first production of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” in 2001, yet had been dormant since “The Music Man” in 2010.
Isles, a Jordan native and resident of Belle Plaine, is at the forefront of the revival.
“It’s kind of shame to see it take a break in time for that long,” he said. “But when they approached me to do it, I thought absolutely. I’d be thrilled to bring this back in.”
Set in 19th century Ukraine, “Fools” tells of a teacher who comes to a cursed town that leaves the townspeople stupid. To break the curse, the teacher must marry a girl from there.
“I wanted to find a Neil Simon piece that the audience could really identify with,” said Isles of the play by Simon, a well-known playwright and screenwriter. “It’s got a lot of broad humor, but it’s really kind of biting humor as well. I think that balances and makes things really interesting and make things really fun to watch.”
The wardrobe and sets, designed by Isles’ wife, Melissa, reflect the 19th century setting of “Fools,” and the audience will be included in the curse, according to the script. But one major change is that local musicians who will perform songs that have “fools” or “crazy” in the title during breaks.
“We have five acts so far,” said Isles. “It’s kind of an experience as well. I thought that would be really fun for the audience.”
The cast of about 15 members range in age and experience, which Isles said works well with the relatively small “Fools” show.
“We haven’t built that up yet, so we thought we’d start with a smaller ensemble and get growing again to get it up to the bigger numbers we’ve seen in the past,” said Isles.
Kayser, a soon-to-be Central senior, acted in several Central High School plays is among those eager for the chance to revive the community theater, as he will portray the lead, teacher Leon Tolchinsky, a far cry from his minor “living prop” roles of the past.
“I thought it’s really great that we were getting back on track,” he said. “I think it’s great we can have opportunities for the community to work in theater and stuff.”
Interestingly enough, Kayser missed the main auditions but did a quick informal audition with Isles and got the part.
“I think it’s a great piece for a community theater because it has a lot of roles and stuff,” he said. “It has great humor that I think won’t isolate anyone.”
For Isles, he is eager for the public to see what they have to offer.
“First community theater play and it’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “I feel like really blessed to have as fun of cast as I have. For a first show too, no problems in production. Everyone is very fun to work with and they’re all working with each other nicely.”
Performances of “Fools” will be Thursday, Aug. 1, to Saturday, Aug. 3, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will be sold at the door.
Contact Adam Gruenewald at [email protected]