How does the old saying go? "If you want something done, ask the busiest person in town."
That's what the Stage West Community Playhouse board of directors must have been thinking when they asked Peter Clapsis to direct the mystery thriller, Being of Sound Mind, which opens Thursday in the Forum.
Clapsis, a two-time HAMI Award winner who has directed and performed in dozens of community plays and musicals, stepped in after the first two directors had to leave because of what he described as "life issues not related to theater."
Never mind that Clapsis was already knee-deep in rehearsals for his professional stage debut at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, where he's playing the featured role of the wily peddler Ali Hakim in Oklahoma!, which opens today.
Add to that the fact that the two lead actors (out of a five-member cast) were offered jobs and had to move to Texas midway through rehearsals, leaving Clapsis without two-fifths of his cast.
To pile on, Being of Sound Mind is the only all-new show in this year's lineup at Stage West, the other seven being re-dos of previous shows. This means starting from scratch as far as characterization, tone and vision are concerned.
Perhaps the Stage West board is hoping that Clapsis will turn this newcomer show into the sleeper hit of the year, the same way he did with the spooky Veronica's Room in 2008.
"I enjoy directing and took the challenge as I always have, to do the best that I can," Clapsis wrote in a director's note.
After the leads departed for greener Texas pastures, Clapsis scrambled to line up replacements, only to find that many of the area's actors already had obligations, didn't know anything about the show, or felt they were not suited for those particular roles.
Finally, Clapsis persuaded his HAMI Award-winning wife, Linda, to do the pivotal role of Susan Pearson and multi-HAMI-winner Dalton Benson to play her husband, John.
"I thank them for jumping in so very late to tackle this," Clapsis said. Then-board president Barbara Everest, herself immersed in presidential obligations and directing duties for the year's biggest show, Man of La Mancha, agreed to be stage manager.
"This busy lady dropped everything to help me, and I am forever grateful to her," he said.
In Being of Sound Mind, the seemingly compatible couple John and Susan Pearson have rented a secluded cottage in France where Susan can recover from a recent nervous breakdown.
Shortly after their arrival, they are visited by the cottage's owner, Mrs. March (Patty Villegas, HAMI as Mrs. Sowerberry in Oliver!), to see that everything in the cottage is in order. She has a sudden longing for some cigarettes, and John agrees to go fetch her some at a nearby tobacco shop.
Moments later, A Man (Michael Shier, Playhouse 19 actor) shows up at the door, saying that he is John. Susan has no idea who he really is and is terrified, convinced she must be going crazy. Soon, her apparently loving sister Judy (Jacki Doxey, Playhouse 19 actor and director) shows up, and it is revealed that Susan is in line for a huge inheritance, but only if she is "of sound mind."
Are John and Judy in cahoots against Susan? How is the mysterious man connected to all this? And is Mrs. March who she says she is?
It all twists and turns and goes in many directions in playwright Brian J. Burton's fast-moving action thriller, described by critics as "a tale of obsession, deceit and greed."