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Barn honored with world premiere of 'fun and funny' play

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Mary Simon has been directing and staging comedies at Conklin's Barn II Dinner Theatre for many years. But none of the productions have made her more nervous than the one now playing at the Goodfield theater.

The reason? No other audiences have ever seen this show, "Another Round of Beer for Breakfast." Conklin's has been granted the good fortune of staging the World Premiere of a play written by an accomplished professional playwright, Sean Grennan.

"This is something special, I'll tell you. To get to do the world premiere of a show by an established playwright is usually something big, regional theatres do, in Chicago or wherever. We are very honored," Simon said just before the Thursday, March 13 performance of the show that opened March 6.

With the honor, however, comes the realization that nobody knows which jokes will work for an audience and which ones fall flat, whether this part of the play should be done like this or like that. In that regard, Simon said, she and the playwright are collaborating to "work out the kinks of the show. We're kind of shaking it out for him."

Grennan himself will see it staged for the first time when he comes to Goodfield to attend the April 4 performance. "Oh, I am very nervous about that. But at the same time, I'm confident he will be pleased with our performance on his work. One thing about Sean is that he knows the pulse of the audience that enjoys good comedy. His work is hip, and he really knows how to set up a punch line. Audiences get his humor," Simon said.

"Another Round of Beer for Breakfast" is the sequel to the Grennan comedy "Beer for Breakfast" that played at the Barn last year. The show was so well received audiences suggested it be done again, so Simon planned to do that. Then when she found out there was a sequel, "I jumped at the chance" to do it and to get the world premiere, to boot.

"I knew once I read it that audiences would love it," she said.

That was evident on the night I went to see the show. It is laugh-at-loud funny, from one of the first lines about the problem with wearing cashmere in the rain ("This thing gets wet, it's a pot holder") to the outfits one of the male characters is forced to wear (a purple sequined blouse over purple leggings) to perhaps the most pointed line of the show ("Nothing brings women together like a common enemy, especially if it's a guy").

With sight gags to descriptive comedy that works so well the audience can almost smell the fumes coming from the broken septic pipe in the basement of the cabin where the play takes place, "Another Round of Beer for Breakfast" also blends references to some of the funniest things that have actually happened in the world the past decade.

The audience was even able to laugh heartily at the character Richard, portrayed beautifully by Dan Challacombe, who has had a stroke that left him able to use only one arm and with a noticeable speech problem. That is because, first Challacombe is so funny, and second, because the character makes light of the situation and thus sets the audience at ease.

Grennan said that was his intention. While he was a little concerned how it would be received when "Beer for Breakfast" premiered a couple years ago at a regional professional theatre in Kansas City, he was put at ease when he heard from people who'd had strokes who thanked him for portraying Richard as a real, everyday person and not someone to be pitied. "They said, 'hey, it's real, it happens and it's ok to talk about,'" Grennan said.

Grennan is a native of Chicago and now lives in New York with his wife Kathy Santen, who currently is performing on Broadway in "Wicked." In a recent telephone interview he said he was an actor himself and didn't start writing until about 15 years ago. Since then he's had 10 plays published and produced, including several musicals for which he wrote the book and lyrics, including one called "Luck" that received an honorable mention from the National Writer's Association before being produced in New York.

While his non-musicals have all been comedies, including some bearing elements of farce, Grennan said a play he will premiere this summer at a regional theatre in Wisconsin has a more serious nature. Called "The Tin Woman," it's about a woman who has received a heart transplant and meets the family of the organ donor.

"I tend to write wacky comedies, but they are comedies that have a heart amid all the jokes. With my next play it seems I'm getting a little more serious as I get older," he said. "Every time out I strive to write better than I did the last time."

Grennan said he originally planned to premiere "Another Round of Beer" at the American Heartland Theatre in Kansas City since it had premiered "Beer for Breakfast." But that theatre closed after 28 years in business just as he was finishing writing the sequel. "When Mary asked to premiere 'Another Round,' I said yes because the Barn was only the second theatre to do the first one and because she and I get along so well. I knew she and her cast would do their best. I can't wait to see it," he said.

Seeing a play you've written get produced and staged "is kind of fantastic," Grennan said. "To see really smart people on stage and the genius things to do to make it even better is amazing. The way I look at writing a play is I am taking it to the 50-yard-line; it's up to the cast to take it the rest of the way to the goal. Watching it happen is intoxicating."

The dialogue is the most important part of any script but also important is the staging, the props, the costumes. And, of course, the way the dialogue is delivered. At the Barn, all the elements are brought together to make a very funny and well-done production. Besides the afore-mentioned Dan Challacombe, terrific performances are turned in by Simon, the always funny Bob Lane Jr. and Pat Gaik and the young and talented April Wyant.

Much of the dialogue, while generating laughs, hits home for many in the audience. When the characters TJ and Jessie, portrayed by Lane and Simon, talk about the fact they are going to have a baby despite being older than most couples of child-bearing age, TJ quips, "The only plans we had for diapers were for me."

When Jessie is talking about her ex-husband's much younger wife she says, "I see her and I want to buy some thin mints."

Challacombe makes audiences laugh without saying a word because of expressive facial expressions and actions, and Gaik can fill out women's clothing as well as any man. Wyant throws out a few zingers about the older generation with perfect timing. Throw in a wardrobe malfunction or two, particularly during the birth scene, and... Well, I don't want to give too much away.

This is a fun and funny show. You will be able to relate not only to the characters, but to many of the situations they fall into; you'll realize you may just be laughing at yourself.

For sure, "Another Round of Beer for Breakfast" is worth the drive to Goodfield and the great food from the buffet. Nothing goes better with a belly full of food than a belly full of laughs.

"Another Round of Beer for Breakfast" continues on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday brunch now through April 19. Prices are $33 on Thursdays, $35 on Friday and Sunday and $37 on Saturday and include the buffet and show.

For reservations call (309) 965-2545.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).