When the Gilbert Theater opens its season next month, the cast will be doing more than putting on a performance. They will be celebrating the Gilbert’s 15th season of producing quality plays in the community. To celebrate that milestone, the theater has planned an outstanding season of performances, which begins with Assassins on Oct. 2.
    When the Gilbert first formed, the plays were produced in founding director Lynn Pryor’s house. The group performed at Pryor’s house for eight of its 15 years, producing 49 plays during that time. As the Gilbert’s popularity grew, and the numbers of people attending the plays grew, the company outgrew the space, so they began looking for a new home.
    Their temporary home was at the Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County, where they performed for three seasons. During that time they produced the groundbreaking Vagina Monologues. That was one of the only plays the company actually brought in an outside performer.
    “We had a famous Hollywood actress in that show,” said Pryor. “Everyone else is unpaid — everyone is local.”
    The theater found its latest home three years ago in the old city council chambers above Fascinate-U Children’s Museum on Green Street. Pryor recalled that once the theater made the move to the space, he had a conversation with Monroe Evans, a former Fayetteville mayor, and one-time volunteer with The Gilbert. “Monroe said he knew that room very well,” said Pryor. “He said the room had always been full or drama and we could continue it.”
    And for the past three years, that’s what the company has done. Last year, the theater wowed the community with the staging of Cabaret, and they look forward to having the same impact with the upcoming plays.
    On Oct. 2, Assassins will come to life on the Gilbert Stage. Assassins is not your usual, run-of-the-mill musical. Written by Stephen Sondheim, the musical, based on a book by John Weidman, tells the stories of the nine Americans who assassinated or tried to assassinate the president of the United States. The musical starts with John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, and ends with Lee Harvey Oswald’s killing of President John F. Kennedy and the death of Camelot in our nation. The show’s music style ranges from folk to ragtime to ‘70s rock.
    {mosimage}Marcela Casals, a veteran of The Gilbert, is directing the play. “It’s very funny, but it’s very dark,” said Casals. “Sonheim is very good at putting two things completely opposite each other together.”
    She said the play gives the audience the opportunity to see inside the heads of some very mad individuals. “In some instances these individuals were very depressed and confused, in others, they thought they were being very patriotic,” she said. “Through this musical, you get to see inside their heads and see how they got to that point. There is a lot of humor, even though there is a lot of darkness.”
    She noted that each of these individuals thought they were going to change the course of history. For some, like Wilkes Booth and Oswald, their names have become pieces of the American lexicon. For others, they simply had their five minutes of fame and then slipped away.
    She said that she had gathered a “fabulous” cast of men and women to fill the ensemble and the leads. “Their voices just blend beautifully,” she said. “They just sound fabulous.”
    She cautioned that the play does have some offensive language, but hopes that it does not put people off from coming to a performance. “It’s a part of our history,” she said. “And we hope that high school students and others who have a love for history will come and see the show.”
    The play runs through Oct. 19, with performances Thursday — Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for musicals and $10 for non-musicals.
    On Nov. 28, The Gilbert will mount its annual production of A Christmas Carol, which will be directed by Elysa Lenczyk. The show, which runs in conjunction with the Arts Councils’ Dickens’ Christmas, is the classic retelling of Charles Dickens Christmas classic.
    All of your favorite characters, Marley, Scrooge, Tiny Tim and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, will be on hand to remind viewers of the true meaning of Christmas. The play runs through Dec. 14.
    On Jan. 29, Cassals will be back at the helm directing References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot. Written by Jose Rivera, the play is “thoughtful and raw,” and tells the story of Gabriela, a young Latina woman searching for answers amidst a sometimes fantastical setting where the moon and wild animals come into play.
    The play may resonate with Fayetteville residents, as it tells the story of a husband/wife who are dealing with putting their lives back together following his return from the Gulf War. The play runs through Feb. 15.
    On the Verge, by Eric Overmyer, will be directed by Paul Wilson. The play has been called “a joyfully feminist play.” It tells the story of three Victorian lady explorers who set out on an adventure that takes them through different times as well as different locations. The play opens on March 19 and runs through April 5.
    The final show of the season will be directed by Pryor. Exits and Entrances is an autobiographical play about the life of the author, Athol Fugard. The play chronicles the friendship between a young, idealistic playwright and an older actor struggling to find meaning and dignity in his fading career. The play, according to Pryor is set in the dressing room of the theatre. “I love plays about theater, and when you can find them, I like to bring them to the stage,” said Pryor. “This play tells you what it is like to be a classical actor working with amateurs. It follows his career from the beginning to the end, and you see his life through that time frame.”
    Pryor added that while the theater will be celebrating its past this year, they will also be celebrating its future.
    “We at The Gilbert want to continue to be great storytellers,” he said.
    The play opens on May 28 and runs through June 14.
    As is the case with Assassins, all Gilbert plays run Thursday through Sunday with Thursday-Saturday shows at 8 p.m. and all matinees at 2 p.m.
    To purchase tickets, call The Gilbert at 678-7186. For more information, visit the Web site at www.gilberttheater.com.

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