I have often said, especially during that time I was in a play, how much better theater in Athens has grown over the years. Right now, as you read this, you could go see Town & Gown’s Proof, a compelling drama about mathematics and madness (see the calendar in this issue), or you could enjoy the Elton John-Tim Rice rock musical Aida, based on the classic Verdi opera and presented by Oconee Youth Playhouse at the Civic Center in Watkinsville. That’s a typical week in the Athens area, and Rose of Athens theater company and the University Theatre haven’t even cranked up, yet.
Meanwhile, next week, for one weekend only, at 8 p.m. on Aug. 22 and 23 and at 2 p.m. on Aug. 24 some of Town & Gown’s most experienced actors are presenting Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, a deftly told tale of infidelity among a married couple and his friend, her lover. The nine short scenes move backward in time, beginning in the present and then meticulously showing how it started and how it happened. The play is brilliant, and the characters are less mysterious than most of Pinter’s. The director and the actors enjoyed a reading of it and then grew enthusiastic about the possibility of staging it. They convinced the Town & Gown board to let them have a shot at it, and the Board decided to make it a fundraiser for Town & Gown’s Booth Project, the much needed renovation of its sound and lighting booth equipment—an essential element in all productions. So, if you come, you’ll be contributing to the improvement of theater.
OK, my wife, Gay Griggs McCommons, is directing—her directorial debut, after all these years as an actor, most recently in Steel Magnolias. Not to worry. She’s got Terrell Austin, a familiar face onstage and recently director of the fabulous production of Amadeus. The lover is played by the multi-talented Allen Rowell, who had the starring role in Amadeus and directed August: Osage County among many others. The husband is Steve Elliott-Gower, who has directed and acted superbly in Athens theater for years, most recently in Town & Gown’s God of Carnage, which also starred Terrell and Allen, along with Bryn Adamson, who was unforgettable in Magnolias and Osage County and is working on the set for Betrayal, as is superstar-heartthrob Nathan Altman, of Town & Gown’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Rocky Horror Show and The Importance of Being Earnest. Finally, Michael Brewer, who has contributed so much to the music of Town & Gown productions and of Athens, makes an appearance in Betrayal. Coincidentally, all four of the actors in this play have directed Gay in various productions.
If all this sounds too incestuous, Rick Rose, who is doing publicity for Betrayal, directed Carnage. Heather Sitler, stage manager for Betrayal, did the same for Osage County and is also assistant-directing this time around. And these are just a few of the deeply talented people in Town & Gown; many of the others will be demonstrating their familiar talents in the diverse upcoming season.
The main thing is that Town & Gown has evolved into a true repertory theater company, where everybody fits in as needed and nobody is too big for the smallest job. What you get sitting in the audience is the assurance that these people know what they’re doing and gladly give their talents without remuneration. Thus, Betrayal also has the actor/director Ashley Laramore as an assistant director, the wily Steve Wilde serving up the music, Ian Ennis designing the lights, Shelby Marquadt running the (antiquated) sound and lighting booth, director/actor/Town & Gown President Steven Carroll making the posters, Florence King (a knockout in musical theater) providing props and programs, Kelly Doyle-Mace (also in August: Osage) shooting the publicity photos and Mimi Elliott-Gower helping out with special arrangements. Our friend and musician Dera Weaver also advised on music.
How can you not want to come see how this all plays out?