By Nancy Oliveri
Southern Tier Actors Read (S.T.A.R.) is in rehearsal this month for a reading of A.R. Gurney’s 1977 two-act play Wayside Motor Inn. S.T.A.R. cofounder Judy McMahon, the play’s director, allowed me to sit in on the initial table read this past Sunday (Aug. 5) at her West Side Binghamton apartment. Her boho-decorated flat has always struck me as a place that could inspire a pretty great play itself, perhaps by someone like Gurney. But in this play, we found ourselves in a Boston motor inn. Trust me, it’s not the Hilton Back Bay, but it is definitely by the wayside.
The play features four disparate groups of lodgers in town for very different reasons. Their transcribed adventures are advanced from their separate motel rooms with rapid-fire dialogue that is funny and poignant by turns, often overlapping to great effect. There is a lot of phone time, too, for some of the guests, providing some good moments reminiscent of a Bob Newhart or Lily Tomlin monologue. You can’t hear what the party of the second part is saying, but you can guess.
A S.T.A.R. reading happens fast from auditions to ovations, and often in the space of a month. This one will be going up at the Phelps Mansion in Binghamton for a three-show run at the end of the month in which it is being assembled.
Typically, S.T.A.R. actors have the advantage of keeping their eye on their scripts (in three-ring binders on well-used music stands), but they may dispense with the stands this time if blocking and set pieces — rare for a S.T.A.R. production — allow. Either way, S.T.A.R. readings are so well done that audiences often forget that the participants are, indeed, reading.
Bonnie DeForest is stage manager with some veterans and newcomers in the cast.
The lodgers pair up thus: Jean Graham as Sharon with Peyton Hawkes as Ray; Rick Kumpon as Vince with Sam Smith as his college-age son, Mark; Deborah Hollander Williams as Jesse with her ailing husband, Frank, played by Mitch Tiffany; and Dave Merrell as Andy, paired with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Ruth, played by Barb Vartanian.
Despite the 1970s sensibility of the play, the themes are timeless, and the stories, seemingly unconnected at first, find a way to marry nicely by play’s end.
IF YOU GO: Performances will be 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26 and 27 and 3 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Phelps Mansion Museum, 191 Court St., Binghamton. Tickets at $15 can be reserved by calling the Phelps at 607-722-4873.