by Toby Cooper
Special to the Sounder
Lopezian playwright Richard Carter remembers what was on his mind when he sat down to write his award-winning “Winds in the Morning” over 20 years ago. “I love stories that transcend generations, with universal themes about fathers and sons and children struggling to find their identity,” he says today. And if it turns out finding that identity means surrendering to wanderlust and joining your salty ship captain grandad as he sails the seven seas – well – who can resist a universal theme like that?
Opening Dec. 6 as the latest Actors Theater Orcas Island offering at the Grange, “Winds” promises tears and laughter, song and sorrow, and a short lesson in growing up strong.
The play was showcased at the 2011 Seattle Fringe Festival, a revered venue that encourages writers and artists “to push the boundaries of what is considered conventional creativity.” Carter’s luminous creation has delighted audiences ever since.
ATOI’s production of “Winds” is ably directed by Melinda Milligan who has temporarily placed her powerhouse vocal capacities on the shelf in favor of assembling the creative team. She attacks the director’s role with zeal, parsing each scene to extract nuances and mood. “It’s full of surprises,” she beams. “I love unlocking all the hidden, tucked-away surprises.”
Milligan’s “Mamma Mia!” co-star Aaimee Johnson helps with costumes while big-stage director Doug Bechtel handles lights. ATOI, it seems, loves to shape-shift production roles. Milligan’s husband David “Z” Zoeller smiles as musical director, loving his role as a one-man orchestra.
If “Winds” idiomatic label as a “sea shanty musical” sounds dubious, fear not. Carter splices these boisterous interludes seamlessly throughout, lending vitality, warmth and a Pirates of Penzance glow that follows audiences home.
Carter spins a sonorous yarn of young Tom Sutherland (Jack Spinogatti) hankering for manhood and adventure, being impeded by father Ned (Tom Fiscus), who grapples inflexibly with his own conflicted emotions, as Grandfather Harry Sutherland (Tony Lee) remains caught in the middle. Harry meanwhile remains incurious as to the impetuous example he sets for the impressionable youngster. Clinging to his dream, Tom navigates the rocky shoals of life with dad, finding an ally in mom (Suzanne Gropper) and emotional reinforcement from sweet Peggy (Bella Evans) who kinda sorta wants him to stay home.
ATOI veteran Tony Lee revels in the part of Harry. With remarkable ease, he crafts a salty Scottish gent with a sailor’s eye for practical solutions to complex problems. Truth be known, Carter carved Harry Sutherland from historical accounts of his own great-great grandfather Henry L. Tibbals, a flamboyant sailor, treasure hunter, adventurer and real estate entrepreneur in 19th century Port Townsend. “He was local color,” says Carter. “He once got arrested for riding a horse into a Port Townsend bar.”
“Winds in the Morning” runs Dec. 6-8 and 12-14 at the Orcas Island Grange. The show is at 7:30 p.m. with a Sunday matinee on Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. Author Richard Carter will attend on Dec. 8 to welcome and engage the audience in a chat about writing for the living stage, the special magic that is community theater and growing up strong.