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The Angel of Death (Doug Schultz, foreground) watches as Gladys (Sharon Sinclair) shares a conversation with her nephew, Henry (Bob Heimark). DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Gladys in Wonderland

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The story of an old woman meeting the Angel of Death doesn’t seem like it would be the subject of a comedy, does it?

But that’s exactly what “Gladys in Wonderland” is about.

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“Gladys is an 87-year-old lady, who is kind of starting to lose it a little bit,” says Sharon Sinclair, who plays the role in this latest community theater presentation from Summit Productions.

Sinclair likes to tell the story of how her grandchildren asked her to tell them what the play was about, and she said, “It’s about a ditzy old lady who meets the Angel of Death.”

Their response, “OK, you’ll be great at that, Grandma.”

“But I didn’t tell you what part I was playing yet!” she protested.

Sinclair, a veteran of local community theater productions, said she is having a lot of fun portraying that “ditzy old lady.”

“Gladys is beginning to fail, and her friends and family are beginning to notice,” Sinclair said. “But she doesn’t see this in herself. Her life is just gradually changing in this way and she doesn’t see it like those who are close to her do — until the Angel of Death points it out to her.”

While the topic of the play, aging and the end of life, isn’t inherently humorous, playwright Rosemary Frisino Toohey wrings more than a few laughs from the subject, by making it relatable to the audience.

“So much about this play will touch on a lot of people’s lives,” Sinclair said. “It brings out a lot of the humor in family situations as they go through this process.

“It (dying) is a natural process, and the way it’s portrayed here is not at all upsetting. It’s something children could handle,” she added, noting that it’s a family-friendly show. “It’s something that’s a reality in all our lives, but this puts it in a humorous perspective.”

“This play is amusing, kind of sweet and funny,” says Jeannine Eisland, who plays the role of Gladys’s longtime friend, Mildred. “It has a tender moment at the end that kind of sums up the whole thing.”

Eisland says that Mildred and Gladys have known each other virtually their entire lives. “They’ve been friends from second grade on up, as she says at one point.”

“Mildred is kind of a busybody who has all these good ideas for everybody… not at all like my natural character,” Eisland said with a smile. “She’s come to advise Gladys on all the things she needs to do to prepare for death.”

Of course, preparing for death is something that Gladys is reluctant to do — even though she has been visited by the Angel of Death himself.

“Mort’s kind of a benevolent Angel of Death,” said the role’s portrayer, Doug Schultz, “but he’s not above using a little bit of trickery if it gets people to cooperate with him.

“Mort deals in transportation. He’s been assigned to escort Gladys to the afterlife. He shows up one morning, and Gladys decides this isn’t for her — she’s not ready to go. If Mort has a weakness, it’s that he takes a lot of time getting to know the people — he gets too attached to them.”

Just when it appears that Mort might have finally persuaded her to go, someone shows up at Gladys’s door — over and over again.

One of those who shows up at Gladys’s door is her younger brother, Frank — played by Sharon’s husband, Jim Sinclair.

“Frank’s concerned, like all of Gladys’s family and friends, that she’s not taking good care of herself,” says Jim Sinclair. “So he takes it upon himself to tell her that, and she doesn’t take to it very well.

“This is a really delightful cast,” Sinclair added. “We’re all just really getting into our parts and having a good time with it. This play is going to be a lot of fun for people to come and watch.”

“The cast is playing off each other really well,” agreed Caitlin Norby, who is directing her second play for Summit Productions.

“They’re really finding their comedic timing,” she added.

The cast of 11 local actors includes several community theater veterans as well as first-timers.

“We have everything from rookies to pros, and we’re all learning new ideas and tips from each other,” she added. “There’s both old and new blood, which is nice.”

“Gladys in Wonderland” will be presented by Summit Productions this Thursday and Friday, Feb. 27-28, at the Historic Holmes Theatre in Detroit Lakes. Both shows are set to begin at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $7.50 for students, and can be purchased at the Holmes Theatre Box Office, 806 Summit Ave., by phone at 218-844-7469, or online at www.dlccc.org.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers and editor of MN Boomers magazine for the past 13 years. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 847-3151
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