Chelsea Thaler clearly recalls the night she returned to Bunk 33 at Camp Louise in Western Maryland and found all of her campers missing. It was summer 2012, and she was a senior counselor returning to her cabin after her evening off.
“It was 11 p.m. at night, and no one was in the bunk. They were supposed to be in there, sleeping,” Thaler said. “When I turned on the light, I heard shrieking, and I ran.”
That noise turned out to be from a bat. Thaler eventually found her campers sacked out on the outdoor amphitheater stage, not because they were doing a show, but because it was the best place to sleep until exterminators could arrive and do something about the bats.
Thaler, 24, recently shared that story with the cast and crew members of “Another Way Home,” a comedic family drama about a counselor-in-training who goes missing from his Jewish sleepaway camp.
The show opens Monday at Theater J, where rehearsals have turned into a summer camp lovefest, minus the s’mores.
“There are so many Jewish young people who have had [the sleepaway camp] experience,” Thaler said. “I was the only Jewish kid in my high school, but then I could go away every summer and meet people who understood Jewish traditions.”
For 10 years, Thaler spent two weeks of the summer at Camp Louise, the last time in 2012. Two years later, the Ocean City, Md., native graduated from American University with a theater degree and decided to stick around Washington. When she heard that Theatre J was going to stage a play about a missing counselor-in-training, she called director Shirley Serotsky. She ended up serving as an assistant director, dramaturge and videographer.
On a chilly spring day, she drove to Washington County to shoot a mini-documentary to share with the cast, pointing out similarities between her old stomping grounds and Camp Kickapoo in “Another Way Home.” The play is set in Maine, which is where playwright Anna Ziegler spent her summers. Serotsky chose the script not knowing that Adam Immerwahr, the theater’s new artistic director, attended a boys camp “just down the lake,” from Ziegler. The two exchanged stories when Ziegler Skyped into rehearsals.
“Another Way Home” had its first workshop staging six years ago at Chautauqua Theatre Company, an appropriately woodsy, lakeside setting in western New York. Theatre J will present the first professional production of the reworked script, which Thaler hopes will resonate with anyone who ever went to camp, whether they went AWOL or not.
“It’s definitely tapping into some nostalgia,” Thaler said. “It’s certainly interesting how universal it is for people who went to camp. There’s a passage of time that’s different from the real world.”
In “Another Way Home,” local actor Rick Foucheux plays Phillip, the stressed-out lawyer father of a missing teenager. It’s his last show of a busy season that also included “The Apple Family Plays” at Studio Theatre and playing Big Daddy in Round House Theatre’s production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Next year, however, there are just two roles on Foucheux’s agenda: King Lear and Grandpa.
“You could call it semi-retirement,” Foucheux, 62, said during a rehearsal break from “Another Way Home.” “I’ve got a couple of grandchildren now. I am a little tired of running lines, and I’m a little tired of being out of the house six nights a week.” Both of his daughters had babies in the past year, and his wife, M.J. Jacobsen, recently retired from National Geographic. “I think she wants me to clean out the attic,” the actor said.
He has signed on to work for just one full production, at a theater in which Foucheux has never acted, despite three decades of working in the region. He’ll do “King Lear” next spring at WSC Avant Bard, a small, Arlington-based troupe that specializes in Shakespeare and re-imagined classics. Tom Prewitt, with whom Foucheux collaborated in a staged reading a few years ago, will direct the production.
“I never felt a need to do [“King Lear”], but given the opportunity, I didn’t want to say no. There will be a lot of things to learn — about the play, about the part and about myself,” Foucheux said. “I have two daughters, so I should have a lot of material to draw from.” (King Lear has three daughters.)
At last month’s Helen Hayes Awards, no name mentioned during the “In Memoriam” tribute drew louder applause than Vincent Hill. Not that the list of names was some sort of contest, but the clapping was a testament to how well known the wig, hair and makeup designer was in Washington theater circles.
Hill died of cancer May 1. On Monday at 7:30 p.m., Arena Stage will host a memorial service celebrating Hill’s life and career. In addition to Hill’s work at Arena, Shakespeare Theatre Company, Signature and other area theaters, Hill performed as the drag queen Vickii Vox, winning the title of Miss Gay Maryland in 1988, long before many theater artists could comfortably come out. Hill wasn’t just out, he was, as described by Metro Weekly, “a drag legend.”
The service will include remarks by Hill’s brother Eric; Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena; and Mathew Gardiner, associate artistic director at Signature Theatre. Scheduled performers include Eleasha Gamble, Nehal Joshi and Bobby Smith, who will share a number from “La Cage aux Folles,” the show he’s starring in at Signature. And just as Smith’s character is backed by the Cagelles in the musical, a trio of local drag queens will join him onstage in a tribute to Hill.