ALTON — Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and Alton Little Theater sets the stage for a unique and romantic weekend.
The theater will produce a special engagement run of Don Gordon’s “Panache” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 and 13 and 2 p.m. Feb. 14.
“We wanted to do something a little bit different for Valentine’s Day,” Production Director Lee Cox says. “It’s not all hearts and flowers, but it’s very witty.”
Both Cox and her costar, ALT Vice President Kevin Frakes, grew up with Alton Little Theater and have helped sustain its place in the Alton community.
“The theater is starting its 83rd season this summer,” Frakes says. “It’s been a fixture in Alton for so long because it’s a true community theater that draws from all around the area.”
Gordon has a long, rich history in show business, but Cox established a virtual friendship with the playwright just one year ago. “I consider it a good fortune,” Cox says. “I’m sent about 30-40 scripts a year from new and barely published playwrights but none have stuck out to me as much as ‘Panache.’ It’s a very quirky romantic comedy, both amusing and touching.”
“Panache” has evolved over the last decade through multiple dialogue revisions and title changes on its journey to becoming the play that will be presented at Alton Little Theater.
“Don was kind enough to send the original license plate from the New York production as well,” Cox says.
Frakes and Cox will portray the respective lead roles of Harry Baldwin and Kathleen Trafalgar. According to the press release, Baldwin is an artist “broken by the losses in his life” and Trafalgar is the woman who “dares him to rejoin the living.” Their “tempestuous relationship” is supported by Lief Anderson portraying a local bookie, Nick Trapp, as “a young man who represents all the hopes of youth,” and Valerie Sprague as “Harry’s first true love”.
The two-act play is set in Brooklyn, N.Y., which informs the soundtrack, set and central plot.
“Brooklyn is very important to ‘Panache.’ It’s an environment with very traditional, old school values,” Cox says.
The soundtrack features Nina Simone, Billie Holliday, Etta James and “all that good old stuff” and the set is composed of the artwork of Harry’s character: “abstracts, landscapes, still-lifes contributed by local artists Nick Trapp, Gene Ursprung as well as ‘wearable art’ by Lillian Bates of By Design,” Cox says.
“Panache” is not merely a light-hearted comedy.
“It’s a play that shows you can find love anywhere,” Frakes says. “Age doesn’t matter, and it can click for two people with totally different lifestyles.”
Cox says “Panache” is “all about passion at any age.”
“Harry’s character is a broken man,” Frakes says. “He’s an artist whose art doesn’t mean anything to him anymore.”
The exposed brick walls and composition of different paintings inform both the tone of the play and the condition of its protagonist.
The play also explores the idea of having “panache,” and how the term embodies style and class to different individuals. Frakes explains that “there’s a great metaphor in the promotional poster of Harry and Kathleen pulling over the license plate. It’s trying to grasp style and meaning before finally being able to embrace it.”
Tickets are $14 apiece (which includes a chocolate gift) and can be purchased at www.altonlittletheater.org. Alton Little Theater is located at 2450 N. Henry St.