- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Sisters Melissa Gilpin Ball and Liz Mildenstein didn’t have much of a choice when it came to adopting a love of theater.
“My mom always loved the theater,” said Ball, a Point Park University graduate who majored in theater. “Growing up, it was show tunes in the car and stuff like that.”
The sisters were involved in drama club during high school, and while Ball went on to study theater in college, Mildenstein headed to Frostburg University and majored in communications.
It wasn’t until after graduation that they both delved into the world of community theater, but they weren’t going it alone.
They soon drafted their parents, Richard and Joselle Gilpin, into helping out. Dating was out of the question for the sisters because they both devoted time to different aspects of production. Luckily for each, they landed husbands, Zack Ball and Chad Mildenstein, who were just as involved in theater as they were.
Ball, an operations manager for a retail store in Waldorf, said she spends about 40 hours a week at work and 40 hours at the theater when she’s getting a show together.
“My resolution this year was to cook two meals at home during the week,” Ball said.
It might seem like an easy goal, but when putting together a show, currently Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” at Port Tobacco Players Theater in La Plata, time is spent with noses buried in scripts, not cookbooks.
The production is directed by Ball and produced by Mildenstein — who gave birth to her first child, Mia, earlier in the month. Mom, Joselle, is the assistant director, dad, Richard, is the set designer and carpenter, and Zack Ball is the master carpenter.
They signed up for the show before Mildenstein was pregnant, so Chad Mildenstein, who usually can be counted on to land a role in a play, sat this one out to take care of the baby.
“Once they announce the slate of shows, I have to figure out how to sucker everyone who is related to us into slave labor,” Ball joked.
And “Brighton Beach Memoirs” resonates with the family on another level.
“It’s a great piece about a Jewish family, and we’re a Jewish family,” Ball said. “It’s a perfect fit.”
With another daughter, Mindi, living in Pennsylvania — she’s not involved in theater, but if she lived closer, the family is sure they could talk her into it — Joselle and Richard might have suffered from empty nest syndrome; instead they have built stronger relationships with their children.
“I definitely think I’m closer with my parents than some of my friends [are with theirs],” Ball said.
“We’ve always been close,” Mildenstein said, adding that Ball is her best friend and she considers her mother one of her closest friends, as well.
Joselle sees a different side of her children when they’re in leadership roles at the theater.
“It’s amazing,” Joselle said.
A lot of parents might not get the opportunity to witness their adult children excel at something they are passionate about, but the theater allows the Gilpins to see their kids shine.
“It’s a wondrous thing to watch,” she said. “It gets me every time.”
This isn’t the first time the extended Gilpin clan has worked together.
They all pitched in for another Simon adaptation, “The Good Doctor,” when it was staged by the Hard Bargain Players.
Ball said there are usually at least two family members involved in a show at any given time. And working with family allows more freedom in the creative process.
“You can be more honest,” Mildenstein said.
A play like “Memoirs” holds a mirror up to family dynamics. While the play is set in the late 1930s in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mildenstein believes anyone can relate to the trials of the Jerome family.
“You see little bits,” she said of the similarities between real life and Simon’s semiautobiographical story that follows the life of Eugene Jerome as he navigates his teenage years while sharing a house with his folks and extended family.
“Any family, any parent [can relate],” Mildenstein said. “‘Oh, it’s not just my family.’”
After “Memoirs” takes its final bow in February, the Gilpin family will prepare for another show for PTP’s upcoming season.
Joselle had expressed an interest in directing, so Ball suggested her mother assist her for “Memoirs” before diving into the deep end.
Joselle will direct “Fiddler on the Roof” with Ball assisting.
Another play about family dynamics, this time set to music. A childhood spent listening to Broadway hits in mom’s car will pay off.
“You stick with what you know,” Ball said.