The playwrights of Richmond Community Theatre’s most recent production — the currently showing “What is Susan’s Secret?” — are coming to town this weekend.
Michael and Susan Parker live in the Gulf Coast of Florida and keep a busy schedule, so it isn’t common for them to turn up at a play they wrote.
“Shelly asked us to come and the date was open,” said Michael Parker about a conversation he had with Richmond Community Theatre’s Director Shelly Walker.
Parker explained that he and his wife write plays for professional theaters and community theaters, which are different in many ways. Professional theaters pay their actors and look for plays with small casts to keep a tight payroll, while community theaters welcome large casts in order to involve as many community members as possible. Parker said “What is Susan’s Secret?” was written flexibly, to be used by both. With two main characters at the core of the plot (also named Michael and Susan), the total cast can be anywhere from six to 14 people strong.
“It’s the first time we’ve done that,” said Parker.
“The Cider Mill Inn is a rustic and somewhat run down country inn owned and operated by an elderly couple, Michael and Susan Edwards who appear to be bordering on senility,” reads the description of the play. “They are however very clever con artists, preying on unsuspecting guests by advertising huge discounts to various tradesmen. Using an elaborate check-in form, guests are in fact signing a work contract, requiring them to perform various improvements at the inn. Over the course of three weekends, plumbers, tile layers, carpenters and electricians are recruited to do work they never expected.”
The play opened Thursday and will run until Sunday, then resume again next Thursday, and run until May 26. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. All tickets are $9. Regular box office hours for all patrons are currently Monday through Saturday 12:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The playwrights will also host a comedy workshop this evening at 7:30 p.m. Walker will interview the Parkers on stage before the performance of their play. The interview will include time for questions and answers between the audience and playwrights. Following the production, there will be a special reception, where audience members can talk directly with the playwrights.
Parker said he and his wife were asked in the past to hold directing workshops and writing workshops, but learned that directors don’t like to be told how to do things and writers want to write instead of discussing the plot and characters.
“The comedy workshop is immensely popular and everybody learns a tremendous amount,” said Parker. “Everyone comes away from it having learned something.”
Parker, unlike many playwrights according to him, is available for questions and discussions with directors that seek clarity on his work.
“Why would we not answer their questions?” said Parker, who enjoys learning continuously from his own work through discussion and seeing his plays on stage.
He said he has also seen his plays done poorly, although he won’t be judgemental when he comes to Rockingham, he said.
Parker recalled going to a dinner theater with his wife in Des Moines, Iowa, to see one of their plays on stage.
“They butchered it,” he said. “I wanted to slide under the table. I didn’t want anyone to know I wrote it.”
Parker and his wife hurried away, but received a call from the theater later that said their box office ticket sales have never been higher, and that they received the highest of compliments after the show. The theater asked if they could do another one of the Parker’s plays.
Parker wrote plays for 18 years before marrying Susan and they have been writing together ever since.
“It’s wonderful. I’ll never write alone again,” he said. “After 18 years and eight plays I was getting stale. Susan came up with all sorts of wonderful ideas.”
For questions about the play, contact Richmond Community Theatre, 111 E. Washington St., Rockingham, at 910-997-3765.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.