Opening Night: Homecoming Players wrap up 2014 season with world premiere of Dotty

July 7, 2014 by Mark H. Anbinder

The Kitchen Theatre Company's mainstage season may be over, but the live performances continue this month with the world premiere of Arthur Bicknell's new play, "Dotty." Put on by the Homecoming Players, "Dotty" tells the story of a woman moving back to her family home and trying to reconcile with her aging mother, who's in an assisted-living senior center.

Rachel Hockett and Arthur Bicknell, standing, with "Dotty" cast Kristin Sad, Camilla Schade, and Carolyn Cadigan. 14850 Photo.Rachel Hockett and Arthur Bicknell, standing, with "Dotty" cast Kristin Sad, Camilla Schade, and Carolyn Cadigan. 14850 Photo.The play stars Kristin Sad as Dotty, "a divorced and once-successful editor and ghost-writer whose career has been rocky," says director Rachel Hockett. No stranger to Ithaca's stage, Sad has also acted with Theatre Incognita and Actor's Workshop of Ithaca. The character returns to her hometown to face a new set of challenges, as her mother Daphne, a one-time world-famous author of best-selling mysteries, plunges ever deeper into dementia. 

Camilla Schade plays Daphne, Dotty's mother, and Carolyn Cadigan is Mabel, "a childlike and wheelchair-bound fellow Crossroads resident" and intimate friend whose relationship with Daphne "unleashes Dotty’s long-suppressed resentment and jealousy." Like Kristin Sad, Camilla Schade is a familiar face on Ithaca's stages. She's appeared on the Kitchen stage in "Circle, Mirror, Transformation" and "Private Lives," and has played at the Hangar and in Theatre Incognita, and was in the Homecoming Players's production of "The Miss Firecracker Contest." Carolyn Cadigan, from Rockford, Illinois, is a retired drama teacher, a founder of Artists' Ensemble Theater in Rockford, and Schade's sister. She's fresh from a run of "boom" at Rockford's West Side Show Room.

Playwright Bicknell says he recalls a moment about a year before his mother died of a brain tumor when he found her "standing by herself in the dining room, looking uncustomarily forlorn and distant." He recalls her saying, “I miss my mother. Sometimes I wish I could have just one more conversation with her.”

Quite understandably, that moment came to mind after he and his Homecoming Players partner, Rachel Hockett, reconnected and returned to Ithaca in time for the last few years of Shirley Hockett's life. The Ithaca College professor emerita, and Rachel's mother, "provided me with the inspiration for this story about the relationship between mothers and daughters and all the unfinished business and unanswered questions that develop over the years," Bicknell says.

Since his own mother had died when he was 15, Bicknell says, "I wondered what it would have been like if these two ladies had spent some time together, in the 'Wonderland' of old age and dimming memories." The play has been developing in his head since his return to Ithaca.

"It's the first serious piece I've written in over twenty years," he says. He was considered a "playwright of promise" back in the 1970s and '80s, and his "slice of life" plays, such as "Masterpieces" and "My Great Dead Sister," were compared to the works of Albert Innaurato, Lanford Wilson, and even Eugene O'Neill. Bicknell says his "Moose Murders," a legendary Broadway bomb, "brought my career as a playwright to a screeching halt."

"I guess it's taken these past few decades for me to find my true voice again," Bicknell says. "And I have Shirley and her daughter Rachel to thank for that."

Just four performances of "Dotty" are scheduled at the Kitchen Theatre from July 11th-13th, with shows this Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30pm, and 2pm matinee showings on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $15, and are available at the Kitchen Theatre box office at 607-272-0570, or online at thehomecomingplayers.org.

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