Sebastien Galina photo Steven Masson, Kelsey Ranshaw and Abby Wells are featured in Miss Electricity, Beach House Theatre’s daytime show for young audiences.

Beach House Theatre explores the perils of celebrity

Season includes Neil Simon farce Rumours, and Grade 5 superhero tale Miss Electricity

The incomparable experience of live theatre in a semi-outdoor location returns to Crescent Beach this summer, with tickets currently on sale online for Beach House Theatre’s seventh season.

The shows are the frantic and risque Neil Simon farce Rumors (Aug. 14-19, performances at 8 p.m.), running concurrently with the lively theatre for young audiences (TYA) show Miss Electricity, by Kathryn Walat (daytime performances Aug. 15-19 at 11 a.m.) at the company’s state-of-the-art tent stage on Blackie Spit.

On the surface, the two plays chosen for this year might not appear to offer the hind of thematic unity achieved by last year’s exploration of English folklore, The Heart of Robin Hood and The Commedia Tales of King Arthur.

That kind of co-ordination is largely a matter of happenstance and serendipity, noted Beach House founders and artistic directors Candace Radcliffe and Rick Harmon, who are directing and producing Rumours, and Courtney Shields, back to helm the company’s TYA show for a third year.

“It’s really more about finding a show we like and that we feel that audiences will enjoy,” Harmon said.

“You read a lot of stuff looking for plays for a season, but sometimes you read stuff that just clicks – where you feel it’s right on,” said Radcliffe.

That was definitely the case with Rumors, relatively rarely-produced among Simon’s oeuvre, which Radcliffe said she “found by accident.”

“I was reading it and laughing so hard I was crying – I was out of control,” she said. “I had to ask other people ‘is it just me, or is this hilarious?’ “

Selecting the Beach House evening show has to take into account a play that can begin with bright early evening sunshine, and play on through sunset and into darkness, with a set that, if possible, exploits the natural environment rather than blocking it out.

If anything, the requirements for the TYA show are even more specialized, Shields said.

“It has to have three or four actors, and it has to be very physical,” Shields said, adding that the typical Beach House daytime show features full use of the theatre space, with abundant costume and character and voice changes done on the fly.

Fortunately, Miss Electricity – with its music and multiple roles – seems to fit the bill admirably, although, as Shields noted “we have no lights – it’s going to be interesting doing a show about electricity with no lights!”

While seemingly dissimilar, both Rumours and Miss Electricity have some common ground, the directors acknowledged – both turn on society’s fascination with celebrity, and the difference between public and private personas.

Rumors (1988) – from the second half of the prolific Simon’s career as playwright – has been described as his only true farce.

“I think he did it just to prove that he could write a farce,” Harmon said.

Set at the home of Charlie Brock (deputy mayor of New York), it’s the story of what happens when elegantly attired guests arrive at Charlie and Myra’s home for a dinner party to celebrate the couple’s 10th anniversary – only to find Charlie unconscious upstairs with a bullet hole in his ear lobe and Myra nowhere to be found.

The comedy quickly enters farce territory with the frantic efforts of their friends to protect the hosts’ – and their own – fragile reputations, by covering up the crisis for each new arriving guest.

“It starts off at the peak of stress, with people panicking, and it just keeps getting worse,” Radcliffe said, adding that the play is also providing costumer Linda Weston a fun opportunity to revisit the “bling and shoulder-pad” excesses of the 1980s.

Featuring some of the most reliable members of the evolving Beach House stock company – including Matt Falletta, Janine Guy, Tom Gage, Jenessa Galbraith, Michelle Collier, James Walker, Rebekah McEwan, Jessica Tabak and Aran Davison, Rumours ispresented with a warning of adult language and subject matter.

“There are quite a few F-bombs,” Harmon admits. “But all of them are a little different, depending on the level of stress – we’re giving the cast numbers – ‘you’re at an eight here and a six here’.”

By contrast, MissElectricity is a delightful and timeless excursion into the world of a fifth grader – Violet – who has been zapped by lightning twice, leaving her with electricity-controlling superpowers.

“She takes it as a signal that she’s destined for something really great,” Shields said.

While her new persona, Miss Electricity, allows her to dominate her world – including mothers, bullies and a dreaded geography class – the power begins to go to her head, threatening everything that really matters.

The versatile, energetic cast – Jenny Dieu Nguyen as Violet, and Steven Masson, Kelsey Ranshaw and Abby Wells as everybody else – have the right mix of talents to take receptive younger audiences through an imaginative and entertaining journey.

But there are lessons along with the entertainment, Shields noted.

It’s an insight into the life of a young girl who sees the key to getting ahead in life as having some special heroic quality – and can only equate that with being a superhero, Shields said.

Miss Electricity is all about status and celebrity – and also about friends who stand by you, no matter what happens.”

To reserve tickets for both shows – recommended because of the brief duration of the season and limited seating – visit beachhousetheatre.org

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