Three plays walk into a park

By Josh Garvey

Capital TheaterWorks to open season with ‘Strange Shorts’

Outside the theater known as The Ledges Playhosue, in Grand Ledge, there’s a disc golf course (where grown men can sometimes be heard swearing when their Frisbees hit trees), some basketball hoops, a picnic area and a baseball diamond. The location can be a boon and a curse for theater.

This weekend, Capital TheaterWorks (formerly The Ledges Playhouse Theatre Co.) will open its 2009 summer season at the theater with “Strange Shorts,” a program of three one-act plays. Though it’s a unique venue with a strong history of theater and a variety of pre-curtain activities, Ben Holzhausen, director of one of the “Shorts,” said the park does have its downsides. “The biggest challenge has been getting people out here to this playhouse,” Holzhausen said. “I think people maybe have in their mind that Grand Ledge is way out there. We’ve been trying to stress to people that it’s really not that far of a drive; it’s just right outside of Lansing.”

Capital TheaterWorks went by the name Ledges Playhouse Theatre Co. until late last year. The original name was used to emphasize the historic theater itself; a previous theater company’s name had become so synonymous with the playhouse, the name of the company was used in place of the theater.

Capital TheaterWorks original name aimed to change that, but problems arose when the company toured in the offseason. “I think it will be easier to travel with a name like Capital TheaterWorks than it was with Ledges Playhouse,” said Kevin Burnham, the company’s artistic director. “When we did ‘The Reindeer Monologues’ at the Creole Gallery, it was The Ledges Playhouse Theatre Co. at Creole Gallery, and I think people can get a little confused about where we are.”

With a new name comes a new board of directors, the company’s first, to help oversee its progress. Also new this year: free shows. The entire summer program is free, although donations are encouraged. “If you can’t afford it, don’t worry about it,” Burnham said. “Pay what you can if you can, but in these economic times, we wanted to do something positive while people are going to be tightening their belts.”

“Strange Shorts” gets started with “The Spot,” a satirical take on what goes into a political advertisement, written by Steven Dietz. Burnham, a self-described “political junkie,” is directing the one act. “My jaw drops at some of the things that come out of these campaigns,” he said. “What I’ve always found interesting is the political ads. I don’t really think these people believe 2 Born what Yesterday they say.”

Next up in the show is David Ives’ “Mere Mortals,” a play set during a lunch break on the 49th floor of a building in construction about the interactions between three male construction workers. “It’s about that layer underneath the roughness and the adultness of these people,” said director Tanya Burnham. “It’s about their private thoughts and how they share them with each other — the fact that they share things with each other that they don’t share with their wives or anyone else, which is really kind of cool.”

The third act is “Earwig,” by Fraser McFarlane, and it’s Holzehausen’s directorial debut. Despite the lack of directing experience, Holzhausen can claim expertise in another area of the production; he works for FedEx, and “Earwig” is set in a dead letter office. It’s a dark comedy that focuses on the contents of a package, which struck a chord with Holzhausen. “I probably go through 500 packages on my truck, you know loading and unloading, and I always kind of wonder, ‘What’s in this box?’” he said. “I’ve had enough interesting cases myself: packages that talk to me, vibrate or leak.”

‘Strange Shorts’

12-21 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday Capital TheaterWorks
Ledges Playhouse, Fitzgerald Park, Grand Ledge FREE (517) 944-0221