By Ron Newberry
A short distance down the hall from the entrance of the Oak Harbor Library, a door is propped open to a room and there is the sound of stifled laughter.
Ken Bates, a veteran of the local theater, is having trouble holding it in. He is amused by the antics displayed by Mary Kay Hallen, who sits across the table from him and is coughing up a storm as they both read lines of a play during a public reading of Paul Rudnick’s “I Hate Hamlet.”
The play calls for Hallen’s character, Lillian, a smoker, to cough and Hallen holds nothing back.
“Lillian, Lillian. Are you OK?” Bates says, reading the part of Andrew.
“I am fine,” Hallen responds sternly.
Bates and Hallen were part of a small group of Oak Harbor residents on hand Thursday participating in a “Play Reading for Fun” event sponsored by the Whidbey Playhouse.
The Whidbey Playhouse hosts the readings twice a month. The aim is to get public feedback on potential future productions, give local writers a chance to present their scripts and to allow theater lovers a chance to read lines in a less intimidating setting.
“It’s an opportunity for people to get together who can maybe live vicariously by reading a play instead of doing all the work it takes to be on stage,” said Stan Thomas, who is on the board of the Whidbey Playhouse. “For the playhouse, it gives us an opportunity to get opinions from people on different plays.”
The Whidbey Playhouse began holding play readings last month as it focuses on potential productions for upcoming seasons. The playhouse is looking for plays to run during its offseason and uses the “Play Reading for Fun” gatherings as a chance to gain solicitations, ideas and feedback.
On Thursday, a group of seven Oak Harbor residents took turns reading the final act of a play written by local writer Helen Bates titled “Mighty Like a Rose” then read “I Hate Hamlet.” Bates’ play chronicles the life of an Irish immigrant named Rose McQueen, who has the gift of healing, and her sea-faring husband Patrick. It is set in Coupeville in the 19th century.
“It is strictly a figment of my imagination,” Helen Bates said. “It’s not based on anyone real.”
Yet, it is an example of a local work that the Whidbey Playhouse is trying to solicit for its 2014-15 season and beyond. The playhouse produces five plays during its season and looks for other plays to run during the offseason.
Those who participate in the readings, referred to as “Play Reading for Fun Troupe,” are given an opportunity to provide detailed feedback on forms.
In October, a playhouse committee will further evaluate plays under consideration and conducts more readings. Ultimately, a point system is used to decide which plays will be produced.
“I think it’s a great boost for a local writer,” Helen Bates said. “We don’t have that many options.”
Carol Rhodes, an artist and writer from Oak Harbor, participated in the reading after learning about it at the library. She also is considering submitting a play she wrote.
There was a light-hearted spirit to Thursday’s meeting the with the whole group clearly having fun participating. By the time they began reading “I Hate Hamlet,” any shyness to belt out lines with enthusiasm was long gone.
Most in the group were playhouse members who had acting experience, but not all.
Retired pastor Jack Sondericker, 84, was participating in his second reading.
“I like the idea of just being able to read and not having to memorize,” Sondericker said.
“This is perfect for folks who want to act who are afraid to get in front of an audience,” Helen Bates said.
The “Play Reading for Fun Troupe” meets twice a month. The next meeting is 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27 at the Oak Harbor Library. To participate or learn more, contact Stan Thomas at 360-632-5090.