Month: March 2017

Emotion is the Heart of Melodrama

“It’s easier to fix than to create,” says director and adapter Matt Tallman of Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda running March 30 to April 30 at the historic Hedgerow Theatre. This swashbuckling, romantic melodrama from the early 1900s takes audiences through a zany and adventurous world of Ruritania, a house of cards full of political intrigue and dueling heroes.

“When Jared [Reed] first talked to me about it, he talked about an adaptation in the vein of The 39 Steps or Bullshot Crummond, which are big stories featuring small casts creating spectacle through theatrical ingenuity, it appealed to me,” Tallman continued, “when I actually read Anthony Hope’s novel, I was struck by the emotional journey undertaken by our hero, Rudolf Rassendyll.”

In Hope’s adventure novel, the King of Ruritania is drugged on the eve of his coronation. In order for the King to retain the crown his coronation must proceed. Fortuitously, an English gentleman on holiday resembles the monarch and is persuaded to act as his political decoy in an effort to save the unstable court.

Like 39 and Bullshot, Zenda pulls much of its comedy from the simple fact that so few actors play so many parts. Actors Mark Swift, Josh Portera, and Allison Bloechl will do much of the comedic lifting in this show, however, Tallman knew he could find laughs in the structure of fitting an entire kingdom into five actors. Fortunately Hope’s novel provided the depth and fleshed out characters necessary to tell an adventurous melodrama, and it was clear to Tallman from the beginning that the source material could do the “heavy lifting” on its own.

“Yes, it is a swashbuckling romance,” says Tallman. “There’s comedy, there’s fun, there’s memorable characters, but I was sold by the deeper human story that ran through the show.”

Emotions are essential to melodrama. The nature of the piece is a sensational dramatic story with exaggerated characters and exciting events intended to appeal to the emotions of the audience. Bullshot Crummond plays on the antics of early spy novels. The 39 Steps satirizes heavily the film noir of the 1920s. Zenda, in its current form, is an homage to the days of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood and Captain Blood.

“I knew I had a limited number of actors, that the majority of them would be Hedgerow company members. and I knew Hedgerow’s physical space from having acted there in 39 Steps and directing Bullshot, so those things certainly influenced my writing,” said Tallman.

The challenge that interested Tallman was the approach to the material. Given the nature of the play, the madcap style of Monty Python and the wit of Mel Brooks, finding a balance between fairly broad comedy and sticking the emotional landing is what drew Tallman into the quest.

As for Tallman’s writing, he stuck to good ole fashioned trial and error as it “gives him permission to get down a draft that isn’t perfect.” Initially sticking close to Hope’s writing style, throughout the creative process Tallman found himself adjusting and playing with Hope’s structure in order to find a perfect balance of emotion and drama.

“My real entry point was when I thought of how I wanted to do the ending.  The very end of the novel as written had tremendous emotional impact on me, but wasn’t theatrical in a way that felt satisfying to me. But, before I sat down to write, I had an idea of creating a different ending that hopefully mirrors the effect the book has on me, and I hope will be impactful for audiences,” said Tallman.

Throughout the process Tallman found himself reaching back to the “depth” of the story. The book has humor, romance, adventure, and a human story that has the potential to be very moving.

“At the end of the day, having an emotional impact was key for me, “ said Tallman, “Zenda is different from other plays in its genre by virtue of the depth of the emotional life in it, which was inherent in the source material.  When we did a table read of my third draft and Jared Reed, Hedgerow’s  Producing  Artistic Director, was in tears at the end, I thought that was a good sign.”

Adult ticket prices are $34, with a $3 discount for seniors. Tickets for those 30 and under, as well as students, are $20. For groups of 10 or more, tickets are $18. Prices include all fees and are subject to change. For reservations or more info, call 610-565-4211 or visit Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media).

Vibrations of a Good Story

What constitutes a good story? Good acting? A great arc? A strong protagonist? A compelling antagonist? A witty sidekick? A laughable fool? For centuries man has been writing and creating tales. Be it the master works of Chekhov or the eye of Kubrick, our obsession with drama and spoken word spans all of man’s history.

Remember the days of yesteryear when vaudeville burned the microphone with witty banter? Or when suspense played on the minds ability to fill in the void? Return to those days of mystery and laughter from the ole towering General Electric Radio at Hedgerow Theatre Company as it presents a new Storyboard series of Radio Mystery Theatre: Theatre for the Mind.

Homer filled our dreams with the spoken word and created heroic odysseus and influential gods. Shakespeare’s use of language in unparalleled in evoking human emotion and thought through speech. These masters of the spoken word turned language into music.

Our ear and brain are acutely tuned to create truth from this barest of experience. For years, this power of sound  was capitalized on by one of the most revolutionary tools of its era, the radio. Men such as Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and Braun (yes, that one) put their focus on the technology and a boom occurred from use of frequency to the standardization of the radio from submarines to homes.

Today, podcasts are reinvesting in the power of headphones open our imagination to the sound of great voices. However, for a generation Amos & Andy, Suspense!, The Shadow, Buck Rogers, Jack Benny, and The Adventures of Superman filled the airwaves and made great language king.

Drama, comedy, and variety could be found at all hours of the day, next to news and advertisements seeking to reach the masses. From the late 1800s to the 1960s radio was creating the “theatre of the mind.” Tales such as Three Skeleton Key were being produced with writers like Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald fueling their plots.

The radio powered the sounds of vaudeville, American folk music, and Red Rider.  By 1944 over 30 million U.S. homes had 57 million radio sets. However, by 1949 nearly 4 million TV sets were produced and the stories that filled audiences ears and minds moved to the new medium.

Now, Hedgerow brings the “Theatre of the Mind” back to life. Bringing mystery, adventure, and comedy, Hedgerow presents a new Storyboard series, “ The Radio Mystery Plays,” featuring the voice talents of the Hedgerow Theatre company.

Running March 10 to the 19, this show will put human voice and the imagination back in the driver’s seat.