by Janet Gilmore
This coming weekend is your last chance to see Stagecrafters’ production of “Tartuffe” at 8130 Germantown Ave. If you go, you’ll see what looks like a gorgeous company of 17th century-looking French men and women. Backstage, however (where I work as a costumer), the troupe disrobes to reveal a very diverse group of people.
For instance, actor Kyle Paul Dandridge (Damis) bears a tattoo on the side of his torso, “Strength through Pain.” During rehearsals he practices his lines with fierce concentration, then sings a funny song, then drops to do a few sets of push-ups while singing, followed by practicing sword-play. His intensity impresses everyone.
Kyle says, “I knew I wanted to act from age of seven.” When not acting, Kyle coaches boys’ varsity track and field at Chestnut Hill Academy, probably out-running, out-jumping and out-throwing the kids he coaches.
In a much quieter way, Chris Sarnowski (M. Loyal) sits in the green room through most of the performance, wearing headphones, following the script and shushing everyone backstage. Away from the theater, he is a computer programmer at the University of Pennsylvania, supporting medical research. He also has an M.A. in Mathematics with a strong interest in philosophy. Chris is one of several people at Stagecrafters who do many jobs, the kind of thing you see in small circuses where the ticket-taker appears on a trapeze later, then runs back and sells popcorn. In “Tartuffe,” Chris doesn’t appear until the last few minutes, but he adds charm and drama to the plot.
Two actresses are (or were) high school students. Jane Schumacher (Mariane) just graduated from Moorestown High School. “I have lots of practice playing ditzes,” she says, batting her big blue eyes. She’s played the roles of two silly young girls, one southern American and now one French, for Stagecrafters. Her inspiration to become an actress occurred “when I took one look at the costume the Queen of Hearts got to wear and said, ‘I want to wear that.’”
In her quest, Jane became a trained singer and dancer. She is tall, pretty, extremely professional and very serious about her acting, so it’s a shock to hear her on her cell phone talking teenage-speak to her friends. In the fall, Jane will attend the Mason Gross School of Arts in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She says someone once told her, “Don’t act unless you can’t live without it.” Luckily for us, Jane can’t live without it.
The actor who plays Tartuffe, Chris Lepore, has lots of experience but has never played a villain before. “I have three kids; my oldest, Steven, is 14, and I have seven-year-old boy-girl twins (Zoey and Hayden). They were the chief beneficiaries of the funny voices I like to do. I definitely feel I worked out some of my ‘acting itch’ by acting out with them. Granted, toddlers are not as satisfying an audience as a full house of adults, but then again, sometimes they’re the most satisfying audience imaginable.”
Jim Broyles (Valere) has come the farthest geographically to become part of the cast; he’s from Oklahoma, and his nickname in college was “Quick Jim Two-Step.” This year he’s been lucky enough to do two Stagecrafters shows in a single season.
When you see the white-haired matron Mme. Pernelle on-stage, defending that evil noodnik, Tartuffe, you would never guess that she’s the pretty blonde actress, Susan Mattson. Her white wig, make-up and demeanor are a perfect disguise.
Like many actors, she has two day jobs — Office Manager at Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation and a substitute Spanish teacher at Agnes Irwin School. She LOVES her role as Madame Pernelle.
Ira Block (Police Officer) made himself memorable to the backstage crew by frequently bringing along his golden retriever named Bear. Dogs are not usually welcome in a theater, but Bear is a certified Therapy Dog and a weekly visitor/worker at Abington Hospital. Besides, that dog has the most beautiful eyelashes in the animal kingdom. We love Bear and feel lucky we got to meet him.
Ira also practices law. Although he’s always had an interest in acting, “Tartuffe” is his first role. When asked about the terror factor for someone who’s never acted before, he said, “Just high enough immediately before every performance to remind me that this is my first acting performance.”
Kathleen Mulhearn (Dorine) has had the acting bug forever. “Ever since I can remember, I and my brothers would put on shows for our parents at home. It is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.” Kathleen also works as an Associate Project Director at an advertising agency called G2.
Her pet peeve is people who are not involved in theater not taking the work seriously. Many people say to her, “Oh that must be fun” when they learn she is an actor. “And they are most impressed with how we memorize all those lines (which is really the most elementary part of the work). Of course it is fun, but it is also hard work. Live theater is an important asset in this age of technology where everything is fast-paced and impersonal. It keeps a sense of humanity in our world, creates community and can transform lives.”
The other high school student in the show is Claire Adams (Flipote). There is a scene in the play where the wicked Mme. Pernelle slaps Flipote and calls her a slut. The entire backstage crew winces. Claire, just 16, is one of the sweetest sweetie-pies in pie-land. “Tartuffe” opened two days after her last final exam in Mandarin at Central High, so she tried out and got the role.
What’s it like for a modern teenager to wear a 17th century dress? “I actually enjoy wearing period dresses (and I’d probably enjoy wearing period guys’ clothes, too). Apart from the tightness and lace, I feel pretty and elegant. Though I wear pants and a t-shirt on a daily basis, the little girl in me adores wearing costumes from another country or time period.”
For more information about “Tartuffe,” call 215-247-8881.