To Paul Allen, 45, of Fort Wayne, all the world's a stage, and all the men and women can be players.
Allen writes his own plays and performs them with a group of local actors on weekday nights at Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits on South Calhoun Street. The group, known as Grand Effect Productions, welcomes newcomers and emphasizes the joy of acting that makes each play feel playful.
Since Nov. 2009, Grand Effect Productions has performed six plays every year in Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits' back room, known as the Tiger Room. The plays range from comedies to religious holiday productions, and their latest show, the trailer park comedy “Romeo & Juliet… Almost,” premieres at 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
The 1-hour, 15-minute, two-act play is written by Allen under his pen name Henrietta G. Pickles.
“It's a farce from beginning to end,” Allen said.
“Romeo and Juliet ... Almost” tells the story of six trailer park residents in a drama league who want to perform Shakespeare's tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” at a senior citizens center. But when drama league's haughty Madame President Eunice Watkins decides to rewrite the script, trouble ensues.
“People deliver the wrong lines, and they have to make their own costumes and do their own hair,” said Allen. He plays Luther, the drama league's “ladies man” with a reading problem, who stars in the trailer park residents' play as Romeo.
The cast also includes Fort Wayne residents Lisa Bowley, Thomas Browning, Katie Woodward, Kay Holliman and Clara Rothenbush.
The first act follows the characters as they work through rehearsals in Eunice's trailer, and the second act is their far-from-Shakespeare production at the senior citizens center.
Allen received his B.A. in theatre from Ball State University, and he has been involved in productions for 25 years. Although he recognizes Shakespeare's contribution to theatre, Allen doesn't enjoy Shakespeare's work.
“The language is overbearing for me,” Allen said. “Shakespeare's plays are so hard to do, so we decided we mess them up on purpose.”
Allen pulled characters and ideas from other Shakespeare plays when he wrote “Romeo and Juliet ... Almost.” He even added acting mishaps he has experienced in his career.
Rothenbush and Browning are three-year members of Grand Effect Productions, and they help Allen direct the show.
“There's a certain energy about this performance that other productions haven't had,” Browning said. “You see a little bit of yourself in the characters.”
Browning plays the “crazy” Billy Bob in “Romeo and Juliet … Almost.” Billy Bob is the trailer park's constantly hungry resident who takes on the roles of the Friar and “Romeo's cousin.”
Rothenbush plays Mary Alice, the trailer park's church-going evangelist who takes charge of the drama league's play when bossy Eunice is booted.
Rothenbush joined Grand Effect Productions when she came to Allen's “Edgar Allen Poe — The Musical” at Calhoun Street three years ago. Since then, acting has become her favorite hobby.
“(Grand Effect Productions) is the greatest community,” Rothenbush said. “I've never felt more accepted in my life.”
Most of the actors have some experience dating back to high school. But they agree the goal isn't producing Civic Theatre-quality shows. Instead, it's enjoying the camaraderie and fun of acting.
“A lot of groups put so much of a requirement on people that it's not fun for them anymore,” Allen said. “I wanted to give everybody with the desire to be in a play a chance.”
Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits' Tiger Room opened the summer of 2008 for local bands to perform. The business' owner, Donna Kessler, says she started hosting groups like Grand Effect Productions about three years ago to bring in business on slower weekdays.
“It's perfect for us because it fills in days like Mondays and Tuesdays we're not usually busy,” Kessler said. “And it brings in a good crowd.”