The doors are open, and the curtain is rising at Summerville’s community theater. After almost 18 months, Flowertown Players is finally back to producing shows this month with its first End of Summer Series, a collection of four plays each getting a one-week run at the James F. Dean Community Theater.
The brainchild of Flowertown’s board of directors, the End of Summer Series was conceived as a way of getting Flowertown’s loyal audiences back into their seats.
“I think it’s just like any other arts organization,” said Flowertown’s Monica Shows. “You’re wondering, ‘will you survive?’ and if you do survive, ‘will the people come back?’”
Each show will run for four performances, Thursday through Sunday. Love Letters opened the series Aug. 12. Hate Mail follows Aug. 19 with Take My Wife, Please behind it Aug. 26. In Search of … Sasquatch was supposed to open the series on Aug. 5, but an emergency facilitated the sudden shift in the schedule. It will now close out the series after it opens Sept. 2.
Debuting in 1988, A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It tells the story of Melissa and Andrew, two affluent childhood friends who share a lifelong relationship. The play is told entirely through the two actors reading their letters back and forth, spanning their entire collective story from birthday cards to bereavements.
Hate Mail, by Kira Obolensky and Bill Corbett, carries many of the calling cards of Love Letters. It’s also a two-hander following a relationship through the years, and it’s also told through the reading of letters. However, Hate Mail prides itself on being a much wilder and funnier ride than its predecessor. When spoiled rich kid Preston gets artistic soul Dahlia fired from her job because of a complaint letter, it kicks off a love/hate relationship that makes for a roller coaster of emotions.
Take My Wife, Please has twice the cast as the previous two plays. Terry Rouesch’s play focuses on womanizer Stephen and his loyal wife Susan. Stephen, who wants to focus on his girlfriend Debbie, hatches a plan with his recently divorced best friend Thomas to seduce Susan so he can file for divorce. Hilarity, doubtless, ensues.
In Search of … Sasquatch is the most out-there pick of the bunch. Written by Robert Kerr, the comedy concerns Stanley, who is totally obsessed with the mythical Sasquatch. The creature surprisingly shows up and invades Stanley’s life and causes all sorts of mishaps. Stanley becomes stuck between duty and friendship. Incredibly exciting for this production is that Robert Kerr himself will be in town to attend the performance and hold a talkback. Flowertown’s production is the first full staging of In Search of, a rare world premiere for the local community theater.
The shows were chosen to be fun and enjoyable returns to the theater for audiences. After a year and a half of difficulty, Shows felt people would want plays that were uplifting and pleasant. The simple setups for all four shows mean that they will share one stage and minimal sets. The decision to do smaller shows with limited runs was made, in part, to potentially facilitate transport of the plays to local retirement communities.
“All indications is [that] people are ready to come back for entertainment,” said Shows, who directed Love Letters. “But at the same time, it’s how do you do it so that everybody’s comfortable.” Flowertown won’t sell every seat in the house and encourages those who feel comfortable being masked to do so while in the audience.
“Everybody was very excited. That was the best audition turnout I had seen in a long time,” said Shows of the general feeling of elation around the productions themselves. The lack of theater during the pandemic has affected not just audiences, but actors, tech crews and volunteers who are used to spending their time under the lights. As live performance returns to all corners of Charleston, the Summerville faithful are returning in droves.
“Not only did I have people coming to want to audition for the four shows, but people who were like, ‘Hey, I’ve ushered in the past, how can I reconnect?’ ‘Hey, I do tech, that’s all I wanna do, what kind of technical help do you need?’ Sometimes you’re begging for those people, and they were coming out to an audition just to let us know they were interested. I think this little miniseries is gonna be a big hit with a lot of people.”