Of playwrights, polished performances and a half-pint for Ethel Barrymore | Journal Column

Howard Schonberger

Howard Schonberger

Now that I’ve got hearing aids, I can better appreciate the works of our local playwrights’ festival at the Community Theatre.

But I must admit that a four-hour show with two intermissions is a bit tough if you are not in great physical shape.

Nonetheless, I’m glad I did it. Can you imagine the work involved? Fifty-three roles in a dozen works written and directed by our locals.

Opening with 18 roles in Lyne McPherson’s “Bookworm”, we were a bit confused to find the same people taking two or three roles (e.g. Marcy Hahn as Grandma, Mother and Judge in three of the 10 scenes); Tony Vivenzo’s direction was fabulous in making it all sensible.

Favorites of mine were “In a Puzzlement”, written by Carolyn Haugen and Emily Reed Geyman, directed by  Jane Maxwell Campbell, “The Ring” by Miguel Herbert, which should be performed in every grammar school showing self-defense for youngsters on how to ward off bullies and molesters, and “I’ll Marry on the Ferry” by Don Pollard, directed by Bo Turnage.

Steffi Wehner’s “Cleaning House,” directed by Michael McElrath, was a monologue, but a tour-de-force, very moving to us elders who’ve so much sorrow and yet joy of the good ol’ times.

Sure, a few lines were stepped on, but the technical crew was amazingly efficient in presenting that much theatre in one day, let alone a long evening.

Years ago, when I was in high school, my uncle let me work backstage in his theaters when he had a broadway star doing a show, like Helen Hayes, Ethel or John Barrymore, or his sister, Ethel, or Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine.

I remember meeting Ethel Barrymore, who asked my uncle A.H. if she could borrow me to run an errand for her.

“Howard, here’s a ‘fiver’. You keep the change if you can get me a half-pint of Four Roses whiskey.”

I made three bucks on that transaction. I saw here putting it in a cocktail glass that she carried on her entrance. She played a young bride, matron and grandmother. Tremendous make-up jobs between acts. Her voice and posture were amazingly assumed.

I didn’t do bad myself getting booze in Nebraska from a bellhop at the Fontenelle hotel down the road (I was only 14 or 15 then, but fully grown).

In the last act of that play, “White Oaks,” she was 101-years-old and magnificent in the third act, just as she was as the lithe 20-year-old and stunning forties during acts one and two. I watched each scene from backstage, wondering if the booze would affect her delivery.

No way!

I tossed the empty 1/2-pint bottle in her waste backed out in the garbage when she left the dressing room to join her friends and fans.

What a trouper! Just goes to show what a real pro can do.

— Go with the F.L.O.W. (Ferry Lovers Of Washington)