Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cloverdale Playhouse: History in the Making

The Cloverdale Playhouse in Montgomery will open its inaugural season -- February 2-12 -- with D. L. Coburn's tragicomedy The Gin Game, the 1978 Pulitzer Prize winning play that then starred Jessica Tandy & Hume Cronyn, America's first-couple of theatre.

And Montgomery is fortunate in having its own "first couple" -- Eleanor Davis and Bill Nowell -- in the roles of Fonsea Dorsey and Weller Martin, two independent-minded seniors who match wits and wills over a series of card games played in a retirement home, revealing much about their lives and ours in frequently funny and always perceptive ways.

Under Artistic Director Greg Thornton's direction, this production is eagerly awaited by the Montgomery theatre going community. Of Ms. Davis & Mr. Nowell, Mr. Thornton says: "The history that Eleanor and Bill carry into this production is impressive...the fact that they are gracing the Playhouse stage with their performances in this inaugural production is a tremendous christening of the Cloverdale Playhouse."

Between them these two actors have performed on virtually every stage in the area. And they do it for the sheer "love" of it: "amateur" in the very best sense of the word.

Regardless of their off-stage careers, Ms. Davis & Mr. Nowell have rarely been off the stage, playing in comedies, musicals, and serious drama in featured roles and cameo appearances, always bringing a sense of professionalism & joy while sharing their expertise & experience with neophyte actors (often mentoring them as well), and always open to improving their craft. --- And audiences familiar with their stage careers respond to their mere presence on program cast lists knowing they are in for a treat, a few surprises, and a confidence in performing that make them feel they are in good hands.

Curiously, they have never been on stage together; and they are revelling in this opportunity. There are a lot of challenges to their complex roles. Mr. Nowell has wanted to do his role for a long time and he and Ms. Davis find it to be their "biggest challenge and most rewarding experience", largely due in their estimation to the organic direction of Mr. Thornton who "molds them with suggestions so naturally that actors make discoveries for themselves." They are quick to notice that as an actor himself, Mr. Thornton "knows the needs of the actors he directs."

And the mutual admiration extends to designers, stage management, and all the volunteers who collaborate in making the production a reality.

Yes, Bill & Eleanor go on "an emotional roller coaster ride" in the course of the play that makes the experience "almost overwhelming" when put in the light of its being the inaugural production at the Playhouse; but they are ready for it. They are consumate professionals.

With just a few days to go before opening night, final touches are being made to the set & costumes, and the performances are being fine-tuned to be ready for the first audience. -- And since Montgomery has been without its own community theatre since the Montgomery Little Theatre closed some decades ago, Ms. Davis aptly says that she is part of its "coming full circle" that she is "honored" to be a part of it and is "fulfilling a dream".

Tickets are going fast. For an opportunity of being a part of this historic moment in Montgomery theatre, go to or e-mail or phone (334) 262-1530.