Committed actors entertain crowd at La Rita Theatre
By Robin Scott
This year’s October play at the La Rita Performing Arts Theatre was “Larceny and Old Lace,” a classic retold with a twist. The play, directed by Mary Jo Ondracek and performed by 16 community members, was well received and continued the October tradition with a mystery.
Everyone who participates in a La Rita production, from set direction and building, lighting, costumes, acting to directing, is a volunteer. Untold hours are spent in preparation of each performance. Each individual makes numerous sacrifices to participate in the production, as it requires hours and hours of rehearsals for each performance.
This play’s cast of characters this year included a chiropractor, nurse, firefighter, paramedic, junior high students and a first grade teacher.
According to Ondracek, “We have kids doing homework and teachers grading papers. Everyone is fully committed to doing their job! In a rural community so many people are out in the field at different times, or a volunteer firemen’s pager may go off and we know that they have to go out the door, or the EMS, and I work around those things.”
About two months before each play, open auditions are held and anyone ages 14 and up may audition. Ondracek noted, “Sometimes we need a younger child and then we will open up the auditions for that age.”
La Rita Theatre was built in the location of the old movie theatre and then renovated. Ondracek, one of the theatre’s founders, stated, “Actors for the entire area, and even someone from New Orleans, have come to act, and last year we had a young student from South Africa in the play. They have come from Hereford, New Mexico and from within our community.” For those members who live far away, Ondracek arranges the rehearsals so that they do not have to be at every one.
Since its inception in the 1950’s, the theatre has had a wide range of clientele. The theatre was showcased on NBC and put on the Morning Show and has been written about in four different books. Ondracek stated, “It’s something we think that no one else has. It’s a volunteer theatre, none of us get paid, not the board or actors or directors. We do our own shows and we also bring in other groups. We bring in local shows like the Christmas dinner theatre.”
Talent that performs at La Rita may be paid which may also affect the cost of a ticket, but Ondracek noted, “We really built the theatre for our local talent. We have a lot of back stage jobs, set builders, a very superior stage manager, ladies who sew costumes, and items that people donate to us. It’s a local thing for the community, a fun thing to do that we think people will enjoy.”
Ondracek has been involved with La Rita for 58 years and has served as the secretary of the board for 20 years. Her directing skills are generally used for the summer Melodrama in August and the October show. She stated, “It is something I always loved to do.”
This year’s cast included many seasoned performers. “Harold” was played by Anthony Lovato and he gave a fabulous performance, which began with a brief narrative letting the audience know what the “rules” of the theatre were. Nancy Phillips played “Gertie,” and Tammy Schniederjan played “Milie,” two sisters who made a living holding up casinos, with great success. The sisters cared for their somewhat unusual uncle, “Charlie,” played by Steve Shepherd. Shepherd raced back and forth across the stage proclaiming things like, “Batten down the hatches,” and “Shiver me timbers.”
Cousin “Mordred,” played by Scott Grey stormed on the set with pal “Lester,” played by Michael DeMots. The duo was the true criminal element of the show and each sported a rather frightening get up meant to throw off police. DeMots also assisted with light and sound and helped with the set.
The cast also included two police officers, “Officer McNealy,” played by Jerry Turner and “Officer Larson,” played by Will Anderson. Two FBI agents were also on the set, “Agent Klick,” played by Whitney Pyle and “Agent Klack,” played by Karlee Childers. Harold spent most of the play trying to keep his fiancé’ “Gloria,” played by Susanna Wheeler, from discovering that his aunts were thieves while at the same time trying to get Uncle Charlie committed by “Judge Taylor,” played by Damon Whaley, “Nurse Widget,” played by Dawn Bright, “Dr. Shortenoar,” played by Troy Ralston and “Dr. Pretorious,” played by Brittni Turner. Wade Estes rounded out the cast as the Taxi driver.
The mystery was played out and solved last Thursday and Saturday evenings and on Sunday at a matinee. Rest won’t come for those dedicated to the Theatre; however, as Ondracek begins reading scripts for next year’s events immediately. Of her cast this year she noted, “They missed kids’ football games and other events to be here doing their thing down at the La Rita.”