10 Years of Storytelling in Harford
By M.E. DEMPSEY, Special to the Aegis
August 1, 2017
Summer 1984. Tina Turner on the radio. "Ghostbusters" at the box office. By Labor Day weekend that year, we had seen the Olympics in L.A. and taken our summer vacations in our Raybans and OP shorts.
And, if you were a Marylander, chances were you finished out the summer with one more trip to the beach.
This year, our community has the opportunity to enjoy the summer of '84 one more time in the Shadow Players' premiere production of the original play "Beyond the Dunes." With this new story, they tackle the topic of how families deal with change and celebrate the company's 10 years of theater.
The company will give five performances of "Beyond the Dunes," opening Wednesday at 8 p.m. and continuing Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. The shows will be performed at St. Francis de Sales church in Abingdon and a portion of the proceeds will go to help the parish and their many community programs.
Set in a Maryland beach town, "Beyond the Dunes" focuses on two families, the Galvans and the Lovells. With the children in both families fully grown and having families of their own, they return to visit their parents at their beach cottages. But as the playwright states, "it is a working weekend."
Both families have been faced with a growing struggle. Ernie Lovell has cancer. Sarge Galvan has Alzheimer's. As their diseases worsen, the reality of selling their parent's beach homes becomes more and more apparent. But as with anything, simple decisions are not always simple with the colorful mix of personalities found in a family. Over the course of the weekend, Nancy, Paul, Linda, Sharon and Mark relive the memories of their childhood and confront the hidden things in each of them that keep them from facing change.
Writing and directing the play this year is one of Shadow Players' founding members, Patrick Perkins. Perkins is a local attorney, but has always had a love of writing. He has written many plays for the company in the past, but this one he says is special.
"This is my first true play," Perkins said. "In the past, my plays have centered on an event and had a lot of action. But this one focuses on the characters."
And they are fascinating. Each character is carefully crafted, providing a multi-layered story that naturally draws in the audience and peaks their curiosity.
Perkins drew on personal experience as inspiration for the play. His wife's mother suffers from Alzheimer's. As he has seen, Alzheimer's disease does not only affect the person diagnosed but their caregivers and families."It has an overwhelming impact on everyone in a family, as does any disease, and I wanted to show that with this story," he said.
As for the setting, 1984 is a significant year. It is 40 years after D-Day and the Normandy invasion of World War II. The young men and women of that era were known as the greatest generation and Perkins was intrigued by that notion.
"I wanted to take these people who had survived the Great Depression and World War II, who had come through such extreme life and death situations and look at how those same people handle life and death in a much more common place, day-to-day way," he said.
The ocean, too, has its own significance to the story. For many, the beach is a place of happiness and calm, which contrasts the tension that the families have throughout their weekend.
Perkins had another reason to use the ocean: "There is something about the ocean that causes people to contemplate their place in the universe.
"For many of the characters in the show, the beach provokes thoughts about themselves that pave the way to a resolution for the changes that face them.
This show is particularly special, not only for the personal connections to the playwright, but because it is the main stage production in The Shadow Players' 10th anniversary year. The company started in the summer of 2008, with a handful of high school friends and family who wanted to put on a play – "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Since then they have had 10 summers of performing stories, nearly all of them original works, a very unique quality for community theater. Artistic director Conor Perkins shared the theme of this company's anniversary: "Celebrate the past, look to the future." In the past the company has brought to life stories from Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and original stories from many different times and places. This year's shows fold in many memories from their past presented in two new stories, "Beyond the Dunes" and "Holiday Huzzah," and their first revival, "Women of Faith."
In 10 years, the Shadow Players has achieved, but is already looking to the future.
"I think it is important to keep our possibilities open because we are founded on the sort of impossible notion of a rag-tag team of students coming together to make theater and here we are 10 years later still doing what we thought was practically impossible," Conor Perkins, the founder, said.
There is a sense that their company is a "little engine that could" and they are overjoyed to see the work that they have been able to do. But their journey is not over yet. The board and leadership of the company is looking forward to continuing to see the group grow. They plan to keep bringing original stories to the greater Harford County area and are excited at the idea of seeing stories from new playwrights in the company.
"I look forward to seeing more people starting to make their voices heard and tell their stories with the company," Perkins said.
Without a doubt, "Beyond the Dunes" is a play that should not be missed. There is so much that has gone into this summery, heartfelt story of family and the struggles that so many of us face.
If you have not had the privilege of seeing a Shadow Players production, do not miss this rare opportunity. Each show they produce is a world premiere. It is not seen anywhere else and the magic of that is undeniable. Before you let your summer go by, take a trip with this charming company and be a part of their story.
M.E. Dempsey is a pen-name for Erin Perkins, company manager for The Shadow Players.
Copyright © 2017, The Aegis, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication
Published in The Aegis