TRAVERSE CITY — Barbara Goodearl always wanted to be cast in a play in the Old Town Playhouse’s Studio Theatre.
The theater’s tiny stage juts out into a minuscule room packed with fewer than 90 seats. It’s about as intimate a venue as she could imagine.
The 75-year-old actress just didn’t think the play serving as her debut in the theater would be one where she plays a share of 57 characters split among seven actors and actresses. It’s the Playhouse’s production of “The Dining Room,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by A.R. Gurney that strings together 18 stories from a span of 45 years in no particular order.
And after two months of preparation, the show will premier tonight.
Before one of the troupe’s final dress rehearsals, Wednesday night, Goodearl sat at the table with the rest of the cast and tried to explain some of the challenges the group faced when it confronted the task of portraying characters who range in age from eight to 85.
“We will never do this again,” said Goodearl, as she looked around the table at her cast mates. “It’s like going through a death with somebody. Or a birth.”
The six other members of the cast nodded their heads along with the sentiment. They all wore relatively bland outfits composed of dark pants or skirts and white shirts. Added to the challenge of portraying the stack of characters outlined in the 73-page script is the insistence from director Tom Webb that his crew rely mostly on their acting abilities to dynamically portray the people in the story, instead of using props and costumes.
In fact, there are no curtains or lights-out scene changes during the play. Every scene overlaps the previous one and the cast sits in chairs stationed along the edge of the stage. What little wardrobe change happens during the play just outside the spotlights.