By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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This is a Readers Theatre Plus event, so proceeds will benefit a local nonprofit group, and this time it's the Clallam County Genealogical Society.
For more details, see ReadersTheatrePlus.com or phone 360-797-3337.
Peninsula Daily News
SEQUIM — Olive, along with her suitor, her gay neighbors and her one friend, travels a long way inside one play. They're together on a twisting, bumpy road, even if it is confined to Olive's New York City apartment — staged at the Sequim Prairie Grange Hall, of all places.
And “Olive and the Bitter Herbs,” which opens tonight for a two-weekend run, is not your usual Readers Theatre Plus production. Charles Busch's story of Olive, a movie and television actress, is salted with adult humor: some about politics, religion, fame and fooling around.
All of it is played to the hilt by an ensemble of seasoned actors: Pat Owens, Peter Greene, Jim Dries, Don White, Kath Beecher and, in the tart title role, Barbara Drennan. With Jeff Clinton as the narrator, “Olive” will begin at 7:30 tonight and Saturday as well as next Friday and Saturday, April 4 and 5, and at 2 p.m. this Sunday and next Sunday, April 6, at the Sequim Prairie Grange, 290 Macleay Road.
Jim Dries, a Readers Theatre Plus cofounder and board member, found “Olive” in New York City.
He and his wife, actor and singer Carol Swarbrick Dries, visit at least once a year, and always stop in at Manhattan's Drama Book Shop.
They ask the staff to recommend plays that aren't produced as often as they should be. “Olive and the Bitter Herbs” rose to the top, and so Jim and Carol brought it back to the Readers Theatre Plus play selection committee. After the board approved it, the troupe found local thespians eager to take part.
“When I first heard they were going to do this play, I looked for some information on it,” Drennan said in a recent interview.
“I sent for the script, and the dialogue was so funny. I felt a great passion to play Olive. She's very direct,” added the actress, “and compelling.”
“This play is hysterical,” added Greene, an ex-New Yorker.
“For me, this is a real taste of what New York is all about. . . . The soundtrack of these voices and attitudes is absolutely genuine, not to mention the characters are New York lovable,” said the actor, who plays Trey, half of the gay couple who live next door to Olive.
“It has always saddened me to hear people describe New Yorkers as cold, hardened people, where in my experience the exact opposite is true. Each of these characters has a distinct personality riddled with New York wit.”
“Olive and the Bitter Herbs” also deals with serious topics, such as what happens to an older woman who closes herself off from the outside world. Because of her neighbors, her friend Wendy (Beecher) and Sylvan, an interested male visitor (White), she slowly opens up.
And there's another visitor. The spirit of Wendy's deceased brother, Howard, appears in Olive's living-room mirror.
“Upon the full moon, all will be revealed,” he tells her.
And much is uncovered in this play. Trey and his partner Robert, who is played alternately by Owens and Jim Dries, find out more about each other. Sylvan and Olive connect. Wendy, at last, stands up for herself.
This story shows how people have many layers, mused Drennan. Making allowances for these layers — instead of judging them — “can bring joy, surprises and lead to a highly interesting journey.”