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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Groton Regional Theatre stages its first play production since the pandemic, and it’s all about moms

    Darla Allen, left, and Sally Derusha rehearse a scene from “Missing Pieces,” in which their characters find an old letter about their mother, during a Groton Regional Theatre rehearsal at Thrive55+ in Groton. The theater group is presenting “Mom’s the Word: A Theatrical Toast to Motherhood,” featuring nine short plays. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton Regional Theatre members Allison Thorp and Linda Shea share a laugh while Thorp helps Shea keep her crown in place with bobby pins before a rehearsal of the comedy “Immortal Mommy Issues,” whose characters are mothers from legend and mythology, at Thrive55+ in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Director Anna Maria Trusky gives a cast member instructions during an April rehearsal of the play “Immortal Mommy Issues” at Thrive55+ in Groton. The one-act is part of Groton Regional Theatre’s “Mom's the Word: A Theatrical Toast to Motherhood.” (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Up on the stage, it was comic sisterly strife. All in Southern accents, too, calling to mind female-centric plays like “Crimes of the Heart” and “Steel Magnolias.”

    Actresses were portraying siblings gathering to celebrate what would have been their late mother’s 90th birthday. Two appear first, chatting with exasperation about their other two sisters, particularly June, who took practically everything in their mother’s house — except the oxygen, as one sister notes. Hence the play’s title: “Oxygen and Pearls.” It’s by Betsy Kudlacz of Groton.

    Another sibling appeared and then the self-absorbed drama queen June blew into the room.

    So it went during a Groton Regional Theatre (GRT) rehearsal of a series of new one-act plays centered on the theme of mothers.

    It also happens to be GRT’s first play production since the pandemic. (The group did a holiday variety show this past December.)

    Back in 2020, GRT was ready to present the comedy “You Can’t Take It with You” when COVID-19 shut down the world.

    It took GRT a little longer than other community theater groups to rebound and get back on the boards.

    Allison Thorp, a GRT board member and secretary who has been with the group for over a decade, said that getting GRT up and running again “is the best feeling. I’m so excited.”

    She recalled how it all stopped in 2020. GRT was four or five days from opening night when the Groton Senior Center, where GRT performs, had to close because of the first wave of the coronavirus. As mask mandates waxed and waned over time, the senior center had more stringent requirements because of its older population.

    By the fall of 2021, GRT was meeting again as a board in person. The group hadn’t made any money since the pandemic began and so wanted to try some fundraisers — but the mask mandate kept changing and the senior center had to close again. Thorp admitted that they got a little discouraged.

    But in 2023, they started gaining traction. They talked about other things they could do — maybe shows that didn’t require them to pay royalties. (Royalties are a big cost for theater groups, especially for musicals. Fees depend on a variety of factors, including the author and the company the owns the rights, and could be, say, $90 a performance or $250 a performance, Thorp said.)

    They did the aforementioned holiday variety show.

    “Then quite a few people who wanted to get back into local theater in Groton joined our board and helped bring some new life in and (helped) come up with different ideas. So we have a full schedule planned for this year, which is awesome,” Thorp said.

    The former board members and GRT participants who returned were Anna Maria Trusky, Darla Allen, Kathy O’Hara and Christine Wilbur. With them, the board increased to nine people, meaning there are more folks to help with work. O’Hara is stage managing “Mom’s the Word,” Allen is acting in it, and Wilbur is helping out in various capacities.

    Trusky is producing “Mom’s the Word,” as well as directing a one-act she wrote.

    “We are slowly but surely getting back on our feet,” Trusky said. “We’re just grateful that we’re able to do that now. It takes a village to make a theater group. There’s only so much a group could do when everyone’s working and trying to fit in these activities.”

    Trusky had been on the GRT board for a decade and then took a break. She said she rejoined the board because “I wanted to help bring theater back to Groton. There’s no reason why we can’t have a thriving theater community here again.”

    Mothers and more

    Trusky had done some work with the erstwhile Stonington Players, including the nights of one-acts that group staged dubbed “Tables and Chairs.” Trusky produced some of those, and she committed to produce a night of one-acts for GRT this year.

    GRT wanted to do the one-acts in the spring and discussed themes including graduation. But the idea of focusing on mothers won the day, to be produced the weekend after Mother’s Day. (The center where GRT performs wasn’t available on Mother’s Day weekend itself. GRT stages its shows at what is now called the Thrive55+ Active Living Center in Groton, but the plays are about and star all ages.)

    “We thought it (the theme of mothers) would resonate with everybody,” Trusky said. “We’re really eager to build our audiences again, and we thought having lots of short pieces would be good.”

    Thorp said that the connection between mothers and children is often “a complex relationship and a great topic, and (there are) a variety of ways to write about it.”

    GRT sent out a call for scripts. All the writers that were selected are from Connecticut: Becky Rodia Shoenfeld of Trumbull, Claudia Isabel of Middletown, Christine Reynolds of Gales Ferry, A. Flynn Rumney of Preston, Nathan Rumney of Preston, Jenna Bullock-Eckman Papcin of Mystic, Steffi Rubin, formerly of Norwich, Trusky of Mystic, and the previously mentioned Kudlacz.

    Kudlacz, Bullock-Eckman, Reynolds, and Trusky will direct their own plays. Meagan Brunelle will also direct.

    “We have a mixture of plays from very funny to very poignant,” Trusky said, adding that some of them are so touching that participants were crying at the read-through.

    “Mom’s the Word” consists of nine original plays, eight of which were penned specifically for this production, and Trusky and Thorp said the cast is fantastic and does great work bringing to life the wonderful original content from local playwrights.

    The general topic might be the same — mothers — but the plots vary widely. In one, two guys go out to a bar, where one of their mothers shows up.

    In another, a couple of sisters, who are several years apart in age, talk about what different experiences they each had with their mother.

    One comic piece centers on a support group meeting between mothers of legend and mythology.

    A touching one-act follows the cycle from when a mother has a baby through when the mother is elderly, and her now-grown daughter is saying the same things to her that the mother used to say to the daughter when she was young.

    Trusky, whose mother passed away last April, wrote a moving piece inspired by how she’s feeling right now about things related to moms.

    More shows to come

    Thorp said one of the things that makes GRT special is it consists entirely of volunteers. There are no paid positions. And some group members didn’t come from a theater background but wanted to do something in the community.

    “We’re very much about teaching people, so if someone wants to learn lights, we’ll teach them lights. If someone wants to learn sound, we’ll teach them sound,” Thorp said, adding that GRT has a core group of people with great skills who can lead others.

    As for the rest of GRT’s year: “The Nerd,” which the group had already paid royalties for before its 2020 performances were postponed, will finally be staged on the second and third weekends of September. A Halloween-themed afternoon of stories the weekend before Halloween is being considered. They are planning a holiday show as well.

    GRT did musicals in the past, but those are very expensive to present, Trusky noted.

    “Until we get back to a certain point, we probably wouldn’t be doing a musical for a while,” she said.

    If you go

    What: “Mom's the Word: A Theatrical Toast to Motherhood”

    Who: Groton Regional Theatre

    When: 7:30 p.m. May 17 and 18 and 2 p.m. May 19

    Where: Thrive55+ Active Living Center, 102 Newtown Road, Groton.

    Tickets: $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students

    Visit: Groton Regional Theatre’s Facebook page

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