COLUMBIA – The Maplewood Barn Community Theatre’s Friday night performance held multiple firsts for the cast of “Arsenic and Old Lace."
The theater company has adapted since April 5, when their iconic red barn burned down. All that is left of the barn is a concrete pad strewn with burnt debris. In place of the structure stand two trailers, one for props and one for actors. Friday night served as the first full test of the new facilities, after the opening performance of “Arsenic and Old Lace” was rained out in the first act Thursday night.
What: "Arsenic and Old Lace"
When: May 20-23 and 27-30. All shows start at 8 p.m.
The May 22 show will be preceeded by a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new stage at 7:30 p.m.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” is also the opening show of the first season without Mark Durrant, a beloved local actor who starred in many of the theater’s productions, including “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” the finale of last year’s season.
In August 2009, after a late night of set construction, Durrant headed home but died after his SUV crashed in a pond.
“He was one of those guys who was just like the perfect community theater actor,” Yelton said.
Durrant, though gone, will be remembered by his fellow theater members. Just before curtain on Friday, Yelton went on stage and hung a picture of Durrant as part of the set. Durrant played the role of Grandfather Brewster, a character referenced in the play.
Later in the season, the stage is to be christened in Durrant’s honor.
The cast have done their best to adapt to the dramatic change this season. Actresses and actors crammed into separate ends of the new dressing room trailer and helped one another apply makeup and practice lines.
“At least it’s air conditioned,” said Ann Sheeley, who played Abby Brewster.
There was tension, but not for lack of space. Because of the rain, the cast of “Arsenic and Old Lace” never had a dress rehearsal. There were costume changes that had never been run and last-minute set construction to be done.
“Thirteen days ago, we didn’t have any scrap of set on this stage,” Yelton said.
An hour before the show Friday, the cast was still finishing construction and set up. All props had to be carried from a storage container by the cast to the stage.
The rush didn’t show in the performance. An audience of more than 60 people sat in folding chairs under the stars, engaged and laughing at the antics onstage.
The theater faced several challenges after the fire that destroyed the barn and its contents in April. Forty years of tools, props and furniture were lost.
Yelton thought that acquiring materials for the play would be a bigger problem than it was. But the theater has accumulated enough materials to become a storage problem.
“It's almost to the point where we have to turn things down,” said Allison Beale, the producer of "Arsenic and Old Lace."
So many materials were donated that the single trailer has become inconvenient. Equipment and materials can be hard to find or hard to reach in the cramped trailer, Beale said. And subsequent shows mean more props and more problems.
“It’s going to be a little cramped later in the season,” Yelton said.
Sets for “Revenge of the Space Pandas” are already being worked on off site and will need to be stored at the Nifong Park stage location when performances start. Yelton anticipates a second storage container in the next week to address the storage problem.
Despite losing so much in the fire, the theater is still surviving, with a few adjustments.
“The barn’s gone, but the theater’s not,” Yelton said.