‘Fawlty,’ ‘Python’ hilarity begins tonight

Posted March 17, 2010, at 11:07 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:46 a.m.

EDDINGTON, Maine — The Eddington-Clifton Civic Center is quiet in the moments before actors arrive for rehearsal of Ten Bucks Theater Company’s latest production. Not even the hubbub that ensues as the players filter into the theater space can compare to what comes a few minutes later when they take the stage to practice “Fawlty Meets Monty Python, Part 3.”

Basil Fawlty is bumbling. Sybill Fawlty is squawking. Maj. Gowen? He’s as muddled as ever.

Ten Bucks is gearing up for its third installment of episodes of the classic British television shows “Fawlty Towers” and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” starting tonight with performances first at The Grand in Ellsworth and then at the civic center in Eddington.

The show features two 30- to 35-minute “Fawlty Towers” episodes, with five “Monty Python” skits and another from British comedy team Fry and Laurie between episodes.

For its third “Fawlty” installment, Ten Bucks is doing “A Touch of Class” and “The Hotel Inspectors,” which like the others revolve around the antics of hotel owner Basil Fawlty, played by Ron Lisnet, the hotelier’s pushy wife, Sybil Fawlty (Julie Lisnet), and a cast of characters that include bellhop-waiter Manuel (Arthur Morison), doddering hotel regular Maj. Gowen (Greenman), and put-upon maid, Polly (Katie Toole).

Ten Bucks regulars Julie Lisnet, the last remaining founding member of the company still involved, directed the two “Fawlty Towers” episodes, while Greenman directed the Python and Fry and Laurie skits.

But they both have roles in each other’s plays, as well as in their own.

“It’s a real community effort,” Greenman said.

Above all, Lisnet said, the skits and episodes are a fun experience for both the audience and company.

“We scream in rehearsal,” she said. “It’s been five weeks [of rehearsal] and we’re all still cracking each other up. There are some things with my husband [Ron Lisnet, who plays Basil Fawlty to Julie Lisnet’s Sybil Fawlty], as husband and wife onstage, I just can’t look at him because I know if I do, we’ll laugh.”

The episodes are so well-loved, Lisnet added, that audience members in Ten Bucks’ earlier presentations treat the experience like a low-key “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” reciting lines along with the actors.

“The idea when we first did our [Fawlty Meets Monty] was, as we were looking ahead and winter was almost over, ‘Jeez, everybody has cabin fever, let’s do something light to get people out,’” Greenman said. “It’s the break in the doldrums.”

The audience has fun and it’s clear the actors are having fun — and how can one not portraying the slapsticky, physical 1970s standards?

Yet the production itself isn’t easy, Lisnet and Greenman said. It’s a difficult charge to transfer to the stage something that flowed so well on the screen.

“You forget how hard it is,” Lisnet said. “There are things you can do on TV that are harder to do onstage. Say you’re in the middle of a scene and there’s a tight shot on two people, but there is a third person in the scene, it’s like, OK, what are they going to do, because on TV you can’t see them on camera.”

The old television episodes, which feature John Cleese playing Basil Fawlty, are useful for the Ten Bucks actors in at least one way, however. Lisnet said she usually does not encourage actors to watch previous performances of plays, but in this case, she encouraged the actors to watch some of the Fawlty episodes on Web sites such as YouTube.

“I usually want a very clean slate because I don’t want the actor thinking they have to be like so-and-so,” she said. “But these are more like an homage. We’re not reinventing the wheel.”

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“Fawlty Meets Monty, Part 3” performances:

• 7 p.m. March 18-20 and 25-27, and at 2 p.m. March 21, The Grand, Ellsworth; all tickets $10; 667-9500 or www.grandonline.org.

• 7 p.m. April 1-3 and 2 p.m. April 4, Eddington-Clifton Civic Center, 1387 Main Road (Route 9), Eddington; adults $10, children and students $5; 884-1030.

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