It may have been more than 60 years since the Korean War ended, but the story of one of its fictional mobile army surgical hospital units holds relevance on one Oak Harbor stage.
The memorable characters of M*A*S*H 4077, with their bucket hats, Hawaiian shirts and martini glasses, descend on the island beginning Feb. 7 at Whidbey Playhouse.
The adaptation of the 1970 film runs at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays until Feb. 23.
The show follows the hijinks and hardships of a mobile surgical unit posted in the “swamp” on the Korean peninsula and the influence of the “couple of weirdos,” Capts. Hawkeye Pierce and Duke Forrest.
Director Cynthia Kleppang admitted she wouldn’t necessarily have picked such a beloved and thus intimidating play, but she was still “up to the challenge.”
“I just fell madly in love with the cast,” she said.
Upon receiving the script last March, she knew the perfect person to have at her side for the production; Jim Reynolds is making his directorial debut with the show.
The retired sailor provided some of the crucial technical advising to ensure military realism, at least where it helped reduce distraction, using his 30 years of experience. The cast is composed of veterans and active-duty service members as well as experienced Whidbey Playhouse veterans and newcomer actors, Kleppang said.
She described the actors as “just as wacky” as the characters in the long-running TV show.
Connor Magnoli, who plays Cpl. Walter “Radar” Reilly has been stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island for a little more than a year and a half, and M*A*S*H will serve as his Whidbey Playhouse debut. He and his wife are both avid actors, but with three very young children, it was unrealistic for them both to perform in the same play, he said.
His wife Tina Magnoli took the last production of “Elf Jr.,” and now it’s Connor’s turn. As he’s prepared, he has learned to rein in his naturally outgoing personality in order to embody the more reserved Radar. Being active duty, he said, he understands the setting and “being in a strange place, with strange people, doing strange things.”
The audience will follow the nurses, doctors and their lovable house boy Ho-Jon through the damp rainy season, bitter cold and muggy heat. There’s dead cats, football and plenty of Japanese music, which Kleppang reminds the audience in her director’s notes was what was available in the region at the time.
The humor is light hearted and more family friendly than the movie. But the cast did gather to watch the film as part of their preparation, according to Tallie Boyer, who plays Capt. Bridget McCarthy.