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End-Of-Season Plays Performed At Chautauqua Institution

CHAUTAUQUA – It has become traditional that on the final Saturday of each Chautauqua Season, one or more plays written by Chautauquan David Zinman are performed by members of the Friends of Chautauqua Theater.

Saturday, the organization presented two short plays to a giant audience which filled every seat in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. They were ”Mr. Know All” and ”The Opera Maven.”

The first, shorter play was narrated by Maureen Rovegno, who played the role of Grace Hazlett. She told the story of a man who had been a member of her high school class, named Sammy Gross. Sammy was conceited and completely self-centered, and frequently maneuvered his friends into situations in which it was difficult for them to avoid performing services for him.

Sammy was performed by Marty Merkley, who is retiring as vice president of the Institution, in charge of programming.

Grace has married a man named Walter Hazlett, who is bright, and a hard worker, but as the years have progressed, Walter has spent more and more time making his business successful, and less and less time with his wife. Walter was performed by Jay Lesenger, retiring Artistic Director of the Chautauqua Opera Company.

Eventually all three characters go to their 25th class reunion, and there Grace needs to call on a favor from the class “know all,” to avoid a very awkward situation. There even is a question raised, whether she would have been happier with the Know All, than with the Drudge. I think she should keep the house in Westchester and the vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard and stick with the drudge. I got the feeling that the Chautauqua audience thought so, as well.

The second play took place in a four-seat box, at the Metropolitan Opera. The title character of ”The Opera Maven,” was Sidney Goldfinch, as played by Mark Russell, and his wife by Gwen Tigner. Sidney and his wife, Sally, hold season tickets to two of the fiendishly expensive box seats, which has convinced many people that Sidney is an expert on the opera.

In fact, he doesn’t like it at all, but he has learned that once his wife is engrossed in the opera of the day, he can slide his seat back a few inches and fall asleep. For some reason, sleep at the opera always brings on dreams of his youth, when he used to go regularly to the burlesque house, to enjoy the performances of a particularly attractive woman.

The fly in Sidney’s ointment is a couple named the Weisenheimers, as played by David Tabish and Nancy Karp. The Weisenheimers can watch him sleep, and the Mrs. has even had the dreamer’s head fall against her shoulder, and further indignities. The Weisenheimers have made a practice of asking many leading questions, after each opera, which tend to point out Sidney’s mental absence from the performance.

Russell is, of course, a professional entertainer, and he managed to inject more twisting, groaning, reaching, pawing action into his sleepy scenes than most people could imagine doing. Eventually, he found a trick to put a stop to his seatmates’ questions.

Joseph Musser and Mary Ellen Kimble performed as the opera singers in the performance, with Jared Jacobsen as their accompanist. All performed very well, indeed.

As a genuine lover of opera, I’d have to admit to feeling a bit like an African American at a performance done in black face, but one can only grin and be a good sport.

Money from donations given at the doors of the performance went to support scholarships for young actors with the Chautauqua Theater Company.

End-Of-Season Plays Performed At Chautauqua Institution

CHAUTAUQUA – It has become traditional that on the final Saturday of each Chautauqua Season, one or more plays written by Chautauquan David Zinman are performed by members of the Friends of Chautauqua Theater.

Saturday, the organization presented two short plays to a giant audience which filled every seat in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. They were ”Mr. Know All” and ”The Opera Maven.”

The first, shorter play was narrated by Maureen Rovegno, who played the role of Grace Hazlett. She told the story of a man who had been a member of her high school class, named Sammy Gross. Sammy was conceited and completely self-centered, and frequently maneuvered his friends into situations in which it was difficult for them to avoid performing services for him.

Sammy was performed by Marty Merkley, who is retiring as vice president of the Institution, in charge of programming.

Grace has married a man named Walter Hazlett, who is bright, and a hard worker, but as the years have progressed, Walter has spent more and more time making his business successful, and less and less time with his wife. Walter was performed by Jay Lesenger, retiring Artistic Director of the Chautauqua Opera Company.

Eventually all three characters go to their 25th class reunion, and there Grace needs to call on a favor from the class “know all,” to avoid a very awkward situation. There even is a question raised, whether she would have been happier with the Know All, than with the Drudge. I think she should keep the house in Westchester and the vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard and stick with the drudge. I got the feeling that the Chautauqua audience thought so, as well.

The second play took place in a four-seat box, at the Metropolitan Opera. The title character of ”The Opera Maven,” was Sidney Goldfinch, as played by Mark Russell, and his wife by Gwen Tigner. Sidney and his wife, Sally, hold season tickets to two of the fiendishly expensive box seats, which has convinced many people that Sidney is an expert on the opera.

In fact, he doesn’t like it at all, but he has learned that once his wife is engrossed in the opera of the day, he can slide his seat back a few inches and fall asleep. For some reason, sleep at the opera always brings on dreams of his youth, when he used to go regularly to the burlesque house, to enjoy the performances of a particularly attractive woman.

The fly in Sidney’s ointment is a couple named the Weisenheimers, as played by David Tabish and Nancy Karp. The Weisenheimers can watch him sleep, and the Mrs. has even had the dreamer’s head fall against her shoulder, and further indignities. The Weisenheimers have made a practice of asking many leading questions, after each opera, which tend to point out Sidney’s mental absence from the performance.

Russell is, of course, a professional entertainer, and he managed to inject more twisting, groaning, reaching, pawing action into his sleepy scenes than most people could imagine doing. Eventually, he found a trick to put a stop to his seatmates’ questions.

Joseph Musser and Mary Ellen Kimble performed as the opera singers in the performance, with Jared Jacobsen as their accompanist. All performed very well, indeed.

As a genuine lover of opera, I’d have to admit to feeling a bit like an African American at a performance done in black face, but one can only grin and be a good sport.

Money from donations given at the doors of the performance went to support scholarships for young actors with the Chautauqua Theater Company.

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