Blue Hill production of ‘Sylvia’ hampered by emergencies

Posted April 06, 2011, at 12:05 p.m.
Last modified April 06, 2011, at 6:30 p.m.

It’s not a curse. It’s just a series of extremely unfortunate events that have plagued the New Surry Theatre’s production of “Sylvia,” the popular play by A.R. Gurney that the company was set to perform at Blue Hill Town Hall and at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor the past two weekends.

The show was to open on Friday, March 25, in Blue Hill. Presales for tickets were strong, and the cast and crew were excited to start the show. Then the first of several unfortunate events unfolded: Stage manager Debbie Alexander took a fall down some stairs and broke her leg.

“Poor Debbie had done such a great job, and then this happened,” said Bill Raiten, artistic director of the NST. “It took two people to fill her shoes, and we got a great mother-and-daughter team, Dee and Cait Powell, to fill in.”

While Alexander recuperated at home, the second scary thing happened. On opening night in Blue Hill, lead actor Michael Reichgott began complaining of chest pain.

“Becky Poole, the director, told us what was going on with Mike. He said his heart had been beating really fast and he felt light-headed, and he was a little scared, but that he didn’t want to ruin the show,” said Raiten. “I said, ‘What, are you crazy? I’m taking you to the hospital!’ Michael is such a good guy and such a professional that he didn’t want to miss the show. But we’re so lucky that he did miss it.”

While remaining cast and crew informed arriving ticket holders that the show that evening was canceled, Reichgott was taken to the hospital, where he soon found out that he had an arterial fibrillation, a congenital heart problem that had to be taken care of immediately. Three days in an intensive care unit and some new medication brought him back to health, much to the relief of friends, family and theater colleagues.

While Reichgott recovered, longtime NST actor Tim Pugliese began frantically learning the lines for the character of Greg, husband in “Sylvia” to Kate, played by Annie Poole. The show is a funny, touching story about Greg, who adopts the humanlike dog, Sylvia, played by Leanne Nickson. As Greg develops a bond with the dog, Kate becomes increasingly jealous. Pugliese was able to get time off over the weekend from his trucking company, Central Maine Transport, to perform in the show.

“Tim was riding around in his truck all week, listening to the show and memorizing the lines,” said Raiten. “He learned all those lines in a matter of days. It was really amazing.”

But wait: There’s more. The Friday, April 1, show at the Criterion, which was to be the kickoff for the Criterion’s 2011 season, was not meant to be. Mother Nature had other plans, with the big, wet snowstorm that blanketed Maine for most of the day. The NST had to cancel that night’s show as well.

“In 39 years of doing theater here in Maine, not once have I ever had to cancel a show for something like this,” said Raiten. “Weather, yes. Broken bones and heart problems? No, thank God. In that way, we’re lucky we’ve had such good health. And we’re very lucky that everyone is going to be OK.”

What’s more, the communities in Blue Hill and Bar Harbor were more than understanding of the emergencies the NST went through.

“Everyone helped each other, and everyone was so helpful and kind to us,” said Raiten. “They all wanted to help and were genuinely concerned about everyone. It was really wonderful, in that way. We’re pretty lucky to live in such a nice community.”

Two performances of “Sylvia” will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, April 8, and Friday, April 15, at the Blue Hill Town Hall. All tickets for previous shows will be honored, and new tickets may be purchased by calling 374-5556.

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