Director Fred Williamson has a worried look on his face as he strides toward center stage. Only four more rehearsals stand between the Tidewater Players and the opening night of "Poison for Two . . . My Dear."
"Tonight we're going to do it like a real performance," he says, waving the members of the cast together. "You'll get no cues. You're on your own. If you forget your lines, don't get upset. Make it up. Take it from another play. I don't care. Just keep going."
He turns and heads for his chair as the cast scatters and the hero begins his lines: My name is John Warren -- or at least it was.
"Poison for Two . . . My Dear" is the summer production of the Tidewater Players, a community theater group in Havre de Grace that performs in the restored Opera Hall, a turn-of-the-century theater located on the second floor of City Hall.
Over the next 90 minutes a murder is solved, a seance is held, two more murders take place and lovers separated by death are reunited.
"It's sort of like the old-time melodrama," Mr. Williamson says. "You've got the villain, the heroine and all this stuff happening. It's actually more of a comedy, but some of it's suspenseful if we do it right."
"Poison for Two . . . My Dear" opens Friday evening. Performances will be Aug. 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 8 p.m. And two matinee performances will be given -- on Aug. 16 and 23 at 2 p.m.
Although the Tidewater Players have been performing in the area for more than a decade, their current play is different. It was written by three members of the group -- Ken Williamson, Martin Hoover and Jackie Hoover -- and is set in Havre de Grace in the 1890s.
Mr. Hoover and Mr. Williamson had been talking for several months about the idea of collaborating on a play. When another production fell through, they quickly pulled together their ideas and got them down on paper.
Mrs. Hoover joined the collaboration first to help write the women's parts, then with other details and suggestions.
"It was a lot of fun listening to them writing. Whenever they were working on it together, I'd have one ear on what I was doing and another ear on what they were doing," she says, laughing.
"They were having an easy time with the men's parts, but with the women's parts, they would have the characters doing things totally uncommon to a woman," she adds. "I'd stop them and say, 'A woman wouldn't do that.' And then I'd interject how I thought a woman would handle the situation."
The trio talked to Havre de Grace historian, Ellsworth Shank, who told them about a murder trial that took place in the 1930s. A local woman was convicted of murder in the deaths of several members of her family. Her murder weapon was a poisoned ham.
"At first a butcher was [the] suspect," Mrs. Hoover says. "They cleared the butcher and then eventually found out the woman had done it. I think it boiled down to insurance.
"We were going to base the play on that and then we thought, well the '30s, that's not too long ago. There might be some of the family around. So we just took the idea that people were poisoned."
Since Havre de Grace has a strong Victorian flavor, they chose the 1890s as the time for the drama.
In addition to her writing duties, Jackie Hoover worked on the sets with help from local artist Matt Hayes, who also did the detail work on much of the Victorian furniture.
She also made all of the costumes for the cast which also includes Jackie Curry, Carol Nemeth, Marie Garske, Steve Huff, Wendy Crolius, Jackie Nelson, Larry Sampson, Milo Cremeans, Melissa Cremeans, Brooke Anderson, Paul Mauldin, Becky Plumhoff and Barbara Snyder.
Performances for "Poison for Two . . . My Dear" will be given at the Opera Hall at 121 Union Ave.
Tickets are $5 and refreshments will be available. For more information, call 939-3984.