by Lorie Lewis Ham
If you’re looking for a show that’s more dramatic then the rush of musical’s that have hit the local stages over the summer, you might want to check out Stalag 17, now on stage at Good Company Players Second Space Theatre in Fresno.
According to Stalag 17 director Duane Boutte, Stalag 17 is the story of a group of American POWs who share a barracks in World War II, Germany. The action of the play is two-fold: their effort to help one of their men escape and, also their need to discover which of their men is a spy for the Germans. “That said, I believe the play is ultimately about surviving the direst of circumstances by never forgetting levity, humor and hope.”
Boutte, A GCP alum and Broadway performer, wanted to direct this show because he saw it as an ideal opportunity for building directing skill. “I had directed an ensemble piece before (called LOL) where all the players had principal responsibilities; but that was on a smaller scale. That cast had seven actors.” Stalag 17 has 17 actors, all of which play fully developed characters with lines, each clearly different than the others and most of them appearing onstage at the same time. “So, I was attracted to the challenge of creating a true ensemble and excited about the play’s strong use of humor in a situation of danger.”
The cast of seventeen actors includes Patrick Allan Tromborg as the pessimistic and suspicious prisoner Sefton, Henry Montelongo as the bunk leader Hoffy, and Chris Carsten as the intimidating Officer Shultz. Other cast members are Billy Anderson, Bryan Beckstrand, Brian Freet, Harrison Freet, David Marinovich, Martin Martinez, Gary Mosher, Giovanni Navarro, Raul Reyes, Brian Rhea, Benjamin Sagasar, Gus Short, Rick Timmons, and Joel Young.
Boutte stated that the work of the actors as a company has been admirable, as this can be a very difficult play to pull off. “But we’ve got actors who’ve learned the importance of working with attention to ensemble while maintaining the color of individuality. Much as you would in a music ensemble. They’re playing with sensitivity to the rhythm of the play, yet aware of each other and of their own, individual contributions.”
The biggest challenges they faced in putting this show together were working with the occasional phrase or conversation that is spoken in German (brief exchanges between the guards), and bringing the best out of actors who range from minimally experienced to very experienced, continued Boutte. “To address the intermittent German text, we brought Terry Lewis in as a language and dialect coach. He was great and that gave me one less thing to worry about.”
As for creating an ensemble that would volley the text and action well, Boutte stated they kept the bar high and those with more experience never ceased in offering encouragement. “They believe in each other and support each other and the show is stronger because they insisted on being a team first. This is an experience I’ll remember fondly forever.”
Every night Boutte enjoys finding that moment where he suddenly knows the audience is hooked into the action. “We’ve been fortunate to have that happen every night and, when it happens, I relax in my seat just a little more. Then there’s the next night. Will it happen again? It keeps me on edge, which means I’m having a great time.”
If you’d like to enjoy this drama, Stalag 17 performances continue until October 9 at GCP’s Second Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive in Fresno. Performances are Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 general admission and $15 for students and seniors and can be purchased by calling 266-0660 or 1-800-371-4747; open Tues. – Sun., beginning at 10 a.m.
Watch for another Local Live next Wednesday at 7!