SUN CITY CENTER
For months, the three women sat around the kitchen table sipping wine, devouring pizza and brainstorming.
Ellen Kleinschmidt, Teri Council and Kathy Straub became friends performing in musicals at Rollins Theater, the home of the Sun City Center Performing Arts Club. Then, last April, they decided to write their own production. They spent hours together, writing and rewriting. What started out as a musical about ladies dress shopping turned into a show about three sisters and a vineyard. The result, Aged to Perfection, debuts Thursday night. The novice playwrights will star.
"I guess it ended up taking place in a vineyard because we all like drinking wine," Council said. "We had a lot of fun working on this."
Aged to Perfection tells the story of sisters Vickie, Lizzie and Amy, who return to the family vineyard after their parents' death to decide what to do with the estate. Vickie is a successful magazine publisher, Amy an actor trying to make it in Hollywood and Lizzie a devoted mother who still lives on the vineyard. Each has her own opinion about what will become of their childhood home, creating a conflict brought to life through hard-hitting dialogue and little-known Broadway songs.
Council, 39, who lives in Ruskin, said the characters are a lot like the writers who created them.
"I'm a mom like Lizzie," Council said of her character. "I married my high school sweetheart, and she marries her high school sweetheart."
Kleinschmidt's character, Amy, is spontaneous, smart and a little flighty.
"She's a free spirit like me," said Kleinschmidt, 58, a teacher at Reddick Elementary.
For Straub, 62, writing dialogue for Vickie became an outlet during a difficult personal time. She poured her emotions into the work.
"There's a little bit of anger and bitterness in there," Straub said. "Vickie is a bit like my alter ego. She is more assertive than I am. She has these mood swings."
Straub said the writing process was cathartic and also a blast. Kleinschmidt and Council came to her house once a week to read through the manuscript and tweak it. Some nights, the friends laughed until they cried.
"Let's just say a lot of what we wrote didn't make it into the final draft," Council said. "We had a joke, what's written at Kathy's stays at Kathy's."
Retired New York City actor and director Lewis Resseguie, 79, who leads the Sun City Center Community Foundation, said he edited parts of the script and was impressed by the ladies' knack for storytelling. He said the songs blend seamlessly with the dialogue.
"They had some scenes in there that were just real gems and didn't need to be touched," Resseguie said.
Resseguie worked with the women previously in other productions. He said the trick to turning community theater into good theater is seeking out quality talent. Audiences can expect the women behind Aged to Perfection to deliver, he said.
The women said they are excited and nervous about opening night.
"Its the realization of a dream I never knew I had," Kleinschmidt said. "I've been in musicals before but to have it be something that's mine and ours, it's special."
Sarah Whitman can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or swhitman@ tampabay.com.