An innocent heroine, dastardly bad guy and audiences pelting the stage with popcorn can mean only one thing: It is time once again for the popular melodrama production at StageCenter in Downtown Bryan.

Every other summer, Jennifer Hargis directs a melodrama at the area’s oldest community theater. This year’s version, Caught in the Villain’s Web, opens a three-week run on July 25. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 10.

Performances are at StageCenter’s home at 218 N. Bryan Ave. in Downtown Bryan.

Hargis said, “Audiences can expect a fun evening of cheering, booing, and throwing popcorn while watching a silly play unfold. They can also expect some musical numbers and even more comedy from our olio performers, The Vaudevillians.“

Audiences love melodramas. Hargis said, “People love interacting with the characters on stage and melodramas are easy to understand at any age. There’s the heroine, the hero and the villain, and it’s all spelled out from the beginning. We know who to root for and who to root against.

“They always have simple stories and they are especially great for people who like to use books, movies, TV and theater as a means of escapist entertainment.”

Hargis said, “You really don’t have to think too hard to enjoy them, and they are so different from any other kind of play. It’s a complete change of pace from both the real world and the theatre world.”

The publishers description of Caught in the Villain’s Web is, “Felicity Fair, downtrodden heroine, is a nurse sent to the Larkfield mansion to attend a hard hearted society matron who is pretending to be ill to force her son, Malvern, to marry the scheming Nella Hargrave. Malvern takes one look at Felicity and falls in love. When Malvern proposes he is unaware that villain Cyril Bothingwell is behind a screen listening. Felicity sadly informs Malvern that she can never marry. Five years ago she was in a train wreck and cannot remember a thing that happened prior to the wreck. She doesn’t even know her real name. Cyril tells Felicity that she is his wife but Cryil’s nefarious schemes are thwarted to the delight of all.”

Really, though, the plot is almost immaterial, forgotten by the time patrons get home. What matters is the characters — and the characters who play them. The audience is encouraged to boo and hiss the villain, love the sweet young heroine — and throw popcorn at the actors on stage.

Hargis always assembles an outstanding cast for the melodramas and this summer is no exception. Irina Shatruk plays our heroine, Felicity Fair. Stephen Woodruff portrays the hero, Malvern Larkfield. And local favorite Harold Presley is the villain, Cyril Bothingwell.

Others in the strong cast include Robin Sutton, Reed Syzdek, Katy Sutton, Kassandra Maduzia, Bill Murray, Janice Kerlee and Jeremy Latham.

And, it wouldn’t be a melodrama without music and olio skits, this time provided by Vaudevillians John Baldwin, Max Lampo and John McMullen under the expert guidance of music director and “piano guy” Mark Bendiksen.

StageCenter stalwart Wanda Mason is the card girl.

Joining Hargis on the crew are Evelyn Callaway, props and scenic design; Robin Sutton, lighting design; Kristi Hanle, light and sound tech; Phillip Guillen II, stage manager; and Robin Sutton, assistant director.

Asked why she likes melodramas so much, Haragis said, “My favorite StageCenter memories from my childhood came from being in Wanda Daisa’s melodramas, so it’s my way of paying tribute to her and to the history oF StageCenter while enjoying myself as well.”

Hargis said, “StageCenter did annual melodramas from the time it was founded until Wanda Daisa went on to start Brazos Valley TROUPE. After that, we still produced them, though not as regularly. I decided it was time to get back to doing them on a regular basis, though I do them every other year so that I can direct other plays as well.

“Melodramas are a great way for the whole family to enjoy theater and, given the interactive nature, it’s an excellent way to introduce children to live plays.

“I will also add that it is great fun for the actors too!”

Tickets for all Thursday performances are $10. For Fridays and Saturdays, tickets are $15 each, $12 for seniors and students. They are available online at stagecenter.net or at the door.

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