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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 30, 2008

A balancing act: Humor and drama come to the stage as Miller adapts book

By Zach Simeone

After spending a year adapting her mother’s book, Why Didn’t He Tell Me?, into a play, Ginger Miller is ready to bring the story to Proctor’s newest stage.

“All my mother’s books had a twist,” said Miller, “or what I like to call an ‘Alfred Hitchcock ending.’”

It is a story full of surprises, she said, that focuses on the lives of two brothers: Richie Dubois, the successful, responsible college graduate who goes on to become a judge; and Pauly Dubois, the younger brother who is always at the wrong place at the wrong time.  They lead very different lives, Miller said, though they do intertwine. But when Pauly gets caught in a murder rap, their paths will cross one last time.

Miller, a long-time resident of Guilderland, is the daughter of Annette Dominic, who had the book published when she was 80 years old, along with The Love Ring and They Loved While They Died.

“We chose this book because we didn’t want to start with one of the longer ones,” Miller said, “and it just seemed to be one that is really different, and I really believe that people will like it. We added on to it to make it a little bit longer, though.”

In adapting her mother’s book for the stage, Miller had help from director Agnes Kapusta Skiff, and cast members Michele Marchese, Ed Miller, and Mike Langevin.

“I personally love stories that have a twist at the end, that keep me interested in what’s going on, engaged in the action,” Skiff said. “It’s got its dramatic moments, and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, but it’s got a touch of humor, and I think the two balance each other nicely,” she said.

Brothers on stage

Mark David, a DJ for local radio station The Edge, is playing Richie Dubois, “and I’m the smart one,” he laughed. “When we were younger, I was the one who stood up for Pauly,” David said. “I’m the sponge to his trouble.”

The biggest challenge for David was having to play Richie as both a teenager and an adult throughout the play.

“I kind of went back to the old Family Ties videos, and looked at Alex P. Keaton, Michael J. Fox’s character,” David said. “Certain things are more of a big deal when you’re a teenager, as opposed to when an adult looks at it. So, the choices I made with the teenager were to be a lot more energetic about the little things in life, whereas with an adult, I went along the line of sophistication, family values, and substance.”

As an actor, David is a relative newcomer to the stage, though he plays bass with local guitar virtuoso Mike Campese. Why Didn’t He Tell Me? is the second play that he has performed in.

“My first play was last fall, and I played a bellman in London Suite,” he said. “As a kid, I was just always telling stories to my family and friends, and they never knew if I was lying or telling the truth, so I was always working with it as a kid.”

Mike Langevin, who also helped write the script, portrays Pauly as an adult in the play’s second act.

“It was quite challenging,” Langevin said of the writing process. “I’ve never written a script before, though I’ve been in numerous shows, so I know you have to add things in to spice things up for the audience,” he said, “since they aren’t just reading.”

Pauly is “kind of a screw-up, and makes a lot of bad choices,” he said. “He’s not a bad guy, but it just seems like he gets all of the bad luck. It’s almost out of his control what happens to him. But he’s caring, compassionate, and is very proud of his brother. I would say he is almost envious of his brother, because Richie could do no wrong in his father’s eyes, but their father never gave Pauly the time of day.”

Langevin says that Pauly is a very frustrated individual, but also very reserved. “He doesn’t open up much,” he said. “He really only opens up to one character, who he’s very excited to share himself with.”

Theatrical parenting

Michele Marchese, a working actor for close to 20 years now, is playing Lilly Dubois, the mother of Richie and Pauly. While she has been working steadily as a performer for nearly two decades, Marchese has recently shifted over to the technical side, working primarily as a director, producer, and set dresser.

She, too, was involved in the book-to-play adaptation.

“I helped write the second draft of the play,” Marchese said. “We took it from a very diamond-in-the-rough draft, and formed it into something a little more polished. Then, Agnes [Kapusta Skiff] finished it off.”

The most interesting thing, Marchese said, was getting to know her character, Lilly, as she was being written.

“As an actor writing the script, I was able to find the voice of my character very early, which was very interesting because another person usually writes what my character says,” Marchese said. “So, it was almost like the character wrote her own part.”

Though not a mother herself, Marchese felt she understood who Lilly was. “I felt that she had to be strong, yet gentle. She had to be a 50s housewife, but have some independence,” she said.

“I think Lilly is very understated, and, if she were alive today, she would be a politician, or leading a big corporation,” Marchese went on. “I decided that, even though she had an overbearing husband, she ran the family in a very quiet and controlled way. She always tries to keep the peace, is always rational, and always wants to do the right thing.”

Lilly’s husband, Richard Dubois Sr., is played by Bill Gilleece, an occupational therapist who specializes in hand therapy. Gilleece, like David, is new to theater; Why Didn’t He Tell Me? is his third show. “I play the mean old Dad,” he said.

He calls Richard Sr. a very strict and arrogant man, who raised his family with an iron fist. “My goal in playing this part is to get the audience to hate him,” said Gilleece. “He’s just a mean, arrogant SOB, and hopefully the part will come across that way. What happens with him in the first act sets the tone for the rest of the play,” he said.

This show will be Gilleece’s first serious role; his previous two roles were in comedies. “They were really fun, but I’m taking this very seriously,” he said. “It’s more of a challenge for me, since comedy comes a lot easier. I’ve been practicing the character at home and driving my family crazy.”

Giving direction

Agnes Kapusta Skiff, who worked with Miller as assistant artistic director at the Hilton Center for the Performing Arts from 2001 to 2006, most recently directed The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at this summer’s Helderberg Theatre Festival at Indian Ladder Farms in New Scotland.

“It was a cast with some adults and a lot of children,” Skiff said, “so, this is easy-breezy compared to that.”

She started off as an actress, but enjoys assuming the role of director. “One thing that’s great about directing is you get to step back and see everything unfold from the audience perspective,” said Skiff, “unlike the actors, who only get to see it from on stage.”

Still, she faced several challenges in bringing this story to the stage.

“As with any script, I look at how feasible is it to bring it to the stage, how many sets, and how many costume pieces, she said. “But, before I get into the artistic aspects, I think about the location we’re going to be performing in, the technical stuff,” she said.

The story spans from the 1950s to the 1980s, in locations ranging from Larchmont, New York to Paris, France, in houses, apartments, and a courtroom.

“One of the biggest challenges from a technical standpoint was creating all these places and making them real, both for the audience and for my actors who are living in that set,” said Skiff. “With a book, you can create whatever you want to create with your words, but bringing it to life is a little more difficult,” she said.

Another challenge for Skiff was bringing a character’s thoughts from the page of a book to the stage.

“One thing that I ran into was that, in a book, it’s so easy to have one character just have a thought, and the reader gets that so easily,” Skiff said. “But, on stage, you can’t get into somebody’s head like that, so they always need to be speaking to another person to get that information out there.”

The biggest challenge, however, will be having less than a week to rehearse in the actual performance space at 440 Upstairs. The cast has been rehearsing at Appletini’s Café on Central Avenue in Albany, and will move into the performance space on Monday, Nov. 3, just four days before opening night.

“We’ve been very lucky with Appletini’s letting us rehearse there,” Skiff said. “But we get to the theater on Monday and then we go up Friday.” She thinks her actors can handle it, though.

“I give my performers a ton of credit, because there are some really dramatic scenes in this play, and they really have to put everything out there,” she said. “They’re really letting the words and the actions hit them and affect them, and it’s making them give performances that are truthful and honest.”

Skiff says it’s always a challenge working on a show that has gone from a book to a play, “but it’s been a fun challenge,” she said. “It’s a true test of your directing skills, coordinating and making it come to life.”


Performances will take place at 440 Upstairs at Proctor’s, located at 440 State Street, next to Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady. The show will run from Friday, Nov. 7 through Sunday, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets will be $20.

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