Playhouse wraps up season with 'Academia Nuts'


Last summer, Gregg Kreutz's "Bottoms Up!" was a popular show at Pioneer Playhouse. This year, play-chooser Charlotte Henson has brought Kreutz's "Academia Nuts," which director Holly Henson calls a play with "gentle, academia-type humor."

"Mom likes his plays," she adds with a grin.

Kreutz attended "Bottoms Up!" last season and plans on being around this week for "Academia Nuts," Henson says.

Promotional material from the Playhouse has said about the play, "A professor's sedate lifestyle is turned topsy-turvy by a down-on-her-luck free spirit named Tammi and a scheming scholar, with a reprehensible ex-husband in tow, who will 'risk it all' to expose a nasty secret that will shock the entire poetry world."

Patricia Hammond, who plays scholar Judith Pixner, says "Academia Nuts" looks at how "shallow" academia can be. And into this closed-off world of academia, where Judith, ex-husband Stewart (Bruce Nicholls) and Peter Smedforson (Daniel Hall Kuhn) are hot on the trail of lost papers of a well-known author comes Tammi (Henson), a stripper on the run from police.


Henson's brows knit and she pauses. Logistics left her, a stand-up comedienne, in the best position to play the comedic role of Tammi, Henson indicates.

"I cast myself in the lead," she says. "I haven't done any acting on the Pioneer Playhouse stage in years."

Says Hammond, "Tammi is not an academic, not an academic at all."

Adds Henson, "Her car breaks down outside of the professor's house. She's on the run from police, and creates a lot of chaos."

Hammond says the play is "farcical, but not in the true sense of the word."

Notes Elisa Abatsis, assistant director, "The characters are more developed in this play than they are in a farce."

Says Hammond, "It's a situational comedy."

Henson says Kuhn is experiencing his heaviest line load with "Academia Nuts," which Hammond says is especially difficult during the fifth show of the season.

"Your brain says you've had enough," Hammond explains.

Henson adds Nicholls is in his funniest role of the summer.

"But it's the hardest dialogue I've ever had to learn," she notes.

The small cast and its characteristics make directing and acting in the show fun, though, Henson says.

"I must say, I love working with this cast," she explains. "They're so professional, and where I'm wearing two hats, I could do this if they weren't. ... Elisa and Pat keep me on the right road."

Young Abatsis is enjoying assistant directing "Academia Nuts."

"It's really relaxed," she notes.

She has aspirations of being a director her self.

"I did a couple of shows in college. It's what I really love to do.

"Here, I learn a lot watching and seeing what works. ... Sometimes I get to block things, and that's really exciting."

Last play was one of the finer ensemble pieces

Editor's note: Although I haven't spent my usual amount of time reviewing this summer at the Playhouse, I've managed to catch all but the second show. The play that closed Saturday, "You Can't Take It With You," was one of the finer ensemble pieces performed by the actors at Pioneer Playhouse this summer.

After seeing it Wednesday, I re-read the review published July 31. In addition to staff writer Rebecca Neal's many insightful and well-worded observations, I simply would add to her commentary that the actors played off one another well and exhibited a particularly seamless chemistry across the board.

Notably good were Andrew Willett and Vanessa David as the star-crossed lovers, Tony and Alice. Both gave their best performances of the summer, with Willett bringing charm and subtlety to his role as the down-to-earth, stable rich boy who falls for the lovely Alice, who comes from a wacky family. David is sweet and feminine as well as strong-willed without being defensive and obnoxious when she decides her family stands between Tony and her. It was a delightful relationship to watch, and added much to the textured meshing of the cast as a whole.

Director David Hilder, a breath of fresh air this summer given his newness to directing at the Playhouse, put together a superb evening of theater for Playhouse-goers. Hopefully, he will return for another stint next summer.

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