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Wednesday, June 2,2010

Haunted by HUAC

’The Value of Names’: John Peakes stars in a look at life after the witch hunts

by James Sanford

Brother, can you spare a performance space?


If so, please contact Stormfield Theatre artistic director Kristine Thatcher. The former BoarsHead Theater AD is in the process of looking for a base of operations. It’s one of the many challenges of launching a new company.


“Getting a theater off the ground is like trying to get a giant, lame spider on its feet,” Thatcher said, with a chuckle. “Once you get one leg up, it seems like another one collapses. But we’ll get there.”


To pave the way — and raise some money — Stormfield has been presenting a series of staged readings at various locations. “The Value of Names,” playing June 4 to 6 at Red Cedar Friends Meeting House, is the latest, and it has given Thatcher a chance to reconnect with some longtime friends and associates.


“Value” was written by Jeffrey Sweet, who worked alongside Thatcher at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater and also wrote “Bluff.” And it stars John Peakes, who gave a 16-yearold Thatcher a big break when he cast her in a show at the o l d L e d g e s Playhouse in Grand Ledge back in 1967.


“I’d had this play in my hip pocket for a while,” Thatcher said, “and I thought it would be great for John. He was one of my very first teachers, and it’s going to be a pleasure to have him around.”


Peakes, who founded BoarsHead Theater in 1966, moved to Philadelphia in 2003 and has continued working there as an actor and director. In “Value,” he plays Benny, a performer whose career was derailed in the early 1950s when his friend, Leo (Gary Houston), named Benny to the Communist witch hunters of the House Un - American Activities Committee . More than 30 years later, Benny and Leo meet again, as Benny’s daughter, Norman (Dana Brazil), considers an offer to appear in a show Leo is directing.


Although the play addresses the subjects of betrayal and forgiveness, Thatcher says Sweet’s script has “very funny dialogue; it’s really fast. Not only is his subject matter enthralling, but his craft is very, very fine.”


As for the question of when Stormfield might be ready to do a full-scale production, Thatcher said she’s hoping to do something later this year. She’s considering the one-woman show “The Woman With All the Answers,” based on the life and career of advice columnist Ann Landers.


‘The Value of Names’


Stormfield Theatre 8 p.m. Friday, June 4 and Saturday, June 5; 4 p.m.


Sunday, June 6 Red Cedar Friends Meeting House, 1400 Turner St.


$25 (517) 372-0945 www.stormfieldtheatre.org

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