The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

August 27, 2012

Heavy direction: Three theater veterans have no problems sharing director duties

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Whoever coined the phrase “Too many cooks spoil the soup” never watched a play directed by Faith Paoni, Tony Sanchez and Michael Doue.

When the three longtime friends and fellow actors agreed in 2010 to take on the direction of Pittsburg Community Theatre’s “Rumors,” a farcical play by Neil Simon, they each brought their own distinct flavors to the pot.

Sitting on an outdated flowered sofa on stage at Memorial Auditorium, they almost could be characters in a play themselves. Paoni is a self-described “opinionated Italian,” with a razor-sharp sense of humor. She is a secretary at St. Michael’s Church in Girard, a mother of four and also works at the Crawford County coroner’s office.

“Don’t tell anyone that,” she said, joking. “It spooks people. But every so often it is handy for body bags.” (For stage use, she explained.)

Then there is Sanchez, a local Realtor who never met a stranger and sometimes is a single father to two while his wife is deployed with the Army. He is a self-described “opinionated Mexican.”

Last, there’s Doue. The numbers guy, the vice president of Exchange State Bank in Girard and a would-be candidate for U.N. peacekeeping duties -- he avoids conflict like the plague and has assigned himself the task of mediator.

But their recipe for direction must have worked: “Rumors” went off without a hitch, by all accounts was a great success and only one person was shot (and that was part of the script).

They agreed to co-direct because “we all said ‘no’ individually,” Doue said, laughing.

“Then we began saying, ‘I’ll do it if you do it,’ because nobody wanted to commit,” Sanchez said.

“We’re all really busy, and we needed each other to fall back on,” Paoni said.

The three agreed to try it again this year with the production “Moon Over Buffalo,” which opens at Memorial Auditorium on Wednesday and runs through Saturday.

They admitted it must be frustrating for the cast to have three masters.

“We all direct, we all have an opinion on the set design, we all are involved in costuming,” Paoni said. “We all participate.”

But they’re having great fun at it, and their friendships have not wavered: The three of them and their spouses take an annual vacation to New Orleans.

The three draw on their own past experience as crew and cast members of PCT productions. Paoni performed in “Dixie Swim Club,” “Dinner With Friends” and “Glass Menagerie.” Sanchez appeared in “Hairspray” and “Guys & Dolls,” while Doue had roles in “Carousel,” “Honk,” “Chicago” and “Dinner With Friends.”

“But the whining we normally do as actors, we totally don’t allow,” Paoni said. “There are only two answers when we give notes: ‘Yes’, or ‘Thank you.’”

In seriousness, they said the eight cast members of “Buffalo” have enough acting chops that the directors often leave them to their own devices.

Whether “Buffalo” will be as successful as “Rumors” remains to be seen, Paoni deadpanned: “We still have a week left.”

Like the Simon play, it’s a farce that plays right into their shared love for Carol Burnett. It was her comeback show on Broadway, and all three directors describe it as “delicious.”

Set in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1953, the play within a play relates the story of George and Charlotte Hays, who as actors are just past their prime. They made it big, but not all the way to the top, and now they are on the decline.

The set is their theater’s green room -- the place they hang out when they’re waiting to go on stage to perform “Cyrano de Bergerac.” It’s in a dilapidated theater where, Paoni said, “the mighty have fallen.”

George, played by Buddy Gorenz, learns that famous film director Frank Capra is coming to see one of their shows to consider them for parts. George has had a fling with an actress in the company, Eileen, played by Kristina Parsons.

Charlotte, played by Alice Hilt, is being courted on the side by Richard, a lawyer, played by Mark Johnson.

The Hays’ daughter, Roz, played by Micah Black, left the stage life in pursuit of a “normal” one, and is engaged to Howard, a TV weatherman, played by John Mazurek.

Roz also has an ex-fiance, Paul, a business manager for the Hays’ company, played by Austin Cartwright. Charlotte’s nearly deaf mother, Ethel, is played by Susie Lundy. And then there’s the directors’ homage to Burnett, a cleaning lady played by Julie Samuels.

Crazy hijinks occur when there is a case of mistaken identity and a few affairs and booze are thrown in the mix. The directors like the physical comedy offered up by Gorenz, whose body has taken a beating while rehearsing pratfalls.

After it wraps, the three directors are unsure whether they’ll attempt to cook up another play together, but they are emphatic that their relationship with the stage will continue.

“Theater is the community we build within ourselves,” Doue said. “There are lasting friendships, the drama of everyday life magnified.

Everything’s bigger with theater.”

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