‘Belles’ sequel arrives in Gilroy

PHONE SISTERS Christine Wanish, Christine McElroy, Rosalind Farotte, Donna Knippen, Betsy Andrade and Christy Wait form the cast of ‘Belles: The Reunion.’

Limelight Actors Theater co-founder and director Kevin Heath often stumbles onto a script for the company while he’s looking for something else. In the case of the company’s summer show, Belles: The Reunion, Heath already had read the script and seen a production of the original show, Belles, written by Mark Dunn in 1988, but thought casting six women in their 20s and 30s would be too hard.

“I thought, ‘Well, great script,’” Heath said.

Then in 2016 came the sequel, Belles: The Reunion.

“You know what? His writing had matured in the sequel, as did the characters. They’re all within the age range where I have a plethora of actors to choose from,” Heath said.

The show opens June 21 for four weekends at the Gilroy Center for the Arts, where patrons can create their own dinner show by bringing in a meal or ordering from nearby Milias Restaurant.

The comedy (with the necessary serious notes) puts the six Walker sisters from Memphis back into family crisis mode 25 years after the original show was set. Mom, now living in a nursing home, has taken to stripping off her clothes in the community room. The sisters themselves have marital woes, financial setbacks and crises of faith.

The entire show takes place with the six sisters on the phone to one another.

“They are in six different locations. As a director, I thought, ‘This is really a good challenge for me. I have to get really creative. I can’t rest on my laurels,’” Heath said.

Each woman has a 4-by-8-foot rectangle of stage space in which to create her character.

“I pulled out some of the heavy hitters I’ve worked with for years,” said Heath, and he told them, “This is the project. It’s going to be very different from everything you’ve ever done.

“Everyone was up for the challenge,” he added.

Cast members Betsy Andrade, Rosalind Farotte, Christy Wait, Donna Knippen, Christine McElroy and Christine Wanish all knew one another or at least were familiar with one another’s work.

“There was immediate chemistry between the women,” Heath said. “They truly have become a family.”

The show requires some careful choreography since the interactions between the women are all on the phone.

“The choreography is much stronger and more important than in the average show,” Heath said. “First of all, you don’t have the whole stage to play with. You have to choreograph everything you’re doing to make it look natural, still give insights to your character and translate what’s going on in your life at this time.”

Then there’s the page of dialogue in which two pairs of sisters are talking to each other at the same time, in a careful dance of spoken and overlapping lines. And late in the show, all six sisters are on stage, with stage lights highlighting one pair and then another as they talk.

“We really did get an education with this script in a big way,” Heath said. “All six women have handled it beautifully. The collaboration between the six of them and myself, and the ideas, they took direction extremely well and took it to the next level. I just watched and said, ‘Wow.’ ”

“Belles: The Reunion” by Mark Dunn, performed by Limelight Actors Theater, runs June 21-July 13 at Gilroy Center for the Arts, 7341 Monterey St., Gilroy. Tickets are $25. For information, call 408.472.3292 or visit www.LimelightActorsTheater.com.

Susan Rife

Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.
Susan Rife

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About Susan Rife
Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.