Stages of Summer
Texans in Vegas, furious food fights and murder most foul.
It must be summer at Ensemble Stage.
The Blowing Rock-based professional theater company is preparing for one of its most exciting seasons yet, with titles including “Tuna Does Vegas,” “The Kitchen Witches,” “Desperate Affection” and “Completely Hollywood (Abridged).”
“It’s going to be a lot of fun and a lot of work,” artistic director Gary Smith said.
But for Ensemble Stage, work is literally play, and Smith guarantees that this summer’s offerings will not disappoint. The season opens June 21 with “Tuna Does Vegas,” part of the popular “Greater Tuna” comedy series.
“It’s about the third smallest town in Texas, which is Tuna, and it’s all about small-town life,” Smith said. “One of the hosts says he’ll take his wife to Las Vegas to renew their vows, and the rest of the town decides to go along with them.”
Although the play boasts more than 20 characters, only two actors will portray them — Ensemble favorites Mark Allen Woodard and Stephen Moore.
“It’s funny, because it’s a fast-paced show for the actors,” Smith said. “But for the audience, it’s very laid-back and quaint. It’s a look at small-town life and small-town values, but throw Las Vegas into the mix with the showgirls and Elvis impersonators, and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve read a lot of the ‘Tuna’ plays out there, and to me, this is the funniest.”
Next up is “The Kitchen Witches,” opening July 5. The setting is a low-budget, cable-access TV station, on which two rival cooking show hosts are forced to work together.
“One of them’s had this cooking show for a long time, but they’re cancelling it, so this is her last show, and it’s being broadcasted live with her studio audience,” Smith said. “An old rival of hers comes in to gloat … and a food fight ensues. But the audience loves it, so they put these two women together as co-hosts on a cooking show.”
“The Kitchen Witches” stars Burlene Franklin, Josephine Hall, Luke White and Daniel Armbrust.
The season then moves into darker territory with “Desperate Affection,” a suspense thriller, opening July 26. Starring San Francisco-based actor Greg Waller and Asheville’s Jennifer O’Rear, the story focuses on a couple whose relationship is hardly as it seems.
“In the first act, you think you’re watching this perfect, ideal relationship between two people,” Smith said. “And then things change.”
To say any more would spoil the play’s shocking twists and turns, he added, except that it’ll have audiences guessing up until the powerful conclusion.
To lighten the mood, the season will continue Aug. 23 with “Completely Hollywood (Abridged),” a madcap rundown of 186 of the greatest movies of all time, condensed into 90 minutes. From the same team that presented “The Complete History of America (Abridged)” and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” “Hollywood” is a vaudevillian take on film, Smith said.
“To get in so many movies in that short of time, they combine movies,” he said. “Think ‘Alien’ combined with ‘Gone with the Wind,’ that kind of thing. But it’s very intelligent.”
“Completely Hollywood (Abridged)” stars Mark Allen Woodard and Victor Rivera.
For younger audiences, Ensemble will present “The Short Tree and the Bird That Could Not Sing” June 28, July 12 and 19, and Aug. 2 and 9.
“It’s a neat little story about friendship between a short, stubby tree and a bird,” Smith said. “The other trees in the area have been cut down by loggers, but this one was so short that they left it. So, it’s lonely, and this bird comes along, and they strike up a friendship.”
Smith is directing each of the plays, all of which will take place at the Blowing Rock School Auditorium on Sunset Drive in downtown Blowing Rock.
“This is me being selfish, but after reading all those shows, I really wanted to direct them all,” he said. “Usually, every year, there’s one I like but am good with having someone else direct. But I had such a clear vision in my head with these … that they’re going to be so much fun and each in their own unique way.”
Season passes for the Main Stage plays are now available for sale at $73 for adults and $65 for senior citizens, students and members of the military. To purchase a subscription, interested parties should visit http://www.ensemblestage.com to pick their dates and seats, and then call the box office at (828) 414-1844 to purchase tickets.
Individual tickets go on sale June 1 and cost $21 for adults, $19 for senior citizens, students and members of the military and $11 for children 16 younger. Tickets to the children’s play cost $7 apiece.
For more information, visit http://www.ensemblestage.com, or call (828) 414-1844.