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What's Next: A Very Oblonski Valentine

Our season comes to a close with lots of laughs in the small town of Stephen's Point. Join us November 10-11 and 16-18 at 7:30 pm for Patti Ross's A Very Oblonski Valentine!

A Very Oblonski Valentine is an original comedy written by our very own artistic director, Patti Ross, who will direct it alongside Mike Maricone. The name Oblonski might ring a bell for our long time followers--does anyone remember the three brothers from Unexpected Gifts? Years have passed, and middle brother Butch is about to wed his long-time paramour Lily Gradisak. But there’s a problem! The brothers have promised their dearly departed mother that Archie, oldest of the three, will be the first to marry. Finding him a bride just may throw a wrench into the marital plans of the two lovebirds. A pair of fussy wedding planners and a zealous matchmaker join forces to introduce Archie to connubial bliss, but will their efforts be for better or for worse? I sat down with our playwright to get the inside scoop!

Casey: A Very Oblonski Valentine is a sort-of sequel to your play, Unexpected Gifts, which the Bobcat Players produced twice. However, for those who weren't around for that show, can you tell us what we need to know for this one?

Patti: The Oblonski brothers were a part of the ensemble of Unexpected Gifts. Along with Josiah Putnam, the narrator, they are the only characters who reappear after the original Christmas show. The setting of this show is still Stephen's Point, a quaint town somewhere unspecified in the northeast, but the specific locale has shifted from Anna Rose's Tea House to the Oblonski Brothers Tool, Die, Hardware, and Feed Store. No prior knowledge is necessary to follow this show, except possibly for the fact that, while they are highly enthusiastic, the Oblonskis are not endowed with much brain power. But the audience will catch on to that in the first ten minutes of the show.

Casey: What was your inspiration for writing A Very Oblonski Valentine?

Patti: The Oblonskis were an unqualified hit in the original Christmas show. Audiences appeared to love their good natures and dim wits. They managed to take slapstick to a new level. Because there was such a connection between audience and actors, I felt they might stand up to a story of their own. And our Butch Oblonski, Russ Russell, planted a seed in my mind when he said he would like to see me develop a story concerning him and his paramour, Lily Gradisak. That germ of an idea took root and resulted in this show.

I knew from the start that I wanted to create the same rapport that our actors had established in Unexpected Gifts. That meant two things: I needed Frank Myers to reprise the homey, wise, insightful character of Joe Putnam, and I needed as many of the Oblonskis as possible. We were fortunate to reconnect with our original Archie and Butch. We are on our third Chubby, but each Chubby has brought something new and unique to the table. My returning actors are so dedicated to their roles that they have been waiting to create them again for years. In that respect, I felt very lucky to have them back. And audiences also will like our new Chubby. His "brothers" warm up to him beautifully.

Frank Myers creates Joe Putnam with the wisdom and magic of the Stage Manager of Thorton Wilder's Our Town. That definitely was the inspiration for his character, although I never would aspire to the heights of a master dramatist like Wilder. But I knew from the start that Frank would be the philosopher, historian, observer, and humanitarian that the play needed to ground it. So he became--quite capably--this poor playwright's narrative voice.

Casey: You're too modest. Do you have a favorite character or scene?

Patti: I honestly don't. I am truly a novice playwright, but I feel a sense of achievement with every character I created for this show. Aside from Joe Putnam, they all are pretty over the top, but I hope I managed to make them all endearing in their own ways. I have to tell you we have a lot of performers rivaling one another for scene stealing--in a very good way.

Casey: You started rehearsals almost as soon as Meredith Dayna Levy's Decision Height was over, which means you've been rehearsing for a few weeks now. How is the rehearsal process going so far?

Patti: So far rehearsals are proceeding smoothly, and hopefully they are as much fun for the actors as they are for those of us in the directors' seat. We have amassed such a strong ensemble of performers, and in most cases we can just let them go and bring their characters to life on the stage. They connect intuitively with the characters they are playing. And they always are willing to take suggestions and try on new ideas for size. Two hours fly by very quickly, and the process seems to be working.

Casey: I think that speaks volumes to the well-developed characters you have created in this show. Can you tell us about your partnership with your fellow director, Mike Maricone?

Patti: Mike and I have a long history together, having taught together for 35 years at Freedom. We grew up in the profession together. We collaborated on both productions of Unexpected Gifts, and we made a great team. Mike has the most marvelous insights as a director, and he holds actors to a very high standard in the most agreeable and non-threatening manner. He really gets the most out of his actors. It's a pleasure to work with him and is a very comfortable fit.

Casey: How does it feel to co-direct a piece you've written?

Patti: It's pretty familiar territory when I am directing something I've written. In my mind I know how I want the dialogue delivered and the scene played out. But it's always a pleasant surprise when an actor surprises me with a delivery I didn't anticipate or a recommendation I didn't consider. And Mike has this uncanny sense for getting the most out of every scene. Likewise, Patty Hamilton, our stage manager, has this sense of what characters should be wearing, what props they should be using, etc. In other words, collaboration is the key here.

Casey: Are there more stories to tell in Stephen's Point, or is this the end of this series?

Patti: Both our stage manager, Patty Hamilton, and our actors joke frequently about the Oblonskis having babies or the Oblonskis living in a nursing home in their golden years. But I think this is the end of Stephen's Point for me. It's been a good run, and I've loved creating and recreating the people of this town. However, one has to learn to let go. And I think, once this story is actualized, it will be time.

Casey: Do you have any other plays in the works?

Patti: I like dabbling in playwriting, which happened to be my absolute most difficult course in college. So every page of dialogue I attempt is a challenge. Presently I am working on a one-act that is far more serious in nature than the Oblonski show. But it's not suitable for performance--at least not yet and definitely not on our community theater stage.

Casey: So if you could sum it up for us, what can audiences look forward to with the last show of the season?

Patti: It is my hope that they can look forward to a night of laughter, which is so critical especially in today's world. I hope they can laugh until their sides ache. But I also would like for the audience to reflect upon some of the seriousness behind all the silliness that comes with this show. The show is frivolous, but in its own right, it also is a tribute to all kinds of love: the romantic love between Butch and Lily; the brotherly love of the Oblonski brothers; the love of a parent or a spouse who has died; the love among friends. I want A Very Oblonski Valentine to be just that--a valentine--an over-the-top but well meaning celebration of all the wondrous kinds of love that keep us going--and that keep us connected--despite all the uncertainties and darkness we confront in a very complex world.

So it seems that we are bringing it around full circle this year with the Bobcat Players season! We began with our outreach show, What I Did For Love, and we close with A Very Oblonski Valentine. Tickets are on sale now for this outrageous comedy! You can purchase at the Hostess Gift Shoppe in Beaver, by calling our box office at (724) 494-1680 or online. Tickets are only $10, and the cast is the perfect combination of audiences favorites and fresh new faces. We can't wait to see you there--in Stephen's Point at the Oblonski Brothers Tool, Die, Hardware, and Feed Store!

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