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'Subject to Change' Stars Three 20-year Veterans of the OCC Theatre

Subject to Change PhotoThree 20-year veterans of the Olney Central College Theatre will take to the stage this week in Jules Tasca’s 1972 comedy, “Subject to Change.”

Neita Lenear and Bea Gardner star as the Basset sisters, Gertrude and Madeline, respectively. Gertrude is hardworking and prudish, while Madeline is a bit boorish and never fails to speak her mind, occasionally interjecting some colorful language.

A character originally written for and portrayed by zany comedian Phyllis Diller, Gardner describes Madeline as “a salty old broad.”

“She is fun, cranky and everything we tell ourselves we shouldn’t be,” Gardner added. “She has no filter and sometimes I wish I could be like that. She is a hard character to play because she is not like me at all.”

Not to be outdone by her sister, Gertrude gets in her own digs as well.

“I get to be mean once in while and I don’t usually get to do that in our shows,” Lenear said. “It has been fun. The play is funny with a lot of adult humor.”

Lisa Benson portrays Joanne, a character she describes as either a concerned friend or a nosey neighbor, depending on your view.

“She is a fun character to play,” Benson added. “She isn’t quite sarcastic, but she can deliver a snappy comeback. The play is funny and well written with some good lines in it.”

Rounding out the cast are Derek Mason who plays Erwin Leeds, Gertrude’s love interest, and Rachel Pampe, who portrays his aging mother, Mrs. Leeds. Jason Shyrock is the handyman, Mr. Pignitelli.

Both Benson and Gardner began their association with the OCC Theatre as college students. Benson auditioned for her first production, “Cinderella,” at the urging of her instructor, and was cast as a townsperson and wood nymph. Both participated in high school productions as well, but Gardner’s love of theater developed at an age when most children are still learning to recite the alphabet or print their names.

“In kindergarten, our teacher would give us a fairy tale to act out each week,” she said. “I loved it. After that, I was hooked.”

Lenear found her way to OCC’s stage in the early 1990s as the theater was auditioning cast members for “The Sound of Music.”

“My boss tried to get me to go out for it because it was my favorite musical,” she said. “I knew they were going to need a lot of nuns so I went out for it and got a part. I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Lenear has taken roles behind the scenes as well, serving as property mistress, gathering needed props for the shows. Gardner also has undertaken additional responsibilities, which have ranged from designing and building sets to running spotlights and working as a member of the stage crew.

Although she has played many characters, Benson’s favorite role was the mother in “Meet Me in St. Louis.” The production also enabled her to perform with family members, Sam and Ivy. The Bensons later appeared together in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Lenear finds it difficult to pick a favorite production or role.

“I’ve enjoyed almost all of them,” she said. “I know ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ touched all of us. I’ve also really enjoyed participating in the numerous ensembles because you get to play so many different characters and you get a wide variety of acting experience that way. One of the funniest roles I’ve had was in ‘Suessical’ when I played the mother.”

Gardner’s favorite roles were portraying the streetwise Brooklyn nun, Sister Robert Anne, in “Nunsense” and narrating “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

“I enjoyed being the narrator in Joseph because it gives you the opportunity to put the Word of God on stage,” she added.

Despite frequent rehearsals, there are times in live theater when things go awry. Gardner said the most recent occurred during a performance of “Mary Poppins.”

“We had a kitchen table that was supposed to break and ‘magically’ repair itself, but something broke,” she said. “We couldn’t get the table to repair itself so we just made it a running joke in the show. I kept asking, ‘Who broke my table.’”

Over the years, the three have watched the OCC Theatre grow and enhance the audience’s experience. That has included presenting newer musicals to the community and upgrading equipment.

“When I first started there was no lighting system,” Gardner said. “As the theater has evolved, the special effects and lighting for shows have improved. We are always trying to make the shows better every time we do them.”

One of the biggest changes has been the absence of longtime Director Ruth Henry, who passed away in November 2015.

“It was hard to get through the first show without her, but (Director) Jon Wright has been doing a really good job,” Lenear added.

The three actresses enjoy the creative outlet theater provides and the opportunity to make others laugh or ponder concepts they have never considered before.

“The idea you are providing entertainment and bringing enjoyment to other people is a good feeling, but what has kept me involved are the people in the theater,” Benson said.

Gardner and Lenear agree.

“Far and away it is the people,” Gardner added. “It is the family I have here that I enjoy the most. I have lifelong friends from shows I was in 30 years ago. We’re still in contact and still doing theater.”

That tight-knit group helped Lenear make it through her most difficult performance when her mother passed away in 2001 on the opening night of “The Music Man.”

“My mother always loved watching me in the shows. I decided to go ahead and do the show that night,” she said. “Everyone was so supportive and understanding.”

Lenear, Gardner and Benson encourage anyone in the community who has ever considered performing in a show to audition.

“If someone is interested, they should definitely try out,” Benson said. “It is fun and a good experience. Even if you’re Townsperson No. 3, you are going to have a blast. Someone is going to be watching Townsperson No. 3 and you have to give it your all.”

Gardner added, “It is a major time commitment, but the rewards are so worth it. It is hard work, but you will make lifelong friends and family.”

Performances of “Subject to Change” are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 20 and Saturday, Oct. 21. An afternoon performance will begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22. This show is rated PG due to mild adult language.

Tickets are $12 for reserved seating for the production and may be purchased online at Tickets will be available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday in the lobby of the Dr. John D. Stull Performing Arts Center. They also may be reserved by calling 618-395-7777, ext. 2408, during the hours designated for ticket sales. Any remaining tickets may be purchased at the box office one hour prior to the performance.

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