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Theater: Characters connect with audience, but not each other

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

Scott Maxwell has set “For Better,” which opens tonight at the Murrells Inlet Community Theater, in the middle of his audience. “Not totally theater-in-the-round, but three-sided, like having three prosceniums. After reading the script, I felt it called for this type of setup,” he said.

Maxwell said three-quarter round is difficult staging for the actor. “The audience is much closer to the actors, in some cases no more than 8 feet away. Sort of like original storytelling around a campfire,” he said. “The actors have no place to hide. “

There are other challenges for his ensemble cast in this production, according to Maxwell, a seasoned director and professional actor. “The actors can’t look at each other since they are talking by telephone or e-mail or text and are never in the same room together,” he said.

Maxwell calls five of the play’s six characters “the ultimate Road Warriors,” whose careers take them constantly out on the road. The plot focuses on Karen (played by Danielle Switzer) and Max (an unseen character) who are getting married, at least, if their jobs will ever let them be in the same city at the same time. In fact, Karen has only met her fiancé twice in person. The rest of the time they communicate electronically.

The only non-techie person in this assortment is Karen’s widowed father Wally (played by Joe Roche). Wally has enough problems working his TV remote. “My character is rather confused by today’s technology, which I think is pretty typical of my generation,” Roche said.

Roche said it is his first time to appear on the inlet stage. In fact, he hasn’t been on any stage in 35 years. “My memory isn’t as good as it was back then,” he said, confiding that he has somehow mastered a five minute monologue. “If I can get through that, the rest is easy.”

DeLaine Mann, a former professional singer, now enjoying community theater, plays Francine, Wally’s older daughter who is married to Michael (played by Kirk Truslow). Francine and Michael met through a computer dating service.

Said Mann, “This play is a hoot. It’s hilarious. At our first table read, no one could stop laughing.”

The dialog is a rapid fire banter. The audience needs to listen closely.

“Much of the humor is very quick and might go right by people,” said Maxwell.

Kristin Olsen plays Lizzie, a friend of the sisters Karen and Francine. Normally Olsen volunteers her time as a stage manager. She rarely is on stage and took the role only because she knew the other actors from previous productions with Atlantic Stage and Theatre of the Republic and knew it would be fun.

Ged Duvall completes the cast of locals, playing Stuart, Michael’s friend who has a crush on Karen, the bride-to-be.

Olsen describes the production as a modern day farce. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said.

“Yes,” Maxwell said,“ ‘For Better’ is funny, but the story evokes tears also.”

Its message? “It’s about the ways we communicate and how technology helps and hinders those efforts. That technology alone won’t keep us together. We all need that human touch,” he said.

If you go

What: “For Better” by Eric Coble

When: May 7-9 and 14-16 at 8 p.m. and May 10 and 17 at 2 p.m.

Where: Murrells Inlet Community Center, 4462 Murrells Inlet Rd.

How much: $12 ($10 for groups of 15 or more). Call 651-4152 for tickets. The answering machine picks up on the seventh ring.

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