If You GO
What: “An Evening of O. Henry”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and also April 20 and 21; and 2 p.m. April 22
Where: Hopewell Theatre, 702 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown
Tickets: $13, $10 for students and senior citizens. Group rates available. Call 330-746-5455 or go to hopewelltheatre.org.
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Tom Copeland has long admired the short stories of O. Henry. A retired English professor at Youngstown State University, Copeland became an expert in Henry’s works, which are noted for their surprise endings.
Copeland has adapted 11 of the author’s short stories into a series of playlets for a unique show at the Hopewell Theatre.
“An Evening of O. Henry” opens Friday.
To fit 11 works into one evening of theater, each will have to be short – and they are.
“Some of them are less than five minutes long,” said Copeland, who is also the director. “Even in such a short space, [Henry] is still able to create a surprise ending. That was his trademark.”
Eleven playlets will also mean a lot of breaks. Copeland is keeping those to a minimum by using a single basic set with only minor changes necessary for each title.
“The set has to be outdoors, indoors, a bedroom, a penthouse, a country road ....,” said Copeland.
Anita Weinstock, a cast member and an artist, created a backdrop that fits all scenes and also affirms that the show has one writer as its focus. Copeland described it as a palimpsest – a piece of writing material that has been erased clean and reused over and over, retaining the “ghosts” of the former writing that didn’t quite disappear.
“It looks messy, which is great, because it’s about an artist,” he said.
The time between each playlet will be as brief as possible – a minute at the most, said Copeland. The lights will come up a bit and music will be played to create a buffer for the audience. “There will be awfully fast costume changes, and the cast also serve as stagehands.”
Each member of the company of actors will play multiple roles throughout the evening. They include Miles Assion, John Dalbec, Gary Deckant, Robert K. Ellway, Teresa Evans, Tom Gilmartin Jr., C. Richard Haldi, Marisa Keshock, Tom Kusiowski II, Hannah LaBranche, Adrienne Mackey, Trudy Mason, Linda McGrath and Weinstock.
“They switch back and forth between characters, and dialects, with ease,” said Copeland.
The last remaining founding board member of the Hopewell (which until this season was known as the Victorian Players), Copeland is an expert in Victorian literature. He has adapted other works into plays that he directed at the theater, including H.G. Wells’ “The Sea Lady” and Alexandre Dumas’ “Camille.”
The beauty of O. Henry’s work comes not only from surprise endings, said Copeland. The author is also known for the skill in which he crafts words together.
“[Henry’s] ability to make a story a pleasure to experience repeatedly, in spite of knowing the ending, comes from his masterful use of the English language, from the crudest backwoods dialect to the poetic and witty descriptions in the narrative, some of which have been included in this show,” he said.
Copeland’s appreciation for Henry’s prose will be crystal clear at the performances at the Hopewell.
“I am a stickler for diction and intonation,” he said.