A weekend of one-act comedies at Corn Stock

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When three of America's top comedic playwrights put some one-act plays together in a package titled "Relatively Speaking," Corn Stock Theatre saw it as an opportunity to give some new directors a shot and likely find new actors, as well.

But a funny thing happened: Yes, the directors are making their directorial debuts; but whereas one-act plays usually attract actors with less experience "Relatively Speaking" attracted a bevy of experienced performers in key roles in the three comedies.

"I'm not really sure why" were common words used by the directors when asked why they thought this occurred. Whether it was respect for the directors, who are well-known at Corn Stock for their acting, teching or writing, or because of the playwrights, they are pleased with it, they said.

"Relatively Speaking" is comprised of three one-act comedies: "Talking Cure" written by Ethan Coen; "George is Dead" written by Elaine May and "Honeymoon Motel" written by Woody Allen. It runs Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Corn Stock's Winter Playhouse in Upper Bradley Park.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and can be reserved by calling 676-2196.

"Talking Cure"

Ever wonder how psychiatrists always seem to be able to keep their cool, regardless of what they hear or of the behavior of their patient? At least that is how television and the movies usually portray them.

In "Talking Cure" we see a different story, one that may leave you wondering who should really be on the couch. But that's not all. In this play Coen also provides in a separate scene some insight into why the protagonist got to be the way he is.

"It is a short, but distinct story told only how Ethan Coen could tell it," said director Blake Stubbs. "I am a big fan of Coen and this is great material. It reached out and grabbed me the first time I read it and I think that is how audiences will feel."

Stubbs is making his directorial debut after working on many shows either back stage or on stage. "I thought it would be fun to take a group of actors and conceive a show with them, tell this story in a compelling way. Of course, when the process started I never thought I'd get this caliber of a cast," he said. "I mean, this is like the murderer's row of local actors."

Tim Wyman, veteran performer and director, portrays the doctor while up and coming actor Andrew Rhodenbaugh, co-founder and veteran performer with the theatre group Great Work Begins, is the patient, Larry. The audience will see five sessions between the two, each different in dynamic.

In the last scene, we find out about Larry's background in a scene with Nate Downs as the husband and Megan Larke as the wife. Larke, who has thrilled Corn Stock audiences with her lighting designs the last few years, is making her Corn Stock acting debut.

Downs has been in many shows throughout Peoria's community theatre scene. He is the only performer who will be in all three "Relatively Speaking" plays.

"George is Dead"

How people deal with the death of a loved one has commonality in that most of us grieve. But how we grieve, how we view our futures without the loved one and how we move on can be quite different.

Elaine May manages to capture some of the differences in her one-act play "George is Dead."

"I liked the material and not just because there are a lot of laughs in this show," said Leaann Liesse, who is making her debut directing adults. "This show has a universal theme. How people react to death is different but this one shows also how people of different classes react to death. That is a good prescription for comedy."

The show centers on Doreen, portrayed by Helen Engelbrecht, a veteran of many Peoria shows, who just learned her rich husband died. Grief stricken, she can think of only one person to turn to: Carla, the daughter of her childhood nanny. Carla is portrayed by Mollie Huisman, performing at Corn Stock for the third time. These two are as different as could be and yet, end up starting to bond.

Also in "George is Dead" is Nate Downs as Michael, Carla's husband, Nan Coleman as Nanny and making his Corn Stock debut, Sean Pollock is the funeral director.

Liesse said she felt blessed to have "what I think is a dream cast, really. I feel extraordinarily lucky by who showed up to be involved. I think the actors wanted to work with us because they know us and our sensibilities, and I think the writers attracted them, as well."

"Honeymoon Motel"

A lot of people accused Woody Allen of going through a midlife crisis when he left his long-time wife for a much, much younger woman who happened to be his stepdaughter. Perhaps that was his impetus for writing "Honeymoon Motel," or perhaps the similarities are just coincidental.

Either way, the writing is hilarious as we watch how one man, Jerry Spector, handles his own midlife crisis and how it affects everyone around him. By the time the comedy reaches its climax, there are 10 people crammed into the bridal suite, most of them getting bombed. Is there enough pizza for everyone?

"You really can't go wrong with Woody Allen. I've been an admirer of his for a long time. I counted up and I have seen 17 of his films. But I think this is one of the funniest things he has written in a long time," said Gary Hale, who is making his directorial debut.

Hale has written several one-act plays of his own, some of which have been performed at Corn Stock, but he was reluctant to direct when first asked. "But I finally thought I should have that experience and I am glad I did. It will help me be a better writer, for one thing, but this has been such a fun show and cast. I mean, I've got a cast of Peoria theatre all-stars who have really brought the show to life. They have made it so much easier for a first-time director," Hale said.

His cast includes all veteran actors, including Paul Gordon as Jerry, Kerri Rae as Nina, Tim Wyman as Eddie, Helen Englebrecht as Judy, Cheri Beever as Fay, Clark Rians as Sam, Nate Downs as the Rabbi, Cindy Hoey as Dr. Brill, Brian McKinley as Sal and Blake Stubbs as Paul.

Corn Stock Theatre has opted to donate the proceeds from its concessions to assist the victims of last Sunday's tornadoes. Corn Stock does not charge for the concessions, which consist mostly of cookies, coffee and lemonade, but accepts donations to help defray production costs.