Fancy Pants Theater in downtown Kalamazoo opens the regional premiere of Four Scenes: A Hungarian Trilogy Friday night. The production reunites several former API Theatre professionals. Kalamazoo’s Actors and Playwrights Initiative closed its doors several years ago after specializing in innovative, original theatre.
Fancy Pants follows in the API’s creative footsteps calling itself “unique, intimate theater in downtown Kalamazoo.” Located at 246 North Kalamazoo Mall, the space is tight, seating maybe 70 people, and currently looks more like a rundown tavern called “Bud’s Place.”
“Bud’s Place” is the setting for A Hungarian Trilogy written by Penny Lorio and directed by Robert C. Walker. In it we meet Wanda, who runs the joint with her husband Bud. Played by Kalamazoo actor Toni M. Jones, Wanda is turning 50 soon and sees only the problems and challenges in life. Then she meets a series of whacky and comical characters who use Bud’s Place as safe haven from a raging blizzard. Playwright Penny Lorio says the characters help Wanda make sense of her life.
“She has people come through the door that she doesn’t usually rub elbows with and they all cause her to question herself.” Lorio continues, “We do have a clairvoyant pancake reader who turns up in the second act.”
A Hungarian Trilogy was first presented as a one-act play in the mid-1990’s for the API Theatre. When she lived in Baltimore, Lorio developed it into a full-length play.
“It’s a regional premiere here. The Baltimore Playwright’s Festival actually premiered the first full-length version of this," says Lorio. "But, I think in short, we’re coming into the holiday season and although this is not a Christmas play, it does have a certain charm about it. It’s set in a blizzard in Chicago so it’s a very wintery theme. And, I think because of some of the magic that happens in the play, people are going to walk out feeling very happy about the experiences they’ve had with this story and these characters.”
Director Robert C. Walker’s last directing gig was in 2004 when he led the cast of Misery for the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre. He says he’s always had an affinity for small theatre companies.
“It’s a place whereby experimentation can happen. However, then, for the theatre-going patron, this is where the work happens. You can go to other theatres and see the big Broadway musical shows or the intimate little dramas, you can go see any number of big name plays with big name stars on Broadway. But it’s in places like this where that started. It’s like the Provincetown Players in the 1920s and 30s with Eugene O’Neill. That’s where his work started. So, this is where the ground work happens for American theatre, and that’s what I find so exciting about it.”
Fancy Pants Theater executive director Carol Zombro agrees. She says small theaters provide good training for cast and crew members.
“Whereas your bigger theatres, even in town, you’re going to go and you’re going to have everything handed to you and you’re only going to have to act. Which is awesome, don’t get me wrong,” Zombro says. “But, I like to be able to do everything, have my hands dirty in it. I think that’s really important. A lot of actors from here are going to go on to Chicago and New York and they’re going to have to work. I like to help people get used to that.”
Fancy Pants Theater’s production of A Hungarian Trilogy opens tonight at 8 o’clock. It’ll be on stage at 246 North Kalamazoo Mall through December 9.