Pioneer Playhouse presenting comedy with a drawl


A sprinkle of soulfulness, a dash of poignancy, and more than a pinch of comedy are blended together for the final offering at Pioneer Playhouse, "Bay at the Moon."

Assistant director Elisa Abatsis says the show is "a play people can relate to." It's a play about the relationship between family members, she notes.

Adds director Holly Henson, "It's very unusual for a comedy to be about the passage of life. It's poignant, touching and real-life. ... It's a very soulful Southern comedy."

Henson also is starring as Ava, who with sister Delmarie is facing Daddy's (Dave Haller) struggles with Alzheimer's. But Ava is the sole caretaker, while "Delmarie floats in and floats out."


"Ava is becoming a hermit under the strain," notes Henson. "Her sister is trying to get her to have a normal life, and sets her up on one disastrous blind date after another.

"Pat (Hammond) and I both bring a lot of subtext to the roles."

One of those blind dates is Lamar (visiting actor John Alexander, of Somerset), a good ol' boy who doesn't impress anybody but Delmarie's husband, Ed (Bruce Nicholls.) Also in the picture is a male nurse, Lonnie (Robert G. Hess), who comes to the home to help care for Daddy.

An added element to "Bay at the Moon" is performances by local gospel musicians James Daugherty, Vicki Troxler and Cherine McCowan.

"We want this to be an uplifting, heart-warming experience because I know it is for us as we work on it," Henson says. "The (family in the) play reminds you of your family, warts and all. They love each other but they fight. People can identify with that.

"I'm also interested to see the interplay of soulful music and a soulful play."

Henson says she has been "so happy with this cast."

"I picked my dream cast and they're just going to do a wonderful job. They're directing it with me. And my assistant director has excellent insights and input. She's our third eye.

"Everybody is helping me out. Matt (Franta, the stage manager) is setting up the sound cues and props - that's the mark of a true talent. He had a lead in 'The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940' and he is doing just as good a job stage managing."

Directing is Abatsis' favorite

Abatsis came back to Kentucky for her third summer Pioneer Playhouse. In that time, she has acted, assistant directed, stage managed and done a bit of everything else at the summerstock theater. Directing is her favorite, though.

"When you're an actor, you're close to the canvas," Abatsis says. "A director sees the big picture, and how everything comes together."

Nicholls returned for his second season this summer at Pioneer Playhouse.

"It's a good company," he notes. "I enjoy it down here. You get five plays in your head and you're spitting them out."

Haller has been acting at Pioneer Playhouse off and on for over 30 years.

"I did a play in 1970, '80, '90 and 2000," Haller notes, who retired as director of the theater at Transylvania University in 1994. "Going back to the first show I ever did, one of Eben's (Henson, the late playhouse founder) creations, he had a guy to play a role, but (the actor) was called away. He asked if I could fill in. That is the arrangement we've had for years."

A similar situation happened this summer, and John Alexander of Somerset was called in to play the role of Lamar.

"I'm really the dialogue coach," Alexander says wryly, in a more discernible Southern drawl than the rest of the actors.

Alexander has been an actor for years at Somerset Community College. He also is a radio personality with WTLO 1480 AM.

"We're the only one not owned by Clear Channel," he notes.

Actress has had tough summer

Hammond, in her seventh season at Pioneer Playhouse, said the summer has been tough, and "Bay at the Moon" has been hard to do. Her mother died early on, and now she is dealing with her father's Parkinson's disease. But she likes the Southern-flavored fare the playhouse offers.

Matt Franta says his summer at the playhouse has been "great for me.

"I came as an intern because I wanted to learn more and get more experience outside of school," explains the Iowa native. "There are so many shows here, and so many different directors. I'm pleased with the performance opportunities I've had."

Henson says she is dedicating "Bay at the Moon" to her father, the late Eben C. "The Colonel" Henson, who would have played Haller's role this summer.

"Dad was such a (audience) draw," Henson notes pensively.

Adds Abatsis, "And he was so charming."

Notes Nicholls, "I was glad to be here a summer he was here."

Henson says she's using the script her dad had highlighted for his part.

"This is the last play I'll do with him. ... This play was specifically selected for Dad."

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