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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 12, 2009
Going Out for temporary insanity
By Zach Simeone
BERNE The latest Hilltowns Players production will drive audiences nuts, and they’ll be right at home.
This weekend, Losing Patients will play at Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School. The 2004 comedy, written by Duke Ernsberger and Virginia Cate, tells the tale of a fraud scheme devised by the heir apparent of a nursing home. To aid in her exploits, she employs a con artist posing as a doctor, and his former partner who is out on work release from prison. An escaped mental patient, and his many disguises, will serve to spice things up.
“They’re trying to scam senior citizens out of their money by showing them a video of a retirement village that doesn’t even exist,” said Penny Shaw of the three plotters. “They’re telling them it’s going to be built, so they’re taking their money, and it seems to be going well till a storm hits the area, and then all kinds of things start falling apart. It was a peaceful scam before, but, on that night, it turns out to be anything but.”
Shaw is producing and directing the music for the play, and has directed several past productions.
This show’s director, Ann Rue, is a BKW parent and a performer from past shows, including last year’s A Pirate’s Life for Me. Her husband, Robert, and son, Scott, will both perform in her directorial debut.
While the group stuck mostly to the script, a few scenes were added to the show to create opportunities for more students to perform, and songs that would have normally been played over the radio will instead be sung live by the cast’s radio choir, and there are dance numbers.
Plotters and schemers
The setting is Silver Crest Manor, described on the play’s back cover as “a once respected nursing home.” Written to take place in Georgia, some details of the story have been altered to fit upstate New York.
Lee Augsburg, owner of Silver Crest Manor, went missing seven years ago. Nell, Augsburg’s niece and heir apparent to ownership of the manor, has replaced the former owner’s employees with her team of scam artists, who have transferred every resident out to make way for their dubious deeds.
But the treacherous trio has been unable to get rid of Benny, the groundskeeper, whose lifetime residency prevents his expulsion, and Paduski, a 92-year-old Navy retiree who has been performing a series of disappearing acts.
The now-vacant living space is advertised to senior citizens as a permanent residence, but, when it comes time to move in, the customers are denied their new home.
Amy Anderson plays Nell.
“My character is the mastermind behind this whole fiasco,” Anderson said. “I’m the one who thought it all out; I’m the one who got the bad guys to come and do my bidding, and get all the old people out of the retirement village. I’m going to sell it off and make millions.”
Some residences, as advertised by the schemers, have been outfitted for retirees of a particular cultural background.
“The one lady is Irish, so they’re making it out like it has all this amazing stuff from Ireland, and then, there’s another lady who’s Jewish, and she’s going to have all the amazing Jewish things in her room,” said Anderson.
And just when these customers are ready to move in to their new homes, the rules change.
“They’ll say, ‘Oh, your life expectancy is going to be higher now, you can’t move in till you’re 90,’” Anderson said, as her character cites new regulations from a made-up government agency. “We’re never going to produce these rooms; they’re never going to be there.”
Ellen Preckel plays Clayborne, a conspirator in the retirement scheme, currently out on work release from prison, where she was locked up after the Twitty City real estate scam; Dr. Lang, her partner in crime, got away scot-free.
Preckel has been with the Hilltowns Players since they did Café Murder about a year and a half ago.
So, what’s Clayborne like as a person?
“Horrible awful,” Preckel exclaimed. “Rotten to the core.”
In a play wrought with absurdity, Clayborne is a fairly non-comedic character, she went on.
“There’s a crash of thunder and a flash of lighting as I pound on the door before I come in, and everybody’s terrified of me,” Preckel said.
The most challenging part of playing Clayborne, she said, is keeping a straight face.
“I don’t do that well to begin with,” Preckel laughed. “And being with people like Jen and Rich, it’s almost impossible,” she said, referring to fellow cast members Jennifer Draisey, who plays Montgomery, a nurse at Silver Crest with a secret of her own, and Richard Bartley.
“I never realized how meticulously chaos has to be practiced,” commented Bartley, who plays Dr. Lang, another keynote player in the retirement scam.
“Dr. Lang is a spineless, slick sleazeball,” Bartley said with a snicker. “A couple of the cast members said that I should not be named Dr. Lang, but Dr. Letch.”
When seeking out Dr. Lang’s assistance, Nell found him at a tanning salon, watching customers undress through a two-way mirror. He has since been fielding calls from hopeful customers of their fraudulent business at Silver Crest.
“He’s just a fast, slick talker when he’s in sales mode,” Bartley said of his character. “In any other mode, he’s pretty much clueless.”
The treacherous plot begins to unravel when Joy McCoy, the state health inspector, shows up to renew the nursing home’s insurance policy. Playing McCoy is Brienna Osterhaut, a recent BKW graduate.
“She’s a control freak,” Osterhaut said of McCoy. “She wants to know everything, and make sure everything is being done according to the book.”
Also playing a key role in the story is Benny, the 75-year-old groundskeeper, despite having only one line.
“He’s actually the deciding factor in the climax of the play,” said Scott Rue, a 17-year-old BKW senior who plays Benny.
“He’s a mute, obviously,” Rue said of Benny. “It’s explained in the play, how it happened.”
Another important fact about Benny: He loves chocolate.
“I like chocolate, but I’m not obsessed with it,” Rue said, comparing himself to his character. “I’m excited because this is the only play where I get to eat while I’m performing.”
Benny, on the other hand, loves chocolate so much that he spends the entire play trying to steal a box of chocolates, Rue said. “He’s not supposed to have it because he’s a 75-year-old, and with what sugar can do to their blood pressure and everything,” he said.
But the quest for chocolate takes a back seat when Benny meets Annie.
“I have a dance with Annie, and I’m not the best on my feet,” said Rue. “So that was pretty challenging, especially since we started learning two or three weeks ago, tops. Also, moving like an old man, walking up stairs basically, breaking out of my age group was the biggest challenge.”
Heather Kissling plays Annie. Losing Patients is her first show with the Hilltowns Players; she was most recently in the New York Players’ production of Titanic at Tawasentha Park.
“I was surprised when they called me, because, in Titanic, I was just in the ensemble,” Kissling said. “When I came in, I was so excited, because I was like, ‘Wow; it’s only my second production and I’m playing a principal role.’”
Annie was attacked on her way to Silver Crest and, at the outset of the play, has no memory of who she is. But, the revelation of her identity plays another key role in the ever-thickening plot.
She, like Rue, saw the dancing as a challenge.
Rod Reeler, played by Robert Rue, has recently escaped from Red Oaks Sanitarium. Reeler is the resident master of disguises as he takes on several monikers throughout the show, including Dr. Kimble, Opie Taylor, Soupy Sales, and Hannibal Lechter “Everyone from Han Solo to Horatio Hornblower,” said Rue.
“He takes on all these roles so that he can please people, because he has very low self esteem,” Rue went on. “Still, he’s very comedic, a very funny character.”
Director Ann Rue holds all the unraveling threads together in her directorial debut.
Asked why she wanted to direct for the first time, Rue responded with only two words: “Temporary insanity.”
Losing Patients opens this Friday, Nov. 13, at Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School on Helderberg Trail in the hamlet of Berne, and will run through the weekend. The performance schedule is as follows: Friday and Saturday, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 3 p.m.