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Spotlight on A Bad Year for Tomatoes

By • Jul 6th, 2008 • Category: Interviews

Listen to Mike talk with Mike Hartsfield about Laurel Mill Playhouse’s production of A Bad Year for Tomatoes [MP3 14:38 6.7MB].

SBR: This is Mike Clark with ShowBizRadio. Today I am talking with Michael Hartsfield, the director of Laurel Mill Playhouse production of A Bad Year For Tomatoes. Thank you for talking with me, Michael.

Mike Hartsfield: My pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.

SBR: So let’s start with the easy question. What is A Bad Year For Tomatoes about? I am not familiar with that show.

Mike Hartsfield: A Bad Year For Tomatoes is a play by John Patrick. It is a charming a short play, under two hours long. It is a comedy. The title is kind of ironic considering the problem we are having with tomatoes right now. It actually as nothing to do with that. It is a play about a Hollywood actress named Myra Marlow. She decides to leave Hollywood after many years. She started as a child actress and grew up in Hollywood. She decides to leave Hollywood and rents a small cottage in a small town in Vermont, called Beaver Haven. She lives there to write her autobiography. She hopes to have some privacy and finish her book. Needless to say she gets anything but privacy. With nosy neighbors and all sorts of shenanigans that happen from the point where she does not get her work done. She has to deal with all sort sorts of crazy characters that live in her community. So that is the basic plot of the play.

SBR: So is it a large cast?

Mike Hartsfield: Actually not a large cast. There are only seven cast members. Myra Marlow is the star played by Cheryl Walker. Her agent, Tom Lamont, who comes in and out throughout the play to try to convince her to come back to Hollywood, is played by Joe Mariano. Then you have some community members in Beaver Haven, Vermont. Two characters who call themselves the “hospitality ladies” Cora Gump, played by Maureen Rogers, and Reba Harper played by Marie Sproul. They are your stereotypical nosy neighbors who gossip about everybody else and are always popping in unannounced and unwanted. A third nosy neighbor, Wila Mae Wilcox, played by Sabrina DeLee, who is rumored to be a witch of sorts. She reads tea leaves and tells fortunes and all these sort of things. The other sort of strange character is Mr. Piney played by Denny Meyers. He is kind of your stereotypical backwoods jack of all trades. He shows up trying to sell wood. He sells manure, he traps skunks, he kills hogs, and that sort of thing. Then there is the sheriff who come in at the end, played by John Hayes, who is thought to solve a murder that happens.

Myra Marlow, in order to get some privacy, decides to invent a fictional crazy sister. Cheryl Walker also plays the crazy sister as well to scare away the neighbors. The neighbors think she ends up murdering her sister which is where the sheriff becomes involved. He comes in and solves the whole problem. It is a relatively small cast of seven. They are very colorful for sure.

SBR: How long have you been working on the show?

Mike Hartsfield: We had auditions the end of April. We started rehearsing in May a couple times a week. We opened last weekend of June the 27th. It it has been not quite two full months that we have been working on this. It is a nice enough and short enough show. We practice about two nights a week on a regular basis. It was really a professional group of people to work with. They were very dedicated and worked on their own. It came together nicely in a relatively short amount of time.

SBR: Were there any challenges in this show or things that you were not expecting that popped up?

Mike Hartsfield: Even though it is a small cast and Laurel Mill is a small theater, the timing was probably the biggest challenge. Even though it is a short script, under 60 pages, the dialogue is very witty and a lot of short back and forth dialogue. From the director’s standpoint and the actor’s standpoint that is the biggest challenge. The lines are simple for a lot of the characters. The simplicity of the lines only works if they are timed well. On the beat and a very fast sort of back and forth dialogue between a number of the characters. That was a challenge.

Cheryl, who plays Myra Marlow, had an additional challenge. In the movies she had what you would call a voice over. She has a prerecorded conversation with herself that she has to act off of a number of times throughout the show. That can be kind of a difficult thing for an actor to do well. She handled it well and was able to pull it off very nicely.

SBR: So, you actually had her record her voice over lines?

Mike Hartsfield: We did. Both as Myra Marlow, she has a pre recorded conversation and then she also recorded her crazy sister’s voice that she can play for the neighbors to try to scare them away. We had to record a number of different tracks because they are sprinkled throughout the show. I am also working the tech booth. Now that the directing part is over the next challenge is to make sure I get the timing down for the tech part of it right and get the timing down. We decided to go for separate tracks instead of trying to time the dialogue that happened between the conversations. Instead of the person who keeps hitting start and pause, we did it all before the start of the show. It has worked out well.

SBR: We are doing a show with the Northern Virginia Woodbridge Community College doing Shakespeare Abridged. It has a ton of sound cues as well, so that is what we are working on this afternoon.

Mike Hartsfield: Oh, yes, sometimes those can be a bigger headache than the actual play itself, if things don’t work out or the timing is not right. Alex Campbell does a lot of the recording work for Laurel Mill and has been helpful in helping us and getting that down. It will get smoother as the show progresses. The first weekend had some technical issues. More with the CD than anything, but I think we worked those out so they should all be set for this weekend.

SBR: You are one of the only theaters in the area performing on July 4th weekend. Why is that?

Mike Hartsfield: You may have to ask the producers over there that actual question. But, as you know, working with community theater, it is tough to have dark nights, if there is a potential to have any sort of a crowd. Being a non profit and so any time you are closed you are not bringing in any kind of revenue. I think the final decision came because Laurel, the city of Laurel, actually celebrates their community wide events on Saturday the 5th, not on the 4th itself. So the decision was made that since we are a Laurel community theater and the Laurel community itself was not having it’s big celebration that night, that we would go ahead and have a show and see who shows up. Hopefully we will have a few people come out and make it their fourth of July celebration at the theater.

SBR: I think it is a neat idea. We will see how it goes I guess.

Mike Hartsfield: Yes we’ll see. You never know. It could be very small or it could be a huge crowd. We will just have to wait and see.

This has been a very nice experience for me. I teach English and direct the drama program at Mt. St. Joseph’s High School in Baltimore, Maryland. I have also directed the children’s show two summers ago. This was my first experience actually directing and working with adults. I was a little nervous going in. I was not sure if the process would change a whole lot, but they have really been a great group of people to work with and it has been a great experience for me.

I am going to do a one act here at Laurel Mill after this show at the end of August. Maureen Rogers has asked me to look around and maybe do the first show here in the Fall. So we will see if we find one that fits. Scheduling is going to be pretty tight at that point. We have a school show coming up in the Fall as well so we will see how that works as well. But it has certainly been a nice experience.

SBR: What is different about kids versus adults when you do the directing?

Mike Hartsfield: I think the professionalism of the adults and their willingness and their ability. Kids are willing to work independently, but may not know how to go about it. I think with adults their experience and their knowledge of their personal craft. Whether it is just community theater or other things. Cheryl Walker has done some more professional type of work in film and tv and so forth. I think that has been the major difference. You can give notes or give direction and know that the adults are not only going to remember it and take it to heart, but also work on it in their lines and so forth on their own, and not just wait until the next rehearsal to think about the show again. I think a lot of the times kids will sort of be “out of sight, out of mind.” If they are not at rehearsal they are really not thinking about it too much. I think that has probably been the major difference.

Also just the input of the cast. I’m always open as the director to suggestions by actors and others. Even from kids, because I want their characters to be as natural for them as possible. So things that they can bring to the table, I certainly appreciate. The suggestions that the cast and the actors have been able to bring and add to the script or to bring to my direction or the blocking or things like that have really been invaluable. I think it is really amazing. It has really made the show theirs as much as it is mine as the director. I think they really feel invested in the show. I think it really shows in their performance which has been great.

SBR: So tell us how people can get tickets and dates and times of performances.

Mike Hartsfield: The tickets they can get at the door. Reservations are suggested in case there is a shortage of seats. The telephone number at Laurel Mill for reservations is 301-617-9906. It is a recorded message so if people want to call in and make a reservation they can just leave their name and number and how many tickets they need and they will be held for them at the Laurel Mill box office. You can also come right to the theatre. We usually have seats available. That is usually not a problem. Tickets are $13.

We opened on June 27th and run every Friday and Saturday from June 27th through July 19th at 8 pm. We have two Sunday matinees on Sunday July 6th and Sunday July 20th at 2 pm. We have one Thursday evening show on July 10th which is a Pay What you Can Night. We added that at Laurel Mill about a year ago. Not only for the pay what you can aspect, but for the actors and other people who are involved in other shows at other theaters who often can not come to other shows because they are performing. The Thursday night performance usually allows other community theater people or other theatre people in general to to come out to a show that does not conflict with something that they are doing at another space. That is how they can get tickets and we encourage people to come out.

It is a very funny show. It is not inappropriate for young people although it is an adult show. It is family friendly. It is a fun show and a short show. It starts at 8 pm and is under two hours, that includes intermission. So you are out of the theater by 10 or 4 pm if it is a matinee. It makes it a nice evening or a nice afternoon. So I certainly encourage people to come on out.

SBR: Is there anything else we should touch base on?

Mike Hartsfield: I think that pretty much covers it. After A Bad Year For Tomatoes finishes up Laurel Mill has it’s annual youth production. This year they are doing Cats, which is quite a production, but I hear it is going well. It opens the first weekend in August. That will run for a month and then there will be three weekend’s worth of one act shows and then the Fall season begins. There are lots of opportunities and they can always go to laurelmillplayhouse.org to learn about upcoming shows and auditions. We are always looking for directors and all those sorts of things. That is another way to find out about the show and the theater.

SBR: Thank you very much for talking with me today. I do appreciate it.

Mike Hartsfield: Well, thank you.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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