SEARCY In the play Moon Over Buffalo, which opens Thursday at Harding University in Searcy, everything that can go wrong does go wrong.
That’s lucky for the Searcy Summer Dinner Theatre audiences, who should find humor in the high jinks.
“It’s funny. We call it a five-door farce, because there are lots of closing and opening of doors,” said Steve Frye, longtime producer of the dinner theater and chairman of the Harding University Theatre Department.
The 2018 season’s theme is Break A Leg! Each of the three summer productions center on theater people.
“It’s theater about theater,” Frye said. The first was The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised).
Moon Over Buffalo is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday through July 1 and July 5-7 in the Ulrey Performing Arts Center. The house will open at 6:15 p.m., and the buffet will be open from 6:30-7:15 p.m. Tickets, at $32 each or $17 for the show only, are available at hardingtickets.com or by calling (501) 279-4276. The shows usually sell out, he said.
The Searcy Summer Dinner Theatre brings together community people and Harding University students and employees, Frye said.
“We’ve been doing a blend of community theater and Harding University people since the ’80s, every summer for 36 years,” he said. “It’s sort of a mix on that; it’s a wide range. One of the great things about the summer is you have teaching professionals who have time off. The cast winds up about half and half; the crew is primarily university students. We use that as pseudo internships. They’re usually not taking classes; they’re working 40-hour weeks with us.
“We do pretty good sets. Our target is to match what professional companies would do.”
Moon Over Buffalo takes place in the summer of 1953. It centers on George and Charlotte Hay, “two stars who are B-list stars. They’ve almost made it on the stage; they’ve almost made it on film,” Frye said. “They’re in Buffalo, New York, … and they’ve got a chance for a big break, but everything that could go wrong does.”
The eight-member cast for Moon Over Buffalo is as follows:
• Tod Martin, the Harding University registrar, appears as George Hay, a middle-aged fading film star. Martin has been performing in the Searcy Summer Dinner Theatre since the 1990s, when he was an administrator in the School of Nursing.
“Last year, we did Father of the Bride. I was Stanley Banks, the beleaguered dad,” Martin said.
He’s having fun in Moon Over Buffalo “It’s like a train wreck; you can’t take your eyes off it,” he said. “It’s hilarious.”
“A lot of what I say is kind of significant and funny and drives the action to the next thing,” Martin said. “It’s full of action; there’s sword fighting and crazy costume changes.”
• Mary Margaret Fish of Searcy, a community member, plays Charlotte Hay.
Hay “has lived her life on the edge of stardom,” Fish said. “She’s a talented actress who just hasn’t gotten her big break. When an opportunity arises to perform for one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, she stops at nothing to grab her chance at being a big star. But one thing after another keeps getting in her way. Charlotte loves attention, to a fault, but she loves her little theater family, and I think that love shines through her flaws.”
Fish said she’s been in six shows with the Searcy Summer Dinner Theatre, including The Addams Family, The Mousetrap, and The Man Who Came to Dinner.
• Sally Paine, executive director of The Sunshine School in Searcy, portrays Ethel, Charlotte’s mother.
• Katie Satterfield of Little Rock, a community member, plays Rosalind or “Roz” Hay, the daughter of Charlotte.
• Chloe Hoofman, a student at Harding University, performs as Eileen, an actress in the company.
• Joshua Gafford, a Harding student, appears as Roz’s fiance, Howard.
• Patrick Jones, a 2017 Harding graduate who is on the summer-theater build crew, plays Paul Singer, the company manager for the theater that is owned by George and Charlotte Hay. Paul is also Roz’s ex-boyfriend.
“They’re still in love with each other and still want to be with each other,” Jones said, “but Rosalind is engaged to another man.”
Jones said there are several scenes that are charged with emotion and are hilarious, but the funniest scene in the play, he said, is when George gets drunk when he thinks his shot at being a movie star “is down the drain.”
It turns out he gets a second chance, “but George is completely sloshed. There’s a good 20 pages of dialogue where they’re trying to get him in the shower and get him coffee” and keep him from wandering off, Jones said, laughing.
“The audience is going to know everything, obviously, but each individual character, like me and Roz, … only know part of the story,” he said.
The performances may bring the house down, but Jones also has the responsibility of helping to build a sturdy set so that doors slamming won’t bring the set down.
• David White, a Harding University staff member in financial aid, portrays Richard, a lawyer representing the company.
“Nearly everyone’s been with us before. Chloe and Joshua are new; all the others have appeared in previous productions in the summers. Sally’s done several,” Frye said.
“We have a wonderful time. We talk about it not only in terms of our patrons who come every year, … but our cast members and crew, that it’s very much like a family experience. We create something from nothing and share it,” he said.
“I’m still a firm believer in the power of live theater to transform us. It’s a great way to make comments on who we are as people and who we can become,” Frye said.
“It’s fun for me doing theater about theater people because you always get a couple of lines in there that point to the truth,” he said. “I love it; I absolutely love it. I’ve done television and film, but my first love is live theater. Every night is new.”
Curtains, the final show of the summer dinner theater season, is a musical and a murder-mystery. It will be performed July 19-22 and 26-28. The play has 22 cast members.
“I’m in Curtains. I play a pompous producer; somehow it seems appropriate,” Frye said, laughing heartily.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.