Tonawanda News

May 9, 2013

Death by theater

Ghostlight Theatre presents comedy 'Final Notice'

By Jill Keppeler jill.keppeler@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Sometimes bad theater happens to good people.

And sometimes, it even happens on purpose.

“Final Notice,” a comedy written and directed by local playwright L. Don Swartz, will be presented at the Ghostlight Theatre starting at 7 p.m. today through May 26. In a case of art imitating life — to some extent — the plot revolves around a little theater group that just can’t seem to catch a break ... and what happens after their nastiest theater critic dies during the final dress rehearsal for a show.

Swartz said the show, which he called his first pure comedy, is making a return to the stage after its first performance back in 2002. While the story is, of course, a fabrication, he drew a lot from the real group’s experiences.

“We talk about our history here in NT,” he said. “The people in the play have just gotten a building ... I think most of it’s drawn from our experience at the Ghostlight Theatre over the years. It was my first comedy-comedy. I thought, ‘Well, they say, write what you know.’ We all know how it is to be up here when things aren’t going well.

“For the people who haven’t tried (community theater), it’s a very silly prospect when you’re on stage and nothing is going right. You see these people trying to do their best in an almost unwinnable situation.”

For the first 20 minutes, the audience sees a play within a play, in which the Swartz called upon many of the mishaps that fall upon any theater group and inflected them all upon his fictional organization in a short span of time.

“It’s a play that celebrates bad theater,” he said. “It’s a great deal of fun. We establish a really nasty critic as our piñata figure, but the audience never actually meets him. That character is kind of the catalyst for so many bad decisions.”

Props go astray. Costumes are askew. Dialogue is a disaster. And one technician decides to put the whole theater system on The Clapper.

“We talk about the play being a series of bad decisions,” Swartz said. “And that’s one of them. The set is dreadful. There are mishaps. ... The first 20 minutes, it’s just bad theater.”

Husband and wife Mark and Carolyn Woomer play Chris and Meg Thompson, the husband and wife team who run the fictional theater group. Carolyn Woomer said that she’s having “an absolute ball” with the show, and enjoying the challenges of the genre.

“Comedy is its own kind of thing. ... It has its own timing and rhythm and it depends on the audience you have,” she said. “Because of that, it’s very rewarding when you get it right. It’s really fun to just throw caution to the winds and just go over the top. In life, you don’t get to be like that. You really have to go for it. Because if you hold back, it really falls flat.”

The screwball nature of the show’s beginning — and all the things that go wrong — can lead to issues of its own. Real mistakes made during the first 20 mistakes can be mistaken for fictional mistakes ... but mistakes after that are painfully obvious.

Mark Woomer, who plays director Chris Thompson, agreed.

“The first 20 minutes, you can make mistakes, because mistakes are being made,” he said. “Now you’re playing life. That’s the hardest part, because sometimes your mind isn’t going with you.”

“Final Notice” also features Paul Moukperian, Jesse Swartz, Jessica Knoerl, Sharon Priest, Kathy Ellis and Dan Torres. The show will also be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and May 17, 18, 24 and 25 and 2 p.m. May 26.

Tickets may be reserved at www.starrynighttheatre.com or by calling the theater at 743-1614.

IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Final Notice," a comedy written and directed by L. Don Swartz • WHEN: 7 p.m. today; 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and May 17, 18, 24 and 25; 2 p.m. May 26 • WHERE: Ghostlight Theatre, 170 Schenck St., North Tonawanda • TICKETS: $14, $12 for veterans, students and seniors. Tickets may be reserved at www.starrynighttheatre.com or by calling the theater at 743-1614.