By Alice Adams - Special to the Advocate
April 22, 2010 at midnight
Updated April 21, 2010 at 11:22 p.m.
What begins as a fairly civil evening, quickly becomes quite the opposite with the dramatic arrival of the character Gabrielle Buonocelli. Mary Hallportrays the feisty Gabrielle, succeeds in bringing new meaning to the words "vixen" and "watch."
Reaching the half-way mark in current rehearsals, Hall is enthusiastic about the work she and fellow cast members are doing. "The characters are rich, as you would expect from Neil Simon," she said. "The people in this cast are excellent. Plus, it takes you out of your own problems, so every rehearsal is really a lot of fun."
She's also thrilled to work with the other cast members.
"Meeting the other people and working with those personalities is extremely enriching," Hall said. "But theater is all about the people - the characters, actors and the audience."
Josette Looft, who is making her debut on Theatre Victoria's stage, moved to Texas from California last October.
Playing the role of Mariette Levieux in "The Dinner Party," Looft may be a newcomer to the Theatre Victoria stage, but like several of her fellow cast members, she's long had a love affair with theater.
"I've always loved theater, since my aunt took me to see 'Cats' in San Francisco, and Porterville has The Barn Theatre, a 60-year tradition. While attending a performance one evening, I thought, 'One of these days, I'll get on that stage and perform,'" she said.
Looft said she knew she wanted to do community theater when she moved to the area. "Theatre Victoria is a beautiful theater, and the actors I'm working with are extremely talented and very dedicated. That's why this show will be a wonderful experience for our audiences," she said. "We want them first to be entertained and afterward, if this play sparks conversation about who we are and what we need and this leads to better relationships, then we will have succeeded as theater once again imitates life."
Patrick McLaughlin, who plays the role of Andre Bouville, is a Victoria native who graduated in 1991 from Stroman High School, went to college, and then took a job at Victoria College.
"Since I was six or seven, I have gone to productions at the college," he recalled. "I have been hooked ever since because it was just so big, so colorful, and the people were magical, larger than life. I was completely enthralled."
In his lifelong love affair with the theater, McLaughlin has been in numerous plays, as well as directed, done lighting design and, as a playwright, has won a couple of awards for shows he's written.
His character, Andre Bouville, is particularly challenging because Simon has created a complex character with many layers.
"My challenge as an actor is to make sure all the layers are visible to the audience," McLaughlin said. "I want the audiences to come away with a new appreciation for Neil Simon and what a masterful playwright and story teller he is. They may see a bit of themselves in our characters.
Taking the role of the smart-aleck Claude Pinchon, played on Broadway by the late John Ritter, is Randy Pollard, a professional photographer who grew up in Victoria.
Pollard, who with his wife Laura owns L-Ann Imaging and On The Edge Photography, discovered theater in middle school and acted in a number of productions with the old Victoria Community Theatre.
"Secretly, I've always enjoyed attention, and I also like the power of theater because it can make you laugh or cry and makes you think," he said.
As his job responsibilities and his family grew, Pollard took a 20-year hiatus from the stage.
"I absolutely love theater," Pollard, who most recently appeared in "Perfect Crime," said. "But before I try out for a role, I sit down with Laura to make sure we can make the commitment . and I say 'we' because she's the one who picks up the slack so I can live the dream."
When "The Dinner Party" debuted on Broadway, the role of Albert Donay, another divorcee, was played by Henry Winkler. In Theatre Victoria's upcoming production, this role will feature Jason Ramirez, an 18-month resident of Victoria and sales supervisor for Yellow Pages.
"Growing up in Brownsville, I was the baby of the family, often left to entertain myself," Ramirez said. "So, I did a lot of reading, watched movies and began memorizing stories and songs, which I often recited to entertain the family on road trips. I can still remember some of the stories."
By sixth grade, his mother had enrolled him with the community theater in Brownsville, where he performed until high school.
"I've always dreamed of being in theater and even studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles," he said. "Community theater not only allows me to live this dream, but to have a day job as well."
Jennifer Rayburn , a recruiter and employee relations professional for Spherion Corporation, graduated in 1991 from Stroman High School, where she studied theater, and although she has lived in Victoria most of her life, she attended school at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and the Erasmus Institute in Rotterdam.
Remembering her love of drama during her high school days, Rayburn worked in the first play produced at the Welder Center.
"My favorite role is a toss-up between Chris from 'Rumors,' which was my first show, and the part I played in 'Noises Off,' produced last summer," she said.
Also a long-time Theatre Victoria volunteer and serving as an advisory member to the Board of Governors, Rayburn also loves to act. In "The Dinner Party," she plays the role of the mousy Yvonne Fouchet, a woman twice-married and divorced from the same man.
"Whether you're married or not, I think any woman on any given day can relate to Yvonne," she said.
In the old "Mighty Mouse" cartoon series (for those old enough to remember that far back), whenever disaster struck, Mighty Mouse would swoop in, singing, "Here I come to save the day."
In fact, Theatre Victoria may have a similar super hero. A few weeks ago, when one of the actors in the upcoming production fell ill, Russell Fowler stepped in as the character, Andre Bouville, with only two weeks of rehearsals to go.
"In high school, somebody had flunked out right before the UIL play competition," recalled Fowler, 33, and program director for KBAR Radio and KVIC Radio. "A friend pulled me out of class, along with a gorgeous blonde cheerleader-type, and asked me if I would quickly take the part. I'll have to admit, the cheerleader was my motivating factor, so I learned my lines well enough to help pull the production through."
A native Victorian, Fowler snagged his first radio job at age 18 and, as they say, "the rest is history."
"I think radio prepared me for the theatre," Fowler said, "and the skills I've learned in theatre, in turn, have helped me in radio."
Auditioning and winning parts in about 14 plays over the past six years, Fowler said theater is not only fun, but he loves the people and the adrenalin rush he experienced in his early days of acting.
"You never know what's going to happen and that everybody's passion for the theater is contagious," Fowler said, explaining what he loves about theater. "People in the theater are dedicated and once they commit, they have to be there. When I take a part, the theater becomes my priority."