One-year-old Starlite Players marks milestone with 50th production
Theater company presents four more new, short comedies in “The Other Side” on Sept. 22-25
SARASOTA, FL: When Starlite Players (www.starliteplayers.com) made its official debut on July 15, 2015, founder and producing artistic director Jo Morello viewed the opening as a test run. She was prepared to produce shows for July and August. “Then we’d decide whether to continue,” she said. Her concept, to present a collection of new, short comedies—and only comedies—every month, was untried, novel and decidedly ambitious, but it has proven valid. Starlite Players will stage its 50th through 53rd productions as part of “The Other Side,” a collection of four short comedies that make a funny foray into the unknown on Thursday through Saturday, September 22-23-24, at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, September 25, at 6:30 p.m. in the casual, intimate theater upstairs at the Starlite Room (starlitesrq.com), 1001 Cocoanut Avenue.
Since its founding, Starlite Players has played to repeated critical acclaim and enthusiastic audiences and has already garnered national attention. The company has also been embraced by respected theater professionals in the community, with well over 100 directors, actors, tech crew and volunteers becoming part of Starlite Players productions. “We’ve been able to succeed because of their participation and also because of generous contributions of wisdom and experience from our founding team,” Morello said. She created that team from theater professionals she’s worked with over the years, and most remain deeply involved with Starlight Players. The team includes her husband Jack Gilhooley; Preston Boyd, Daniel Greene, Steve Patmagrian, Don Walker, Mark Woodland and Tyler Yurckonis, owner of the Starlite Room.
Morello had a clear idea of what she wanted to accomplish. “Too many plays never get further than staged readings. We created Starlite Players as a place for theatre professionals in the Tampa Bay region to flex their theatrical muscles with full–if simple–productions and to entertain audiences at the same time,” she said. The idea is working as planned with one modification: although preference is still given to regional playwrights, for limited periods each year Starlite Players accepts scripts from award-winning playwrights around the world, providing its audiences with a broader theater-going experience.
Starlite Players works in conjunction with Yurckonis to present the comedies upstairs in the theater/barroom setting of the “eternally cool” Starlite Room, and theater patrons are granted a discount on an optional pre- or post-show meal downstairs in the restaurant. To the delight of many, Yurckonis also performs in some of the comedies when his schedule permits. (Yurckonis and Morello met more than two decades ago when he was a student at State College of Florida, then Manatee Community College. Along with founding team member Preston Boyd, Tyler was appearing in “The Fabulous Mrs. Palmer,” a musical biography of Sarasota founder Bertha Honore Palmer, which Morello co-authored with composer Diana Colson.)
As a sign of respect for their talents, Starlite Players provides participants with compensation—actually more of a stipend—for their contributions. The check is necessarily small because the theater company is doing what many say cannot be done: it is operating from box office proceeds, along with in-kind donations (e.g., rehearsal and performance space) from three sponsors: the Starlite Room, the Jazz Club of Sarasota and Kobernick-Anchin-Benderson. Morello said Starlite Players is considering a fund-raising drive so that it can increase compensation for its participants and also help underwrite production expenses.
The four comedies in the September show, “The Other Side,” find laughter in situations that deal with death in different ways: the threat of death in a misguided kidnapping (“The Virgin Abduction”), a possibly impending death in a dysfunctional family (“Happily Departed”), a celebrity’s death and its unexpected impact on a longstanding friendship (“The Day That Brando Died”) and two sudden deaths that lead to an officious gatekeeper in the afterlife (“Next”):
- “The Virgin Abduction” by Ron Frankel; directed by Ross Boehringer. A burglar (Ren Pearson) who can’t find a suitable house to burgle spots a young man sitting by a pool (Jean-Paul Monde) and decides to abduct him instead. He takes him to his motel, where he’s joined by his girlfriend (Lauren Ward) and the maid (Lynne Doyle). The bemused victim thinks it’s all a prank, especially after discovering that his inept kidnapper hasn’t even left a ransom note.
- “Happily Departed” by Helen Valenta; directed by Helen Holliday. When visiting his son’s family in Indianapolis, Marek, 80, collapses. His daughter-in-law asks, “Do you think you might be getting up soon? I should probably vacuum.” His son requests medical help from his neighbor, a podiatrist, while his opportunistic grandson, 16, plays all the angles. They wonder if he’s dying while Marek just wonders when he can get back to his bridge game in sunny Florida.
- “The Day That Brando Died” by Lawrence DuKore; directed by Jeff Dillon. It’s July 2004 and Marlon Brando’s death has just been announced. Two old friends (David Meyersburg, Valen McDaniel) discuss the event before their weekly tennis game, never expecting to find that in their long-ago youth, each had been in love with the same woman–but with vastly different results.
- “Next” by Scott Mullen; directed by David Nields. Matt (Ren Pearson) wakes up to find himself in the afterlife. Penny (Danae DeShazer), another newcomer, undergoes the same jarring experience. The jaded clerk (Lynne Doyle) tells them the new rules, which don’t involve love—but Matt and Penny may have found a way.
Tickets are $17.50 and include all four comedies as well as a 15% discount on an optional pre- or post-show dinner at the Starlite Room. For show tickets and information: www.starliteplayers.com, [email protected], and 941.587.8290 (1 p.m. to 5 p.m.). Also see the Starlite Players Facebook page. For dinner reservations: 941.702.5613. (Please note the spelling of “Starlite.”)
Starlite Players stages an evening of short, unpublished comedies for one weekend each month and has presented 49 plays since its debut in July 2015. Its focus is on theater professionals from the Tampa Bay area. Jo Morello, Inc., is the producer. In addition to the Starlite Room, sponsors include the Jazz Club of Sarasota, one of the most active jazz societies in the country, and Kobernick-Anchin-Benderson, Sarasota’s only rental senior community. Starlite Players is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Starlite Players must be made payable only to “Fractured Atlas” and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. To make a donation, please visit www.starliteplayers.com and click on the button marked “Donate.”