Director's built-in stage crew to star in 'Mister Roberts'

November 06, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

A cast of more than a dozen men - and one woman - will muster at Apollo Civic Theatre in Martinsburg, W.Va., this weekend and next.

They will perform "Mister Roberts," the winner of the 1948 Tony Award for best play by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan.

"Mister Roberts" is set aboard a cargo ship in the South Pacific during World War II. "We're turning it into a veterans tribute," says Tami McDonald, director of the production.


"I've been trying to get this play on for several years," she adds.

McDonald explains she loves anything related to the military. She has been discouraged from doing plays with man-heavy casts because of anticipated difficulty in finding actors, but she's had little trouble. She starts her networking well in advance of auditions, contacting actors she sees in other productions, getting the word out early.

She directed the 24-man "1776" in 2001 and "12 Angry Men" in 2002 at the Apollo.

"I do male shows because I have a built-in stage crew," McDonald says with a laugh. She likes that Don Moore, the production's set designer, is a retired Marine.

The cast includes Aaron Andrews, Henry Becker, Tom Brady, Joe Corbin, Mike Fellers, Sam Hutson, Wayne Kagey, David Keye, Kenneth Kulp, Clifford Kurt, Ken McDonald, Shawn Minko, Wade Myers, Joey Thorne, Jerry Tracy, John Upston and Cheryl-Anne Ferber.

McDonald describes the title role of Mr. Roberts as the buffer between the self-serving and "sadistic" captain and his crew. He has real love and compassion for his men, she says.

Tracy portrays Roberts, a man frustrated by being confined to a cargo ship instead of seeing the action of battle.

Roberts has a huge amount of angst and anger, Tracy says. Roberts' role is to learn something about himself. Tracy, 48, says he's always loved the film.

"It's ostensibly a comedy, but it's more complex," Tracy adds. The play is not a farce or broad comedy, he says. "It's life energy stuff."

Keye of Hagerstown plays Ensign Pulver, the comic relief.

"It's an honor to be playing the part," Keye says.

Keye, who has acted in numerous Tri-State area productions, describes Pulver as a young guy who's all talk and no action. Keye purposely avoided watching the 1955 film for which Jack Lemmon won his first Oscar - for the part of Pulver.

"I wanted to do it in my way."

Keye, who by day is a manager at a shipping and packing business, says he enjoys acting.

"I know who I am," Keye says. "It's nice to see who else I can be."

Tracy has done community theater productions in Winchester, Va., Hagerstown and at the Apollo. After a full day's work, he drives approximately 45 minutes from Cross Junction, Va., to Martinsburg for rehearsals.


Being involved provides a chance to use his imagination - to play, Tracy says.

Being involved in a production such as "Mister Roberts" is enervating and energizing, Tracy says. It tires him out physically, but it always pumps him up.

"A lot of us have these geeky, Dilbert-like day jobs," McDonald says.

She - like many involved in community theater - has a need to fulfill the right side, the creative part, of her brain.

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