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Arts: With newcomers in audience theater takes its final bow

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

In their last show, the Murrells Inlet Community Theater was true to the first rule of the stage: Always leave the audience wanting more.

The theater group closed out an 18-year run with the final Sunday matinee of “The Geriatric Monologues,” a staged reading of a new work about seniors on “the final porch of life.”

“It’s a bittersweet afternoon for us,” said Chip Smith as part of the introductory speech that reminded the audience at the Murrells Inlet Community Center to switch off their cellphones. He was in the first production, Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite.” “A debonair and young Hollywood producer on the make,” he recalled before taking his place as one of the seven characters arrayed in rocking chairs who muse about the infirmities, indignities and inspirations of old age in “The Geriatric Monologues.”

The theater group debuted the new play by Jim Rogers, based on his book of poetry “Starts and Stops Along the Way,” in the new community center before an audience that included many people attending for the first as well as the last time. “Why are your closing down,” one ticket-holder asked the house manager, June Jordan, a long-time member of the group. “It’s a shame.”

“We’ve had so many people say the same thing,” Jordan said.

While the audience is there for community theater, the actors and stage crews have been hard to find. Two ushers and the volunteer detailed to handle the punch and cookies at intermission failed to show up for Sunday’s closing matinee, Jordan said. Without a technical crew, the production made use of the fluorescent room lights and the stage work lights, sometimes leaving the actors’ faces in shadow. The audience didn’t mind.

There were about 120 people at the final show, not quite a full house. Kathy Cunningham recently moved to the Murrells Inlet. “I’m from Chicago and used to go to the theater all the time,” she said. It was only her second trip to the inlet theater, where she also saw Bill Oberst’s one-man show “Mark Twain: In His Own Words” in January. She was surprised to hear that the group was closing down.

So was Maureen Ward. She and Cunningham were among a couple of dozen residents of Seasons, a retirement community in Prince Creek, who came so see three of their neighbors perform in the monologues. “It’s very good,” Ward said.

Nancy Van Buren, a long-time Litchfield Country Club resident, was attending her first performance, a gift from her daughter. “I’ve known Chip forever,” she said, but never made it to one of the shows. “I feel so sad. It’s my loss.”

The tales of loss and discovery that played out on stage ended with the audience rising to their feet. Many stopped to shake hands with Rogers, who was among the performers, as they headed out the door. Kathy Kenny switched off the music from a control panel at the back of the house as a couple of volunteers began to fold up the chairs.

“There’s definitely an audience for this,” Kenny said.

She was a theater major in college and was excited to discover the Murrells Inlet Community Theater website before she moved to the area about 18 months ago. She joined the group and performed with its travel troupe, formed while the new community center was under construction. She was cast in “Round and Round the Garden,” part of the British playwright Alan Aykbourn’s “The Norman Conquests.” The show never got off the ground. “We couldn’t get the crew,” Kenny said.

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