My husband and I found a great escape from daily pressures for a couple of hours. We discovered a tiny theater not far from where we live which we passed by regularly for several months, never knowing it was there. It was only when we searched for the Oil Lamp Theater when Jack Zimmerman was telling his wonderful stories (for one night only) that we found it. Stepping inside, we were charmed. There is a feeling of the turn of the last century in its décor, and it was warm and friendly. The bar is the only part that remains of the restaurant that inhabited these premises earlier. It is a nice way to be greeted. The front space feels like a living room and is filled with comfortable chairs and couches where patrons sit or stand eating the complementary homemade cookies and drinking wine they brought.
Learning that Par for the Corpse, a homicidal comedy, by Jack Sharkey was opening at Oil Lamp Theater we returned. The play was fun and completely absorbing. For the two hours of the performance we were caught up in wonderful repartee, and the recounting of what had happened, who said and did what and what might happen next. A typewriter is in use as the play begins - remember those? It is winter in the Catskills and novelist Alexandra Ellis (Eleanor Katz) who lives there with her housekeeper and “factotum” Gert (June Miller). When Alexandra invites a group of friends to her home for dinner one wintry evening, a blizzard unexpectedly strands the group – but the blizzard soon proves to be the least of their problems!
The dinner party takes a dark and murderous turn when one of the guests is poisoned and the group quickly realizes they have a killer in their midst. Soon everyone, even the hostess, becomes a suspect. And even audience members seemed suspect during the break. Murky motives are revealed and unexpected plot twists play out as the hostess and her guests examine clues and make deductions in an effort to solve the crime.
The large cast filled the stage with energy and charm in their great costumes. Party guests include young theatrical star Mark Taggart (Martin Hughes), the wealthy but discontented “power couple,” Rick and Hazel Corlian (Mike Shields and Jasmine Ryan), the darling jet-setter Bettina Redmond (Dana Parker). Thelma Alban, Hazel’s very concerned mother, is portrayed by Beth Goldberg. Daniella Jessup, the famous fashion model, is played by Elizabeth Peterson. Rounding out the cast are Joe Schmitt as Jed Stebbins, a local handyman, and Rob Weinstein as Lionel, an unscrupulous broker. Each of the characters was interesting as they went through their twists and turns, sarcastic, scared, angry, hurt but June Miller as Gert carried the day.
This play is one of 82 published plays written under Jack Sharkey’s own name and there were four others, four others --- Rick Abbot, Monk Ferris, Mark Chandler, and Mike Johnson.Mike Johnson wrote only stage thrillers. All the other plays are comedies and/or musicals. The plays are performed all around the world. Jack , who was born on May 6, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois passed away on September 28, 1992 after a bout with cancer.
Oil Lamp Theater was originally founded in February 2005 as a by-invitation-only theater group. The Theater was dedicated to the preservation of a traditional theater experience in unique and original venues. The initial vision for this dates back to Keith Gerth’s childhood when he would watch the Dick Van Dyke show. Keith was always inspired by this and thought it to be a truly unique way to experience theater - with a group of your friends who were already bonded in that they knew each other before coming into the experience. It made the experience that much more personable.
With that vision in mind Keith staged 20 productions for up to 35 friends and guests each night in his home, a condo in Lakeview. The name of the company comes from Keith’s childhood, where due to the rural nature of his hometown, they lost power often and used oil lamps to light the house. This brought the family closer and created a beautiful soft and intimate glow. He therefore continued the tradition his mother started of collecting oil lamps. In the same way, Oil Lamp Theater creates a warm atmosphere that brings its patrons and the community together. Step inside and be delighted with what you see and experience.
Oil Lamp Theater is located at 1723 Glenview Road, just west of the intersection of Waukegan and Glenview Roads.For more information visit oillamptheater.org or email at [email protected] or call our box office at (847) 834-0738.
Performances of Par for the Corpse will run from Friday, May 31st through Sunday, June 30th. For evening performances, doors open at 7:30 and shows begin at 8:00. For Sunday matinees, doors open at 2:30 and shows begin at 3:00 pm. Oil Lamp Theater is a BYOB establishment. Tickets are $30 and are available through brownpapertickets.com or at the Oil Lamp box office on Tuesdays through Fridays from Noon to 5pm. Group rates area available.
Photos: Courtesy of Oil Lamp Theater