The zany comedy “Suite Surrender,” by Michael McKeever, can be summed up fairly succinctly: When two feuding divas arrive at a posh Palm Beach hotel in 1942, their assistants and hotel staff go to great lengths to keep them apart.
“They do everything they can to prevent the two divas from running into each other,” explained director Ron Pugh. “They can’t stand to be in the same building, let alone on the same stage.”
The farce comes to southern Deschutes County Friday through March 16 courtesy of Sunriver Stars Community Theater.
The two divas, Claudia and Athena, are played, respectively, by Lindsey Neilson and Joyce Tittle.
For Neilson, prepping for the role has involved acquainting herself with a diva’s mindset.
“You know, I kind of have to get into this attitude of, ‘I’m the best,’” she said, laughing. “It’s been this fun process for me of being like, ‘OK. What would it actually be like to be a diva out in the world?’ I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty fun — because there’s a lot of privilege that can come with that.”
Neilson has plenty of acting experience in her former home of Portland, where she had extensive training, including in improv, at The Brody Theater. However, a decadelong hiatus from the stage followed.
“I went to graduate school, did all these different life things,” she said. After moving to the Sunriver area in June 2018, Neilson decided she wanted to get back into theater “because those tend to be more my people,” she said. After seeing a poster-board notice about auditions for “Suite Surrender,” she decided to go for it.
“I was a little nervous at auditions, but then it’s such a familiar environment, it’s like riding a bicycle,” she said.
Onstage diva counterpart Tittle is heading to the stage for just the second time ever. Back in November, she had a role in “P.C. Thanksgiving” at the now-defunct 2nd Street Theater in Bend.
She had so much fun in that show, “I was like, ‘Well, let me just try out again,’” Tittle said. A 21-year resident of Bend, she decided to give acting a try after she retired.
“It’s something that I always thought would be fun. I love to read, and when I read, you know, you kind of get into the different characters,” Tittle said.
The biggest challenge she’s faced as a developing actor: “It’s always a little bit of self-doubt,” she said. “‘Can I remember the lines?’ That sort of thing. It’s just that you want to do the best for everybody in the cast, and for the people coming to see it. That’s what’s challenging about it, and that’s what makes it kind of fun, too.”
Funny she should mention memorizing her lines.
“We auditioned in December — I like to do that,” director Pugh said. “I do auditions and select the cast, and then everybody has a month to look over the play and start thinking about what they’re going to do. (Tittle) came a month later off-book,” which means she’d already memorized her lines.
Pugh took a shine to the play after Sunriver Stars founder Victoria Kristy told him about it.
“She was, I believe, in an airport terminal, and struck up a conversation with a stranger and told him she was looking for a comedy to do this winter,” Pugh said. “So some unknown stranger said he had just seen it and it was hilarious. … She passed it on to me, and I ordered a copy of the script and read it. And actually, it reads pretty funny. But I had never even heard of it.”
Therefore, he drove out of state last year — he’d prefer not to say where — to catch a community theater production of the show.
“I wasn’t very impressed. I came away thinking, ‘Oh no,’ because I’d already committed by then,” he said.
Then Pugh read the script again, and hope returned.
“It’s a funny play,” he said. Save for one standout performer in that out-of-state performance, most of that production’s cast had weak timing. Members of the Sunriver Stars cast, on the other hand, get the import of timing in comedy, which becomes even more critical in farce.
“I laugh every night. I belly laugh at rehearsals,” Pugh said. “I’m not bragging. We may fall short. Maybe I just think it’s great because I’m in love with all of them, but I think it’s going to be a crowd pleaser.”