The Belfry Theatre’s newest show has the Farndale ladies taking on science fiction
By Evan Elliott
It’s a seasoned cast, led by a veteran director, performing one of the craziest shows of their theatrical careers. And while these folks have graced the stages of countless area theaters, the title of this show rivals the length of their acting resumes.
“They Came from Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time for the Townswomen’s Guild’s Coffee Morning” will amuse audiences for the next two weekends with “out-of-this-world” entertainment at The Belfry Theatre, 10690 Greenfield Ave., Noblesville.
“They Came from Mars …” is one of 10 “Farndale” plays written by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin, Jr. Director Ron Richards has been in charge of three of the four “Farndale” shows at The Belfry.
“I like the silliness of it. I really enjoy as an actor you can be silly,” he said. “It’s hard to be a good bad actor.”
These farces are “plays-within-plays,” and, over the years, the ladies of Farndale have taken a crack at everything from Shakespeare to Gilbert and Sullivan; on this occasion, however, it’s science fiction.
The Farndale ladies are performing the story of a Martian who wants to steal the newly invented “Roberta the Robot” in order to learn a special secret. Trouble is, the actress playing the robot has been accidentally dosed up with a handful of valium, the woman playing the leading man is stuck in the toilet with the runs, and everyone is having a bit of trouble with their lines.
“It’s a show of great silliness,” said Diann Ryan, who performed the same role of “Mrs. Reece” in the Belfry’s most recent Farndale production in 2010.
Ryan won an Encore Award, the equivalent of a local theater Oscar, for her portrayal of Mrs. Reece.“I was such a big fan the first time,” she said. “Every (community theater) horror story comes true in the Farndale play. . . It’s such a fun opportunity to do the awful things. Sometimes you aren’t really acting.”
Joining Ryan in reprising her role from three years ago is Susan Rardin, who plays “Thelma.” Rardin said her character hadn’t changed a bit.
“My character is just as cranky and ‘prima donna’ as she always was. It’s a constant power struggle between Thelma and Mrs. Reece,” she said. “I am absolutely thrilled to be back on stage to reprise the role.”
“We’re having a lot of fun together,” Ryan added.
While a familiar plot for some, it’s a hilariously new experience for Larry Haworth.
“I’m actually cast as what I am – a really bad actor,” Hayworth joked.Richards cast Hayworth in his directorial debut at the Belfry in 1990 and has relied on his talents ever since.
A 23-year veteran director at The Belfry, Richards said this show had been easier to direct than past shows because of the actors’ improvisational talents.
“I just let the actors go and then we see where it goes,” he said. “They’re great on stage most of the time.”
The set design also showcases an improvised flair, as the play’s script calls for chaotic menageries in many scenes.
“We built the set in about two hours,” Richards joked.
The show’s props master, Sherri Byer, said most of the props were found in once abandoned storage cabinets at the theatre. One of the actors, while not found in a closet or cabinet, might as well be considered a prop. Barb Weaver portrays “Norah,” who spends most of the show in a valium-induced coma.
“I’ve never spent so much time unconscious on stage before,” Weaver said.
At one point during rehearsal, Weaver and Ryan’s antics brought their director to uncontrollable laughter.“What Barb does as Norah … I didn’t direct her to do that stuff. I just told her, ‘do what you feel is comfortable,’” Richards said.
When asked if audiences can expect future ‘Farndale’ productions, Richards replied, “well, there’s still a few more to go!”
“They Came from Mars …” performances are 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Feb. 15 and 16; and 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 17.