MARINETTE, Wis. (WFRV)
“Anne of Green Gables” is a beloved story that’s more than a century old. A current production is at the tip of a stack of stories.
Children’s theater is taken seriously in the Marinette-Menominee area, maybe more so than in many places.
A youth training program is nurtured, and plays are produced.
Area teachers look to the plays to broaden the scope for their students in class and as a field trip to see a live performance.
Daytime performances are given for school groups, AND six evening performances are given for the public. The same cast performs.
I attended the Thursday morning performance of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Marinette Campus Children’s Theatre in Herbert L. Williams Theatre. Also attending were primarily elementary level public and parochial students from the area, home-school students/teachers and some senior citizens.
If you have never been to a live play with schoolchildren, you might be amazed by the power of theater. This happens all the time: Beforehand, the children talk excitedly, squirm and basically create a wiggly din. The lights go down, and it’s like somebody has flipped a switch to off. The place is suddenly silent. When young people are performing, the kids in the audience are especially fascinated by somebody their age doing something out of the ordinary. The kids’ attention is riveted.
“Anne of Green Gables” holds attention in other ways.
Anne is an orphan. She is sent to live with strangers. The Cuthberts, an unmarried sister and brother, are expecting a boy. Disappointed, the sister wants to send Anne back. When a gossipy and rude neighbor shows up, Anne immediately insults her. Anne is in hot water. Anne chatters all the time, and the brother finds that interesting. Anne is allowed to stay overnight. Tomorrow becomes tomorrow and tomorrow, and Anne comes to love the home called Green Gables as she bungles forward.
The story is a window on the early 20th century, prior to women earning the right to vote, insured savings in banks and walk-in emergency medical care. The place is Canada, so it’s interesting to see in a schoolroom a British flag and a photo of Queen Victoria. Also of interest, one of the characters dies.
Of note, this is a full production with costuming of the era and a large set. The set includes three main areas for the classroom with desks, a living room/dining room of the Cuthberts and a living room of Anne’s best friend. The home furnishings are impressive and of the period.
Director Brittany Welch has her cast prepared for this involving tale. Characters range from children to senior citizens. Key youth characters are portrayed by two players as time passes in the story, basically from the first act to the second.
Featured as Anne Shirley are Bella Nutt as the young version, who talks a mile a minute, and Kate Schwaba as the slightly older Anne, who faces challenges in school and life. Along the way, Anne manages to get into trouble, from getting her best friend drunk to falling off a roof.
Adult characters include Marilla Cuthbert with Emily Halfmann as the unmarried sister, Matthew Cuthbert with Kylar Green as her bachelor brother who finds Anne as a gift in his life and Mrs. Rachel Lynde with Maggie Fernandez as the town busybody.
With the company on cue, Thursday morning’s production mostly ran smoothly, though Joseph Robinette’s script got complex as the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s story grew deeper.
Basically, “Anne of Green Gables” has lasted because it has so much going for it, including humor and sensitivity. In Marinette, the young cast is bringing out its points of fascination with human nature.
And I’ll say it again: Children’s theater is taken seriously in the Marinette-Menominee area, maybe more so than in many places.
Creative: Playwright – Joseph Robinette, adapting from the novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery; director – Brittany Welch; set and lighting designer – Chris Weber; costume designer – Dana Sulk; stage manager – Abbey Fields; assistant stage manager – Cassidy MacArthur; theater assistant – Rebecca Archambault; producing entity – University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Marinette Campus Office of Continuing Education
Cast (alphabetical by player):
Aspynn Andersen – Josie Pye and Carrie
Alaina Archambault – Jane Andrews and Mrs. Allan
Logan Ayers – Jerry Buote, Reverend Bentley, Charlie Sloane
Gabe Behrendt – Jimmy Glover
Kaylee Behrendt – Diana (older)
Rae Leeann Black – Ruby Gillis
Lily Clark – Girl 1
Karsyn DeGayner – Gilbert Blythe (younger)
Wyatt Evancheck – Stationmaster, Mr. Phillips, Reverend Allan, President
Maggie Fernandez – Rachel Lynde
Marin Fernandez – Miss Rogerson, Aunt Josephine
James Grandaw – Ensemble
Carl Green – Gilbert Blythe (older)
Kylar Green – Matthew Cuthbert
Grace Gromala – Ensemble
Andrew Halfmann – Moody MacPherson
Lauraren – Halfmann – Mrs. Barry
Emily Halfmann – Marilla Cuthbert
Izzie Harris – Mrs. Blewett, Josie Pye
Ally Isaacson – Mrs. Susan Stacy
Chet Lacy – Mr. Saddler
Addison Lacy – Prissy Andrews, Jane Andrews
Emma Lesperance – Bessie, Mary Jo
Harold Lesperance – Ensemble
Kelly Mathey – Tillie, Ensemble
Laurana Mines – Girl 2, Minnie May
Leah Mines – Girl 4, Ensemble
Eliana Moreau – Diana Berry (younger)
Bella Nutt – Anne Shirley (younger)
Maia Pecard – Ruby
Novah Pecard – Minnie May
Verah Pecard – Ensemble
Andie Rasmussen – Girl 3
Ella Ray – Girl 5
Kate Schwaba – Anne Shirley (older)
Ethan Truitt – Ensemble
Trent VanDeWalle – Charlie Sloan
Connor Whisler – Moody MacPherson
Sarah Wood – Bessie
Running time: Two hours (with intermission)
Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Feb. 7-8; 2 p.m. Feb. 9; 7 p.m. Feb. 14-15; and 2 p.m. Feb. 16
THE VENUE: The 362-seat Herbert L. Williams Theatre is located in the Fine Arts Building of the University of Wisconsin-Marinette, 750 W. Bay Shore St. The bay of Green Bay is in shouting distance to the east. The facility was built in 1968. Central in the theater is a thrust stage, a half octagon that the audience surrounds. The theater includes brick walls on both sides of the stage and a white ceiling of half circles radiating from the stage, with the area above the stage exposed for the guts of the lighting grid. Three steps lead to the stage, which today bears the name The Nancy A. Gehrke Stage. The design of the stage was one of the first of its kind in the region. The theater feels spacious.
THE PEOPLE: Herbert L. Williams was professor of communication arts and artistic director of Theatre on the Bay with a lively and engaging personality. He loved to act and appeared many times in leading roles at Theatre on the Bay. Mostly, Herb Williams loved to direct. He retired after 30 years in May 1996 and continued to direct and perform in Green Bay and the Fox Cities. He may have directed more plays than anyone in the region. Herb Williams died in 2014 in Green Bay at age 79. A memorial service was held in the theater that bears his name. Nancy A. Gehrke acted for 40 years on the stage named for her. Today, painting is a primary passion.