They say one’s wedding day is the happiest day of their life. So what if, years after the special day, you were able to revisit that moment through a returned photograph?
This month, the Bethany Area Repertory Theatre (BART) will open its season, with Bethany playwright Bob Davis’ “The Time Collector.”
Based on the true story of Ettore Porecca, a photographer in Buffalo, N.Y., who took photos of brides for 45 years, the play follows the marriages of four of the couples who received their bridal portraits back from the studio after the photographer retired.
Porecca took portrait photographs called the “pre-bridal,” in which brides-to-be posed in their gowns about two to three weeks prior to their weddings, for images that were to appear the newspapers. An exclusive bridal store that supplied the dresses for the brides-to-be commissioned Porecca to take the photos. Porecca’s pre-bridal portraits hung in their store until years later, when the store closed and the mounted pictures were returned to the photographer.
“There’s a lot of meat in this story. It’s always fun to look back. What happened over the years? What happened to these brides in 15 years, 20 years — in one of the stories, after 40 years? What happened to those people?” said Davis.
“What you saw in that picture was one frozen moment in time. That’s where the title comes from. He was the time collector. He collected that one moment in time, that one instant in their life, but what happened after that? What happened before that? That’s the interesting part.”
Davis said he met Precca’s daugher, Mary Beth Androzzi and her husband, Phil, while staying in Florida.
“She started telling me about her dad, and how he was going to be featured on a television special up in Buffalo, N.Y., because of what he did with these pictures,” recalled Davis. “This story just rang a bell for me, and I decided to see if we could make it work. I wrote three little short acts about brides.”
The play’s director, Jeff Martini, said the comedy explores where the relationships have gone from the salad days when the pictures were taken to where the relationships are today. In doing so, the stories reveal marital themes and situations, with a comedic flare, that Martini said will be familiar to all.
“There are very many funny moments, there are a number of hysterical moments, but there are also quite a few serious and poignant moments. Anybody who’s ever been in a relationship — and that’s everybody — will recognize all of these different moments and smile knowingly at all of them, I think,” said Martini.
“It’s a great mix of drama and comedy, and some hysteria. That pretty much sums up relationships, too, if you think about it.”
The play will be performed at Dickens Parlour Theatre in Millville. Opening night will be held Oct. 16, and will be a special gala dinner event, catered by Touch of Italy. The doors will open at 6 p.m., and guests can enjoy champagne courtesy of Martini and his wife, Jackie. Tickets to opening night cost $35.
“The Time Collector” will also be performed on Oct 17, 18, 23, 24 and 25, with the doors opening at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $25 performance, and attendees may enjoy a cash bar, coffee and desserts at intermission.
This will not be the first time audiences will have enjoyed “The Time Collector,” as it debuted at the Dramatist Guild of America on Broadway in May.
“It makes it the first-ever play to preview on Broadway and open in Millville,” noted Martini.
Davis said the Androzzis will be attending one of the shows in Millville, and that two of Porecca’s three sons were able to see a reading of the play in New York City.
“The neat thing about Dickens — the audience is right there. You feel like you’re a part of it,” he said.
“It’s a very intimate stage,” agreed Martini.
Also, for the first time, BART will be working in conjunction with the Ocean Pines Players and hold three performances in Ocean City, Md., at the end of October.
Martini joined BART a little over a year ago, after retiring to the area with his wife. A lifelong lover of the arts and former music teacher, Martini said he found BART to be the perfect opportunity to get involved in the community.
“I’ve always had a love for the arts, and theater in particular. This was a terrific opportunity and a terrific place to get involved. All of us in the theater, in the company, do it for the love of doing it. There’s no money in it. That’s what makes it special.”
As a first-time director, Martini said working with the actors, who range in age from their 20s to 70s, has been a wonderful experience.
“For a couple, it’s their first or second play. For others, it’s their 25th play or 30th play. It’s a mix of experienced and brand new… It’s been a great experience. We have a terrific cast, which makes it easy. Most of what I do is let them find their voice, stay out of their way, and make a suggestion here and there,” he said.
“One of the things that is magical about community theater is the community part of it. These are folks that you work with, that you’re neighbors of, that you see in the grocery store.”
In writing the play, Davis said, he didn’t do a great deal of research.
“I’ve been married 51 years, so that’s a lot of research right there,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t do a lot of research, I just set the scene. I wanted to create different marriages. Not the everyday run-of-the-mill, but something that’s different. All the characters are fictitious, even Mr. Porecca. His backstory is the same, but I gave him a different name.”
Currently, Davis is working on publishing a collection of five of his plays, titled “Big Plays for Small Theatres,” to be out at the end of the year.
Davis said it can take him anywhere from 10 months to a year to finish writing a play.
“I’ve come to learn that Bob usually finishes a play about five minutes before the curtain goes up,” joked Martini, “at least the rewriting, but it’s always been for the better.”
Martini also praised Davis as a playwright, having read many of his works.
“I’ve probably read about 10 of Bob’s plays. What impresses me the most is how wide-ranging, different, they all are, and very good. You can read five Neil Simon plays and you know they’re each Neil Simon plays, but you can read 10 of Bob’s plays and they’re all very different and all very good.”
Davis said that, in its third year, the repertory theater group has approximately 35 members.
“They all pitch in and do something. It’s not just acting. We have people who do stagecraft, people who do publicity. Everybody in the group has got a little bit of skin in the game.”
“Last fall, I was stage crew in a play. This spring, I was an actor in a play, and this fall I’m a director in a play and an actor in a second play we’re doing this fall,” added Martini.
Davis added that BART is constantly looking for new members to join the group.
“There’s always something they can do and help us out with,” he said.
This year, BART is under the direction of the Encore Foundation created by Dickens theater owner Rich Bloch to provide scholarships to local high school students who seek to pursue careers in the arts, either on- or off-stage.
Davis said area businesses, such as Fox’s Pizza and Jumpin Jack Flash, who lends BART furniture for its productions, helps keep the repertory theater group focused on its mission of providing scholarships to students.
“It’s a good way for people to get involved and help with our mission,” he said.
Community support for BART has been key, said Davis, to making the nonprofit venture a success.
“By supporting BART, you’re supporting the students, scholarships, the Encore Foundation. There’re a lot of good reasons to support us.”
Martini said “The Time Collector” has moments that will speak to everyone, and he hopes everyone who sees it will walk away thinking about what they saw.
“If people walk away feeling like they were entertained and saw something meaningful, that would be my objective,” he said. “There’s not a moment in it that almost everybody will recognize.”
For more information about BART or to reserve tickets, call (302) 829-1071 or visit dptmagic.com. Dickens Parlour Theatre is located at 35715 Atlantic Avenue (Route 26) in Millville. Anyone who is interested in getting involved with BART can email a letter of interest to Bob Davis at RDavis6018@aol.com or Jeff Martini at Jam7211@aol.com.