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'Octette Bridge Club' explores women's roles during 1934-1944 period in Providence, Rhode Island

When Karlyn Love discovered "The Octette Bridge Club," she was charmed by the play's wit and sweetness, but also delighted to discover that it "dares to explore a woman's role in society, and how she finds a balance between her sisters, her marriage, her children, her work and herself."

The New Century Players production, which features eight women and one man, opens Nov. 15 and runs through Dec. 1 at the Rose Villa Performing Arts Center.

In the course of the play, the eight sisters, who live in Providence, Rhode Island, have met every other Friday to play bridge for 10 years. They do play cards, but also do a lot of laughing, reminiscing, gossiping and squabbling.

"In the process, they end up learning a lot about each other and themselves," Love said.

The most rewarding thing about directing the play has been working with eight women ages 35 and over who are "funny, warm, loving, smart, loyal and real," Love said. "Their wonderful characterizations, professional work ethic and lovely personalities have made this a joyous experience for sure."

Love said she is privileged to direct a show that features women's voices, stories and feelings.

"Even though the play takes place in the years 1934-1944, these women still have something to say," she said.

PHOTO BY KARMIN TOMLINSON - The cast of 'Octette Bridge Club' includes, from left to right, Ann Haldy, Terri Schafer (sitting), Arleen Daugherty, Wendy May, Stephen Rickard, Vicki Guthrie, Karie House and Diane Borcyckowski. Not pictured is Daria DeLillo. Working with Love

All the cast members said that working with Love has been a positive experience. She has helped them all develop their characters, explained motivations and encouraged the cast to keep exploring their roles. All the women said that as a result of Love's support, they truly feel like sisters.

As the lone male in the cast, Stephen Rickard plays the role of Mr. Foster, a reporter for the Providence Journal, who is on assignment documenting "slice-of-life stories" for the paper.

Foster is "genuinely interested in the sisters; he respects them and wants to tell their story," Rickard said.

His character, he added, "is a clever device from the playwright to introduce the eight sisters to the audience. It's exciting to be able to help paint the picture of who these characters are and what the 'Octette Bridge Club' is."

Rickard graduated from Oregon City High School in 1997 and said that one of his favorite classes in high school was Love's drama class.

During rehearsals for "Octette," he said there have been "a lot of 'pinch me' type moments where I look over and see Karlyn, and I'm so glad to be working alongside of her."

Four sisters

Diane Borcyckowski plays the character of Martha, the oldest of the sisters.

She is "prudish, bossy, domineering, controlling and yet somehow exacts great sympathy from me and will hopefully gain some sympathy from the audience as well," she said.

The biggest challenge in playing the role is the author's sentence structure, which did not come naturally to her, Borcyckowski said.

"The dialogue among the eight sisters is constant, overlapping and rapid fire which adds to the challenge," she said. "But we're all in the same boat, and I have enjoyed my 'sisters of the theater' immensely."

Arleen Daugherty describes Nora, her character, as the peacekeeper in the family and protective of her youngest sister, Betsy.

"She is also very much in love with her husband and seems to be quite grounded in her role as wife and mother," she said.

Daugherty added, "I hope the audience will in some way be able to see themselves as a part of this loving, although slightly dysfunctional family."

What Daria DeLillo likes best about Alice, her character, is her energy and upbeat positive attitude.

"It is very important to her that the sisters get along and are happy," she said.

She thinks that audiences will appreciate the authenticity of the play, which "focuses on the real relationships among eight sisters who have a habit of talking at or over one another."

She noted there are times when the author "leads the audience into serious territory, but he counters it with humor to lighten the moment and end on a positive note."

Vicki Guthrie plays Lil, the seventh of the eight siblings.

"She is the life of the party. She always looks at the happiest side of things," Guthrie said. "She's quirky and has a fun sense of humor. She's energetic, and you never know what she's going to say next."

Guthrie is a 1993 graduate of OCHS, where she was an active member of the drama department.

She has always known that Love would continue to be a part of her life after graduation and even after Love's retirement in 2018.

Love was an advocate for her last year when she was going through dialysis after kidney failure. Guthrie added that she is thrilled to be back onstage after undergoing a kidney transplant in May.

Four more sisters

Mary, Ann Haldy's character, is the second born of the eight sisters and the only unmarried sister.

"She has a good, kind heart, and I believe she tries to help everyone get along and be happy," she said. "Karlyn has been a wonderful director to work with. She is very open to the actors sharing their ideas and insights with her."

Karie House is another 1993 OCHS graduate who said she decided to audition for the play when she saw that Love was directing. House also is a drama teacher and said Love is part of the reason she is successful as an instructor.

House's character is Ann, who plays the piano and is practical and hospitable; the bridge club meets in her living room.

"Music is one of the things that bring the sisters together," she said.

Connie, one of the middle sisters, is playful and works to lighten the tone of the room, when things start to get serious, said Wendy May, who plays the role.

"What I really like about her is that she has connections on both ends of the scale. At times she has an ally in her older sister, Nora, (while) at other times she is in cahoots with her sister Lil," she said.

Terri Schafer's character Betsy is the youngest of the sisters.

"She has a big heart and loves her family dearly, but has always had difficulty figuring out who she is on her own; she has a strong desire to make the most of her life," Schafer said.

"Throughout the course of the play you get to see Betsy grow and push boundaries and transform from a scared child to a brave woman," she said.

Schafer is a 2011 graduate of OCHS and said working with Love again has brought back wonderful memories.

"She is able to explain motivations and intentions simply from looking at the punctuation of our lines," she said. "Audiences will love the versatility of the play. In just under two hours you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be shocked and your heart will be warmed."

Play bridge

What: New Century Players presents "The Octette Bridge Club"

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15, 16, 22, 23, 29 and 30 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 24 and Dec. 1

Where: Rose Villa Performing Arts Center, 13505 S.E. River Road, Oak Grove.

Cost: Tickets are $20, general admission, $15 for seniors, and $10 for students; they are available at the door, at NewCenturyPlayers.org or by calling 503-367-2620.


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