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HART's Page to Stage original loaded with laughs

COURTESY PHOTO: HART THEATRE - Left to right, Christie Quinn plays Layla Bainer, Kaitlynn Baugh plays Megan Horne and Kathleen Silloway plays Rose Hawthorne in HARTs Page to Stage production, Continuing Education, written by Sharon Gavin.Hillsboro Artists Regional Theatre (HART) not only gives local actors a chance to perform, it also offers the unique opportunity for local playwrights to see full productions of their original works.

From the entries in last October’s “Page to Stage” competition, HART selected “Continuing Education” for this summer’s play, and there was no doubt in the minds of the opening weekend audiences they made the right choice.

Author Sharon Gavin’s work is brought to life by novice director Carl Dahlquist and informed by the mad skills of a cast that (collectively) brings perhaps 100 years of acting experience. It is smartly written and loaded with unexpected laughs; although absurd, the internal logic is sound — overall, it’s a sheer delight.

Imagine 60-something Rose Hawthorne delaying her college graduation for four decades because her grandfather willed the family’s Victorian mansion to the college with the condition that she could live in the home until she graduates.

Even taking only one class per semester, she is running out of courses to take — and the college trustees are scheming to drive her out by turning her home into a dorm for non-traditional female students.

Two roommates arrive — five-time divorcee Layla Bayner and Megan Horne, a young woman using her GI Bill benefits after a 10-year career in the Marine Corps.

Add Rose’s lover (and college president) Skip Graham, Layla’s first husband David (now teaching Layla’s freshman English class), and Megan’s lab partner Paul, a senior who cannot bring himself to dissect a cat for a required anatomy class. Finally, there is the dreaded Professor Appleberry teaching “Shakespeare in the Modern World,” and holding the key to Rose’s future — she must fail his class or she’ll be forced to graduate.

Kathleen Silloway is marvelous as Rose — tall, elegant and thoroughly believable as a woman with a caustic shell that covers her fundamental insecurity. Christie Quinn (as serially monogamous Layla) is her perfect counterpart — a relaxed, outgoing and confident woman of the world. Kaitlynn Baugh’s portrayal of Megan is, perhaps, overly charming — she delivers her uptight character’s lines a little too gently, just missing the clipped cadence and rigid posture of a career Marine.

“Continuing Education” is primarily a woman’s show, and the men (while uniformly skillful) serve primarily as adjuncts and straight men to the ladies’ laugh lines.

Chuck Weed as Professor Appleberry is the exception. In response to Rose’s innovative Richard III thesis (which must be seen to be believed), Weed spews a hysterical narrative that is a marvel of comic timing and precise delivery.

HART has pulled out all of the stops for the set, and the lush furniture and gleaming “hardwood” floor effectively create the ambience of Victorian luxury that binds Rose to her home and holds her in the past. The lighting design by Ray Hale, Carl Dahlquist and Brian Ollom is simple but effective, and the more elaborate effects during the Richard III bit really enhance the unusual nature of the play-within-a-play.

Opening weekend attendance was good, but “Continuing Education” is a comedy that deserves full houses. Page to Stage truly has come of age, and audiences should treat this as an opportunity to watch the premiere of a really funny show.