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Highlights: Parish Players Revive ‘Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World’

  • Erik Gaetz, left, of Windsor, Vt., performs with Will Moore, of Hanover, N.H., on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, during a rehearsal for "Scooter Thomas Makes it to the Top of the World," at the Parish Players in Thetford, Vt. Gaetz plays Scooter Thomas and Moore plays Dennis Wright in the production. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kay Morton, director of the play "Scooter Thomas Makes it to the Top of the World," sits on a prop on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, during a rehearsal for the production at the Parish Players in Thetford, Vt. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Will Moore, top, of Hanover, N.H., and Erik Gaetz, center, of Windsor, Vt., run through their lines with help from Mike Backman, right, the stage manager for "Scooter Thomas Makes it to the Top of the World," on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, during a rehearsal for the play at the Parish Players in Thetford, Vt. Gaetz plays Scooter Thomas and Moore plays Dennis Wright in the production. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Scott Caldwell, left, as Scooter, and John Greisemer, as Dennis, in the Parish Players' 1979 production of "Scooter Thomas Makes It To The Top Of The World." (Courtesy Henry Higgs)

  • The playbill for Peter Parnell's 1979 Parish Players premiere of "Scooter Thomas Makes It To The Top Of The World." (Courtesy Henry Higgs)

  • Soulfix will perform at the Farmer’s Table in Grantham on Friday.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2017

In Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World, a long-estranged childhood friend explores his memory for clues to what led to the sudden death of the title character.

With the Parish Players preparing to revive Scooter over two weekends starting next Thursday, Peter Parnell is remembering how his play, and the Players, helped launch his career as a dramatist.

Parnell, a 1975 Dartmouth graduate who went on to write such acclaimed plays as QED (in which Alan Alda played the physicist Richard Feynmann), The Sorrows of Stephen and Romance Language, wrote Scooter in the mid-1970s, for what he figured was a one-night stand: a staged reading that he and fellow Dartmouth student Peter Hackett would perform during a benefit for the Parish Players.

“I will never forget it,” Parnell recalled this week, in a telephone conversation from his home in New York City. “It was an overwhelming experience. It was a play that seemed to play well, to work with an audience.”

Encouraged by that reception, Parnell fine-tuned Scooter during the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s national conference for playwrights in 1977 in Connecticut, where he met a who’s-who of aspiring dramatists that included Tony Award-winner-in-waiting Wendy Wasserstein and Andre Bishop, now artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater. He then returned to the Upper Valley, living in Thetford and working with the Parish Players and other theater groups for several years before moving to Los Angeles in the early 1980s.

“The Parish Players always supported me, when I was just beginning to write plays,” Parnell said. “It was very important for me to have a young theater company that was community-based, a community that I could live in and write plays there.”

In 1979, the Parish Players staged a full production of Scooter that starred Scott Caldwell as the star-crossed Scooter and former Valley News reporter John Griesemer as Scooter’s friend Dennis.

“I was so new to acting at that point,” Griesemer, a Lyme resident who went on to act in several John Sayles movies and to become a writer of books, screenplays and TV pilots, recalled this week. “I felt like it was the first time I worked on a new script with the playwright right there … It was so new to think in terms of character and motivation. It was absolutely thrilling. Everybody was working together to convince an audience to follow you through this world, to just go with it, if you meet them halfway and let them use their imagination. I’d never really experienced that from the inside. It pushed me into a realm that was more than a paper for a class.

“Peter (Parnell) was way ahead of us.”

How far ahead, veteran Upper Valley actress/producer Kay Morton first noticed during Parnell’s formative years in Thetford, and especially during the Parish Players’ full production of Scooter in 1979.

“There were almost no props, no lights, no intermission — basically just a box in the middle of the stage,” Morton, who is directing next month’s revival, recalled this week. “I was so taken with it. The writing … this two-character play carried itself so beautifully, so intelligently. One minute you’re laughing, the next you’re crying.”

In rehearsals for next week’s opening, with Will Moore as Dennis and Eric Gaetz as Scooter, Morton finds herself again riding the pendulum of emotions.

“They go from age 10 to their 30s in the blink of an eye,” Morton said. “It’s fabulous to watch them go through the transformations. As Dennis, Will is close to 15 different characters, not only as Dennis at various ages but as the people in Scooter’s life: a gym teacher, a guidance counselor, a menacing father. Will and Eric are both still finding the nuances.”

Among the questions left open in the play, which Parnell based on a story that Hackett had told him, is whether Scooter deliberately jumped or accidentally fell from a peak at Yosemite National Park.

“Grief is a real thing in people’s lives that we don’t acknowledge,” Morton said. “You ask yourself, ‘What didn’t I do that might have prevented this?’ Or, ‘Did I contribute to this somehow?’

“It gives me goose bumps just talking about it.”

Peter Parnell, whose body of work also includes television screenplays and children’s books, admits to shivering a bit himself at the news of a revival on Thetford Hill.

“I’m very moved by it, very touched by it,” Parnell said. “It’s a play that has always had a life, yet it started there.”

The Parish Players stage Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World at the Eclipse Grange Theatre on Thetford Hill starting next Thursday night at 7:30. To reserve tickets ($10 to $15) and learn more, visit parishplayers.org or call 802-785-4344. Proceeds benefit the programs of West Central Behavioral Health.

Best Bets

Singer-songwriter Susan Werner performs tonight at 8 at the Flying Goose Brewpub and Grille in New London. For tickets ($25) and more information, visit flyinggoose.com or call 603-526-6899.

Enfield’s Shaker Bridge Theatre kicks off a three-weekend run of Mark St. Germain’s romantic comedy Dancing Lessons tonight at 7:30. Subsequent performances at Whitney Hall in downtown Enfield each weekend on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 and on Sunday afternoons at 2:30. For tickets ($16 to $35) and more information, visit shakerbridgetheatre.org or call 603-448-3750.

The Junction Youth Center hosts a Snow Ball for LGBTQ teens and their peer allies on Friday night from 6 to 9, at its headquarters in the LISTEN Thrift Store building in White River Junction. Admission is free to the gathering, where there will be live music for dancing, pizza, and information about services for the LGBTQ community.

The Hopkins Center brings the documentary Walk With Me back to Hanover for a bonus screening on Friday night at 7 at Spaulding Auditorium. For tickets ($5 to $8) to the movie, which explores Plum Village, the Zen Buddhist community where Thich Nhat Hanh teaches the art of mindfulness, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Northeast Kingdom filmmaker Jay Craven hosts a screening of his 1991 film Where the Rivers Flow North on Friday night at 7:30 at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. The film, which stars Rip Torn as a Vermont logger refusing to adapt to changing times in the 1920s, was Craven’s first adaptation of a novel by Howard Frank Mosher, who died earlier this year. Admission is $12 to $50, with proceeds benefiting White River Indie Films and Kingdom County Productions. To learn more, visit wrif.org.

Circus acrobats Seth Bloom and Christina Gelsone collaborate with “air sculptor” Daniel Wurtzel on three performances of Air Play at Dartmouth College’s Moore Theater over the weekend, starting Saturday afternoon at 3. Subsequent shows are scheduled for Saturday night at 7 and Sunday afternoon at 2. To reserve tickets ($13 to $40) and learn more, visithop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

As a tribute to Rob Gattie for riding herd on annual musicals for generations of Hartford High School students, the Briggs Opera House hosts a Fa La La Holiday Revue on Saturday night at 7. The entertainment includes performances by students of the Raq On Dance and Dancers’ Corner studios, of the Upper Valley Music Center and of Valley Improv, and a screening of a short film by Hartford graduate Jake Haehnel. Admission is $12. To learn more, visit the opera house’s Facebook page.

If you missed NBC’s broadcast of A Very Pentatonix Christmas this week, check out the rebroadcast on Wednesday night of the a cappella ensemble’s holiday special, with particular attention to the animated segment. Lebanon resident and freelance animator Bona Bones worked with the team that created the stop-motion avatars of the singers and the scenery. The special starts at 8 p.m., on WPTZ Channel 5.

Looking Ahead

City Center Ballet will dance the Clara’s Dream passage of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker on the stage of the Lebanon Opera House four times over the first weekend of December, starting next Thursday night at 7. For tickets ($9 to $38 in advance, $14 to $43 at the door) and more information, visit lebanonoperahouse.org or call 603-448-0400.

Theater/Performance Art

Northern Stage continues its production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction over the coming week, starting this afternoon at 2 and tonight at 7:30. For tickets ($15 to $69) and more information about the musical, which runs through Jan. 7, visit northernstage.org or call 802-296-7000.

The Newport Opera House stages It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, an adaptation of the Jimmy Stewart movie, on Friday night at 7:30 and on Sunday afternoon at 2. Admission is $10.

BarnArts holds auditions for its 2018 production of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs on Saturday and Monday, at ArtisTree’s Grange Theatre in South Pomfret. There are roles for three males ages 15, 18 and early 40s, respectively, and for four females ages 13, 16, late 30s and early 40s. Auditions are scheduled for 2 to 4 on Saturday afternoon and for 7 to 9 on Monday night.

Regular rehearsals begin in January, for performances that will take place the second and third weekends of February. To learn more about auditioning, visit barnarts.org or email info@barnarts.org or call Tom Beck at 802-359-2279.

Music

The Sunapee Flute Choir, the Exit 13 Tuba Quartet and the Kearsarge Elementary School Chime Choir collaborate on a concert of holiday favorites on Friday night at 5 at the Center for the Arts in New London. Admission is free. To learn more, visit centerfortheartsnh.org or call 603-526-4444.

Singer-guitarist David Greenfield performs at the entrance to the Tip Top Building in White River Junction on Friday night from 6 to 8, as part of the downtown’s First Friday celebration.

The Thetford Chamber Singers continue their 40th winter tour of central Vermont with performances on Friday night at 7:30 at the First Congregational Church in Woodstock, and on Sunday evening at 4:30 and 7:30 at the First Congregational Church on Thetford Hill. Admission at the door is $15. To reserve tickets ($8 to $12) and learn more, visit thetfordchambersingers.org.

The Freelance Family Singers perform sacred and secular music of the yuletide and solstice season on Saturday night at 7 and on Sunday afternoon at 3, at the First Congregational Church of Woodstock. Admission is free, with a donation of non-perishable food for the Community Food Shelf.

Jazz pianist Eric Mintel leads his quartet into the First Congregational Church of Lebanon on Sunday afternoon at 4, to play tribute to Vince Guaraldi, particularly Guaraldi’s score for A Charlie Brown Christmas. To reserve tickets ($10 to $20) and learn more, visit lebanonoperahouse.org or call 603-448-0400.

Pianist/composer Deborrah Wyndham plays music of the holiday and solstice season on Tuesday night at 7 at the Fiske Free Library in Claremont. Admission is free.

Film

The Marion Cross School hosts a screening of the documentary The Best Day Ever next Thursday night at 6. Southern Vermont-based documentarian Chris Hardee and Antioch University New England education professor David Sobel will discuss the film, which follows New Hampshire kindergartners and their teachers on their weekly day of outdoor learning, throughout the year regardless of weather. Admission is free.

Bar and Club Circuit

Sky King rocks the Peyton Place restaurant in Orford tonight, between 6 and 9.

Guitarist Ted Mortimer and saxophonist Katie Runde pull into Windsor Station tonight at 7:30. Rusted Chrome plays country and classic-rock hits at the station on Saturday night at 9:30.

SIRSY plays a set of rock at the Salt hill Pub in Lebanon tonight at 9.

The Brian Cook Band plays Big Fatty’s BBQ in downtown White River Junction on Friday night from 6 to 8.

The Crowes Pasture folk duo of Monique and Andy Byrne play the Sunapee Community CoffeeHouse on Friday night at 7, downstairs at the Methodist Church in Sunapee Harbor. While admission is free, donations are welcome.

Soulfix performs at the Farmer’s Table in Grantham on Friday night from 7 to 10.

Bassist Peter Concilio, keyboardist Bob Merrill, drummer Tim Gilmore and guest musicians to be announced play jazz on Friday night from 8 to 11 at the Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

Enfield’s Borderstone Band plays its mix of rock, rockabilly, alt-country and blues on Friday night at 9 at Club Diesel Sports Bar & Lounge in White River Junction.

Sensible Shoes rocks the Crossroads Bar and Restaurant in South Royalton on Friday night starting at 9.

Saxophonist Michael Parker and singer-guitarist Alison “AliT” Turner perform at the Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Saturday night at 9.

The Sensible Shoes Trio of Tim Utt, Barbara Blaisdell and Pooh Sprague plays the SILO Distillery in Windsor on Sunday afternoon starting at 1.

Open Mics

The ever-in-motion Jim Yeager hosts the following open mics over the coming week: tonight at 7 at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret; on Monday night at 8 at Bentley’s in Woodstock; at the Public House in Quechee on Tuesday night at 6; and on Wednesday night at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

String players of all ages and abilities are welcome at the weekly acoustic jam session at South Royalton’s BALE Commons on Friday night from 6:30 to 10.

Joe Stallsmith leads a weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass at Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Monday nights starting at 6.

Fiddler Jakob Breitbach leads a weekly acoustic jam session of bluegrass, Americana and old-timey music on Tuesday nights at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304. Entertainment-related news and announcements also can be sent to highlights@vnews.com.