Senior Center to present comedic murder mystery

Posted May 13, 2011, at 3:01 p.m.
Members of the Hammond Street Senior Center who are part of the cast of “The House on Beecher Hill” are (from left) Bunny Gibson, Trena Sumner, Anne Spencer, Brenda Boardman, who all play “Girls from the Club,” and Paul Rich, as Uncle Henry (center).
Courtesy Photo
Members of the Hammond Street Senior Center who are part of the cast of “The House on Beecher Hill” are (from left) Bunny Gibson, Trena Sumner, Anne Spencer, Brenda Boardman, who all play “Girls from the Club,” and Paul Rich, as Uncle Henry (center).

BANGOR — The rehearsal had a real “let’s put on a show” quality to it.

The four showgirls were giving the stodgy visitor from London a taste of their act as they stripped off his jacket, his shoes and his pants to “You Can Leave the Light On.”

Apparently the girls were a little too enthusiastic in their movements, as a wall of the set started to topple. The number had to be paused while the panel was eased back into place.

Clearly, the Still Playing Theatre Troupe production of “The House on Beecher Hill” promises to be full of surprises.

One of the surprises in the show, which will be staged at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 20-21, and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 22, at Hammond Street Senior Center, is how quickly a group of amateur seniors can become eager actors.

“They start out so timid,” said Nancy Taylor, playwright and director of “The House on Beecher Hill.” “But I let them find their characters on their own. Now, they’re right into their characters. They’re becoming more relaxed and funny.”

The production started with Taylor, who previously had written five plays as fundraisers for her church, St. John Catholic Church. She first learned about the center, located at 2 Hammond St., when Kathy Bernier, the center’s executive director, spoke to her Current Events Club.

“She spoke about the programs at the center, and I was so taken by that,” Taylor recalled. “I wanted to write a play as a fundraiser for them and she jumped on that.”

Bernier picks up the story from there: “About a year later, Nancy called and said, ‘I have the play for you.’ That gave me the idea to start an acting class at the center, with Nancy as the instructor.”

Taylor had another gift for Bernier: a role written for her. She plays Abigail Fremont, who is frantic to find out what has happened to her house guest and friend Gabby Fitzroyal, so she hires private detective Sam Speed and his sidekick Slick Dugan to launch a search. Soon Gabby’s old boss, Jack Costello, and her chums and showgirl cohorts Bubbles, LuLu, Tootsie and Trixie get caught in the intrigue.

When Police Inspector Tom Emerson is called in everyone becomes a suspect — even Abigail’s Uncle Henry, who is visiting from London. Everyone, that is, except Sigmund Dumont, the butler.

“I had never acted before, but Nancy convinced me that having the center’s director in the play would be a draw,” Bernier explained. “We’ve been rehearsing since midwinter. I’m not totally comfortable, and I’m still learning my lines, but I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m having a blast working with the seniors like this.”

Bernier isn’t the only staffer involved. Judy Santos, program director and volunteer coordinator at the center, serves as choreographer. Santos has been a dancer all her life and worked as a choreographer on community theater productions for 20 years.

“It’s amazing what you can get out of an amateur that has never moved before,” Santos said. “The trick is taking an easy step that they can do, then putting a spin on it to make it look professional. It’s my job to make them look good. And these people are so much fun.”

Cast members are: Ed Baker, Kathy Bernier, Pat Brown, Janie Silver, Anne Spencer and Trena Sumner of Bangor; Brenda Boardman and Bunny Gibson, Glenburn; Per Lee and Doug Plenge, Hermon; Val Lemos, Kenduskeag; and Paul Rich, Hampden.

Baker plays Jack Costello, who runs the Bamboo Club nightclub and is the prime suspect.

Center member Baker became involved when a call went out for volunteers to audition: “I did plays in high school and college, so I was interested in it. It hasn’t been that hard a process, although getting my lines is still a bit hard.”

Silver, who has long been involved with theater and took Taylor’s class, plays the victim, Gabby Fitzroyal: “She’s a ghost, and no one can see her other than the detective, Sam Speed. She came back to find her killer, but she’s drunk most of the time.”

The hardest part for Silver: “We’re seniors, so it takes a long time to memorize lines.”

Taylor is pleased with how the production is shaping up: “I call my actors amateurs, but they’re amateurs at their best. They really do a great job.”

Each performance seats 70 people, and organizers expect to sell out all three shows. Tickets are $10 in advance; and, if there are any left, $12 at the door. Tickets are available for purchase at the Senior Center, 2 Hammond St.; or may be reserved by calling 262-5532; or emailing info@hammondstreet.org.

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