Concord Community Players perform farcical take on classic monster movie
Chelsea Pettibone rehearses (with giant hand) in Kongs Night Out. (Michael von Redlich photo)
Chelsea Pettibone, Steven Koch, Deirdre Hickok Bridge, Chris Demers, James Baker, Mario Arruda, Caity Glover, Kevin Guimond and Barbara Webb all appear in the farce, which starts its run tomorrow. (Michael von Redlich photo)
The Community Players rehearse Kongs Night Out. (Michael von Redlich photo)
Depending on whom you ask, this weekend’s Concord Community Players production of Kong’s Night Out may be described as a romp, a farce, slapstick comedy or a whole lot of monkey business. It’s also a screwball send-up of the iconic 1933 King Kong movie, complete with 1930s and ’40s gangster-moll funny business: over-the-top glam gowns and zoot suits, tough guys and dolls accents, and Art Deco backgrounds. Not to mention a 250-pound black plastic resin gorilla hand.
Acquiring “the hand” was only one of the challenges Kong’s director, Michael Coppola, had to overcome in staging this production. Rather than make a new one, Coppola tried to get the original hand from Lyric Stage in Boston where he had seen the play’s premiere several years ago. Initially, he was told the hand was now in Michigan. Then he heard it was available for rent for $5,000, an impossible price for a community theater.
By luck, Coppola rediscovered the monster hand while surfing playwright Jack Neary’s website thread. Suddenly he saw the message, “CALL ME NOW.” For a modest fee, the Community Players became the proud owners of King Kong’s lost limb, previously stored in a Somerville, Mass., warehouse.
Coppola, who readily admits to being a big fan of the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and I Love Lucy, fell under Kong’s spell once he saw the play in Boston. This year when the Players were considering it for their “Season of Laughter,” a full year of comedies, Coppola went online and got the script, then offered to direct.
When he learned that playwright Neary, who now runs the Lowell (Mass.) Musical Theatre, lives in Derry, Coppola contacted him for advice.
“Imagine being able to meet with or talk to Neil Simon, or William Shakespeare, or Agatha Christie while you are directing one of their shows. That would be quite the resource,” Coppola wrote in the program.
Coppola said he and the cast definitely benefited from Neary’s involvement. For his part, Neary, who went to the initial read-through and attended one of this week’s rehearsals, said he was impressed with the talent Coppola has assembled for the production.
In addition to writing plays, Neary has made a career of acting, writing, directing and producing them. He’s also watched “tons of movies” from the 1930s and ’40s, including his favorite, King Kong.
“I always thought it would be interesting to write a play about what happened in the room next to the one in the movie where Kong reaches into the apartment and snatches Fay Wray,” he said.
Whether you’ve seen the original film with Wray or the 1976 reincarnation with Jessica Lange or the 2006 makeover with Naomi Watts doesn’t really matter, Neary said. The film has become an American icon, so much so that it’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t aware of this retelling of beauty and the beast.
Neary’s parallel script revolves around the rivalry between two big-time Broadway producers, Myron Siegel and Carl Denham. When Siegel finds out the opening night of his new revue is being sabotaged by Denham’s top-secret but well-hyped production across the street, the plot thickens.
The play takes place in Siegel’s Manhattan hotel suite, where half-a-dozen doors provide entry and exit to a continuous panoply of players. In addition to Siegel and Denham, there’s Siegel’s henchman, Little Willie; his financial backer, Sig Higginbottom; his hayseed niece, Daisy, just in from Buffalo; his two-timing wife, Bertrille; and his well-past-her-prime stripper mom, Sally Charmine. There’s also the sweet but simple Ann Darrow, a.k.a. Fay Wray, the blonde beauty whom Kong (and Denham) can’t live without, along with Jack Driscoll, Darrow’s somewhat obtuse fiancée, a rewrite of an actual character from the film.
With all those actors and all those doors, timing is crucial.
“Timing and physical comedy were my main issues,” Coppola said.
But, as both Coppola and Neary noted, the cast was up to the challenge. While some of Kong’s actors are new to the Players, all bring years of on-stage experience to their roles. Many members of both cast and crew have won regional theater awards for their work.
Myron Siegel and Sally Charmine, played by Kevin Guimond of Concord and Barbara Webb of Plymouth, are both players’ veterans and well known to local audiences. They’ve even played the role of mother and son before, the first time 15 years ago in Sabrina Fair with the Nashua Theatre Guild. Such long-time relationships among cast members make it easy to stir up lots of laughs for everyone, both onstage and in the audience.
But Kong offers more than physical comedy. There’s also a wealth of wordplay, much of it delivered by Little Willie, a physically stereotypical bodyguard/thug whose vocabulary is strangely out of sync with his appearance. Mario Arruda, whose real-life job is as an electronic assembler in Salem, gives the role perfect pitch. Along with his pistol and brass knuckles, he carries a small black notebook which he consults to find just the right word for every occasion. “Clandestine,” “furtive,” “impenetrable,” and “hubris” may sound hilarious coming out of his mouth but they’re also a true description of the action on stage.
And that, as one character says, is “just the tip of the icebox.”
(“Kong’s Night Out” will be performed tomorrow and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Concord City Auditorium. Tickets, $16 and $18, are available online at communityplayersofconcord.org or at the Audi box office, open from 4:30-7:30 p.m. For an additional $3 fee, tickets may be ordered by calling 228-2793.)