UNCG Theatre presents alternative to a lazy summer

by Brian Clarey

In the basement studio of UNCG’s Taylor Theatre the players gather on the hardwood floor, throwing shadows on the bare white wall and performing the miracle of creation to the characters as they exist on the written page.

‘“We’re doing the whole run today,’” says John Gulley, director of the UNCG Summer Repertory Theater and full-time faculty member of the theatre department. ‘“Work on trying to construct that through-line for yourselves.’”

The cast, undergrads clad in jeans and sweats, flip-flops and bare feet, take inspiration from his words.

‘“Okay let’s do it,’” he says. ‘“Work from where you are and do what you can.’”

And then there is the scene.

We open with Soos and Pooker (played respectively by Alli Pentland and Lori Ingle) in the ‘Cub Room’ of a WASPy country club in an affluent Pennsylvania suburb. Soos is back in town after a stint in California and is forced to confront her past in this place and how it has morphed into a surreal and disturbing present.

‘“I know I grew up here,’” she says to Pooker, ‘“but I’ve been away and forgotten’…. How do you say something without saying it? ‘…How do you say someone is Jewish?’”

‘“Jewish? ‘What a character!””

The play is ‘“The Country Club,’” one of four productions being staged in June by the summer repertory program at the university. The others are the off-Broadway hit ‘“Fuddy Meers,’” a comedy about amnesia; the mismatched romance ‘“The Shape of Things,’” about love between a grad student and a security guard; and ‘“Here There be Dragons,’” their children’s play about mythical beasts from around the world.

But today they’re running through the entire ‘“Country Club’” script, hammering out the kinks in the performances and generally working towards the appearance of effortlessness.

This is not an easy thing to do. The Summer Repertory company is comprised of 11 student actors, each of whom will play multiple roles in the four productions.

‘“One of the neatest things is the experience it provides for the students ‘— it’s a small taste of what real theater is like,’” says Jody Cauthen, UNCG theatre manager and head of the Summer Rep marketing team. ‘“Very few actors make a living doing one show’… they have to be able to keep three or four scripts in their heads at once.’”

Chad Hubbard, a rising senior at UNCG and genuine local boy (he graduated from Ragsdale in 2002), has taken on three roles in three of the four productions. For ‘“The Country Club,’” he inhabits Hutch, a privileged twentysomething drunk in extended adolescence. He also plays Adam, the romantic lead in ‘“The Shape of Things’” and Millet in ‘“Fuddy Meers,’” but right now he’s acting out Hutch’s inebriation on the makeshift stage, belting out the lyrics to ‘“American Woman’” and wailing on air guitar.

Shortly after, clear-eyed and out of character, Hubbard speaks about his multiple personalities. ‘“Adam [from ‘The Shape of Things’] is the most challenging. It’s a modern play and he’s a real person, not just a character. I also love playing Millet [from ‘Fuddy Meers’]. It’s such a wacky world.’”

Emily Vitriano, who plays Evelyn, the female lead in ‘“The Shape of Things’” opposite Hubbard, has a smaller part in ‘“The Country Club’” ‘— Froggy, a preppy society gal who like to plan parties and insists on being called ‘Louise.’ In an amusing twist, Emily, who is of Italian descent, has a few lines as Froggy that actually make fun of Italians. She laughs about it.

‘“Lori [Ingle, the woman who plays Pookie in the play] couldn’t pronounce ‘Guido,”” she says. ‘“I had to help her.’”

Vitriano, by the way, is scorchingly funny as Froggy.

As the rehearsal in the basement unfolds, Gulley turns to Holly Burgess and says, ‘“You can see how fast the shifts are.’”

Burgess, a rising UNCG junior who works on the technical side of the productions, says that ‘“Here There be Dragons’” has the most sophisticated production of all this year’s Summer Repertory plays.

‘“We’ll have the actors in front of green screens and we’ll have TV monitors [in the theater],’” she says. ‘“There’s gonna be lots of different dragons running around ‘— we’ve got the costume department making a big Chinese dragon costume.’”

This is real theater, to be sure ‘— the repertory company doesn’t pull any punches in their costumes, set design or props. And for the students and faculty involved, this is as exciting and urgent as a month-long run on the Great White Way.

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