Community Players in final rehearsals for Mixed Nuts

Matt Gardner
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An upcoming production by the Prince Albert Community Players is promising local audiences a humorous voyage of self-discovery.

Mixed Nuts is the story of aspiring writer Michael Caldwell, an unassuming small town gent who moves to the big city and finds himself living in a run-down apartment with an assortment of colourful neighbours.

“He meets a whole group of other artistes or nutty people who are also trying to find out what’s within them and their talent and express it -- and in the process of working his way through knowing these nutty artistes, the message of the play emerges, which is to find your inner self,” assistant director Morley Harrison said.

The play will be performed at Wesley United Church on the weekend of April 11-13, with each show including food and refreshments for the audience.

While artistic self-discovery is a major onstage focus of Mixed Nuts, the theme proved to be equally relevant behind the scenes.

For director Loretta Bandet, the production marks her first foray into that role.

“I’ve never directed before -- never even considered directing, until a couple months prior to, we were needing a director,” she recalled.

A member of the Community Players since 1999, Bandet had acted in one play before having a baby. While her husband continued to act in company productions, for the next 14 years Bandet concentrated her efforts on helping out in the kitchen with the meals prepared for audiences at each play.

But at some point last year, the urge to do something different seized her.

Reaching out to Harrison, she tentatively asked whether he might be willing to help her direct a play.

“I’m very glad that he chose to help me out with it because I’ve never done it, so I wanted to really learn and Morley helped me a lot -- and I’ve got the best cast onstage you wouldn’t believe,” Bandet said.

“They are just amazing. They all know this is my first attempt at anything too, and they have just pitched in and we’ve all worked together.

“It has become, I think, the best thing I’ve ever done -- besides getting married and having kids,” she added with a chuckle.

Echoing Bandet’s praise of the cast and the similarity of her experience to the play’s theme, Harrison noted, “We have a really great cast who are willing to be nuts and to show the emotions of these crazy people trying to figure out who they are, and I think it was summed up in what Loretta just said.

“She wanted to try directing to see if it was in her, and it is.”

Bandet’s choice of production resulted from her reading several different plays and deciding that the humorous tone of Mixed Nuts most appealed to her desire to make audiences laugh.

Auditions began on Jan. 25 with rehearsals following the very next week. For the last two months, cast members have been rehearsing at increasingly frequent intervals -- three times a week in February, four times a week in March and five nights in the last week before its public debut.

We have a really great cast who are willing to be nuts and to show the emotions of these crazy people trying to figure out who they are. Morley Harrison

The eccentric nature of the play’s characters offered plenty of material for its cast to work with.

Portraying the lead role of Michael Caldwell is veteran Community Players member Bentley Wiebe, who has been with the company since 2005.

Describing his interpretation of the character, Wiebe noted, “My guy is just a buttoned-down, straitlaced boy from Dayton, Ohio who got away from Mommy and home and has come to New York to pursue a career in writing.

“He just walks into an apartment building full of crazy people and the whole thing is how he reacts to the pandemonium that’s around him, and then how it changes him.”

“Crazy” is an apt descriptor of the character Philomena Della Vecchia, an aspiring actress played by cast member Mandi Hecht.

“She’s a nut,” Hecht said of Philomena. “She is over the top all the time, very dramatic and just … looking for work for most of the play.”

Marking her first performance with the Community Players, Tracey Beaven took on the role of Heather after one of the directors told her about the character, whom she described as “kind of that stereotypical blonde model, a little bit out there.”

Bandet noted the performance marked Beaven’s first onstage appearance since her high school days, prompting the actor to respond, “The character was just too funny, I couldn’t pass it up. It was quite fitting.”

The directors coyly noted that their play involves the presence of various “alter egos,” one of whom is portrayed by 22-year-old cast member Tanner Taylor.

Anxious to avoid spoilers, Taylor described his character Mike as “everything Michael’s always wanted to be -- what he wants to see himself as.”

“That’s really all I can say without going into too much detail,” he added.

Each performance of Mixed Nuts will offer different food for audiences. Friday is pasta night, with doors opening at 6:15 p.m., supper at 7 p.m. and the play starting at 8 p.m.

Saturday offers dinner theatre featuring beef, perogies, potatoes and salad. Doors that night open at 6 p.m., supper is at 6:45 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m.

Finally, Sunday sees a “dessert matinee” with doors opening at 1:30 p.m. and the play set to start at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $20 for Friday’s show, $30 on Saturday and $15 on Sunday and are available at Canadian Tire.

Organizations: Community Players, Wesley United Church, Canadian Tire

Geographic location: Dayton, Ohio, New York

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