Phoenix troupe welcomes 'laughing'

If you look up the word "curmudgeon" in the dictionary, you'll likely find a photo of Henry Crocker, the main character in "Look Who's Laughing" being performed dinner-theater style at Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren next month.

The comedy, set in the mid-1950s, features Henry Crocker, a man whose family tiptoes around him in hopes of avoiding his temper. But when his old Army buddy bets him that he can't control his temper for a week, the laughs begin.

"He's an irascible person who's mad most of the time," said Leonard Gilbert, of Baldwin, who plays Crocker. Gilbert has performed with Spotlighters Theatre in Baltimore and Tidewater Players in Havre de Grace, as well as both Harford and Essex campuses of Baltimore County Community College.

He has also appeared in several productions in Long Green put on by the Valley Fellowship Players in cooperation with the Phoenix Players.

Mike Ware plays Jed Tracy, who saved Crocker's life during World War II. He makes the bet with Crocker, but doesn't let anybody else in the family know about it.

Judy Jarava, of Phoenix, has performed in Long Green plays for the past 10 years. She plays Henry's long-suffering wife, Mame. "She is kind of like Edith Bunker," Jarava said. "She goes around trying to keep the peace. She doesn't understand why her husband is acting so peculiar all of a sudden."

The Crockers have two children, Barbara, played by Sarah Walsh, and Johnny, played by 13-year-old Ethan Lane.

Barbara is dating the know-it-all Artie Mann, played by Mark Lane.

"If Mame is like Edith from 'All in the Family', then I'm like Meathead, Archie's son-in-law," he said. "Artie is a wise-cracking boyfriend."

Crocker's temper is tested during the week of the bet. His mother-in-law, played by Ginna Shumate, has lost her hearing aid and misconstrues everything she hears. A wacky neighbor, played by Vicki Vendramin, keeps stopping by to visit. And the store he owns is having financial troubles.

John Rowe plays Waldo Patterson, Crocker's competitor who wants to buy him out and stops by the house to try to convince Crocker to sell.

The play's producer, Gary Miller, has the task of choosing an appropriate production each year.

"I stay away from plays that have violence, language or sex," Miller said "This one will fit our audience. They're an older audience who can relate to a play that takes place in the 1950s."

Don Wesley, who is directing the play, said some 1950s props include a rotary phone, records and a record player.

"Look Who's Laughing" will be held on May 9, 10, 16, 17 and 18. Tickets are $15 for show only; $17 for dessert and show; and $30 for dinner and show. Call 410-666-2506 to order tickets.

The dinner menu includes salad bar, ham, meatball dish, vegetables, rolls and desserts. The dessert night includes ice cream from nearby Prigel Family Creamery with cake or pie.

Here's the schedule: May 9, doors open at 7 p.m., dessert at 7:15; show at 7:45. May 10 and May 17, doors open at 6 p.m., dinner at 6:30, show at 7:45. May 16, doors open at 6 p.m., dinner at 6:30, show at 7:45. May 18, doors open at 1:30 p.m., dinner at 2, show at 3:15.

Proceeds from the dinner theater fund the Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren's community outreach programs.

The church is at 4800 Long Green Road.

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