GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV)
Doors open and close on their own.
French windows burst open.
A hand touches a window pane.
A message appears on that pane.
Swirling, colored light patterns flash on walls.
The figure of a woman appears, speechless, and she points to the distance.
A piano is heard in another room, its notes jumbled and angry.
A haunted house? You betcha.
From that relic of a country house, new owner Sheila Roberts can see a derelict church not far off. The house seems idyllic for Sheila to pursue her artistic muse as a painter. Then at night, the church bell tolls and she sees the figure of a boy off in the distance.
And so you have “The Ghost in the Meadow,” which playwright Joseph Simonelli has stuffed with paraphernalia of the paranormal, including a psychic.
Green Bay Community Theater is jumping into the genre with enthusiasm, with effects aplenty and a willing and able cast presenting the play in nine more performances to Nov. 24 in Robert Lee Brault Playhouse.
The setup: Sheila Roberts has moved away from New York City to the fixer-upper place with her skeptical sister, Kylie, in tow. Sheila’s long-term boyfriend, Julian, is arriving for the weekend, though he is on what Sheila calls probation. Julian is a police detective.
What happens is a weekend of spooky stuff that all three get caught up in. Along with ghostly figures that only Sheila has seen, there are the matters weirdness with the house’s lights, the opening and closings of doors and windows and an attic door that doesn’t open, mostly. Even fact-minded Julian is perplexed, so he calls on Antoinette, an expert in the paranormal who has worked with police.
Director Bill Sergott leads his cast on a steady course through the unsteadiness. At the height of the production, Ann Retzlaff (Sheila), Eric D. Westphal (Julian), Nichole Hood (Kylie) and Sandy Zochert (Antoinette) have the audience all ears as they and the effects and an image (Sarah Doyle) create an aura.
There are side trails, too. Julian has nightmares about an attic. Kylie pores through archives and discovers the backstory of the house, which is fairly murky as spooky sagas go. Antoinette’s other-worldly arsenal includes dips into parallel universes and black holes and other such extraordinary topics.
Among productions in the region, this is off the beaten path. Green Bay Community Theater sets off to create an atmosphere of a dark and stormy night with not only elements of storytelling that entice the imagination but with a bunch of music, light, sound and visual effects.
Think of Edgar Allan Poe (sort of) brought to today.
Side note: It just so happens that this production is an example of a topic I explore in an on-air Critic at Large segment that will be broadcast at 6:20 a.m. this Sunday, Nov. 17, on WFRV-TV, Channel 5. The topic is the growing trend in the sound of silence in theater audiences in Northeastern Wisconsin. A previous Green Bay Community Theater production is mentioned, but this one applies, too.
Creative: Playwright – Joseph Simonelli; director – Bill Sergott; production coordinator – Patricia Grimm; assistant director – Teresa Aportela Sergott; stage manager – Rebekah Witte; set dressing designer – Jami Attaway Thompson; head carpenter – Noah Villarreal; lighting designer – Kaitlin Honkanen; sound designer – Erin Basten; properties designer – Karen Konshak
Kylie Roberts – Nichole Hood
Sheila Roberts – Ann Retzlaff
Julian Shaw – Eric D. Westphal
Antoinette – Sandy Zochert
Kathryne – Sarah Doyle
The Blue Boy – Eli Renier
The Pastor – Bailey Nelsen
Running time: Two hours, 5 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15; 4 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20-22; 4 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 23; 2 p.m. Nov. 24
NEXT: “Bus Stop” by William Inge, Feb. 22-22, Feb. 26-March 1.
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.