Monday, September 17, 2012

Sandbox in the garden

Theater companies need to keep moving - like sharks in the deep ocean - in order to live. By that I don't mean change for change's sake, but movement that is a logical outgrowth of what's gone before.

The Westchester Sandbox Theatre, coming up on the fourth anniversary of its founding in November 2008, last weekend produced its first outdoor show in its home base of Mamaroneck, N.Y. - a production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

This follows by a few months the theater group's first partnership with the town's primary theatrical venue, the Emelin Theatre, on a production of Smokey Joe's Cafe (see that blog post here).

The Sandbox is primarily a youth theater, but also produces adult shows (such as Smokey Joe). Executive director Dan Ferrante, partnering with the Village of Mamaroneck Arts Council, staged the show in Columbus Park, a venue next to the Mamaroneck Metro-North train station, but separated from it by a river and trees that buffer the train noise. That's the 19th-century station in the photo below, now a restaurant called Club Car.  

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown in Mamaroneck, N.Y.'s Columbus Park featuring, from left, Ben DeMarco (Schroeder), Andi Rella (Lucy), Ross DeMarco (Linus), Hanna Lankler (Sally), Keith Pagnani (Charlie) and Brian Craft (Snoopy). 
Although stagehands were still hammering the set together at the scheduled start time of 3 pm on a gorgeously mild Saturday afternoon, things got rolling shortly thereafter and this free community show became an experience of pure pleasure.

The young cast (see above) brought to charming life the stories of characters in the Peanuts comic strip: hapless but hopeful Charlie Brown, classical pianist Schroeder, bossy Lucy, blanket-hugging Linus, bouncy Sally and everyone's favorite beagle, Snoopy (that's his red dog house on the right).

They were all fine singers and exhibited a brisk level of professionalism that was really tested when a gust of wind blew over Lucy's blue "the doctor is in" stand (she gives psychological advice). The cast vamped and supported the stand until a couple of helpers ran over and got behind it to hold it up.  

Ferrante and a drummer (there was no program) ably provided the musical accompaniment, the body mics worked and lyrics were clearly heard (often a problem with an outdoor gig). Since the weather was cooperating, families brought folding chairs, blankets and snacks.

Little girls dancing during Charlie Brown.
These little girls (see photo at right) never stopped dancing during the hour-long show and I greeted several friends and neighbors, including a couple who had brought their one-year-old daughter.

However, the performers onstage were doing their jobs so well that they held the attention of an audience potentially distracted by sunlight, afternoon bustle, kids and rustling chip bags.

This was a beautiful and logical development of the Sandbox Theatre's youth and community mission and I hope it becomes an annual event.    

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