When Ingrid Schwalbe started looking for places for she and her husband to settle into their retirement years, Whidbey Island emerged for a variety of reasons.
Coming from Cheney, they were attracted by the island’s greener pastures and intrigued by the rain shadow that keeps North and Central Whidbey drier than most places in Western Washington.
And there was another appeal.
“Even before we moved here, I researched the theater,” Schwalbe said.
The couple’s decision to come to Oak Harbor in the spring has turned into a boon for the Whidbey Playhouse.
Ingrid Schwalbe brings an extensive acting resume to the island, including professional theater in Europe and in Dallas.
She took 18 years off from acting to raise their daughter, then started back up last year in community theater in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Schwalbe is making her Whidbey Playhouse debut in “The Lion in Winter,” which is being performed Nov. 6-22.
“We had heard about Anacortes,” Schwalbe said, referring to Anacortes Community Theatre. “People over in Spokane know about Anacortes. People also said there’s other theater here. But I wanted to see what Oak Harbor had and I was just floored with what they have here. This is better than some Broadway theaters, what they have here. It’s just incredible. I just wanted to be part of it.”
Schwalbe is tackling a lead role as Queen Eleanor, sharing the spotlight with Ben Honeycutt, who plays Henry II, King of England.
The two squabble frequently in the comedic drama, which is set in 1183. The quarrels are mostly about which of their three sons will be heir to the throne as Henry contemplates this reality in “the winter” of his life.
The queen’s attempt to undermine him leads her to imprisonment in the castle for 10 years. Henry II wants his successor to be Prince John, played by 16-year-old Kyle Caporgno; but Eleanor wants Prince Richard, played by Nate Edmiston, to be king.
“It’s predominantly a drama but there are lots of comedic elements in it,” said Stan Thomas, the director. “It’s kind of like an ‘All in the Family’ thing. They deal with serious subjects. There’s some comedic moments based upon typical human nature in families.”
Honeycutt also is back into theater after an 18-year break. Thomas urged him to try out for his play after seeing him audition in the playhouse’s 50th anniversary season’s opener, “Godspell.”
Honeycutt, who retired in Oak Harbor after 20 years in the Navy, also acted in Europe in community theater and has been onstage since he was a child.
He knew it was only a matter of time until he got onstage at the Whidbey Playhouse.
“It’s something of an eye-opener for me,” he said. “For the first time in my life, I am being forced to understand that ‘Yes Ben, you’re 52 years old.’ I am playing a guy who is at the winter time in his life.”
Fortunately, he said, he has Schwalbe alongside him.
“Because she is a professional, she has helped me a lot,” Honeycutt said. “She’s pulled me aside and given me really good advice in a couple of instances that I’ve integrated into the character.”
“They have wonderful chemistry onstage,” Thomas said.
Other cast members are Jerry Wible, who plays Prince Geoffrey; Chris Barrett, who plays Phillip II, the king of France; and Anna Schenck, who plays Princess Alais. This is Schenck’s first time acting at the playhouse.
She said she’s learned a lot from the cast around her, particularly Schwalbe, who holds a bachelor’s degree in theater and master’s degree in acting.
“I think she’s amazing,” Schenck said. “I find myself actually getting caught up watching her and I’ll forget a line or something. She’s just very impressive.”
Lion in Winter
“The Lion in Winter,” a play by James Goldman, opens Friday night at the Whidbey Playhouse. The comedic drama, directed by Stan Thomas and produced by Allenda Jenkins, will be performed Nov. 6-22. Tickets are $20 and may be purchased at the playhouse’s ticket office at 730 SE Midway Boulevard in Oak Harbor. For more information, call 360-679-2237 or go to www.whidbeyplayhouse.com