Stories about historical hermits and dive bars frequented by literary figures from Shakespearean times take over the stage this week. An expert pool of thespians will entertain as “The Bard is a Broad” and “The Hermit of Fort Fisher” open this week.
The Bard is a Broad
Fri. – Sat., Sept. 5th-27th, 7 p.m.
TheatreNOW, 19 S. 10th St.
Earlier this year “The Bard’s Broads” gave audiences a gut-busting, historical glimpse into The Dirty Quill, the pub which employs a familiar set of serving wenches (Desdemona, Gertrude and Ophelia) for anyone well-versed in Shakespeare’s works. Originally, the work was slated to be a stand-alone show; however, the first go ‘round proved so much fun,
writer Anthony David Lawson put a sequel into works. “I thought of a title [‘The Bard is a Broad’] and then wrote the play around that,” Lawson tells.
In order to promote the second installment, TheatreNOW once again transformed into Master Will’s favorite haunt for a drink. Locals poured in for the dinner-theatre show and whetted their appetites for its follow-up production.
“The reprisal went very well,” Lawson says. “It may actually have been more popular the second time around, and it made everyone very excited for the next installment.”
“The Bard is a Broad” picks up about six months after the first. The Dirty Quill has fallen into hard times: Phillip (Patrick Basquill)—bar owner Barth Mule’s (Lawson) right-hand man—has set out to seek a career in music, Shakespeare (Nick Reed) has become deeply depressed, and the bar’s ladies run things while Barth Mule imbibes the pub’s entire stock. Things begin to shift gears when a new squire, played by Kaitlin Baden, applies for a position. “There is a lot of mistaken identity and cross-dressing,” Lawson confirms.
The production places theatre-goers in the role of bar patrons and creates an interactive element. According to Lawson, the cast has become so committed to their roles that improv comes with ease throughout the show. Lawson composes a script and then his team of thespians find areas where they can stray from his words to include the audience.
“The key is to include them without making them do anything,” Lawson elaborates. “Not a lot of people like being put on the spot, but they do enjoy being part of the action.”
Chef Denise Gordon will provide a three-course meal to accompany the show. It will begin with chicken and leek soup. The main course includes a choice of chicken breast in a red wine and currant sauce, a beef steak braised in red wine and cherry, or a vegetarian meatless pie. The meal will be topped off with an Olde English seed cake.
Attendees will get a full serving of raunchy laughs (not appropriate for children) intertwined with intricate Bard-laden humor. “We work off each other very well and continue to surprise each other,” Lawson concludes. “It almost feels like an episode of ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ where we’re trying our hardest not to crack up onstage.”
The Hermit of Fort Fisher
Thurs. – Sun., Sept. 4th-21st, 8 p.m.
Sun. matinee: 3 p.m.
Cape Fear Playhouse, 613 Castle St.
It all began when playwright David Anthony Wright’s wife gave him a book while they vacationed in Surf City several years back. It was a biography of the legendary Fort Fisher hermit Robert Harrill’s life. Wright—whose career spans six plays and who was awarded the Scriptworks competition of the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre in 2007 for his play, “Ruthie”—immediately saw the potential for Harrill’s story.
In 1956 Harrill crafted a letter to then NC Governor Luther Hodges, which proposed aquariums should be built along the Carolina coast, starting with Fort Fisher. He even fought and won a case against the U.S. Army over the right to keep his land. The shrewd hermit proved his property wasn’t on the map when the title the government cited in their case was made.
“The thing that most drew me to Robert was his unwillingness to give up,” Wright says. “He faced such adversity in his life, some self-inflicted to be sure, but he never gave up.”
Despite the reclusive nature of a hermit, Harrill always was accommodating to passersby hoping to get a picture with the legend; even during winter, he would put on his iconic straw hat and shorts to pose with them. His lively spirit seemed tailor-made for the stage; however, writing the complicated nature of his character was a difficult task for Wright to undertake. His process mounted the duty of examining the troubled man’s interiority.
“To tell the story accurately, it was necessary to show the good and the not-so good [of Harrill],” Wright says. “He was at times abusive to his wife, Katie, but she remained the love of his life. He deeply loved his sons but had great difficulty showing that love. His eventual reconciliation with Edward was genuine and moving. “
In 2012 Wright debuted his show in his hometown, Burlington, NC, and had a reprisal for it in 2013. Both runs virtually sold out. “People felt drawn to Robert’s story,” Wright says. “A surprising number of Burlington and Alamance County residents knew of him, and many spent time at the bunker with him during their vacations. The outpouring of emotion was truly touching.”
After two successful runs, Wright deemed Wilmington the perfect location given its proximity to Harrill’s stomping grounds. The production will be under the direction of Big Dawg Production’s Steve Vernon, with Eben French Mastin portraying the hermit. Audrey McCrummen will serve as technical director, and Shawn Sproatt will costume the nearly 20 characters to fit the decades in which the production spans.
“I have allowed Steve some leeway, given some of the casting considerations he had,” Wright details. “But I think the show will pretty much be in tact. I really am looking forward to seeing the show in the intimate setting of the Cape Fear Playhouse. It did fine in our 400-seat facility in Burlington (The Paramount); but being so close to the onstage action will be a unique experience.”
Vernon was invited by Wright to see the show’s second run and by intermission knew it would work perfectly for Big Dawg Productions. “[Harrill] just seems to have been the type of person who attracted people,” Vernon details, “an odd trait for someone labeled a hermit (a designation Harrill was, by all accounts, surprised to hear applied to him).”