Reading the Bard

Peter H. Luce Play Readers Group tackle Shakespeare.

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“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts …” These famous Shakespearean lines, while from “As You Like It,” perfectly fit the Peter H. Luce Play Readers Group, who have long met to do dramatic readings for one another on a weekly basis. When I visited they were tackling Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” about two couples and a convoluted plot fueled by gossip, rumor, and eavesdropping.

The group of about 27 members sat in a circle and readers “entered” by simply standing up to read their lines and sitting down again when they “exited.” Unlike Shakespeare’s time when men played all the roles, many of the women donned neckties to indicate they were playing some of the male characters. Tackling Shakespeare takes courage, and each of the volunteer actors read their lines with great vivacity, and the complex script rolled along nicely as though this ad hoc troupe had been rehearsing for weeks, while in fact it was the first time they’d come together.

I asked member Charlena Seymour if she had studied her script. She said emphatically, “Oh, I certainly did. It’s a fun script. Shakespeare has a lot of tongue twisters, so we want to be trippingly on the tongue as much as possible.”

The Play Readers Group is run completely democratically, and there are no requirements. You can come and just observe, or play parts if you wish, receiving a script and some background information from the play’s director. In this no-pressure, family environment you could see why many of the members have attended for years. Summer folks participate too, and the group always welcomes newcomers.

Each month’s volunteer producer selects a theme and each week’s play. Members volunteer to be a director for one of the shows and cast their actors. They then do some background research so that they can give a short introduction before the reading, and lead a whole group discussion afterward.

The play, while one of the Bard’s comedies, raises some serious issues that speak to both our times and this month’s theme of “Truth, Lies, and Mendacity.” Judy Miller, who is November’s producer, intentionally chose the theme immediately after the Kavanaugh hearings. She wanted one of her selections to be a Shakespeare play, so, she explained, “I went online and put in ‘mendacity’ and ‘Shakespeare,’ and this one came up. Then as I read it, I thought, wait a minute … the whole thing is about the war between the sexes,” and not believing what certain characters were saying was true. Miller added, “After I picked the play, the more I got into it, I thought, the more it’s going to work.”

The Play Readers Group reads everything from classics through contemporary works. Member Wayne Greenwell told me, “I’ve written several long plays and several short plays. I’ve had my plays read here, and it’s been very interesting, very receptive. It’s very nice because this is a knowledgeable audience, and you get some very good feedback.”

Linda Vadacz, a dedicated member, shared that in addition to the weekly readings, the group sometimes does public readings, saying, “Usually we do a staged reading at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, although I don’t know if we’ll do that this year. In the past we’ve done ‘12 Angry Jurors.’ We didn’t call it after the original movie, ‘12 Angry Men,’ because there were women in it. The production was directed by the late Leslie J. Stark, who was an icon of theater in Martha’s Vineyard. His wife Myra, who is still in the group, knows so much about theater, as does Arnie Reisman. Between them they’ve probably seen or read every play that we’ve ever done. That is probably a slight exaggeration, but not much.”

I asked member Jay Sigler what keeps him coming back to the group, and he replied, “Well, it’s fun to imagine yourself as someone else, to get out of your own shell. And I think that being an audience member, which I’ll be today, is as much fun as actually being a player. I can see how other folks have gotten themselves, again, to another personality; to being someone else. Since some of our members are older people who are supposed to be fixed in their ways, we found that’s not true for all of us. I have nothing in my previous life having to do with plays. In fact, one of my disappointments was that they didn’t pick me more when I was in high school and college.” Clearly, Sigler has now found his place within the theater world.

While I can’t guarantee you that becoming a member of the Play Readers Group will lead you on the road to fame, I can promise you a grand welcome and a fun time.

The Peter H. Luce Reading Group meets Wednesdays from 9 am to 12 pm at the Tisbury Senior Center at 34 Pine Tree Road, Vineyard Haven. You’re welcome to just watch a show or explore your inner actor. Upcoming plays include: Nov. 14, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Nov. 21, “Other Desert Cities,” and Nov. 28, “Glass Mendacity,” which is a parody of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”