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Theater Notes: ‘Camping with Henry and Tom’ a play not to miss

By Staff | Jan 27, 2016

This will be one of my favorite plays of the season. I’ve seen and reviewed seven, and this one I urge you to see soon. And bring some teenagers. It will teach them more about American politics than most things they learned in their social studies classes. Student admission is only $5. A bargain and a half.

The play is at the BIG ARTS Herb Strauss Theater. It is by Mark St. Germain who wowed audiences last year with his “Freud’s Last Session.” The gifted actor, Skip Corris, who played Freud is back, and he tackles the curmudgeon in the play, Thomas Edison. Corris makes you believe he is Edison. The excellent performances are certainly part of the joy of the play. But, so are the production values. The set, the work of Adam Trummel, draws you right into the woods. The director, the remarkable Rachel Endrizzi has created a gripping totality to the evening. She is at the top of her game working in the lights and the sound effects that all add to the impact.

The plot is simple, three men out in the wilderness to get away from the pressures of every day life. Ah, but what a threesome they are. Take Edison, with all his quirks, and throw him up against the wild ego of Henry Ford, given a remarkable fully alive portrayal by Robert Summers and then throw in President Warren G. Harding, successfully played with enormous truth by Gallowy Stevens.

Act II really thickens the plot. Henry wants to be president, and run the government the way he ran Detroit. Then we discover that Harding doesn’t really want to be president any more, but, he certainly doesn’t want Ford to be it, either. Their confrontations are brutal and demand our attention. Edison is the witness, and they each want his approval.

All this is back in 1921. But, I doubt if anyone in the audience didn’t make connections with the political noises of election year, 2016. You will make yours, and if you truly enter this exciting play it will change you, sharpen your perceptions, and ask you, “What are you going to stand up for in this election year?”

It is a wonderful journey back into a turning point time in our history. Harding followed Woodrow Wilson and WWI, international turmoil and prohibition. Then comes Calvin Coolidge next, followed by Herbert Hoover, and bang, the great depression, with horrendous damage to mostly the poor in our land, and finally the reign of F.D.R. with all the social justice changes he brought.

In tonight’s play, Henry Ford’s viscous anti-semitism leaves an evil smell in the woods. I remember as a kid, no one at the boarding house I grew up in would ever buy a Ford car, but that’s just one of the issues that gets battled about in “Camping With Henry and Tom.” Ford brags about how many “Negoes” he hired at his factories. A few infidelities grab our attention in Act II.

I urge you to get your tickets fast, before all my friends buy them up. You will not be disappointed. You will be made a little uneasy, but, in my mind, that’s one of the obligations of great theater. I’m so proud of the BIG ARTS Herb Strauss Theater for bringing us this brave and moving play. Let yourself get shook up. Call the box office very soon, (239) 472-6862. Or go online: www.BIGARTS.org

The 4th play I saw in a row. Only runs until Jan. 31.

Well, this was the most totally satisfying of the four glorious plays I saw in four days. It’s title, “Informed Consent” tantalized me. I had never heard of the playwright, Deborah Zoe Laufer. But, I will never forget her. She says in her bio: “I’m drawn to that place where science and religion bump up uncomfortably against each other.” And that’s just what the play does, but, above all, it bumps up for all of us that question: “Do the ends justify the means?” How the play we saw gave the playwright, the director and the cast a resounding standing ovation. It truly was that good.

Simply told, the play is about a passionate and determined ambitious “geneticist” who worms her way into a diabetes study on Native Americans deep in the bottom of a place in the Grand Canyon. DNA is a sixth character in the play. But what a five person cast Kristen Coury, the artistic director, pulled together to make it all work. It is a most deeply moving play, and I passionately urge you to get tickets as soon as you can. It will be a sell out. Word of mouth will pull in half of Naples.

Liz Hayes plays the geneticist and gives what I would nominate for the best actress in a leading role in all of SW Florida. Wait until you see her yourself.

She is ably supported by Edward O’Blenis, as her husband. The conflicts that rise between them had to make everyone in that audience look deep inside their own conflicts. The writing and the acting did just what a great play has to do to win my highest praise, it held up that mirror. I could rave on an on about the whole cast, and you won’t forget them. I am limited to too few words for this review.

Clearly what Ms. Coury, the director, hath wrought may well be a long time highpoint in her career. High praise to the whole technical crew, too. What a set, count those file boxes when you go see it! Call the box office ASAP. (866) 811.4111, or www.gulfshoreplayhouse.org. I may see you there. I can’t wait to see it again.