Formerly Known As Wellesley Summer Theatre, Wellesley Repertory Theatre Debuts A New Name And A New Show

January 14, 2016
A scene from the Wellesley Repertory Theatre's production of House of Blue Leaves

 “We’re calling it what it is,” Marta Rainer '98 stated in a recent MetroWest Daily News article. She was referring to the change that rechristened Wellesley Summer Theatre as Wellesley Repertory Theatre. Although the program began as a summer theatre, it added winter shows nearly a decade ago. The new name eliminates the seasonal moniker and also more accurately reflects the depth of the professional Actors Equity Association (AEA) company.

Nora Hussey, director of Wellesley College Theatre and director of the theatre studies program, created the company to “provide a fertile place where professionals and students could interact,” said Rainer. “It was also a way that students could build a bridge into the professional world.” Just as under its previous name, the WRT enlists Wellesley students from the College's theatre studies program to work behind the scenes on the productions, and often to appear onstage. The cast and crew of the company’s current production, The House of Blue Leaves, includes two students and three alumnae in addition to six AEA members.

Rainer, a visiting lecturer in the theatre studies program, graduated from Wellesley just before the professional company was formed. She was president of the student improv group Dead Serious during her time as a student. Since then, her works as both a writer and actor have appeared on stage nationally and internationally, including Off-Broadway. Her one-woman show Unaccustomed to My Name was produced at Wellesley in November 2006 as one of Wellesley Summer Theatre’s first winter productions (it was revived in 2015). She returned to Wellesley to teach in 2013, the same year she directed the Equity company’s production of Dancing at Lughnasa, which became a Boston Globe Critic’s Pick.

The House of Blue Leaves was a daring choice for Wellesley Repertory Theatre’s debut performance. Rainer describes the dark comedy, written by John Guare, as being deceptively challenging. Set in 1965, the show follows Artie, a zookeeper by day and an aspiring songwriter and lounge performer by night. He juggles reality and his aspirations, along with his schizophrenic wife, Bananas, and his mistress, Bunny, who lives in the apartment downstairs. Artie’s Hollywood producer buddy Billy—whom Artie is counting on as his ticket to fame—shows up with his starlet girlfriend, and Artie’s son Ronny goes AWOL with plans to bomb New York when the Pope visits.

Variety said the play “sets the bar for smart, comic lunacy.” In this interpretation, On Boston Stages calls Paul Michael Valley’s Artie “a finely drawn mess of a man.” Wicked Local praises Molly Parker-Myers’ Bananas as “crazy good,” and says that Victoria George ’05, as Bunny, “keeps the energy moving.”

Hussey attributes the continuing success of Wellesley’s student and professional theatre programs to their benefactor, Ruth Nagel Jones ’42. Jones was the daughter of silent film actor Conrad Nagel, one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and she felt strongly that theatre has the power to transform and transport mankind. Her support established the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre in 1992, when Wellesley was reassessing its theatre program, and her 2013 endowment helps ensure that the program will continue to thrive. Hussey often says, “Because she believed in us, we exist.”

The House of Blue Leaves is running Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm through January 31. Reservations are suggested.