SHREWSBURY – The Square One Players of Shrewsbury is mindful of several considerations that have to be met in putting on a production.
The space at the Flanagan Theater at Southgate at Shrewsbury, where the community theater group presents its shows, is relatively small, so the cast for a production also needs to be quite small, said Joanne Smith of the Square One Players. A “static set” is also “one of our criteria”- meaning a set that doesn’t have too many moving parts. “It’s a small stage, and a small backstage (at the Flanagan Theater),” Smith said.
One other thing. ”We like to do comedies. That’s what we enjoy,” Smith said. “It’s kind of dismal in the world out there, it’s great to escape, come in and laugh for two hours.”
In that spirit, Square One Players is presenting the Ken Ludwig farce “Leading Ladies” March 18 to 25 at the Flanagan Theater.
The play met another important criteria: “We liked the script,” said Smith, co-founder, co-owner and co-operator of the Square One Players with Tara Alano and Tara Lamoureux.
In “Leading Ladies,” two English Shakespearean actors, Leo Clark and Jack Gable (the last names are Ludwig’s first joke), find themselves so down on their luck that they are performing “Scenes from Shakespeare” on the Moose Lodge circuit in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. When they hear that Florence – a rich old lady in York, Pennsylvania, who is sick – wants to leave her fortune to her two long-lost English nephews, they resolve to pass themselves off as her beloved relatives and get the cash. The trouble is, when they get to York, they find out that the long-lost relatives aren’t nephews but nieces.
“They say, ‘OK, let’s dress up and be like nieces,’ ” Smith said. However, when they fall for the women of the family, “it will be quite crazy.”
Ludwig is an American playwright who is a master of English-sounding farces, including “Lend Me a Tenor.”
Smith, who is production manager for the show, said rehearsals have been going well.
“We’re very lucky. We’re having a great time. We have a great cast,” she said.
Cue the wardrobe department
“Leading Ladies” has a cast of eight, which is slightly larger than Square One Players would normally go for. There are also quite a few costumes because of Leo and Jack’s transformations.
James Gillis and Alex Gardner play Leo and Jack, respectively. George Smith, Joanne Smith’s husband, plays Doc Myers, an incompetent doctor who mistakenly keeps declaring the ailing matriarch dead.
“My husband did have to audition for the part,” Joanne Smith said.
Michelle England plays Meg, one of the family members. Theater veteran Jeremy Woloski, a well-known area director, actor and educator, directs. “He had been in the show, so he knew the show already,” Smith said.
Gillis had not done theater since high school but auditioned for “Leading Ladies” to get out of his comfort zone and landed the role of Leo, Smith said. “He’s fabulous.”
The cast is a mix of people who have worked with Square One Players before and newcomers. “The three leads (Leo, Jack and Meg) are all new to us.”
Group emerges from former Regatta Players
Actually, everything is still relatively new for the Square One Players since “Leading Ladies” is just the fourth production since the theater group was founded in 2021, although its roots in town go back further.
Square One Players emerged after the Regatta Players, which had had been putting on shows at the Flanagan Theater since 2010 and had been a needed theater outlet in town, shut down in 2020.
The Regatta Players had been planning a production of Joe DiPietro’s boisterous but touching comedy “Over the River and Through the Woods” that would have opened March 20, 2020, but was canceled because of the sudden onset of COVID-19.
Smith, Alano and Lamoureux (at the time Tara Wykes) had all been involved with the Regatta Players, mostly behind the scenes, and had also served on its board. They were part of the team that was going to put on “Over the River and Through the Woods.”
The director, Ed Lindem, and the cast still wanted to put on the production if an opportunity presented itself in the future, even though Lindem subsequently moved to Minnesota.
Smith, Alano and Wykes agreed to not only go ahead with “Over the River and Through the Woods,” they also formed the Square One Players with the idea of picking up the mantle of putting on shows regularly.
“A lot of people really loved it,” Smith said of the production of “Over the River and Through the Woods.”
So last year Square One Players moved to squares two and three.
In March 2022, the theater group staged the comedy “Exit Laughing” by Paul Elliott. It was the first show “that is entirely ours,” Smith said at the time, “where Square One Players picked the show, the director, holding auditions and then performances.”
Then in August last year Square One Players put on the musical “Nunsense.”
“It went very, very well. The audiences loved both of the shows,” Smith said. “Exit Laughing” lived up to its name since a lot of audience members did leave the theater laughing, Smith said.
” ‘Nunsense’ was big for us. It’s a name show. A lot of churches in the area and a lot of groups came to see it. We were so happy that they did so well.”
Smith knew Woloski from when he directed for the Regatta Players and asked him about coming aboard. He directed “Exit Laughing” and “Nunsense” besides also directing “Leading Ladies.”
‘Spamalot’ slated for August
In August, Square One Players plans to produce Monty Python’s “Spamalot,” directed by Kevin McGerigle, music direction by Sam Asuque and choreography by Kaitlin Ekstrom-Doig. Auditions for “Spamalot” will be held May 8 and 10 (for information, visit squareoneplayers.com).
” ‘Spamalot’ is huge,” Smith said.
Southgate at Shrewsbury is a senior living community that offered its theater space to the Regatta Players and now has done the same for Square One Players.
Square One Players is limited to two shows a year at Southgate as the community there uses the theater space for its own activities, but that’s an arrangement that works just fine, Smith said, as theater members have jobs and other commitments.
“We are very lucky to have what we do … Two shows is really good for us.”
The theater group is already thinking about its two shows for next year.
“This year is sort of guy-heavy. Next year will be girl-heavy,” Smith said.
The touching comedy “Steel Magnolias” is likely for 2024 and also the musical comedy “Marvelous Wonderettes.”
Square One Players has a sign-up sheet at shows for people interested in finding out more about the theater company and its upcoming productions.
“We have 200 people on our list right now. We’re getting there. We’re growing,” Smith said.
The satisfaction comes from meeting certain criteria. “When everything comes to fruition and everyone’s laughing and clapping, it’s really, really so exciting. Everyone’s worked so hard, and having everyone appreciate that is so satisfying. That’s why we do this. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” Smith said.
“Leading Ladies” by Ken Ludwig – presented by Square One Players
When: 7:30 p.m. March 18 and 25; 2 p.m. March 19 and 26
Where: Flanagan Theater, Southgate at Shrewsbury, 30 Julio Drive, Shrewsbury
How much: $20; $17 students and seniors. To reserve tickets and for more information, visit squareoneplayers.com