Avalon Players return to Casino stage

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Courtesy photo The cast of “Fools” is pictured above. Standing in the back row (l-r) are Mary Schicling, Tim McDowell, Constance Garcia, Paul Birchall, Michael Bergstedt, Eryn Cassidy and Rich Zanelli. Kneeling are Anna Gold and Erica Minuito. Not pictured, Andrew Quintana.

Company will revise a Neil Simon farce

The Avalon Community Players are easing back into stage productions with their latest play, “Fools,” a small-cast farce comedy by iconic playwright, Neil Simon. But the players are doing it on a grand scale. Rather than using the auditorium at Avalon School, the production will be staged at the Casino Theater.

Director Sean Brannock has been producing community and student plays on Catalina for 30 years. He said he chose this play to make the players’ return, because of the small cast. He said the rehearsal and prep time was limited, so it was easier to get up and running with a small and experienced cast and crew. But it also offered a chance to make a grand re-entrance, hence the famed Casino Theater.

“To have an opportunity like this is really special,” Brannock said.

The premise of “Fools,” is the idea that a small village has been cursed with stupidity. Essentially, everyone in the town is a village idiot. A visit from a stranger, puts the visitor in the position of figuring out how to break the curse, or risk become a permanent, dim-witted, resident. However, he has just 24 hours to break the curse.

Brannock said he’s done this show in the past and it’s a funny play. He said that after the past year, people needed a laugh. The play also offers opportunities to add some more contemporary references. Despite the farcical nature of the script, he said many people have had experiences where they felt surrounded by idiots.

“If we can laugh at ourselves a little bit too, that makes it even more fun,” Brannock said.

Just a couple of weeks before opening night, Brannock said that the plan of using a small, experienced cast in order to prep faster, was paying off. He said he felt the cast was just where they would expect to be in their preparation.

“We have a talented group of individuals who live here on the island,” Brannock said.

Like any other Neil Simon play, Brannock said the characters are all very well fleshed out. He said that when you work on an over-the-top farce, it works best when the actors play the parts as written and do it “seriously.”

“I think that’s why this show works so well, because even though they’re saying so many asinine things, you know, they’re doing it with such a straight face,” Brannock said.

Brannock started the production company 30 years ago, with his first children’s production on Aug. 11, 1991. That gave rise to Kids at Play, and the Avalon Community Players. Over those years it grew to produce four shows a year, two children’s and two high school productions, with an adult community production every three years or so. Many of those productions had anywhere from 15 to 45 actors.

With the restrictions of the pandemic easing up, Brannock said his plan is to get back to full schedules this fall. And with the return of the players, comes a return of the Casino Theater. Since the loss of movies and the pandemic shutdown, the iconic theater has also been waiting to make a triumphant return.

“We’re excited about bringing some life back into that space and on to that stage” Brannock said.

Avalon Players return to Casino stage