Acting out in Ambler

The Act II Playhouse artistic director discusses the 2015-2016 season                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The room may be small, but the laughs can be huge.

That’s the dual appeal of the Act II Playhouse, according to artistic director Tony Braithwaite. “The audiences here are not reserved or tepid, or afraid to laugh or voice their enjoyment,” he said of the crowds that regularly fills the 136-seat space — what he calls a “pocket vest theater” — in Ambler.

“They’re right there with us, just shy of booing the villains when they come on. It’s very vibrant.”

It’s that dynamic relationship that’s kept Braithwaite, who acted for years on the stage before taking his current position, at the Playhouse for nearly a decade. And, it’s what drove many of the choices for their upcoming season.

“Comedies have become a bit of our brand,” he noted. “They appeal so largely and are very popular.”

And. the 2015-2016 season has plenty of them. Three of the five shows are relatively new comedies, all having been premiered within the past 15 years.

According to Goldman, which debuted in Philadelphia 11 years ago, is a comedic look at Hollywood from the perspective of a screenwriter-turned-professor attempted a comeback in the film business.  “I loved it right away,” said Braithwaite about first reading the script. “ I started laughing out loud.”

The Fox and the Fairway, a farce about the goings-on at the fictional Quail Valley Country Club, was first mounted five years ago. And, new this year is On the Road Again, a comedy cabaret by Braithwaite and fellow Act II regular Jen Childs.

“She and I have done a bunch of these together, and it seemed like time to do another,” he said simply.

Even the productions that aren’t necessarily comedies have their moments: the classic musical Kiss Me Kate is upbeat, and even the celebrated Driving Miss Daisy has its funny moments.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years,” said Braithwaite of the latter. “I love it and I’ve wanted to see these actors in it.”

And, he’s excited to do it in Ambler, a town he said has seen a great revival. “20 years ago there were tumbleweeds going by. Now it’s jumping,” he noted. The Playhouse, said Braithwaite, had a big part of that revitalization. “The main street is alive and well, there’s a tremendous restaurant scene and a lot of nightlife on the main drag.”

There’s especially a lot of life on the stage, where anything can happen and sometimes does. The occasional mistake, be it a missed cue or an onstage mishap, said Braithwaite, is inevitable. “It’s the nature of the beast, the law of averages.”

For some, it’s unnerving, but to him it’s an opportunity.

“It enhances the experience, in a way. The audience is subconsciously reminded it’s live. There’s an adrenaline rush. The stakes go up,” he said. “They’re reminded that it’s a tightrope act, and sometimes you fall.”

Braithwaite recalled a moment two seasons ago, when his character was eating chocolates and he started to choke. “I went to say my lines and no words came out,” he said.

As the audience wondered what would happen next, he put up a finger as if to say, “one moment,” and rushed offstage where the stage manager was already waiting with a glass of water. Walking back he called offstage, “thanking” another character for their help, to play it off.

“Those moments, I go ‘yeah, that’s the joy of it,’” said Braithwaite. “It’s more real, certainly unique, and certainly not the same film that’s going to be shown at 10:45 at night.”

And, it seems that audiences in Montgomery County and beyond agree with him: this season, the playhouse has the highest number of subscribers in their history, close to 2,100.

“It’s realy excited to have so many people responding to what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s very validating.”  

The 2015 – 2016 Season at the Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave. in Ambler, begins on Sept. 8 with According to Goodman. Tickets are now available for all shows. For information or to order tickets, visit http://www.act2.org.

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