Theater group stages all-female production

WORTHINGTON -- For the fall production of Grassroots Community Theatre, director Mary Jane Mardesen had planned to stage Neil Simon's "Prisoner of Second Avenue."...

The all-female cast and crew for this weekend's Grassroots Community Theatre production includes (front, from left) Elaine Hay, Marlene Jueneman, Mary Jane Mardesen, (back, from left) Megan Bosma, Jessica Hieronimus, Stacy Ackermann and Elaina Ennen. (Beth Rickers/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - For the fall production of Grassroots Community Theatre, director Mary Jane Mardesen had planned to stage Neil Simon’s “Prisoner of Second Avenue.”

But a dearth of male talent - not a single man showed up for auditions - inspired Mardesen and her all-female troupe to come up with Plan B: a series of short plays they call “When the Men Are Away, the Women Do Plays.” The production will be mounted this weekend at Pioneer Village in Worthington.

“We’ve got six lovely ladies who were willing to do five one-act plays,” explained Mardesen. “The longest one is about 20 minutes, and we have a couple that are more like 10 minutes.”

After the auditions didn’t yield any men, Mardesen went back to the drawing board and searched through her collection of plays, tweaking a few to make them appropriate to the available cast.

“I taught speech for many years, competitive speech in Iowa, and I had these old scripts that I hadn’t thrown away,” she said. “I had used them in acting class out at the college. So I started going through them, looking particularly for female casts, and I found a lot. In two of them, I had to change the characters, switched a male into a female version, but nobody will know the difference.”


For this ensemble endeavor, Mardesen is joined onstage by Stacy Ackermann, Megan Bosma, Elaina Ennen, Elaine Hay, Jessica Hieronimus and Marlene Jueneman.

It will be Hay’s second time onstage as a Grassroots player.

“I was in one last year - ‘Leaving Iowa.’ I had a small part,” Hay said. “My golf partner, Marlene Jueneman, asked me one day when we were golfing if I’d be interested in doing a small part in a play, and I thought, well, I might try it. I needed some stuff to do when I retired.”

Jueneman and Hay will take the stage together in a one-act titled “The Sneeze.”

“It’s a little harder for me to memorize lines at my age,” said Hay. “It makes me appreciate, even when I’m watching something on TV, the people who are on every day and can memorize lines and make it seem so natural.”

Hieronimus has become a Grassroots regular in recent years, rekindling an interest from her school days.

“I did theater in high school, a little in college,” she said. “I became active (in Grassroots) in the fall play of 2011.”

For the upcoming theatrical endeavor, Hieronimus has roles in two of the five playlets. One is titled “Coulrophobia” - a fear of clowns. Warning for those who might suffer from such a malady: The wardrobe includes a rainbow wig and rubber nose.


“I actually play the mother who is hiding a shameful secret and the family finds out,” hinted Hieronimus about the plot.

Mardesen hopes that future Grassroots endeavors will attract a better gender balance, but the one-act format has its advantages. Because only a couple of the actresses are involved in each of the plays, rehearsals have been largely independent leading up to this weekend’s performances. A couple of dress rehearsals this week provided the first opportunity for them to critique each other’s scenes.

The format also works for the production venue, Pioneer Village’s Town Hall, noted Mardesen.

“We kind of like it,” she said. “It’s a little intimate. … The audience is right there, but I think the audience also gets more involved because they are close enough to do so.”

Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Pioneer Village. A shuttle will be available from the parking area; and new sidewalks have recently been installed leading to the Village Hall.

Tickets are available at Ax Photo, Hy-Vee Food Store and The Stag.

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