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Markham Little Theatre is contemplating murder ... with a twist!

Article by Grant Weaver, photos by Lyn Jones and Grant Weaver

photo by Lyn Jones

Dave Edwards, Ray Porrill, Carol LeBreton, Terry Browne,
and Mariana Vomvas-Smyrniotes rehearse
under the eye of director Shari Thorne-Kowalski

(Feb. 01.08)       Markham Little Theatre has a treat in store in its upcoming production of Out Of Sight, Out Of Murder running February 6-9 at Markham Theatre For Performing Arts.  This comedy by American playwright Fred Carmichael provides an interesting twist to the old story of writer’s block.  What if the characters you have imagined for your murder mystery suddenly come to life and want to participate in the writing of the story?

            That is what happens to Peter Knight (played by Ray Porrill) who has rented an old house in the country to try to get the creative juices flowing.  He has imagined the characters but hasn’t worked through the story.  That’s when things get interesting!

            On January 29, I dropped in on Markham Little Theatre at their wonderful rehearsal venue on the grounds of Markham Museum.  It was, as always, an enjoyable evening, renewing acquaintances and meeting some exciting new talent.

            Directing Out Of Sight, Out Of Murder is Shari Thorne-Kowalski.  Shari’s first appearance with Markham Little Theatre was a year ago as Constance in the Somerset Maugham comedy of manners The Constant Wife.  She followed that up as Mickey in The Odd Couple (Female Version) this past September. 

            Shari has directed one-act plays but this is her first full-length show.  And with nine actors to cast, what a challenge she took on! 

            But she loved the script.

            “And I knew that I could cast it well because I know an awful lot of actors,” she told us. 

            It is indeed a remarkable group she has brought together, including five actors who are in their first performances with Markham Little Theatre.   

             The show’s Producer is Hendrik Verlinden who worked behind the scenes in the company’s Outlaw which ran in November and has jumped directly into his first experience producing an MLT show.  The varied, and detailed, work that goes into co-ordinating a successful run—set production, publicity, keeping to the budget—all fall on the producer’s plate.  Hendrik is a young new recruit to Markham Little Theatre and has been given the chance to learn as he goes in a company with lots of veterans too, an approach that has served MLT well over its 40-year history. 

            Penney Donevan is President of the board this year and updated me on plans already well underway for a great program for 2008-2009.

            But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  At the director’s table were Vicki Tompkins who is both Assistant Director and Stage Manager.  There are two Assistant Stage Managers.  Sheila McHugh has performed many duties in MLT productions over the years and Debra McIntyre was on stage last September as Sylvie in The Odd Couple (Female Version).  Costume design is in the capable, and experienced, hands of Priscilla Marr.

            Stepping forward on cue is Ray Porrill in the lead role of Peter Knight, the frustrated mystery-writer who can’t get his novel past the list of stock characters he has in mind.  Ray, who lives in Oshawa, is a veteran of many years in community theatre and played alongside Shari Thorne-Kowalski in The Constant Wife.

            “Peter is trying to figure out how he’s going to write his mystery,” Ray explains, “and then all of a sudden the mystery starts to create itself!”

            All the characters have at least some lovable qualities and Peter is certainly one that the audience will empathize with. 

            “Everything is out of control for him,” Ray smiles, “but everybody just seems to be going along, ‘we’re just sitting around waiting to be murdered, we hope we’re not next, but well, that’s the way it’s written, we’re used to it’”.

            The only real person, besides Peter, is Minna, played by Judy Heffernan.  Minna is the housekeeper of the mansion and cannot see or hear these novel characters who are entering and leaving and talking right by her.  Things really get perplexing for poor Minna in the second act when the mystery characters are working up to a climax.

            “The others just want to get rid of me,” she says.  “They want to get on with the murder.”

After working behind the scenes on several MLT productions, Judy took to the stage for the first time last September as Vera in The Odd Couple (Female Version).  

The first of Peter’s characters to make an appearance is the sultry Lydia Dillingham, played by award-winning Michele Browne.  The list of Michele’s credits would take us through a good span of MLT’s history.  Most recently she co-starred in The Odd Couple (Female Version) as Olive, playing opposite Kerry Harman’s Florence. 

Cogburn, the Butler, played by Michele’s husband, Terry Browne, will be next to materialize.  What would a murder mystery be without a butler?  A long-time pillar of MLT, on stage, backstage and on the governing board, Terry is appearing in his second consecutive production, having starred last November in the all-male cast of Norm Foster’s Outlaw

The couple have played together many times.  They’ve even played husband and wife!

“He was my boyfriend in A Streetcar Named Desire”, she laughed.  “It’s more fun when we’re not husband and wife!”

Terry has greatly enjoyed the role of Cogburn, and working with the cast that Shari Thorne-Kowalski has brought together.

            “I haven’t had so much fun in a rehearsal, ever,” he said.  “We’re trying to make the parts big.  The director told us if we make the parts too big, she can always bring us back.  But she has given us a long leash.”

Carol LeBreton plays the ingénue Kay Kelsey to perfection.  Carol is in her first production with Markham Little Theatre and audiences are in for a real treat.  Originally from Ottawa, Carol now lives in Whitby.  She studied theatre arts at Algonquin College in Ottawa and cut her theatrical teeth there in such productions as Little Women.  After graduating from Trent University, and then doing her teacher training at Queens, Carol is now a Grade 2 teacher in Ajax.  Eager to get back into theatre, she found the audition call for Out of Sight, Out of Murder on a website, headed for the auditions, was asked to read again, and was thrilled to land the part.

She loves the role of Kay.

“She’s so sweet, she sees the goodness in everything,” she told us.

But if you want to know what happens to Kay, you’ll have to come and see the play!

Jackie Del Greco plays the very wholesome Fiona Babcock. 

“Fiona is very uptight and proper, keeping track of everybody,” she explained.

Jackie may be making her début with Markham Little Theatre but she’s no stranger to the stage.  In fact, she is a long time member of Scarborough Players and has also appeared with the Oshawa Little Theatre where, among other performances, she played in Moon Over Buffalo in the role of  the mother of the character played by her current director Shari Thorne-Kowalski. 

With the Port Perry Borelians, she played in an original show, The Mystery of Thade Mansion, as a character who did a séance and then got murdered! 

Did that prepare her for Out Of Sight, Out Of Murder?   I’m not telling.

            Another new face to Markham audiences will be Mariana Vomvas-Smyrniotes whose interpretation of the maid Addie will be one of the highlights.  The maid is always a suspect and this one .... Could someone who cries so much be all that innocent?  Hmm.

Mariana’s theatrical career began as a high school student at L’Amoreaux Collegiate in Scarborough.  She went on to win the O.A.C. drama award and then embarked on a six-month stint touring Scarborough schools with a theatrical group performing a play on bullying, Writings On The Wall. 

Now living in Richmond Hill, Mariana works as a speech and language pathologist at Scarborough Grace Hospital.  Wanting to get back to theatre, she looked on the Internet for upcoming auditions and found those for Out of Sight, Out of Murder taking place the next day.  This was a sign!  She tried out for the part and got it!

What is Addie like?

“She’s a maid, not very bright, always crying, very vulnerable, a little unstable, a little promiscuous,” she told us.  “A lot of fun to play!”

The audience is sure to love the stock “unexpected stranger”, Dick Stanton.  Rob Notman puts his considerable talent and inexhaustible energy into creating a highly entertaining character who, just the same, might be a murderer, or might be murdered. 

            Rob is also in his first production with Markham Little Theatre but, despite his youth, has already plenty of experience.  Raised on a farm outside of Port Perry, Rob attended high school in Blackstock where, in his final year, he had his first theatre role and won best actor award in the local drama festival.  He went on to perform in shows with the Pickering Backwoods Players, including The Old Lady Shows Her Medals and then, most recently, with On Stage Uxbridge in the musical La Cage Aux Folles. 

            The drama festival in which he first broke in to theatre now invites him back as an adjudicator.

            Rob describes his Dick Stanton as “a little over the top, a bull in a china shop, very youthful, with a lot of vitality.”

            But there is still one stock character missing.  Ah yes, the lawyer who reads the will at midnight (never before).  That would be suspiciously smooth Jordan Dillingham, husband of Lydia, and played by Dave Edwards.

            Dave is thrilled to be doing his first show with Markham Little Theatre.  He has performed in many shows in Durham region and it all started in 2000 when he began working with a singing coach.  His coach encouraged him to go into musicals and that took him into productions like Oklahoma and Biloxi Blues.  This in turn led to Stone Circle Theatre where he appeared both in plays by local authors and in the modern classic Glengarry Glenross.

            I know the fate of Jordan Dillingham . . . but you didn’t really expect me to tell you in this article, did you?

            When, after a long and high-energy rehearsal, all the actors had left, I sat down with Shari Thorne-Kowalski to hear more about Out Of Sight, Out Of Murder. How did you approach the first challenge, casting the nine actors?

Shari Thorne-Kowalski: It was really important that I know the characters inside and out.  I studied the play for a long time and while studying it I would think of all the actors I know throughout Markham, Scarborough and Durham.  I would pick actors in my head and use them as examples of what I would want my characters to be.  That helped me to know exactly what I was looking for when I actually held the auditions and actors came in.  But I made it known, to a lot of people that I knew, that I was directing and that I would like them to come to the auditions as well. You must be very happy with this great cast.

Shari Thorne-Kowalski:  I think I was very fortunate in getting the cast that I did and there were several new people in the cast, some of whom I did not know beforehand.  This is new good talent, that I would definitely keep in mind for the future.  But I was also really fortunate in having so many other really seasoned good actors who were kind enough to be patient with me, being fairly new at this, and giving me what I wanted. Had you seen this play performed before?

Shari Thorne-Kowalski:  No.  I just thought it had kind of an interesting twist, with the novel characters.  I could see them as being very stereotypical, so they wouldn’t be human.  They wouldn’t have any real emotional growth.  They would just be stereotypes . . . And I thought they could be very funny.  . . . interesting.

Shari Thorne-Kowalski:  They’re very funny.  They’re exactly true to themselves all the way through, from beginning to end.  They can’t be anything other than what they are and I found that really humorous.  . . . and Peter Knight?

Shari Thorne-Kowalski:  Peter would be totally bewildered, by these characters coming to life, and then by the way they behave.  Then he finds himself growing to like them.  And throughout that process his problem of having writer’s block and not knowing what to write . . . well, he lets something natural unfoldalthough, of course, it’s not really natural, characters coming to lifebut he lets it unfold.  And it wrote the story . . . by being open to anything.  I thought the whole premise of that was really interesting.  What challenges has the set presented?

Shari Thorne-Kowalski:  I have just an amazing production crew.  They are very seasoned.  They just asked me what I wanted and I gave them ideas of what I would like to see and they have just put it all together.  It’s been phenomenal.  I was down in the workshop and there were people working away who have been there for many shows.

Shari Thorne-Kowalski:  It’s been quite an experience for me.  There is just as much passion and hard work and spirit on the production side as there is on the cast side.  There really truly is and I wish that the cast could see how much people put into making the cast look good.


            Indeed, Markham Little Theatre has earned well-deserved accolades for its stunning sets.

            Co-set designers René Vriends and Ross Liversage gave me a tour of the work in progress on a beautiful full box set that will include three decorated walls, a hallway, fireplace and stairway. 

            So, what are you waiting for?  Call the Markham Theatre for Performing Arts at 905-305-7469.  Out Of Sight, Out Of Murder runs from Wednesday, February 6 to Saturday, February 9.



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