This weekend, The Providence Players of Fairfax (PPF) open Neil Simon’s Rumors in Falls Church for a three-week run. Meet Director Liz Mykietyn.
Tell us about yourself Liz. How long have you been doing theater and what else have you directed?
I’ve been involved with theater arts since as long as I can remember. I started out as a baby model in NY City and through the early school years began to act. Eventually, I helped with choreography as well. By high school, I started to write, direct and act in original one acts and skits I helped create. I credit my directing style my high school drama teacher and mentor John Wells. He often has a student take a scene in the show and has them help direct; not just take notes and run errands. I assistant directed for Anything Goes and just clicked into having a vision and wanting to make it happen. Subsequently, Anything Goes is one of my favorite musicals and on my list to direct in full one day. Mr. Wells and I are still in touch all these years later once or twice a year exchanging emails and he still teaches at Loudoun County High School in Leesburg, VA.
After getting involved with Community Theater in the early 1990s as an actress, I found the great passion in all things theater rekindled. Still a Loudoun County resident, I was excited when The Sterling Playmakers mounted their first show in September 1996 which I auditioned for and received a small role in. I was hooked again. I soon began to work in other areas with the Playmakers and started to write and direct again just like in high school. I wrote A Holiday Happening, Valentine’s Follies, and a few one-act plays. Then, in 1998, I directed Neil Simon’s California Suite. Many shows followed with the Playmakers. I directed Guys & Dolls which was the best show I have ever been involved with. Then The King & I, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and a bucket list show for me, The Wizard Of Oz. Besides directing, I have acted with a number of companies in the Northern Virginia area; Reston, McLean, Prince William and, of course, The Providence Players.
While this is your first time directing for the Providence Players, you are no stranger to the company. How did you find PPF and what have you done with this troupe in the past?
The Sterling Playmakers are often considered my home theater group. However, I have always auditioned around town for shows I like or for roles I had always hoped to perform one day. Back in 2005, I saw an audition notice for The Women in Fairfax with The Providence Players. I was lucky to be offered one of the main supporting roles, Edith Potter, a character that is straight out of an I Love Lucy episode. I enjoyed the role a ton, and had an awesome time doing the show and thank Director Barbara Gertzog to this day for getting me involved with the Providence Players. I’ve been a member and active with them for the past nine years.
In 2007, I performed with them in the Pat Cook comedy Good Help is So Hard To Murder. Then, in the spring of 2008, I performed as Truvy in Steel Magnolias directed by Tina Thronson. That was my all-time personal favorite role I have performed. In the fall of 2009, I acted for my Rumors producer Chip Gertzog as Myrtle May Simons in PPF’s Harvey and returned to the PPF stage last spring in the Mark Twain/David Ives comedy Is He Dead? directed by Beth Hughes-Brown, who plays Cookie in Rumors. And, this past fall, I choreographed for Little Shop of Horrors, PPF’s first musical in 7 years.
It sounds like PPF is a pretty tight family.
That is true and one of the best things about the company but the other more significant truth is, we grow that theater family with every production. There are always new people on the stage and behind the scenes. By far one of the most welcoming theater groups I have been involved with. For example, in Rumors, five of the ten cast members are making their PPF debut, 2 have been involved with company less than four years and three are long term PPF onstage favorites. My stage manager is a first time PPF stage manager and my props person/stage crew/understudy extraordinaire, Julie Janson, just joined the company in April. That is pretty typical for Providence Players productions.
Why did you want to direct Rumors, and why at at PPF?
I love comedies. I love Neil Simon. I think Rumors is one of his best works and I was fortunate to perform in it with Prince William Little Theatre back in 1996. I fell in love with the whole menagerie of characters and the whirl wind story in this tale full of hysterical lies. It’s a show audiences have loved and will love.
Directing at PPF was a logical step for me with the company. I knew PPF would be open to doing this script despite the adult humor and I knew they have not done much Neil Simon over the last 16 years, so the chances of being allowed the privilege of directing it were pretty high. Rumors is a terrific show for PPF audiences since they are use to seeing a wide variety of productions ranging from traditional comedies, classic American dramas, to more edgy modern pieces on occasion, from this company. PPF has terrific stage access and does some of the best set work in the DC area, so handling the set for Rumors was not a concern. They really support their productions behind the scenes. Still, it was a number of years before we put it on the schedule. Well worth the wait!
Rumors is performed a lot. What do you think will make this production of Rumors interesting, unique, or special?
This is a common theme on most Neil Simon shows. Like The Odd Couple – done a lot. First, I believe audiences who come to see a Neil Simon play, come to laugh. They really don’t care if they have seen it before. Everyone likes to laugh, so despite the fact Neil Simon’s scripts are done a lot, people come to laugh and they know Simon delivers. Ironically, I also know tons of people who have never heard of Rumors. So for those folks, it will be fresh and new. Honestly, I am not particularly trying to break new ground with this production but I am excited to introduce audiences to it with this particular cast. I think with a comedy like Rumors, you work to do the writing, pacing, and characters justice. We have assembled a great cast and I think we will make folks laugh – a lot!
This is Neil Simon’s only farce and farce provides in own unique challenges in directing. How are you approaching these challenges, particular the challenges in comedic timing?
I pride myself as a comedic actress. I try and set the jokes and physical bits up from both the actor’s perspective as well as director’s visionary needs, all with the simple goal of making humor for the audience. Getting to effortless comedic timing takes patience and time to work and rework until it flows. My Assistant Director Susan Kaplan and I have given it that time. This was made easier by the fact that we have terrific cast, that gelled quickly, got the basics quickly, and who have been working for the past three weeks largely on pacing, flow and timing. It all comes together in the end…every show.
Introduce us to your cast and the characters they play.
Patrick David is perfect as Ken Gorman. Ken Gorman requires an actor with vast facial expressions and deadpan comedic timing. Patrick is a well versed in comedy and is bringing his experience with comedic roles to this play with fervor. Patrick is a PPF veteran, multiple WATCH nominated actor, and an audience favorite. He is also a fine dramatic actor having made his PPF debut in 2005 with Twelve Angry Men. He played the lead in Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life before we let him loose as a comic actor in Twelfth Night, Moon Over Buffalo, and most recently in Is He Dead?man in the PPF production of Rumors
Charlene Sloan was wonderful choice to play Chris Gorman. Chris has to be smart yet quick witted and at the same time a little overly nervous. Charlene displayed all of this and more including the physical humor at her auditions. Chris starts the show and I knew I would have a great start with her in this role. Charlene made her acting debut with PPF back in 2010 and she has not been off stage much since then, acting for a number of companies in a variety of roles throughout the DC area.
Andra Whitt embodies the sarcastic and sassy Claire Ganz. Really no more need be said. She is equally facile at being both subtle and bold in her comedy. She joined PPF in 2011 performing in the Jayne Victor directed (Jayne did set decoration for Rumors!) production of Auntie Mame. Andra blew audiences away with her performance in PPF’s Side Man , made them laugh as Essie in You Can’t Take It With You and has become a PPF on stage favorite as well as a major contributor behind the scenes.
Don Myers is making his PPF debut as Lenny Ganz. New to the DC area, Don has an extensive background as an improvisational actor/comic and sketch comedian in New York and Los Angeles. He is using these skills to master Lenny Ganz, who is married to Claire and is just as sarcastic and quick tongued. Don and Andra are a perfect couple on stage in their roles and Don’s final monologue is a tour-de-force piece of comedy audiences won’t want to miss.
PPF veteran Beth Hughes-Brown who plays Cookie Cusack is, and always will be, a comedic actress I admire and love to work with. I have had the honor of being on stage with her and directed by her. Beth knows how to make an audience laugh and exudes confidence on the boards that makes her lovable to watch over and over again. She joined PPF back in 2009 in their second production and has been seen on stage in many productions since. Beth is a master at making audiences laugh with her physical comedy which is key to Cookie. She is also a talented director who has directed ten shows for PPF, most recently Is He Dead? She is a WATCH nominated actress herself and her directorial outings have garnered much WATCH recognition for PPF over the years.
Craig Geoffrion plays Ernie Cusack and is another PPF veteran who has been with the company for more than a decade. He is a two time WATCH award winner and is a well known comedic actor with PPF. Ernie is a psychoanalyst and the smartest character in the play and Craig has the perfect look for the smart doctor type. More importantly, Craig brings a flair for intelligent comedy, great skill at physical comedy and outstanding vocal command to his roles. He was last on stage in Is He Dead? and is another audience favorite.
Zell Murphy is making his Providence Players debut portraying Glenn Cooper the politician. Zell has the handsome good looks and the nice clear voice that helps represent this politician type. Moreover, Zell has marvelous facial expressiveness that work terrifically for Glenn. Zell has been doing theater for a long time but is coming back from an extended stage hiatus having moved behind the scenes as Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager on a number of productions for LTA and other area companies.
Roxanne Waite is gorgeous and so is her character Cassie Cooper. Unfortunately, Cassie is so insecure despite being obviously sexy and stunning – we want to feel sorry for her, but it’s difficult. The room should stop and look when a Cassie type walks in the room – I believe the world does when Roxanne walks in the room too! Roxanne is making her PPF debut having returned to the DC area where she grew up. She has acted all across America having done shows in Maryland, New York, Hawaii and most recently Tennessee.
Eric Jones plays Officer Welch and is also making his PPF debut and is one of our younger cast members. Eric drew attention at auditions when he gave a compelling and energetic monologue. I saw incredible potential for a real cop in there with his attitude and the choices Eric makes. He is going to arrest us all! Born and raised in Brooklyn New York, Eric, grew up with a passion for the entertainment world. Shortly After moving to Virginia, he attended Old Dominion University where he studied Theatre and appeared in a number of ODU productions. Eric also writes and records music.
Lauren Sullivan, who has become a fixture behind the scenes for PPF over the past year, plays Officer Pudney, a smaller supporting role. She is making her acting debut and was a good choice for this role as she is just starting out on stage. This role allows for a new actor to learn and grow on stage, something PPF values highly. Lauren’s quiet presence and well times glances are the perfect foil for Officer Welch’s frustrated interrogations.
What do you want audiences to remember about this production of Rumors after they leave the performance?
I just want them to know and feel how hysterically entertaining live community theater can be!
Chip Gertzog is a founding member of the Providence Players of Fairfax and a past PPF President. Artistically, he has been active in all 48 PPF stage productions in some capacity. He has directed 10 PPF productions including this past fall’s WATCH recognized musical Little Shop of Horrors and the WATCH Award-winning You Can’t Take It With You in 2012. In addition, Chip has served the company as technical director, lighting, sound, set designer, stage manager, production photographer, and, on occasion, has acted for the company. He remains active on the PPF Board and in marketing, communications, and publicity for the company. He is a nineteen-time WATCH award nominee and seven-time WATCH Award winner in a variety of production categories. Above all, he is a devout community theater junkie.
Rumors plays from May 30-June 14, 2014 at the Providence Players of Fairfax performing at the James Lee Community Center Theater – 2855 Annandale Road, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, purchase tickets online, order by email at providenceplayer[email protected], or call and leave a message at (703) 425-6782.
All Photos are by Chip Gertzog, The Providence Players of Fairfax.