Hilarious Homegrown Theater

April 3, 2014 |
The cast of "Kill Grandpa" rehearing in March. Pictured, left to right, is Tony Ecstat, Nell Summers, Maria Fletcher, with Callie Hutchison on the couch. photo: Craig Baker

The cast of “Kill Grandpa” rehearing in March. Pictured, left to right, is Tony Ecstat, Nell Summers, Maria Fletcher, with Callie Hutchison on the couch.
photo: Craig Baker

Local playwright Peré Summers never aspired to write humor. In fact, until she retired two years ago, Summers spent her previous life as an occupational therapist—a job she once described as “being in a new play every forty-five minutes.” In her capacity as a medical professional she says she published a handful of papers in journals and presented at international conferences, but writing plays—especially comedic plays—had never crossed her mind. “I’m surprised that I have a sense of humor,” says Summers with an enthusiastic smile, “my mother never thought I did.”

Summers’ mother, who she describes as “the Wicked Witch of the West,” found her way into her daughter’s first play (titled A Pain in the Aunt) as the lead character in a production that ran for six weeks at the Comedy Playhouse last year. She says the reception was good enough that they asked her back for round two, and a number of Playhouse regulars have even been asking about when another play by Summers might surface. Well, the wait is over.

Her most recent effort—a comedy of familial errors in two acts titled Let’s Kill Grandpa—is at times laugh-out-loud funny. In it, the audience is welcomed into the home of the loveable-yet-dysfunctional Daggot family; Grandpa died over a year ago and the Daggots failed to notify the social security office, or anyone else for that matter. Now, with the family fortune missing and their secret under threat of exposure, the Daggots decide to “kill” Grandpa once-and-for-all to collect on his life insurance policy. The resulting ride of ridiculousness is nothing short of delightful.

Both acts are set in just one room of the house, with a view of the front stoop and entryway providing the opportunity for some hilariously ironic moments. The play is written specifically for the Comedy Playhouse and its team, where Summers’ daughter Nell both acts and directs. Because Summers is so familiar with the small theater’s available resources, the constraints that might limit other productions actually benefit Summers’ work. She writes her roles to the players’ strengths, wittily incorporates available props and costumes, and says she genuinely has fun doing it. And it’s a good thing since no one at the Comedy Playhouse sees any payment for their work—these guys are all there literally for the love of the art form.

If you weren’t searching for the Comedy Playhouse at First Avenue and Prince Road you’d likely drive right by without seeing it. The building is set back from the road about two-hundred yards in a single-story adobe complex that looks as if it were built in the late 1970s and left to manage itself. The theater is a bit of a hole-in-the-wall—one of those places that always seems to be occupied by either a military recruitment office or a karate school. But in this thirty-by-sixty foot space humbly located behind a coin-operated laundry and a tattoo parlor, a handful of local drama buffs are leaving it all on stage more than 150 times per year.

Bruce Bieszki, owner and operator of the Playhouse, got the troupe together in its current space after the Top Hat Theater closed down five years ago. Bieszki says he’s not expecting any “big life epiphanies” to take place in his thirty-two seat arena since he sticks pretty much exclusively to mystery and comedy shows. “My goal is to make you walk out the door feeling better than when you walked in,” says Bieszki, “what I’m offering is two pleasant hours.” And that’s just what patrons of the Playhouse can expect to get.

The Comedy Playhouse is located at 3620 N. First Ave. Performances of “Let’s Kill Grandpa” run this month on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through May 4. Tickets are $18 general admission, $16 for students and seniors. For more information or to make reservations, call (520) 260-6442 or visit TheComedyPlayhouse.com.

Category: Arts, Entertainment, Events