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College Community Forms Passionate Heart of ‘Heartbreak House’

Penn College employees Timothy J. Mallery, far right, and Eugene M. McAvoy co-star with Kathleen Murray Houser, left, and Erin Stong in the Community Theatre League's current production of George Bernard Shaw's 'Heartbreak House.'When “Heartbreak House” opens this weekend at the Community Theatre League in downtown Williamsport, talent from Pennsylvania College of Technology on stage and off will help bring to light George Bernard Shaw’s comedy of manners on the eve of World War I.

“I got involved with CTL by volunteering as an usher. I have really enjoyed being involved in this production and being involved at the theater in general,” said Timothy J. Mallery, assistant director of residence life, making his stage debut as businessman Mazzini Dunn. “The Community Theatre League is a great resource as it offers a way to get connected to, and be part of, the Williamsport community.”

Mallery is joined onstage by Eugene M. McAvoy, assistant professor of English-composition, portraying Alfred “Boss” Mangan, a bankrupt capitalist; and Thomas G. Degan a building construction technology student in his second consecutive show at the 100 W. Third St. theater who is cast as Randall Utterword, a torch-carrying brother-in-law.

Pat M. Scheib, academic skills specialist at Penn College, is stage manager; Gail B. Landers, a group leader at the Children’s Learning Center (and a CTL board member whose veritable life in the theater began in what is now Klump Academic Center), gathered props for the production; and Tom Wilson, a writer/editor in the college’s News Bureau and recent appointee to the league’s board of directors, is on the backstage crew.

“I have always been a lover of theater and believe it is the most important of our art forms because it puts all of those art forms together into a single sensual and intellectual experience,” said McAvoy, chair-elect of College Council and a May 2007 recipient of an Excellence in Teaching Award. “I was very active in high school and college, and majored in theater until I discovered I was, frankly, not good enough to make a living at it. I did spend about six months acting professionally in summer stock, commercials and training videos for local businesses in which I inevitably played the victim of crime or someone dying of a mysterious normally kidney illness.”

McAvoy confesses a special fondness for musical theater, and has appeared in “The Sound of Music,” “The Music Man,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Oklahoma!” and “Shenandoah.” He also directed “Grease” at the Booker T. Washington Community Theatre in Norfolk, Va.

At Tulsa Junior College, he created the roles of Manny in “Fireflies” and Mannfred Bloch in “On the Ropes,” both by James Vance and both of which went on to win national honors at the American College Theatre Festival. He also directed “Where Have All the Lightning Bugs Gone?” and adapted the works of John Steinbeck into a reader’s theater production of “The Last, Clear, Definite Function of Man,” which he also directed for the TJC Theatre main stage.

“Unfortunately, the need to make a living kept me from being active in theater for many, (i.e. 19) years. I became involved with ‘Heartbreak House’ for two reasons. First, Pat Scheib told me that CTL was having some trouble casting the male roles, so I figured my chances of getting an acting role with a theater group “¦ would be better with this show. Second, I have a lot of experience in contemporary and musical theater, but very little experience in classical theater.

“I am sure we would all agree that, while ‘Heartbreak House’ is most definitely a modern play in terms of literary and philosophical content, it is also (as all of Shaw’s works are) a classical play.”

Construction student Thomas G. Degan, left, shares a scene with Conrad Shull.Degan is a transfer from Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y., where he spent two years studying musical theater. He recently was seen as Dr. Mike Connelly in CTL’s production of the British farce, “It Runs in the Family.”

The Penn College family has a history of participation in all levels of production at CTL. Among other recent examples are Debra A. Buckman, associate professor of environmental technology a veteran both under the lights and behind the scenes and Jeffrey J. Vetock, an assistant dean of integrated studies, who was among the cast of “Don’t Dress for Dinner” during the 2005-06 season.

The college connection extends to the lobby for this latest production, as well: David M. Moyer, instructor of graphic design, is exhibiting some of his artwork outside the theater entrance.

“Heartbreak House” a Shavian meditation on wedlock and war, romance and reality, class and conscience will be performed 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Feb. 28-March 1, and at 2 p.m. March 2. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for children and students. More information is available by calling the box office at 327-1777 or visiting online.

( Photos by Robyn L. Richards, Community Theatre League)

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