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Rising Phoenix Theater's production of play by George Herman opens March 8 at the Oak Grove United Methodist Church

In Rising Phoenix Theater's production of "A Company of Wayward Saints," a touring group of actors is given the seemingly futile task of distilling the history of mankind into a single play. Conflicts then arise that threaten their ability to ever find their way home again.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - The cast of 'A Company of Wayward Saints,' from left to right, includes: Dennis Proulx (Harlequin), Whitman Craig (Scapino), John Carmichael (Pantalone), Sara McNaughton (Dottore), Olga Kravtsova (Ruffiana), Adrian Guillen (Tristano), Kendra Munroe (Isabella), and Thomas Machiavelli (Capitano). Not pictured is Rebecca Brown (Columbine). The play, by Portland playwright George Herman, opens March 8 at the Oak Grove United Methodist Church. It is the first full-length scripted play from the local theater group, which up until now has presented only improv performances.

Director Susan Scovil, founder of the theater group, said she chose the play because of its connection to commedia dell'arte.

This is "a style of theater that many people may not know, but it is the origin of a lot of comedy today," she said.

Scovil, an Oak Grove resident, added that she thought audiences in the Milwaukie area might like to have a new experience seeing "a comedic play with a lot of color and a little history."

"A Company of Wayward Saints" takes place at 7:30 p.m. March 8, 9, 15 and 16 and at 2 p.m. March 10 and 17.

Company of actors

PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Quinn Bicer, a senior at Clackamas High School, and Susan Scovil, director of 'A Company of Wayward Saints,' choose costumes for the play from the CHS costume department.The play tells the tale of a ragtag company of actors eager to make their way home. An unexpected offer comes to them from a dignitary in the audience who offers to pay their way home if they can successfully improvise a play called "The History of Man."

"With so much history to choose from and with the many tensions between the actors, it seems like an impossible task," Scovil said.

The group bickers over who will play God, and when they begin overacting and stealing scenes from one another, the troupe falls apart. But the longing for home drives them to regroup and find a solution, and the play goes on.

Although this is the first community theater company Scovil has founded, she has plenty of directing experience as the drama teacher at Clackamas High School for 17 years; she retired in 2011.

Years ago she directed "A Company of Wayward Saints" at CHS, and Herman came to rehearsals and to opening night.

"He was so supportive and so encouraging that I have especially warm memories of that time," she said.

Set, costumes

Scovil and CHS student Quinn Bicer, the play's set and costume designer, said the biggest challenge in putting the show together has been the stage.

"We've had to problem-solve and invent to deal with no theatrical lighting, no curtains and a very small off-stage area," Scovil said.

"But all things considered, we like the space very much, and the church has been very accommodating and generous to us," she added.

Bicer said he learned set design in a theater management class at CHS last year, when he was a junior.

"I like helping further the physicality of a play — the visual aspect. A good set can make or break a show," he said.

"Being able to put a design on paper and see it become actualized" has been rewarding, Bicer said.

Scovil has chosen to present the play in colorful period costumes, "hoping to bring laughs to the audience as well as a visual treat," she said.

Bicer borrowed some of the costumes from CHS, and said he likes being able "to craft the characters visually, according to their personalities.

"It is nice to help create a look and see it on stage."

Rewarding, a reunion

Scovil said "the audience will enjoy the comedic aspects of the play, as well as its message about working together to make something come true. Additionally, I think they'll like the look of the play with the costumes and the masks and the over-the-top-ness of some of it."

She hopes the people of Oak Grove and the Milwaukie area will turn out to support community theater.

"The arts can bring so much depth to our experience of life. Also, theater is truly a community experience: The players need the audience and the audience needs the players," Scovil said.

"They are a team coming together to create this communal experience, and one of the goals of the Rising Phoenix Theater is to make live theater affordable and easily available to everyone," she said.

Another goal is "to provide a place where actors can grow and perform and where audiences can experience and connect," Scovil added.

Speaking about connecting, she noted that Dennis Proulx, who plays Harlequin in the play, was a fellow student of hers at Clackamas High School, and the two did a number of shows together in the 1970s.

"So, it's a reunion after 44 years for us to be working together again."

Hot ticket

What: Rising Phoenix Theater Company presents "A Company of Wayward Saints"

When: 7:30 p.m. March 8, 9, 15 and 16, and 2 p.m. March 10 and 17

Where: Fellowship Hall of the Oak Grove United Methodist Church, 14700 S.E. Rupert Drive

Tickets: Adults $12, students and seniors (60+) $10; available at the door.

Cast: Dennis Proulx (Harlequin), Whitman Craig (Scapino), John Carmichael (Pantalone), Sara McNaughton (Dottore), Olga Kravtsova (Ruffiana), Adrian Guillen (Tristano), Kendra Munroe (Isabella), Thomas Machiavelli (Capitano) and Rebecca Brown (Columbine)

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