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Play Opens Doors on Family Secrets

It's one thing to hear secrets yet quite another when they are your secrets.

Every family has experiences that they keep among themselves and safeguard from outside ears — even fictional ones.

So emotions quickly run high when one upstate New York family discovers their playwright son and brother, John, has written a script about them—and now wants their permission to produce it.

This weekend, the Fort Hill Players bring A.R. Gurney’s “The Cocktail Hour” to  in White Plains as kept-under-wraps skeletons emerge from very proper closets.

"Nobody goes to the theater anymore,'' says Bradley, the well-off 75-year-old patriarch. He and his wife, Ann, feel modern theater is too loud and improper and recall when theater was a sophisticated couple, a minor indiscretion, and a happy ending.  

John’s sister, Nina, has doubts because her character has a minor role. 

The family’s confrontation takes place during cocktail hour, and as the martinis flow, so do the recriminations and revelations, showing what John wrote is closer to the truth than his family was willing to admit.

“My dad was a lot like Bradley except we were broke!” said Scott Griffith about his stage character. One of six children, Scott said, “He was a federal employer/military, who believed in good hard work, a cocktail(s) at night, and family values."

 Griffith said interspersed with tender moments are ones of strong emotion when Bradley and his son butt heads. “I’m really hard on him,” Griffith said. 

John is played by Greg McCormack, a community theater veteran debuting with Fort Hill Players. He described John as “a hold-over of sixties liberalism who is not above using his family's influence and, especially, money, when it suits him.”

“I like the part because of the gamut of emotions, “McCormack said. “He can be angered in one scene, moved in the next, all with an underlying current of haughtiness.” 

Equally as stuffy as her husband Bradley is Ann, “very upper crust, has a certain way of looking at the world and therefore is aghast at what she sees as violations of her world,” said Catherine Carter, who plays her role.

“Ann likes to pride herself on her sense of humor and her wit,” she said. “As we got deeper into rehearsals, I felt her presence more and more and just love her.”

Her experience with the cast and director mirror what others said.

“Everyone has been professional and we all get along famously,” Carter said, describing one scene where it took several takes for her not to laugh.

White Plains resident Stewart Hanges feels fortunate to direct this particular script, which takes place in upstate New York during the mid-1970s.

“From the first day of rehearsal I told the cast it’s important for the audience to believe they (actors) are a family,” Hanges said. “I think most people can relate to this play about family dynamics since most of us know what that’s about.”

Stage managers Emmy Schwartz and Nan Weiss found it ironic that the show takes place during a family cocktail hour, however “most of the are non-drinkers. It is definitely not an example of life imitating art.”

Now in its 73rd year, Fort Hill Players has called the Rochambeau School in White Plains home since the late 1960s. It produces two full-length plays (October and March) annually as well as a studio production in January.

Co-sponsored by White Plains Department of Parks and Recreation, the group provides free children’s entertainment in the city’s parks during July and is funded by the ArtsAlive Grant Program of ArtsWeschester.

The supportive ensemble “is allowing me to worry only about directing the play,” Hanges said. “Most community theater groups can't afford their directors, this luxury.”

Show times are March 18, 25 and 26 at 8 p.m. and March 19 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the theater, 228 Fisher Ave., White Plains.

Tickets are $17 general admission and $14 for students and seniors and can be purchased at the door or online.  Parking is free. For information, call 914-946-5143.

Michael Woyton March 18, 2011 at 09:52 PM
I saw this play many years ago with the late, great Nancy Marchand at the Promenade Theater on Manhattan's Upper West Side. It's a great script.

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