Azuay Community Theatre returns to full force with a five-show season opening Sep 23

Azuay Community Theatre returns to full force with a five-show season opening Sep 23

The screwball comedy “It Had to Be You” will open the season on September 23.

Like so many expats, the founders of Azuay Community Theatre (ACT) were attracted to Cuenca for its obvious charms  – like year-round spring weather, a beautiful mountain setting and a low cost of living. But before 2014, an abundance of live English-language theater was not among the benefits available in this Andean city. So, they did what immigrants have done since people began to migrate: they brought with them the things they loved and missed from the “old country” and created their own theater company. Anyone who is or even knows an avid theater goer or theater maker will understand how unthinkably painful it can be to go without one’s fix of attending or creating live theater.  Unthinkable until the pandemic shut down theaters worldwide in early 2020. Along with the rest of the global theater community, ACT’s scheduled productions in 2020 and 2021 were cancelled. 

ACT is back!

The company returned to performance last December with its radio play reading of A Christmas Carol, and in April 2022 mounted its first fully staged production in two years, How the Other Half Loves, by Alan Ayckbourn.

Now, with a battle cry of “We’re Back,” ACT is returning to live, fully staged productions in a big way. The company is announcing a complete season of five productions, taking the next giant step towards giving Cuenca a steady diet of live theater. Newly appointed Artistic Director Paula Bailey, founded the Iron Mountain Stage Theater in northern New Jersey, where she served as Artistic Director, Stage and Music Director, acting coach and performer for 20+ productions, says the new season will offer laughs, uplift and insight.

“The plays we’ve selected are by some of America’s leading playwrights but are likely to be new to most of our audiences. We’ve done a deep dive into the works of Neil Simon, Tennessee Williams, and Robert Anderson to find some terrific plays that our audiences may not have seen before.

It Had to Be You

Ray Lewis and Cheryl McFarlane-Clark rehearsing as Vito Pignoli & Theda Blau

The season will open in September with a comedy by the writing/performing team of Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor, the married couple who wrote and acted in Lovers and Other Strangers on Broadway and on film, as well as the film Made for Each Other. Audiences may also recognize Renee Taylor’s name from the TV series The Nanny, in which she played Fran Drescher’s mother.

Synopsis

Bologna and Taylor’s Broadway comedy It Had to Be You will open on September 23rd in ACT’s theater on Av. Ordoñez Lasso, next to the Hotel Oro Verde. In It Had to Be You, Theda Blau, a failed actress, health food nut, and would-be playwright, wants to find love and success in New York. She meets Vito Pignoli, a hugely successful TV commercial director. By holding him hostage in her apartment on a snowy Christmas Eve, she somehow manages to convince him to be her partner both on the page and off.  

Casting

The two veteran performers who comprise the cast of It Had to Be You, are anxious to be back on stage after the COVID hiatus. Ray Lewis, who performed in over 30 plays over 15 years in Cleveland, Ohio before moving to Cuenca in 2013 and has also enjoyed a career as a singer-songwriter, will play Vito Pignoli.

It’s great to be back in rehearsal again after our long pandemic hiatus,” Lewis says. “And as this is a two-character play, I have lots to do. It’s a great role. In many ways Vito is the straight man to the wacky Theda, but I have the challenge of showing how Vito comes to love this woman who has essentially taken him hostage. It’s a great comedic acting challenge.”

Cheryl McFarlane-Clark, who will play Theda, has owned several theaters in California and the U.K. She has appeared on camera in many films and TV programs including, “The Best of the Worst,”  “A Current Affair” and “Naruhodo! The World,” in Japan. She says,” Theda is a dream role to play. She’s both outrageous and lovable, and best of all for me, has most of the laughs.

Show times

It Had to Be You will play two weekends – September 23 through October 2. Performances are Fridays through Sundays at 4 pm (House opens at 3:30 pm). Tickets are $15 and will go on sale on Tuesday, September 6 and will be available through September 23. 

Reserving & paying for seats

All seats must first be reserved by emailing [email protected].  Then payment may be made to that email address via PayPal, or by depositing funds at a JEP ATM or JEP branch or by paying in cash at the theater Will Call desk upon arrival (surcharge applies) for your reserved performance. Each production runs 2 weekends on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for 6 performances total.

ACT posted an announcement with a summary of the season and more detail on different ways to pay including at JEP.

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

The second production of Azuay Community Theatre’s new season will be its holiday production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, directed by Artistic Director Paula Bailey. The staged radio show format continues a successful tradition established last December when a staged radio version of A Christmas Carol played to sold out houses.

This adaptation of the classic 1946 film starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore has become almost as popular as a stage play as the film continues to be. Playwright Joe Landry has added a clever twist to the story of George Bailey, a generous and well-meaning man who has become too downcast and tired to continue living. With the help of a lovable angel, he is shown what life would be like if he had never been born and learns to understand the true spirit of the holidays.

In Landry’s version, which has enjoyed countless productions, including stagings by some of the most prestigious companies in the US, the story is staged as a live radio broadcast set at a snowbound radio station in 1946. Actors portray numerous characters, and sound effects are done through Foley artists. It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play will open on December 9, 2022, for a two-weekend run.

An Evening of Short Plays

In February, several of ACT’s company members will join in directing An Evening of Short Plays – giving audiences a rare opportunity to enjoy a variety of smart but lesser-known short plays by Tennessee Williams, Robert Anderson, and others.

Jeanne McCafferty will direct Williams’ A Perfect Analysis Given By a Parrot. Written in 1958, it is a burlesque-tinged follow-up to the Bessie and Flora characters from Williams’ The Rose Tattoo. Hanging on for dear life to life, these fair-weather friends of a certain age from Memphis abandon their petty attacks on each other in a bar at the sudden entrance of two available men and the promise of a warm, if brief, fire against the encroaching night.

Markku Sario is directing I’m Herbert by Robert Anderson (best known for Tea & Sympathy and I Never Sang for My Father). I’m Herbert is one of the four one-acts included in Anderson’s You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running and is a scattered conversation between Herbert and Muriel, an elderly couple with memory problems who try in vain to recall their earlier relationships.

Bob Fry is the director of Our Man in Madras, by the German playwright Gert Hoffman. A comment on bottom line philosophy, the play takes place in an office where the character Mr. Seige is on the phone with his under-achieving sales employee, Bob. Bob seems to be caught in the midst of a nuclear explosion, as he is suffering from severe radiation damage and his wife is dead. A fourth play to be announced will join this trio for An Evening of Short Plays, which will open on February 20, 2023, for a two-weekend run.

The Prisoner of Second Avenue

Next in the season will be Neil Simon’s biting comedy-drama The Prisoner of Second Avenue, about a Manhattan advertising executive and his wife dealing with the challenges of life in New York after losing his high-paying job. Compounded by the air pollution killing his plants, and with the walls of the apartment being paper-thin, allowing him a constant earfull of his neighbors’ private lives, things can’t seem to get any worse. Then he’s robbed, and his psychiatrist dies with $23,000 of his money.

Rick Snyder is set to direct this stage and screen hit by Broadway’s most successful writer of the past sixty years.  Rick has served frequently in many capacities including director, stage manager and actor at the nearly 100-year-old Theater of Western Springs outside of Chicago. The Prisoner of Second Avenue will open on April 14, 2023.

Love Letters

Artistic Director Paula Bailey will return to direct the company’s season closer – A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, a two-character play that has been performed by some of the theatre’s most renowned actors since it first premiered in 1988. Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner, both born to wealth and position, are childhood friends whose lifelong correspondence begins with birthday party thank-you notes and summer camp postcards and continues into the later years of their lives. Their correspondence makes it eloquently clear how much they really meant, and gave to, each other over the years—physically apart, perhaps, but spiritually as close as only true lovers can be. Love Letters will play on weekends from June 2 through 11, 2023.

Coincidentally, though it wasn’t our intention to create a season theme,” Bailey says, “most of our season explores the nature of loving relationships. It Had to Be You shows how a most unlikely couple gets together. It’s a Wonderful Life and The Prisoner of Second Avenue concern couples who stick together during hard times. The one-act “I’m Marvin” and the season-closer Love Letters depict long-term relationships. We expect our audiences will recognize and empathize with a lot of the situations in these wonderful plays.

All performances will be at the company’s theater on Av. Ordoñez Lasso 1 building west of the Oro Verde Hotel. Seats may be reserved through the process described above. Updates will be posted on the company’s Facebook page.

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