Black Swamp Players taking late director’s dream play to state conference

Cast of "The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon" at the Northwest Regpn of OCTA conference. Kathy East, wife of the late director Dennis East, is standing in the middle with certificate.

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

Dennis East had long wanted to stage “The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon,” a dark comedy about dealing with the devil and curling.

Years ago he and his wife, Kathy, had seen the play in Canada, and he just felt would be a great show for The Black Swamp Players to perform back home in Bowling Green.

Dennis East

Dennis East

East was a veteran of the troupe, having done everything from set construction to acting to serving as president. Finally “The Black Bonspiel,” with a few approved changes to make it more suitable for a local audience and provide more female roles, made it onto the Black Swamp Players’ schedule for fall, 2013. Then East was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The play was scrapped as East battled the disease.

Finally last September, still in treatment, East brought Wullie MacCrimmon and his colorful cast of Canadian curlers to the First United Methodist stage.

Kathy East remembers it was a strain on him. But he persisted.  “He was just determined he wanted to do it,” she said.  As was his practice he built the sets. “He would spend a lot of time in morning, and afternoons he was napping.” He complained, she said, that he used to be able to construct a set in two weeks.

The devil-may-care comedy, in which a shoe repairman played by Lane Hakel bets his soul on the outcome of a curling match, or bonspiel, came off so well that the Players opted to submit it as their entry into the Northwest Region of the Ohio Community Theater Association conference.

From left, Peggy Keyes, Leroy Morgan and Lane Hakel performing "The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon" last September. All three actors won awards at the Northwest Region OCTA conference.

From left, Peggy Keyes, Leroy Morgan and Lane Hakel performing “The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon” last September. All three actors won awards at the Northwest Region OCTA conference.

As the conference, held this past weekend, neared East’s condition worsened. He was able to make it to the first rehearsal before the conference. Kathy East said the cast “just did fabulous,” she said. ”The lines just rolled off their tongues.” Impressive given it had been seven months since the play was staged. East noticed that some boards needed to be painted. So he and Kathy brought them home, and she painted them and returned them during the next rehearsal. That, she noted, did not go so well.

Dennis East didn’t make it to see the excerpt performed. He died June 8, just four days before the conference.

His death was a huge loss, Hakel wrote in an email. “Dennis’s presence over my years with BSP has always been one of my reasons to be a part of BSP.  His caring, his talent, his smile, his patience, his laugh and his sense of humor helped make meetings, social events, especially the many Christmas and cast parties that he and Kathy hosted, and most especially the productions he helped with, acted in, produced, and/or directed be what community theater can be.  A place where all sorts of different people can connect, unite for a common purpose, and enjoy life together.”

Sunday’s performance was “easily the best we had ever done it,” he wrote, even though they had to overcome difficulties with the actual curling involved.

Kathy went to Lima with their sons, Brian and Brad, and grandson, Brayden.

When one of the judges asked who directed, Kathy raised her hand. “My husband.”

“Perfect casting,” the judge said.

The cast won numerous awards: Merit in Acting to Peggy Keyes as Annie Brown; Excellence in Acting to Leroy Morgan as Reverend Pringle; and Outstanding in Acting to Joshua Cloyd as McBeth and to Hakel as Wullie MacCrimmon. Deb Shaffer, who also filled in for an actor unable to perform at the conference, received an Outstanding in Costume Design.

And the play received an Excellence in Technical Elements that honors a combination of the set and technical elements such as sound.  “While the award names the theater,” Hakel noted, “the time, effort, and creativity were all Dennis.”

Hakel said he and the others who had viewed the other 10 excerpts performed at the conference, felt the competition was stiff.

Seeing the play performed was reward enough, Kathy East said.

“The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon” ended up being chosen as one of three from the Northwest Region to be presented at the state conference over Labor Day weekend. No deal with the devil involved.

As much as she would have loved her husband to have seen this performance, Kathy East said, she can imagine his reaction. He would have said: “Now I’ll have to hang on until September.”

“That was his sense of humor.”

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