by Patsy Koch John
The 38 -minute ride to the Lofte Community Theatre in Manley, Nebraska is a bit bumpy, but it is most certainly picturesque and a worthy adventure. Patrons have been making the journey for 42 years to see theatre performed in a barn transformed into a beautiful performance space in a tiny Nebraska town. It all seems pretty unlikely, but it is there and sustained by a collaborative community caring about and producing great theatre.
Tonight, Friday, September 7th, 2018 is not any different than the many other times I have traveled to watch a performance here. Cars are filling the parking lot and in the house audience members are excited to see Hilda’s Yard by Norm Foster.
The Lofte Theatre belongs to the Lincoln Theatre Alliance and this year is “The Year of the Woman”. The production features 3 women and 3 men who step out from page to stage and become real to the audience.
The setting is the backyard of Sam and Hilda Fluck. It is well kept with a clothesline, hanging plants, and yard furniture, everything reflecting the middle class success of the couple who reside in it. The frisky “empty nesters” are looking forward to their time together and a brand new Zenith console television. Incidentally the husband/wife team onstage is also a husband/wife team offstage. It may add to the believability of their stage relationship.
The set, costumes, lighting and sound are carefully created to prepare us to enter Hilda’s domain. They are all unobtrusive, but they enhance the reality of the Fluck’s world.
Hilda addresses her neighbor in the opening of the performance and several times more throughout. The conversations are expertly delivered by Betty Colbert as Hilda. Several times I wanted to turn around so I could see the neighbor and her reactions. I saw several audience members who did turn around. Her timing and character are riveting. By the end of Act I, the audience knows who is in charge of the Fluck household and who deftly steers the entire performance. The performance by Betty Colbert qualifies as a stunning example of the female talent here in Nebraska.
Something about her husband Sam played by Kevin Colbert captures the pathos of the husband, the father who has worked for 27 years at a job he hates doing the same thing over and over to take care of his family without a complaint. Be prepared to have his performance make you laugh out loud, but also tug at your heartstrings.
The Fluck children Gary and Janey are performed energetically by Joshua P. Smith and by Shakeida Bullis. Gary doesn’t have a job, but he does have a hot new girlfriend. She is Bobbi Jakes a beatnik and relationship phobe. At times she so believably portrayed by Renae Koehler that the audience reacts verbally to her sexy antics. The newly wedded Jenny doesn’t want to clean her house, but she does aspire to be a travel agent. All 3 young people are in crisis because of these “devastating” circumstances. They are exaggerated examples of over indulged 1950s kids. What do they do to solve their problems? Well, they head home over the back fence with duffel bag, a suitcase, and a purse in tow.
The late arrival of another character to add to the mix is delightful. Beverly Woytowich a common, but charming thug and bookie, acted with bravado by Rob Carrera. He also scurries over the fence to collect the $350 that Gary owes him for betting money.
All of this chaos is the usual formula for a situational comedy. However, Hilda’s Yard is unusual. It is not what you expect in a comedy. It has an unexpected depth. It tackles some very serious social issues: mental health, education, parenting, regrets, domestic violence, crime, a woman’s place in society, the drudgery of every day work whether it is folding clothes or factory work, the lack of loyalty to workers in the business world, employment opportunities for older people, and what is in a name?
The play also demonstrates clearly that people are more than what we see on the surface. While you are laughing at the characters in this 1950s backyard, you may have the feeling that you are laughing at and with the friends, family and guests you might meet in your own backyard. You are laughing at yourself.
My journey home took less time and wasn’t as bumpy. My brain was filled with thoughts of a well-directed and designed production, memories of the characters who were real, situations that were relatable 68 years later in 2018, lessons that I learned, and of course an evening of laughter.
Head to Manley! Have a glass of wine. Make a toast to life with the Flucks in flux.
When you make the journey to the Lofte Theatre, you should, be ready to laugh and think in equal measure.
One last thought, Gary, I agree. A name like Fluck could change the trajectory of your life.
Hilda’s Yard performances are on September 8, 9, 13,-16. Sundays at 2 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. The Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Road, Manley, NE. Tickets are $19. For more information, please visit lofte.org or call 402-234-2553.
Patsy Koch John’s career spans 40 plus years of directing, acting, and teaching of Theatre experience. She also spends time advocating for students, teachers, and educational issues included, but not limited to the Arts in Education. Presently she is serving on the Nebraska State School Board, as the President of Nebraskans for the Arts, and on boards of the Nebraska Speech Communication and Theatre Association, and the Angels Theatre Company. She continues to work with students and adults directing and enjoying the Arts.