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The Great Escape: All The World's A Stage...

Live theater staged at The Westport Country Playhouse both entertains and evokes emotions.

I would rather see a stage production than go to the movies. There is something thrilling about watching drama unfold in real time where the unexpected could, and often does, happen. Although I’m sure this year’s Academy Award winners deserve their trophies, I can’t help but feel that their ability to emote on cue is the result of several ‘takes’ as well as some stellar skills in the editing room. What the audience sees is a compilation of several versions of the same scene.  

 In live theater, though, what you see is what you get. If an actor goes “up” on his line — in other words, forgets them — the audience is privy to the mistake. If a prop falls out of the actor’s hands and into the pit where the band is playing, its fun to see what kind of improvisation will ensue.  

When I attended college in Manhattan, I often purchased discount tickets for Broadway and Off-Broadway plays. Living out in the suburbs for the past 20 years, though, with four children and a husband, my ventures to the Great White Way are few and far between. I did see “The Adams Family” — starring Adam Riegler, of Westport, as “Pugsley” — and I recommend it highly. It was my son Michael’s first Broadway show, and although the reviews were dismal, we shared many laughs and had a great time.

And, isn’t that what theater is all about — eliciting a response from a shared experience? When I want to get away from daily minutia causing me stress, I head to the Westport Country Playhouse. It’s close, affordable and fun. The productions are filled with talented New York professionals who are usually in between Broadway gigs. The plays are entertaining and thought-provoking. And, the ambiance is cozy, welcoming and pleasant.

Kicking off their 80th season, last Saturday the Playhouse offered backstage tours to anyone interested in taking a peek behind-the-curtain. My mother, a resident of Westport who is now an usher at the Playhouse, my 17-year old daughter, Anna, and 7-year-old daughter Olivia all enjoyed viewing models of sets from past productions, trying on an assortment of Arabian hats used in a production two years ago, and observing a demonstration of stage combat.

As a theater buff, I also found it interesting to hear about the many classic plays that had their start at the Westport theater. For example, I learned that two iconic American musicals — “Oklahoma!” and “My Fair Lady” — were inspired by plays produced at the Playhouse.

Numerous actors appeared on the Playhouse stage before making a name for themselves on Broadway and in films and television. Though the Playhouse used to be a featured stop on the “straw hat” summer stock circuit, with plays running only during the summer months, a renovation and revitalization project that recently took place on the Westport Country Playhouse campus transformed the building into a year-round facility.

Next month Christopher Durang’s comedy “Beyond Therapy” will open its 2011 season. Described as “wickedly funny,” I am sure that there will be ample opportunities to laugh as the tale of two single people seeking help from therapists who are crazier than they are unfolds.

Last week I attended a lecture in Fairfield by Dr. Bernie Siegel, author of many books, including “Love, Laughter and Miracles.” Dr. Siegel said when we are laughing, we cannot be worrying or sad. To take that one step further, I realize that when I am chuckling over a character’s antics onstage, I am also smiling at myself. If they are not infallible, then I don’t have to be either. Humanity is revealed in live theater — and I want to be in the front row to observe and learn about this.

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