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Highlights: Parish Players Reunites a Pair of Local Actors as the Lomans

  • As Willy Loman, Mike Backman, of Quechee, Vt., rehearses a scene from "Death of a Salesman" at Parish Players in Thetford, Vt., on May 9, 2016. The show opens on May 20. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Playing Linda Loman, Kay Morton, of Thetford, Vt., rehearses a scene in "Death of a Salesman" at Parish Players in Thetford, Vt., on May 9, 2016. The show opens on May 20. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, Mike Backman, of Quechee, Vt., Kay Morton, of Thetford, Vt., and Peter Mendes, of Lebanon, N.H., rehearse a scene from "Death of a Salesman" at Parish Players in Thetford, Vt., on May 9, 2016. Backman plays Willy Loman, Morton is Linda Loman and Mendes is Uncle Ben. The show opens on May 20. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rachel Perry Kieffer, of Thetford Center, Vt., waits for her cue to go onstage as Will Giblin, of Bradford, Vt., and Sam Chapin, of Thetford Center, Vt., rehearse a scene from "Death of a Salesman" at Parish Players in Thetford, Vt., on May 9, 2016. Kieffer plays Miss Forsythe, Giblin is Stanley and Chapin is Happy Loman. The show opens on May 20. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • An actor's script for Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" is off stage during rehearsal at Parish Players in Thetford, Vt., on May 9, 2016. The show opens on May 20. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • As Willy Loman, Mike Backman, of Quechee, Vt., enters the stage while rehearsing "Death of a Salesman" at Parish Players in Thetford, Vt., on May 9, 2016. The show opens on May 20. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/11/2016 10:00:24 PM
Modified: 5/12/2016 9:59:53 AM

Long before they started rehearsing to play Willy and Linda Loman in the Parish Players’ upcoming production of Death of a Salesman, Mike Backman and Kay Morton were paying attention to each other’s cues while portraying married couples on Upper Valley stages.

“I thought this was five times,” Backman, who lives with his husband in Quechee, said this week. “It could be six.”

Whatever the number, the relationship is at the point where Morton’s husband, John, has grown accustomed to sharing.

“When John gave me a book,” Backman said, “he wrote in it something like, ‘To Mike: It’s so nice getting to know you through our wife.’”

Over the last several years, Valley theatergoers have gotten to know these stage veterans as a duo: In the spring of 2014, they played the snobbish Pam and Freddie in Shaker Bridge Theatre’s interpretation of the comedy Joe Egg.

The following fall they reunited as Mary and James, the troubled couple in the Parish Players’ production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Most recently, they played the Bradmans in Northern Stage’s run of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit in March 2015.

“I think we’re both passionate about acting, about being truthful to our characters,” Kay Morton said this week. “There’s a nice synergy. We feel comfortable with one another. … I really trust him onstage. He’s very steady. He’s quietly encouraging. I don’t ever feel criticized or threatened. Actors have a lot of insecurities that alter your feelings if you let them.”

Backman is grateful that directors at different theaters, including Ray Chapin at Parish Players for this production as well as Journey, keep letting them harness those insecurities and neuroses and convert them into drama and comedy alike.

“It really helps when you work with somebody for so long,” Backman said. “It’s almost like you are married. Sometimes with two actors, you already know where the comfort zone is. You don’t have to play all those little games to find out where the other actor is coming from.”

Both actors figure that playing the couple at the center of Long Day’s Journey helped prepare them to take on the rigors of Salesman together.

“Mike really spends a long time thinking about the character, perusing the script over and over again, trying to understand why the character is doing what he’s doing.” Morton said. “When you have that kind of energy to play off of, that deepens what you bring to the audience.”

Backman’s relationship with Arthur Miller’s signature play, about a man who’s simultaneously losing his professional touch and his mind in post-World War II America while his family despairs of helping him cope, goes back to when he played the elder son, Biff Loman, decades ago.

“This is my favorite play,” Backman said. “That has not wavered over the years. Such a powerful piece.”

Backman said the most memorable of the many portrayals of Willy Loman was  Brian Dennehy’s, on Broadway in 2000. Now it’s his turn.

“It’s the biggest part I’ve ever had to memorize,” he said. “I think Arthur Miller’s writing just fits me. With other playwrights, you’re memorizing the idea, and then the playwright’s words don’t fit the way you would say them. You’re memorizing almost twice. Arthur Miller, the way I think is the way he writes.”

And the way Miller wrote Willy Loman, going back and forth in time and memory, is resonating for Backman in a way it might not have for him before his father died earlier this year.

“I’m convinced that Willy is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” Backman said. “They weren’t using that language in the late 1940s, but it’s so clear. In every rehearsal, I hit a point where I see my father.”

The role of Linda Loman also presents challenges for Morton.

“She’s very subdued,” Morton said. “She’s not the kind of character I’ve played for a while. She’s forever patient. … She listens a lot of the time. You have to be quiet on stage and not feel like you have to react to every little thing, and stay steady and stand there, but be ever present. You have to stay in the moment, listening acutely to what’s happening, but not push it.”

The Parish Players open Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman with performances next Friday and Saturday nights at 7 and at 2 on the afternoon of May 22 at the Eclipse Grange theater on Thetford Hill. For tickets ($10 to $15) and more information, visit parishplayers.org or call 802-785-4344.

Best Bets

The White River Indie Festival opens on Friday afternoon at 4 in Northern Stage’s Barrette Center for the Arts, with a two-hour, mixed-media presentation on the evolution of logging in northern New England. After filmmaker Herb Di Gioia screens the digital restoration of Chester Grimes, his and colleague David Hancock’s 1970 documentary about a Northeast Kingdom logger who harvests trees with horses, poet Verandah Porche and painter Kathleen Kolb will discuss their collaboration on the exhibit, “Shedding Light on the Working Forest,” selections from which will be displayed throughout the festival; admission is free on a first-come, first-served basis.

Subsequent events include a festival-opening gala on Friday night at 6, then a screening at 7 of Coming Through the Rye, South Woodstock filmmaker Jim Sadwith’s dramatization of his 1969 encounter with J.D. Salinger, featuring Academy Award-winner Chris Cooper as the reclusive author. Admission to the movie alone is $7 plus processing fee, and $40 combined for the movie and the gala.

The festival closes Monday night with a screening of the documentary Zydeco Crossroads followed by a zydeco dance party. For more information on tickets and showtimes, visit wrif.org.

In memory of longtime director Carole Blake, the Upper Valley Community Band plays a concert of some of its favorite pieces and special selections at the Lebanon Opera House on Saturday night at 7:30. For tickets ($5 to $10) and more information, email uppervalleycommunityband@gmail.com.

Fiddler Dave Langford and pianist/guitarist/flutist Kate Barnes set the rhythm and Dave Eisenstadter calls the steps for Muskeg Music’s monthly contradance on Saturday night from 8 to 11 at Tracy Hall in Norwich. Newcomers are welcome to learn the basics during an introductory walk-through at 7:45. Dancers should bring clean, soft-soled shoes, as well as snacks for the potluck break. Admission is $6 to $9. For more information, visit uvdm.org.

Singer-songwriter Judy Collins brings her iconic voice and her decades worth of stories of musical collaborations and social activism to the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph on Sunday night at 7. For tickets ($30 to $60) and more information, visit catamountarts.org.

Hopkins Center pianist-in-residence Sally Pinkas collaborates with cellist Jan Muller-Szeraws on a recital of works of Bach, Beethoven and Franck on Tuesday night at 7 at Dartmouth College’s Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover. For tickets ($17 to $27) and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Starting Wednesday night at 7:30 at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, City Center Ballet of Lebanon stages five performances of Felix Mendelssohn’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Subsequent shows at the Briggs are scheduled for May 20 at 7:30 p.m., May 21 at 4 and 7:30 p.m. and May 22 at 4 p.m. For tickets ($7.50 to $36 in advance, $12.50 to $41 at the door), and more information email dance@citycenterballet.org or call 603-448-9710.

Theater/Performance Art

Shaker Bridge Theatre in Enfield stages Nicky Silver’s adult-themed, family-dysfunction comedy The Lyons through May 22. For tickets ($25 to $32) and more information, visit shakerbridgetheatre.org or call 603-448-3750.

Revels North is inviting aspiring and practicing actors, dancers, singers, comedians, jugglers and other performers to rehearsals for its Summer Revels circus show on June 18 at the Norwich Green. The first weekly rehearsal is Monday; to register and learn more, visit revelsnorth.org or call 802-556-3083 or email info@revelsnorth.org.

Music

Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall hosts “The Next Generation,” its annual showcase for young musicians and singers, on Friday night at 7:30. Performers include string players and singers from the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon. To reserve tickets ($10 to $16) and learn more, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-6464.

The acoustic-rock trio Second Wife and the Haywire string band perform at Randolph’s Chandler Center for the Arts on Saturday night at 7:30. For general-admission tickets ($12) to the show in the Esther Mesh Room, and more information, visit chandler-arts.org or call 802-728-6464.

The Handel Society of Dartmouth College presents Bach’s Mass in B-minor on Saturday night at 8 in Spaulding Auditorium. For tickets ($10 to $20) and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

Dance

As a benefit for the Center for the Arts’ programs and scholarships for students in the Lake Sunapee region, five prominent residents of the area will join forces with professionals from the Newport Ballroom Dance Studio for the “Dancing with the Lake Sunapee Stars” contest, Saturday night at 7 in Colby-Sawyer College’s Sawyer Theater in New London. Before the contest, there will be refreshments and a silent auction, the list of which is viewable at centerfortheartsnh.org. Tickets at the door cost $30. For advance tickets ($20 for members of the Center for the Arts, $25 for others), visit centerfortheartsnh.org or New London’s Morgan Hill Bookstore or the Tatewell Gallery. For more information, email info@centerfortheartsnh.org or call 603-526-4444.

Bar and Club Circuit

Guitarist Jason Pettus plays at the Canoe Club in Hanover tonight at 6:30. Following him to the microphone with 6:30 to 9:30 shows over the coming week are Sullivan County-raised folk singer-songwriter Cormac McCarthy on Friday, singer-guitarist Cindy Geilich on Sunday, guitarist Ted Mortimer on Wednesday and pianist Gillian Joy next Thursday. In addition, the Party Crashers set the pace for a dance party on Saturday night starting at 9. And on Monday night starting at 5:30, Marko the Magician performs his weekly, tableside sleight-of-hand.

Off the Rails pulls into Windsor Station to play a set of roots rock tonight from 7 to 10. Next up over the coming week are About Gladys on Friday night at 9:30, the Adam McMahon Trio on Saturday night at 9:30 and Enfield-raised singer-songwriter Hannah Hoffman on Tuesday night at 6.

The Mike Parker R & B Duo plays at Bentley’s restaurant in Woodstock tonight at 8, followed next Thursday night at the same hour by Royalton singer-songwriter Alison “Ali T” Turner.

The folk duo Bobbi & Me performs at Jesse’s restaurant in Hanover on Friday night at 5.

Alison “AliT” Turner performs at the Three Stallion Inn in Randolph on Friday night from 7 to 9.

The Friday night lineup at the Upper Valley’s Salt hill pubs features the Kenny Brothers Band with a set of mountain rock in Lebanon, The Tricksters in Hanover and Brett Wilson with a blend of reggae-pop and roots in Newport. On Saturday, the choices are the R & B ensemble Juke Joynt in Newport and Alex Smith with Mountain Sound in Lebanon. Shows start at 8.

The Stone Cold Roosters set the rhythm for dancing with a set of roots, country, rock and original tunes at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night starting at 8.

Singer-guitarist David Greenfield performs at Stone Arch Bakery in Lebanon on Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The Sensible Shoes trio of Tim Utt, Barbara Blaisdell and Pooh Sprague plays and sings at the Lyme Inn next Thursday night from 6:30 to 9:30.

Open Mics

Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza in Bridgewater hosts an open mic starting at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Participants get a free large cheese pizza.

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.

Al Carruth and EJ Trotter host the Sunapee Community Coffeehouse’s monthly open mic in the Sunapee Methodist Church on Friday night at 7. Musicians and storytellers and other performers can register to take the stage for their 15 minutes of fame.

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

Bradford’s Colatina Exit holds an open mic on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

The Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon runs an open mic on Tuesday nights, beginning at 8.

Jim Yeager hosts an open mic at Hartland’s Skunk Hollow Tavern, at 8:30 on Wednesday nights.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

 

 




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