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Play goes in new direction: Director brings different sort of mystery to Whidbey Playhouse
As a well-traveled, veteran community theater actor and director, Kevin Wm. Meyer has seen lots of different stages and places to perform.
He was once part of a traveling theater company in Miami, Fla., and later San Francisco that would break out its act in some of the tightest quarters imaginable.
So, when Meyer arrived on Whidbey Island three years ago and got a look at the Whidbey Playhouse, it opened his eyes to the possibilities of community theater in Oak Harbor.
“I was really shocked when I saw how big this theater was,” Meyer said. “I never worked in a community theater with this size of stage or audience. It’s an amazing facility we have here.”
Meyer has brought to life a variety of different characters in acting roles he’s played since his arrival in Oak Harbor and has been busy behind the scenes as one of the playhouse’s 11 board members.
This week, he will make his Whidbey Playhouse directorial debut in the mystery, “Book of Days,” which opens to the public at 7:30 Friday night and runs through Feb. 9.
“I was really happy to get a chance to direct and hope and want to do more,” Meyer said. “I’m really happy with how the show has turned out.”
Meyer credited the dedication of local actors who had to put in long hours during a rehearsal schedule that started in October, was interrupted by holiday shows, then resumed.
“It’s so different than anything I’ve done before,” said Keziah Benson, who plays one of the lead roles in the play. “We’ve been running an entire act it seems like since the beginning of December. It’s not something that I’m used to.”
The show will be unique to audiences in several ways.
For one, the actors never leave the stage except for intermission. The cast also plays the part of a chorus that steps forward and announces dates and other facts to help viewers follow the show.
There also are no fancy sets. Lights dim while the actors move around furniture and props.
“We don’t have any stage hands,” said Allenda Jenkins, the show’s producer. “The actors do it all. It’s a different type of theater staging than what we’ve seen.”
It’s the sort of departure from the norm that Meyer hopes audiences will embrace.
The work, written in 2000 by esteemed American playwright Lanford Wilson, was one Meyer recommended to the playhouse board and ultimately won approval.
The story is a mystery set in a small town dominated by a cheese plant, a fundamentalist church and a community theater. When the cheese plant’s owner dies mysteriously on a hunting trip, his bookkeeper suspects murder.
Benson plays the part of the bookkeeper, Ruth Hoch. In the play, Hoch also is cast as Joan of Arc in a local production of George Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan and takes on the attributes of her character and seeks justice for the cheese plant owner’s death.
So at times, there is a play going on within the play. And there are shifts from real time to flashbacks.
Benson said she initially was confused.
“When I first read the script, I really didn’t know what was going on,” Benson said.
However, that’s partly according to plan, said actor Isaiah Zito, adding that the playwright leaves room for interpretation.
“I think that’s the way Lanford Wilson wrote the script,” said Zito, who plays Len Hoch, Ruth’s husband. “It’s a little bit confusing and pieces start coming together.”
Benson praised Meyer for his patience in working with actors. He brought wisdom and experience from three decades of acting and directing experience.
Meyer earned a bachelor of fine arts in acting and directing from the University of Miami before embarking on his theater career. He became artistic director for Unicorn Stage Company in San Francisco, where he also joined a group of improvised comedy performers.
“He doesn’t tell you you are doing something wrong,” Benson said. “He gives you suggestions.”
Meyer’s acting in recent plays in Oak Harbor has revealed both his humorous and dramatic sides. He offers a little of both in his acting part in “Book of Days,” playing the role of Reverend Bobby Groves.
But mostly, in this play, he was busy paying attention to others and coaching.
“Since he can do it all himself, that’s what he brings as a director,” Jenkins said. “He allows all characters to stretch and find all of the different layers of their character.”
Jenkins joked that it’s always easy for her to find Meyer.
She just has to call the Whidbey Playhouse.
“He is in the theater all the time,” she said.