By June Jordan
A time-warp wedding with a ghost, A.R. Gurney’s hit play “Black Tie” is coming to the stage of the Murrells Inlet Community Theatre. The troupe’s final show in the red-brick Community Center on Murrells Inlet Road – slated for replacement next year – “Black Tie” is a charming look at fathers and sons, men and women, marriage, the perils of advice, the pace of change and the passing of customs.
“Black Tie” has a lot to say about tradition and change, and with this show, set for an eight-performance, two-weekend run May 10-13 and May 17-20, the Murrells Inlet Community Theatre will celebrate and bid an early farewell to another tradition – that of the Community Center itself, once the Murrells Inlet Elementary School and for the past 14 years the home of the community theater company.
“We’ve had a wonderful home here our first 14 years,” says Mike Bivona, president of the theater, “and we’ve got a great working relationship with the Georgetown County Parks and Recreation Department. But next year, during the construction of the new center, we’ll have no place for our audience to park. So ‘Black Tie’ is our last hurrah in this great old auditorium, and all next year we’ll be putting our ‘show on the road’ — doing smaller works, smaller performances, wherever there’s space and a desire for quality community theater. By the fall of 2012, we’ll be back here in the new center and returning to fully staged productions.”
As a parting gift to its patrons and neighbors in the Inlet, the theater will be donating a portion of the ticket proceeds for “Black Tie” – beyond production expenses and the rent it pays the county – to the Murrells Inlet Church of God Food Bank on Gilbert Avenue. The Scouts of Murrells Inlet Troop 734 of the Girl Scouts of America are contributing too: At intermission, play-goers will enjoy free punch and Girl Scout Cookies courtesy of the theater, the proceeds of which will be donated by the Scouts to the Food Bank; and for “Black Tie” the Scouts are also volunteering as ushers.
Set on a wedding weekend in an Adirondacks hotel long past its glory days, “Black Tie” finds Curtis, the father of the groom, trying to write his speech for the rehearsal dinner – a speech that will distill a father’s wisdom, hope, and advice for the newlyweds, if not the ages. Meanwhile, Curtis’s own father — actually, his ghost — is looking doubtfully over his shoulder, wittily bemoaning civilizational decline and the fading of fine customs, and holding his son accountable on all fronts. (The very idea of a “rehearsal dinner” offends this ghost: As any gentleman should know, it’s properly called a “bridal dinner”; and at a proper one the men wear trousers, not pants, and the band produces music, not noise!)
Revered custom, morality, manners, and tradition may make their stand through a ghost, but life is for the living. And with this wedding – decidedly not Black Tie – life holds a few surprises for both the wedding party and their dubious guest.
“Black Tie,” like “The Cocktail Hour,” “Sylvia,” and “Later Life,” all done previously by the MICT, is another charming installment in the A.R. Gurney dramatic canon of family relationships, the changes that time brings, and the vagaries of love. Directing “Black Tie” is Todd Lundquist, a director new to the Inlet stage but well-seasoned in far venues. After growing up in Connecticut, Todd lived in Manhattan for 12 years, where he worked as associate director on such plays as An Almost Holy Picture starring Kevin Bacon, After the Fall with Peter Krause; The Pillowman with Jeff Goldblum; and Heartbreak House with Swoosie Kurtz. Also the director of the Murrells Inlet Community Theatre’s Second Stage troupe, Todd has lived in Murrells Inlet for four years.
Father (or the ghost of Father) is played by Dennis McAlpine, who moved to the Lowcountry five years ago after a career on Wall Street, where he worked as an analyst covering the media and entertainment industries. Dennis has appeared in numerous productions at MICT, as well as with Georgetown’s Swamp Fox Players and the Myrtle Beach Senior Center, and often works backstage in technical capacities. His most recent appearance onstage at MICT was in “Hotel on Marvin Gardens.”
New to the Inlet stage in the role of Curtis, Nick Cianciatto is a recent transplant to Murrells Inlet, currently working as an Emergency Department nurse at Waccamaw Hospital. A native New Yorker, Nick has appeared with many theater groups in New York. Most recently, Nick toured Arizona with Murder Ink Productions/Arizona Performing Arts interactive Murder Mysteries.
Wife to Curtis and mother of the groom, Lynda Harvey was last seen in MICT’s production of the Mark Dunn play, “Belles,” which marked her return to the stage after a 16-year hiatus. Lynda has performed in more than 50 plays, from Shakespeare and Ibsen to musicals, as well as television shows and movies. For 25 years Lynda has been a practitioner and teacher of acupuncture, psychology and Oriental Medicine, most recently in San Diego.
Bridegroom Teddy is played by Chad Smith, a Myrtle Beach native and self-described “Air Force brat” who has lived in Hawaii, Nebraska, and North Carolina, coming home to the Grand Strand in 1994. A senior at Coastal Carolina University, Chad majors in elementary education. Chad has worked backstage for the Radio City Rockettes, and been an extra in television and movies; “Black Tie” is his debut on the stage.
Rachel Tomovski, who also appeared last fall in “Belles,” is in the role of Elsie – sister of the groom and the bearer, more often than not, of bad news. Born and raised in Toronto, Rachel earned a B.A. in Theatre Arts at the University of Toronto and a B.Ed from Queen’s University. Rachel worked in Dallas as a talent agent for television and film, and performed dinner theatre with the Dallas Actors Company. In 2007, she moved with her husband and two boys to Murrells Inlet, where she has performed with MICT and with Swamp Fox Players. Rachel works at the Montessori School of Pawleys Island, teaching drama to elementary students.
“The wedding may not be ‘Black Tie’ in any sense the old father’s ghost would recognize,” says Mike Bivona. “But it’s great fun, from a much-loved playwright, a fine director and a fine cast. And this occasion is an important one – not just on the stage. We want old friends and new to join us in a wonderful evening at the theater, and join us in offering a communal toast – to a center that has been so much to the entire Murrells Inlet community, and a wonderful home to us.”
“Black Tie” opens Thursday, May 10 with an 8 p.m. curtain, and both weekends will have evening shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and matinees at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $10 apiece, and may be reserved through the box-office anytime at 843-651-4152.