NEW YORK – Surveying the fate of individuals and nations who love flirting with disaster, even skeptics might come to believe that there really are higher powers looking out for us.
In “The Fox and Boulder,” a new original play by Greek-American Sarah Bennett, who was also its executive director, deep humanitarian concerns and the challenges of everyday life are in play with unseen strings being pulled in the tavern that lends the play its name.
The puzzling action takes place on the border of the enemy kingdoms of Garell and Eliopah and even after everything is revealed the audience might wonder, did they witness an obsessive busybody in action…or an angel?
Bennett has a gift for creating characters one cares about and their stories unfold with wit and warmth, accompanied by music written by Bennett (Life is Good) and John Robert Hoffman (The Man from Garell) orchestrated by Ryan Kimble.
Hepley is the ornery proprietor with a heart of gold played with perfect deadpan by Jon Schaller. He would love to shoo away the customers who rarely pay, but loneliness is worse than poverty.
As the audience enjoys the witty banter they are also trying to unravel who the puppeteer is affecting the characters’ lives behind the scenes.
Among the candidates are Strock (AJ Pacheo), an orphan whose indomitability is partly fueled by a good soul and partly by the alcohol he sometimes pays for and sometimes does not.
He recently had a vision of a lovely lady in blue who told him he will become king of Eliopah. Hepley pours as much scorn as his good soul could muster on that, but wise barmaid Gretchen (Layla Sutton), and others treat him with enough respect to make one wonder if these are magic kingdoms where anything can happen.
Fear seizes the gathering when soldiers from Garell led by Sir Holloway burst into the tavern – war is in the air – but Strock, with remarkable post-vision self-confidence, disarms them, and they turn into friends.
Holloway’s motives are unclear. He is played with humanitarian intensity by Landon Sutton and he is definitely on a secret mission, but he devotes most of his energy to keeping an eye on Sir Dashley (Michael Tubman) and Sir Arrowood (Kevin Ruiter), a Rosencrantz and Guildestern kind of pair with the zaniness but not the nefarious streaks of Shakespeare’s or Tom Stoppard’s characters.
Simon (Ian Peterson) wanders in from a land far away in search of an almost mystical love. He says he is a farmer bored by his life and clings to a book. Is he a spy?
Then there is the band of gypsies who storm onto the scene and are almost as quickly bounced off the stage by Hepley – until a bag of gold coins appears that gives him hope that the wild night that is developing will not be a complete disaster.
Lilac, a sharp-minded, tart-tongued but kind peddler (Taryne Kellogg) is not welcomed by Hepley, but she becomes useful and he warms to her.
Eventually an outrageous party breaks out but secrets abound in that nest of busybodies that could prove calamitous for the mission (whatever that might be) of Sir Holloway and the personal and professional life of the local Abbot (Glenn Stoops).
Scenic Designer Eric Marchetta created a tavern audience members would enjoy visiting and Costume Designer Rebecca Joy Wallace adds flashes of bright color accented by the lighting of Shelby Lee Loera. The actions is well-coordinated by stage managers Sarah Peterson and Shairi Turner and the sound was managed by Dave Green.
Additional cast members include: Brittney Moss, Logan Sutton, Megan Magee (keep an eye on her), Billie Aken-Tyers, Peter Sanzone and Madeline Lewis – who does wonderful tarot readings during intermission.
GO EAST YOUNG PEOPLE
Bennett has been singing and writing since her childhood in Lake Elsinore, CA. She was directing and producing original plays by high school that were so successful that there was no looking back.
Ophelia Theatre Group was established when Bennett was 21 and she has produced, directed and often performed in its wide variety shows.
The group’s success prompted Bennett to move the remarkable troupe of actors, singers and dancers to New York in 2011, where her younger brother Micah was already established.
Fifteen core members migrated to New York, many living in Astoria, where Bennett is also a popular Astoria karaoke impresario.
She attracts a lot of people who are actually good singers, but some guests come just for her fine voice and wonderful style.
Her parents were born and raised in California and many nations and a lot of talent streamed into Bennett’s upbringing and gene pool. Both her parents’ families are musical and her mother, Stacie Macias, is also a writer. She has written a suspense novel and is currently in graduate school studying American history.
Bennett’s father Russ, who is part Mexican, Spanish and Apachee, was in the mortgage business and is a classic rock musician. He sings and plays saxophone, flute drums.
For 10 years Stacie sang in Russ’ band that had the felicitous name “Partyzon.”
Her roots in Greece – the village of Sofiana which is near Corinith – and the American Midwest, mainly of English extraction. Her mother’s name is Victoria Theodoropoulos and her uncle Ilias Theros was a distinguished radiologist in Washington, DC.
“The Fox and Boulder” finished its run at the Variety Boys and Girls Club in Astoria the weekend of March 27. For more information visit www.opheliatheatre.com.