Dad knows an awful lot
Story by Chris Graham
“One thing we were discussing with the board was having a family show. Not a children’s show, but a family show. And they’re not easy to find,” said Suzanne Roberts, the director of the upcoming Waynesboro Players production of Father Knows Best.
Yes, that Father Knows Best – the one that you’re familiar with from the 1950s on radio and TV.
The play is based on the radio show that preceded the television series, but the characters are all familiar. Not to mention comfortable to be around.
“What I like about it is it carries good values, family values,” Roberts said during a respite before a full dress rehearsal for the play last weekend. “There is no foul language, there is no violence. It’s humorous in a good way. I think the audience will identify with the situation. We all have teen-agers, we all have young children, et cetera. I think it makes for a very light and funny evening.”
Father Knows Best debuts a three-night run Thursday night at 8 p.m. at the Louis Spilman Auditorium at Waynesboro High School.
Father is being brought to life by Bill Martin, who worked with Roberts on the 2006 production of Pierre and Marie, a romantic-comedy version of the story of the famed science couple Pierre and Marie Curie.
Martin kind of fell into local theater. His son, Christopher, now a freshman at Virginia Tech, needed a ride to rehearsals for a Shenanarts production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and dad was eventually talked into a five-word part that grew as actors dropped out of the production before it made its way to the stage.
Martin comes across as a strong-willed father in Father Knows Best – who only wants to have his family stay home for a night for a change in the face of pressures involving courtship and high-school basketball and junior-high-aged sleepovers
“Everyone who’s in a family of any kind will see something that they can identify with or say, Yeah, that’s something that’s happened in our family,” Martin said.
“This is a comedy which results in various situations that are comical that are resolved as always by a family that stays together no matter what. Sometimes there are funny moments, sometimes there are angry moments, but just like in real life, it’s the fabric of the family that holds it all together,” Martin said.
The group putting on Father Knows Best has become something of a family of its own the past few weeks.
“The best part about it was you knew you were getting close as a family when people were experiencing spontaneous reactions to certain things. Not all of those were kept in the play, but occasionally Suzanne would say, I like that, keep that. And it was something that sort of was pulled out of someone versus being applied on top of it. And really that’s when you know that you’re starting to get into your role and your character, when it comes from inside of you, as opposed to being something that’s plastered on top,” Martin said.
Wendi Shorkey, who plays Martin’s wife, Margaret, loves the character and her spunk.
“She is trying to maintain the house, a woman from the ’50s would maintain the house,” said Shorkey, a teacher at Hugh K. Cassell Elementary School in Augusta County. “She’s trying to keep everybody in line, but Father wants to keep everybody in control. It’s really funny watching Father try to have control over the entire family in the show, and Margaret’s always cleaning up behind him, trying to get everybody happy again.”
Shorkey, who is in her second year performing with the Players, said she has called friends that she worked with in community theater in New Hampshire before she moved to the Shenandoah Valley to tell them that they should consider doing their own production of Father Knows Best.
“I’ve been involved in theater for 11 years, and this is the first comedy that I’ve ever done where the whole family can come and see it. It is happy and lighthearted. It is typical family situations. It’s a happy, wholesome, funny, funny comedy that everybody can come out and enjoy,” Shorkey said,
“A lot of times when you do comedies, the language or the dialogue or the topics are not always appropriate for younger children. But I’ve told all my students at school, I said, Come on, come see the school. It’s fun,” Shorkey said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.