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Posts Tagged Henry and Alice

Free Spirit

Melanie Wehrmacher (Alice’s interloping sister, Diana) arrives on her motorcycle. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

“Diana is very unlike me,” Melanie Wehrmacher claims about her role as Alice’s free-spirited sister in Henry & Alice: Into the Wild, currently on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium stage. “For instance, stylistically I wear vintage sundresses and 1950s aprons; whereas, Diana wears leather and has tattoos. She’s also not much like characters I’ve played in the past, but I have known women like her. It’s fun to play someone who’s not like me but that I still understand.”

Melanie describes herself as more like Henry and Alice, who make life plans and compromises. In turn, what she admires most about Diana is how she goes against the grain of traditional, societal expectations.

“Diana can be frustrating and a pain in the ass, but she has not wavered in what she wants to do. She’s able to be in the moment and do what’s right for herself to be happy. She stays true to herself, willing to say, ‘No, I don’t want to do it that way–the way the world wants me to be.’ Diana is honest with herself despite being judged or looked down on for her choices. I love that about her!”

Melanie Wehrmacher as Diana with Carolyn Pool and John Middleton who play Alice and Henry
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Then as our conversation progresses, an interesting thing happens: the portrait that Melanie has painted of herself makes a radical shift. First, she reveals that she has a sister who’s an accountant, while she’s been the artsy one. As Melanie puts it, their relationship is “a less extreme version of Alice and Diana.” They’d moved in together for a spell in Minneapolis when her sister had left her small-town life in Iowa and Melanie had left her big-city life in New York, growing closer in understanding and further in conflict as a result.

Other details emerge: Melanie doesn’t remember a catalyst that sparked her passion to act. She’s simply always loved dress-up and playing with paper dolls. She also loved watching musicals, old movies and reruns of I Love Lucy. Though supportive of her interests, her parents thought she’d eventually grow out of them.

At home, the young Melanie made her parents watch her put on shows and perform musical numbers. She went on to act in community theater and high school plays. After getting her BFA at Drake University and additional training at the National Theatre Institute’s O’Neill Theatre Center, Melanie then moved to New York City. Despite a side interest in costuming and an opportunity to be a wardrobe assistant for a Broadway production, she never wavered in her pursuit to become a professional actor.

Melanie has had a prolific career in New York, the Twin Cities and regional theatre as well as in film/television and commercial work. She is immersed in “museum theatre,” writing and performing for institutions such as the Science Museum of Minnesota. She’s also written and performed full-length one-woman shows and writes a lot of sketch comedy. Melanie is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

The last time we saw Melanie at Park Square Theatre was in 2015 for a dramatic role in The Language Archive. In Henry & Alice, she lets loose with her comedic chops. This woman who doesn’t see herself as much like Diana seems, to me, to have a lot of Diana-like qualities, especially the courage to follow her own heart. Whether, in the process, she’s been frustrating and a pain in the ass . . . well, maybe her sister can tell us that.

Kit Mayer Just Wanted to Have Fun

Photo by Barbara Kelsey

All the action in Playwright Michele Riml’s Henry and Alice: Into the Wild happens on one set that is described at the very beginning of her script:

Lights up on a typical bare camping site. A picnic table, an old rim for a fire, a stump for chopping wood and some kindling are the only things on the site along with a couple of rocks and tree stumps. Overhanging the site is a large branch. 

When a set is so specifically defined, I wondered how the scenic designer approaches the project. For Park Square’s production of Henry and Alice, the set is designed by Kit Mayer.

According to Kit, in consultation with Director Mary Finnerty, he quickly established that he needed to design a highly realistic natural setting. That drove the rest of the decision-making process.

“I hadn’t done a highly realistic set with nature before, but it wasn’t that difficult to understand the space and the main elements needed to make it like a campground. Once we’d made the choice to go natural, it came down to finding what’s easily obtainable,” Kit said. “But we first had to determine where we would be and what kind of natural setting we wanted.”

Knowing that Michele Riml is a playwright from Vancouver British Columbia, an area with which Kit has familiarity, Kit pulled inspiration from that location. Doing so helped Kit to pinpoint what kind of trees to use that would be possible to acquire (making realistic fake trees would be too time-consuming and costly to do). Birch and pine trees are plentiful there so Kit selected birch.

Front view of Kit’s set model for Henry and Alice.

“We couldn’t go with pine trees. They’d dry out plus create a fire hazard,” Kit pointed out. “Birch trees–dead ones; we never chop down live trees–are easy to get. When I was living in Fairbanks, Alaska, we could go into the woods and drag them out.”

To get birch trees for Henry and Alice, Kit, who lives close to La Crosse, Wisconsin, simply kept his eyes open for dead birches in people’s yards as he varied his routes for a few weeks when driving to and from home. When he spotted dead birches, he’d knock on the homeowner’s door, offering to haul them away at no cost.

“Then I had to think about what to do with the floor. I ended up covering it with a ground cloth and throwing dirt, leaves, branches and other natural materials on it to create a sense of reality. And I just bought a fire ring and burned fires in my yard to age it and get it to look proper.”

Kit also has a background in lighting design that makes him able to keep in mind how to design a set to complement with lighting needs. He asks himself, “How would I like to see the set if I were the lighting designer? How can I help make the lighting more interesting and possibly easier?”

Finished set. (Photo by Connie Shaver)

For instance, Kit knows that having tree leaves will lend itself to patterned light to create that natural effect of sunlit leaves throwing shadows. Where he puts trees can also impact Lighting Designer Michael Kittel’s design for Henry and Alice; no trees should block key lights.

About his set design, Kit declared, “It was just fun to do.”

Having fun was also a huge factor in Kit accidentally stumbling into theatre arts. He hadn’t started college until his 20’s and did not want to end up with a desk job for work study. With his background in construction work, he was offered the chance to work in the Theatre Department, which to him “looked like the funnest place to work” so he accepted.

“I wasn’t a Theatre major,” Kit reflected, “but they sucked me in. They recommended a class to me in my first semester. Then they asked me to design a show in my second semester. I didn’t even know that such a career was possible, but I’d found my niche and enjoyed it. I got excited; and in my second year at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, I became a Theatre major. I later got my MFA in Design and Technology from the University of Minnesota.”

In his long career as a scenic designer, Kit’s work has been seen nationally from Maine to Alaska but also internationally in Australia, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom. He is a designer and founding member of the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre in Alaska and the Resident Designer for Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, Minnesota. He has designed the sets for numerous Park Square productions throughout the years; and now, through October 22, you will get to see his latest endeavor in Henry and Alice: Into the Wild on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage.

Have a Laugh with Carolyn Pool

When Henry and Alice: Into the Wild opens the season at Park Square there will be a familiar face in the cast – Carolyn Pool! A veteran of not only Park Square, Pool has been seen on many stages in Minneapolis and Saint Paul working with such esteemed companies as Illusion Theatre, Penumbra, Theatre Mu, Pillsbury House and countless new works at the Playwrights’ Center. She says, however, that Park Square has been a defining feature of her artistic work with such credits as August, Osage County, Proof, The Sisters Rosenweig, and Born Yesterday. The first time she tread the Park Square boards it wasn’t even at the current location in the Hamm Building, but at the old Lowertown venue in School for Wives.

Now Pool brings her talents to Henry and Alice along with fellow stage cohort, John Middleton. The two are not strangers, having appeared on stage together before at Park Square. That was in Dead Man’s Cell Phone where the two’s chemistry was duly noted. When asked about what she hopes the audience is able to take away from the play, she says aptly:

“I hope they laugh! I also hope they see some of themselves in these characters and maybe realize that they are not alone in their experiences. Telling stories truthfully and beautifully even if those stories are sometimes difficult is my greatest passion as an actor. And, when I can make people laugh and feel good too, that is the most wonderful feeling.” 
Carolyn Pool and John Middleton in the rehearsal hall last week (photo by Connie Shaver)

Making people laugh is definitely something Carolyn Pool has made a career of. If you’re well-tuned into the Twin Cities theatre scene you have probably heard about her two-woman shows, (co-created with Shanan Custer) 2 Sugars, Room for Cream and Sometimes There’s Wine. The former earned the duo a 2013 Ivey Award when it played at the New Century Theatre. Pool and Custer are frequent collaborators who are always looking for projects to write, act and laugh in together.

Indeed having a good time is almost certain when she takes the stage with Middleton and Melanie Wermacher. Mark your calendars and plan to join in on the fun on the Boss Stage September 15 – October 22.

 

Carolyn Pool, John Middleton and Melanie Wermacher  in the rehearsal hall. (photo by Connie Shaver)

Role Reprisal: John Middleton

John Middleton

Starting the 2017-2018 season off with a bang is Henry and Alice: Into the Wild by Michele Riml and directed by Mary M. Finnerty. A few of those names may sound familiar to the Park Square faithful, as this delightful rom-com is a sequel to that other delightful rom-com, Sexy Laundry, which brought the house down in 2014. Finnerty also directed the precursor and wouldn’t you know it, John Middleton is also back in the role of Henry, while this time around Carolyn Pool plays his counterpart , Alice. Melanie Wehrmacher rounds out the cast as an interloping family member.

I was able to ask Middleton a few questions about what it’s like getting to act the same character in a new play. After all, that’s not something that happens very often in the theatre. Unlike a movie sequel, you do not have the opportunity to “go back” and catch the first one. For him, the biggest difference will be the fact that in Sexy Laundry he had the even more unique experience to act opposite his real-life wife, Charity Jones. While that may not be the case for Henry and Alice, he is excited to work with friend Carolyn Pool who he says is, “… a terrific actress who’s carried me through productions before – including Dead Man’s Cell Phone here at Park Square.” That production was in 2010, so that gives you an idea of how familiar audiences should be with Middleton. Most recently, he was seen on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage in Idiot’s Delight by Girl Friday Productions, playing the wily, straight-talking American.

 

Sexy Laundry with Charity Jones. Photo by Petronella Ytsma 

But how far can we go? Middleton’s very first production at Park Square in 1991’s The Marriage of Figaro, and while he may not have had many lines he distinctly remembers moving a lot of chairs around. That was only a year after he first came to the Twin Cities as an actor. Hailing from Wisconsin, he landed a role playing a pirate in a production of Peter Pan at the Children’s Theatre Company and liked Minnesota so much he decided to stay. I believe I can speak for the community here when I say we’re certainly glad he did! Other recent Park Square Theatre credits include: Calendar Girls, Romeo and Juliet, The School for Lies, and American Family.

As you can see, Henry and Alice: Into the Wild is but the latest in many wonderful turns on the Park Square boards for John Middleton. As we herald the start of the new season, let’s revisit the familiar world of Sexy Laundry and the actor who brought it to life then as he will now.

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