A surprise sampler

Actors Theatre Playhouse closes out its season with its Pay-What-You-Like show, with proceeds to maintain the company’s building fund

WEST CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — Actors Theatre Playhouse (ATP) offers a "Pay-What-You-Like Season-Ending Celebration: Shakespeare to Durang" on Fridays and Saturdays from Sept. 15 to Sept. 30, with a theatrical sampler of sorts.

The show is designed as a dip-sticking into theater history with monologues, scenes, and one-acts by a host of playwrights and authors. While the Playhouse chooses to keep as a surprise the title of each work on the program, the range of writers tips a hand to the variety in store.

• Christopher Durang, 74, is an American playwright known for boundary breaking comedy. His works - among them, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike - often deal critically with issues of homosexuality, culture and counterculture, abuse, and dogma.

• Philip K. Dick (1928–1982) was a post-modernist writer from the United States who focused on science fiction and its offshoots, known for works such as Ubik, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

• Tom Stoppard, 86, a Czech-born British playwright/screenwriter who started his career - without a university degree - in journalism, is widely known for his plays and films, among them Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Jumpers, Travesties, Leopoldstadt, Brazil, Billy Bathgate, and Shakespeare in Love.

• Anton Chekhov (1860–1904), a Russian playwright and short-story author, has been hailed by many as one of the greatest writers of all time. As a playwright, he earned fame for several full-length plays - The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard, among them - and for a few great enduring one acts.

• Eugene O'Neill (1888–1953), was an American playwright who brought realism to the stage as Chekhov did in Russia; Henrik Ibsen also did so in Norway and August Strindberg, in Sweden. O'Neill's epic A Long Day's Journey Into Night is considered one of the greatest American plays of the 20th century.

• Vincent Panella, of South Newfane, grew up in Queens, New York and graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School with, according to his website, "the intention of becoming an engineer in the age of Sputnik. Doses of Homer, Whitman, and too many writers to mention here cut short his engineering career and he went on to study literature and then fiction writing at the Iowa Workshop."

He worked for a short time in Dubuque, Iowa, as a reporter for the Telegraph Herald, all the while continuing to write fiction. He has taught writing of all kinds, and for several years he served as the writing specialist at Vermont Law School.

Panella is the author of the memoir The Other Side: Growing up Italian in America, and the novel Cutter's Island, which won a Foreword Indies fiction award.

Of his latest novel, Sicilian Dreams, set in 1907, one review said "the volume calls to mind the work of 20th-century Italian novelists like Cesare Pavese and Leonardo Sciascia, wherein the convictions of a moral man are tested by an invariably amoral environment."

• William Shakespeare is … well, Shakespeare - probably the most quoted writer of all time, anywhere. But as high as the pedestal on which we put him is, it's important to remember he was an actor, too, a working man of the theater very aware of the need to please his audiences - and sponsors - in order to make a buck.

The evening's performers include Josh Goldstein, Wendy Almeida, Mo Hart, Munson Hicks, Bruce Holloway, Susan O'Hara, Nan Mann, Sue Rowell, and Sherman Morrison.

Bob Kramsky and Sam Pilo direct.

In a media release, Pilo, the event's producer, invites people to "come join the party" - actually, a fundraiser for the Playhouse Building and Maintenance Fund, which supports the protection and preservation of its facility.

"We wanted to do a yearly benefit for the Fund," he adds, "which keeps the Playhouse secure and handsome, and at the same time look for a type of program to cap the end of each season with a project that reflects somehow to the beginning of each season, which is usually our Ten Minute Play Festival."

In other words, the aim was to create "a grab bag of comedy and drama that gives our actors and directors a bit of challenge," Pilo says.

"When we started to line up the theatrical and literary materials at our disposal, the format of a 'variety show' jumped out at us," he continues, calling it "a chance for actors and directors to hop across the theatrical universe with the flick of a switch."

And that, he observed, is "pretty much a good definition of our Ten Minute Play Festivals that begin each season."

"So it seemed a logical conclusion to achieve both goals...and the most fun," Pilo says.

When the 2023 season is put to bed, ATP will start percolating ideas for next year, which will include, says Pilo, another Ten Minute Play Festival, a production or two, staged readings, and a spoken word project.

And what of the building's needs?

"Nothing dire," says Pilo. "Painting and minor plumbing repairs...maintenance!"

All performances begin promptly at 7:30 p.m. Actors Theatre Playhouse is at the corner of Brook and Main streets in West Chesterfield, New Hampshire. To purchase tickets, visit Admission is "pay-what-you-like," which Pilo says is designed to encourage attendance and participation. "It reflects our appreciation to our audiences for the good will and support they offer us."

This The Arts item by Annie Landenberger was written for The Commons.