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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: On-demand ‘With This Ring’ resonates again in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Green Bay Community Theater

Bill Sergott and Kathy Treankler in a scene from Green Bay Community Theater’s 2019 production of “With This Ring.” (GBCT)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Little did anyone suspect in February 2019 that the recording of a play performance that a cast member funded would warm the heart today, in 2021.

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has led to a few sweet spots.

The recording is a reminder of how vibrant the “live” in “live theater” is.

The realization comes with the offering of Green Bay Community Theater’s 2019 production of “With This Ring,” the endearing story of a wedding ring over a century.

Through Sunday, Feb. 14, the troupe is presenting a video of the Joseph Simonelli play on demand for free, with donations accepted. The theater’s Facebook page has directions to access viewing.

This is the second such venture for Green Bay Community Theater. The first was with the 2017 production of “Thanksgiving on Serendipity Lane” that was offered in December 2020. Kathy Treankler, who funded the recording, was a cast member in that play and also was/is in “With This Ring.”

Many theaters often record performances like making a home movie or video. This project is many steps above that.

The performance of Feb. 21, 2019, was recorded with multiple cameras at the troupe’s Robert Lee Brault Playhouse by Winter Productions (Mark Winter) of Green Bay.

Many levels of quality are seen on the virtual performance world these days, but this recording has the bonuses of the live audience, clear picture and the flow of a performance as it happened. It’s “A” grade.

The video is introduced by Dave Zochert, board president of the theater, who notes the financial and other challenges put on the troupe by COVID-19.

Dave Zochert also says, “We miss seeing your faces and hearing your laughter live.”

The presence of an audience helps put “With This Ring” a step above so many productions that are being recorded today.

Below is a reprise of my review of the opening-night performance of Feb. 14, 2019.

It is a pleasure to look back on a production and enjoy it again – appreciating the effort in the set work and costuming and performance nuances of the cast. The play is not a comedy nor cute. It’s a grabber.

Featured cast in “With This Ring.” (Green Bay Community Theater images adapted by Warren Gerds)

***

Creative: Playwright – Joseph Simonelli; director – Dave Zochert; production coordinator – Patricia Grimm; assistant director – David Burke; stage manager – Kaitlin “Kit” Honkanen; head carpenter – Noah Villarreal; set dresser/designer – Sandy Zochert; lighting and sound designer – Peter Wojtowicz; costume designer – Kaitlin “Kit” Honkanen; properties designer – Karen Konshak; make-up designer – Kaitlin “Kit” Honkanen; floor manager – Hailie Gagnon; carpentry assistant – Jeremy Stujenske

Cast:

Bridgette McCoy – Rachel Ziolkowski

Sean McCoy– Ian Wisneski

Matty McCoy – Kristen Bustrak

Joe McCoy – Justin Gulmire

Frankie – Devon Breecher

Karen – Kathy Treankler

Paul – Bill Sergott

Liz – Leah VanLaanen

Bobby – Robert Gagnon

Running time: One hour, 21 minutes

Remaining performances online: Feb. 12-14

Info: gbcommunitytheater.com

***

Four couples. Four stories. One apartment. One wedding ring. One hundred years.

That may seem as though a straight line is drawn in the play “With This Ring.” No, playwright Joseph Simonelli has explorations in mind, including a glance into the life of a struggling playwright.

The core of “With This Ring” is love, or at least relationships in marriage.

Around that core, the audience witnesses changes over time in the neighborhood outside the apartment in New York City. The audience also sees shifts in society/marriage – how the chemistry of couples works, or doesn’t.

Playgoing is primarily a couples thing for the Green Bay Community Theater audience, and “With This Ring” provides many points of interest – and this: It’s fascinating being a fly on the wall in somebody else’s home.

There’s a lot for astute director Dave Zochert and his four casts-within-a-cast to finesse. The strongest set is the most vitriolic.

Aside from the stories taking place in the same place and turning around the same wedding band, another key consistency is the man in each marriage is a dreamer. He’s looking ahead and around, thinking and planning – always with a struggle.

The set-up story is that of Sean McCoy (Ian Wisneski) and Bridgette McCoy (Rachel Ziolkowski). Theirs is the story of the Irish immigrant in New York City: Arrived around the turn of the century and now, in 1917, beginning to make their mark. One sign: Sean has saved enough money to buy his wife a wedding band, 10 years into their marriage. Their love life is modest to the point that a living room wall statuette of an angel must be covered when they kiss.

The next story is set in 1967. For each story, music of the era is played in the background. Also in the background, the neighborhood has changed. The apartment goes from an okay place to live to very much desired (gentrification). In 1967, the neighborhood is druggy and dangerous. The ring has come to Joe McCoy (Justin Gulmire) and Matty McCoy (Kristen Bustrak) through family. Joe has had the ring specially inscribed. Joe jokes around with his hippie-ish wife as a release valve from his work day as a prosecuting attorney dealing with the dregs of humanity. The episode ends with high drama delivered by delivery boy Frankie (Devon Breecher).

By 1984, there is a big turn for the ring. Paul (Bill Sergott) is living alone in the apartment, now meager. His wife, Karen (Kathy Treankler) – estranged and near the permanent cutoff point – has stopped in with legal papers. Paul is a published playwright, but he is down to his last $7. This is a heavy duty scene delivered by players who are really good at such stuff. In Paul, playwright Joseph Simonelli seems to be talking about himself, with Karen providing the flip side in no uncertain terms.

In 2007, the ring has had another big turn and yet has circled back. Bobby (Robert Gagnon) and Liz (Leah VanLaanen) are riding a crest, living in the much-desired apartment with their wedding two days away. A phone call changes their course, and then a visitor arrives with a story to be told.

While being set in New York City and somewhat about changes in New York City, “With This Ring” deals with something very common – a piece of metal shaped in a circle – that means one thing and so many different things to so many people. The play offers human touches, and Green Bay Community Theater’s production ripples with them.

***

THE VENUE: Green Bay Community Theater is one of the few community theaters that owns its performance space – and rehearsal space under the same roof. Stability is a big benefit. A landmark on Green Bay’s west side, the 193-seat Robert Lee Brault Playhouse features elements of an earlier time as a church, built in 1854 (the current backstage dressing room), 1895 (auditorium) and 1911 (today’s Community Room). The most obvious remnants are the church’s peaked side-wall windows with stained glass that is covered. High-up triangular windows still contain stained glass, and their patterns can be seen playing on sunny days when the troupe has matinees. The auditorium includes a 30 by 23-foot open-end stage with no stage curtain. The troupe has remodeled some portions of the building with medieval touches, but the seating area retains elements of a church. The theater includes wooden arches with decorative geometric designs on the ends and exposed beams in the sharply angled ceiling. The stage front consists of woodwork of repeated arches that looks to be repurposed wainscoting from other parts of the building. The troupe owns the building, which became its home in 1966. The Community Room serves as a gathering space for audiences prior to a performance and at intermission and for board and other internal meetings.

THE PERSON: Larger-than-life personality Robert Lee Brault was a longtime Green Bay Community Theater actor, director, scenic designer and managing director. He and his wife, Rita Brault, were mainstays from the time the troupe performed at various locations through the purchase of the present playhouse. Bob Brault died Nov. 1, 2015, in Florida at age 88. The troupe has established a special programming and education fund in his name.

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