- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The play “Red Herring” has it all.
“It’s got everything … for the young at heart, for the old at heart,” said Keith Hight, technical director and assistant professor at College of Southern Maryland, where the play will run Sept. 21 and 22 and Sept. 27 through 29. “It has espionage and Velveeta cheese. You can’t go wrong with cheese.”
Not to mention the pasta. “Red Herring” is performed as dinner theater on Fridays and Saturdays, something the college has done in the past two years with “Almost, Maine” in 2010 and last year’s “Flaming Idiots.”
On Thursdays, the production will be a dessert theater with a “smorgasbord of desserts,” according to Hight, all catered by CSM.
Hight was introduced to the play a few years ago and found it hysterically funny. For those who thought “Flaming Idiots” was a riot, “Red Herring,” Hight predicts, is “seven times funnier.”
He wanted to give it to his students at CSM and since dinner theater usually works best with funny and upbeat material, it was a natural fit.
“Dinner theater is something that students don’t usually get to do,” he said. “It is a genre that people don’t really think about anymore.”
It is a challenge for performers who are used to having the 45-foot gap between the stage and audience, the house lights drowning out the watchers.
With dinner theater, the audience is right there, eating, almost part of the action. When you are on stage, it takes a moment before you can hear laughter, with dinner theater; actors can hear it automatically and need to keep from cracking.
And every performance is different.
“What’s funny one night is not going to be funny the next night,” Hight said.
“You always have to be on your toes with comedy,” said Mitchell Landon of Great Mills, who plays clueless FBI agent, Frank Keller.
“If you’re thinking, you’re not acting,” said Kendall Garton of Hollywood, who is cast as smart cookie Boston cop, Maggie Pelletier. “You really have to leave everything … you are that character.”
And to get into character, Hight made his cast watch films like Marlene Dietrich’s “Witness for the Prosecution” and “Dragnet” to get the cadence and feel of the noir genre.
“I dream in black and white now,” Garton said.
While the play has a lot of slapstick moments and physical comedy that appeal to kids and some comedy lovers, it also is full of intellectual comedy.
Jokes set up in the first moments of the play don’t pay off until the end, Landon said.
If the cast and crew of “Red Herring” excel at the fast pace, it might because the college’s theater department never has time to catch its breath.
When Hight came to the department he was going to expose students to what making a living in the theater is about.
“Why take it easy?” he asked. “This is our challenge. We’re going to do six, eight shows a semester and they never flinched.”
A working actor has to be performing part A, setting up part B and thinking about part C because the rent is due, Hight explained.
“We are never treated as students,” Garton said. “He expects the same from us as he does professional actors.”
“It’s a professional world experience,” Hight said. “It’s what the business is.”
“You’re busy all the time,” said Landon, whose background was ballroom dancing before he started incorporating acting into his ambitions. “You want a break but when you get a break, you’re bored.”
Working on shows, either on stage or backstage, leaves little time for anything else.
“Leaving here in the daylight is weird,” said Garton, who when not acting is creating a whale for an upcoming production of “Moby Dick,” and preparing to stage-manage the theater’s musical, “Urinetown.”
Recently Hight was stuck in traffic for the first time in a while because he got out of the theater around 5 p.m.
While being pulled in different directions, “Red Herring” will be served up the next two weekends and the company is ready for an audience.
“The energy of the cast is met really fast with the energy of the audience,” Hight said.
Garton thinks it will go well, the show is funny and smart, something that people will want to see.
“As long as they’re enjoying the show and we’re more interesting than the food,” it’ll be OK, she said.