LOCAL PRODUCTION Play pokes fun at rivalry between theaters

Community theater veterans will recognize many of the stereotypical characters in Michael Dempsey's play.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Wanted: Fifteen or more community theater veterans who like to act up -- really act up.
Auditions will be 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at Oakland Center for the Arts for "The Romeo and Juliet War," an original play by Michael Dempsey that will be the second show in the Oakland's upcoming season.
Dempsey, a playwright and TV writer, grew up in Boardman and lived in Salem before moving to Kent a year ago. He was commissioned to write the play by Oakland board member Greg Smith.
Dempsey already gave one casting call, but attendance was very light. Perhaps that's because the play is new and unfamiliar, Dempsey said.
He doesn't need Shakespearean actors for "The Romeo and Juliet War." It's a farce about two small-town theater groups whose productions of "Romeo and Juliet" collide. Just like the Montagues and Capulets, people take sides as the Romeo from one production falls in love with the Juliet from the opposing group. "It kind of escalates into basically a war," Dempsey said.
The central character is a director who has come home from Los Angeles to rest but gets roped into directing both shows. He'll have to disguise himself to accomplish the feat.
Not all fiction: Dempsey is poking fun at some real-life scenarios. In many small towns, he explained, there are at least two theater groups -- the established one and the offshoot. "There's usually some ridiculous bad blood in there," he said.
While there's "quite a lot of comic potential," Dempsey said "The Romeo and Juliet War" won't be as irreverent as some of his earlier plays.
Dempsey needs actors to portray two older artistic directors; the play director and his love interest; the young, jaded actors who portray Romeo and Juliet characters; and several ancillary characters, "some of which are very strong," he said.
As for the types of characters they will play, "Any community theater person who saw 'Waiting for Guffman'" -- that's Christopher Guest's 1997 movie about a community that takes its theater too seriously -- "can recognize some of the archetypes in community theaters," Dempsey said.
Theater patrons shouldn't be nervous, either. The play isn't full of inside jokes; it's about love, what gets in its way and how silly some of those conditions are, Dempsey said.
"The Romeo and Juliet War" will open Oct. 11 and play for three weekends at the Oakland.
Dempsey has written other plays that have been produced locally, including "Hail to the Chef" and "Mrs. Claus Has a Gun!"
Dempsey also was a writer with "Cybill," the CBS sitcom that starred Cybill Shepherd. Oxygen cable TV network has picked up rights to "Cybill" reruns, which will be shown on weekdays.

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