Nov. 13, 2002 – The slices of life that will be portrayed on the stage this weekend and next in the fall Little Theatre production of "The Dancing Mice" are not unlike those that come to the big screen in the hit movie "Barbershop."
If there are any mice in John Patrick's 1972 play, they're out of sight, and there's not much in the way of fancy footwork, either. The work is, according to publicity, "a sad and funny play about a group of the modern city's underprivileged who, like mice, are unable to escape the cage of their environment, but who accept their destiny with courage and humor."
The setting is a coin-operated laundry where denizens of the neighborhood "expose their laundry and their hearts."
Amid the anonymity and alienation of urban poverty, the neighborhood laundry, like the neighborhood barbershop, "is a cozy place to hang out for a while, even if you do not need a little off the sides," the publicity observes. Or if you still have clean socks at home.
Patrick's inspiration for the drama came from observing the ghetto streets of New York filled with the anonymous masses, "working out their day-to-day existence, accepting their destinies without resentment, grateful for their small jobs and infrequent joys," the publicity states. Bickering, ragging, joking, affection, loss, resilience and redemption are all part of the mix.
The characters span a wide range of human experience, and their interactions in many instances reflect the tensions, fears and anger that drive people of diversity apart when compassion and tolerance could bring them together. In memory sequences, the play reveals the characters' inner feelings and motivations which contrast with the violence, intrigue, romance, comedy and pathos played out in their daily lives.
University of the Virgin Islands Prof. Rosary Harper is directing "The Dancing Mice," as she has dozens of other Little Theatre productions since the 1970s. She says she chose the play for several rather pragmatic reasons.
For one thing, "it allows us to have a diverse cast — i.e., Afro-Caribbean, Afro-American, Caucasians, blacks, browns, West Indians, East Indians, younger, older individuals. You name it, we got it." For another, "the problems are current — poverty, dropouts, discontent, matters of the heart."
The laundromat is symbolic of the world the play's dozen characters inhabit, Harper adds, "drab, cold, indifferent." But the characters "bring color and personality to the setting. They have come there to wash and air their clothes and their problems."
The late Patrick, a prolific playwright and screenwriter, is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Teahouse of the August Moon," first produced in 1953. But it's his 1961 play "Everybody Loves Opal" that is perhaps best known, having been staged by most every community theatre in the country, Harper notes.
There's also a peripheral St. Thomas connection here. Patrick lived most of his final years on the island's West End, putting on plays in a small theater at his Fortuna Mill home.
The cast of seven men and five women in "The Dancing Mice" comprises Trey Thomas (Angelo), Dwyght Browne (Bozo), Melanie Graham (Elma), Princess Penn (Miriam), Gerda Morales (Mrs. Perkins), Nick Sawyer (an old man), Tavis DeWindt (a mugger), Alan Byers (Mr. Taylor), Sameer Melwani (an evangelist), Bentley Brown (Nat), Patricia Hector (Ms. Karatoukis), and Lacy O'Connor (Cynthia).
In addition to Harper as director, the behind-the-scenes talent includes her UVI theater faculty colleagues Dennis Parker as set designer and technical director and Michael Prenevost as lighting designer and sound supervisor; Feja Wenner as stage manager; and Doug Salisbury as lighting consultant.
And Jessica Otto and Sharnese Armstrong-Mark as lighting crew; Bonnie Braga and Candice Tesch as sound crew; Elynne Lockhart and Kahlilah Gordon as sound crew; Urbane Chinnery, master carpenter; Cheryl Ward, Trey Thomas and David Edole as construction crew; Anna-Lee Hosier and Anique Thomas handling publicity and house management; Trey Thomas doing makeup; and Renee Benjamin coordinating the freshman class concession at intermission.
You get six opportunities to see "The Dancing Mice" — this Friday, Saturday and Sunday and the same next weekend, Nov. 22-24. Curtain time is 8 p.m. for all performances. Tickets are $10 general admission and $5 for students. They are being sold at Dockside Bookshop, Nisky Pharmacy and on the UVI St. Thomas campus in the bookstore and the Humanities Division office. If a given night's performance isn't sold out in advance — and that's definite "if" — tickets also will be available at the door that night.
For more information, call Harper at 693-1354.
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