Summer Stock: The Winnipesaukee Playhouse

Jul 10, 2015

The Winnipesaukee Playhouse got its start in 2004 as a store front theater on Weirs Beach.  In 2013, the theater moved to the former Annalee Doll factory in Meredith.  In this 3rd installment of his Summer Stock series, NHPR's Sean Hurley pays the playhouse a visit.  

Timothy L'Ecuyer, Education Director at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse says there are still remnants - in closets and unused rooms - of the "factory in the woods" as the Annalee Doll company used to be known. It can be a little spooky, he says -

"When you find two boxes in a closet and one is labeled heads and one is labeled torsos and you have to go "Doll factory! Doll factory! There's nothing sinister about it!"

Tim L'Ecuyer in the 194 seat theater.
Credit Sean Hurley

L'Ecuyer sits at the front of the 194 seat playhouse. He's 6'4", but the rows are so sharply raked that a child sitting behind him would have a clear view of the stage. He runs the summer drama program for kids but he's also the director of the theater's current show, Red, which examines a pivotal moment in the life of abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. The year is 1958 -

"And he's just been commissioned to paint his famous Seagram's murals for the Four Seasons restaurant. He struggles with fame and art and commerce and the interactions of all of them and it's kind of an "Am I selling out?" by doing this piece in many ways."

Over the course of the show, a canvas is mounted, painted, and hung.  

"It is the most exciting watching paint dry you will ever do in a theater!"

Jason Plourde sits at the piano backstage.

Jason Plourde on the backstage piano.

"One of my colleagues here, Rebecca Tucker who is also a singer and actor in the season, wants to record this song. and since I'm the only half-pianist left on staff at the moment, I said I'd take a look at it and see if I could work it up."

In Alan Ayckbourn's Table Manners, now in rehearsal, Plourde and Tucker play would-be lovers.

"I'm playing Tom who's sort of the dimwitted vet. He is the romantic interest for Annie but they seem to mix up their signals and never quite get together."

Molly Parker Myers (left) as Sarah and Rebecca Tucker as Annie, rehearsing Alan Ayckbourn's "Table Manners."

"Oh! I nearly forgot. How's Tom?

Tom? Fine, I think.
Still seeing a lot of him?
Ok, hold on a sec. So. Let's just go back because we do actually get knives and forks out.  Or - Annie gets them out."

After going through it again with the knives and forks - the playhouse's artistic director Neil Pankhurst calls for a lunch break and heads outside.

"Most of the things that excite me is the work that I don't do. When the actor finds it for him or herself. A lot of the time it's that I'm not doing anything. I'm looking and going 'Yes. That. That's exactly what it needs to be,' rather than me having to give lots and lots of direction."

The summer season includes Jesus Christ Superstar, Red, Table Manners...

"After that we have Lost in Yonkers, Neil Simon's Pulitzer prize-winning play and my personal feeling is that it's the best play he ever wrote. After that we have a wonderful Italian farce, Accidental Death of an Anarchist. And then after that we have Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Not your typical Summer Stock season.   

Neil Pankhurst directing.

"We are a playhouse in a country that loves its Broadway musicals - and we rarely do them."

Back inside, actor Richard Brundage waits for the afternoon rehearsal to begin.

"I play Reg who is the older brother to Annie. And I'm here to visit for the weekend with my wife. And my wife is kind of the bane of my existence. I'm the kind of guy who just likes to be fed and left alone."

Before becoming an actor at the age of 40, Brundage was a librarian at the New York Public Library. Like most of the summer stock actors and crew, he lives on-site in a large house provided by the theater.  He and actor Jason Plourde share a section of the house that's so large and hard to find, it's been given a nickname.

Richard Brundage (left) and Jason Plourde

"That part of the house has been called Narnia. So, life here I think is lovely. The housing for most of us is just a one minute walk from here. And you have the option of walking over a covered bridge if you like and I always try to take the covered bridge route because it's hard to find a covered bridge in New York City."

For this summer anyway, he'll wake each morning in Narnia, cross a covered bridge and become someone new every few weeks.

Jason Plourde works at the piano as Neil Pankhurst goes quietly into the rehearsal hall, hoping he doesn't have to do anything at all.

The Playhouse's Summer Season:

Jesus Christ Superstar:  June 17-27
Red: July 1-11
Table Manners: July 15-25
Lost in Yonkers: July 29-August 8
Accidental Death Of An Anarchist:  August 12-22
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde: August 26-September 5

Visit the Winnipesaukee Playhouse website at www.winnipesaukeeplayhouse.org for more information on the summer season.