Richard J. Meinhold, the Managing Director of C.A.S.T. Players (Catch A Star Theatrical Players) is directing the first show of the season, A Walk in the Woods, by Lee Blessing.
C.A.S.T. is well known for only presenting one drama per season but Meinhold knew he just had to bring this piece to fruition when he read it two years ago.
Many may recognize the title, as it shares the marque with a comedy by the same name, but this is no comedy as one might suspect.
It does center around two men and the honesty that can be found when they are stripped of their respective socio-political boundaries and shrouded in nature however, this is where the similarities end.
Blessing’s play is based on an event that is a small historical footnote, that of two arms negotiators in Switzerland who meet informally and attempt to reconcile their socio-political differences in order to find universal truths during the arms race, even if their governments cannot.
This compelling story is not just gripping it is captivating. When Meinhold read it, he knew this was the perfect time to produce the piece.
He brought it to the Artistic Director of C.A.S.T. Harriet Briant and together they decided that this moment in time would be perfect for a two drama season for the C.A.S.T. audience.
Meinhold feels he is responsible to present a variety of valuable material that is not just entertaining, but educational, timely, politically relevant and truly fascinating.
‘A Walk in the Woods’ checked all the boxes and then some.
To bring this piece to life Meinhold had to find just the right actors, therefore he had auditions in a non-traditional fashion.
With only two actors to hold the attention of an entire audience for the length of a two act play chemistry, timing, and talent are a must.
When asked how he found his perfect cast of two he said he, “auditioned them over time.”
Indeed, he did, it took him almost a year.
Richard Meinhold approached Ralph Griffey during a rehearsal while he was directing a Christmas show for C.A.S.T.
When asked to recall the moment, Griffey recollected, “it must have been October when (Meinhold) came up and said he had a play he’d like me to read because there was a great part in it for me.”
Griffey was immediate drawn to the play because it was written so smoothly, and accurately depicts a time when he had just joined the military, the arms race was on and tensions were high.
Though he agreed to do the show, he was not told which part he would play. In fact, he went months thinking he would play the American, however Meinhold knew that Griffey had the acting chops to bring out just enough of a Russian accent to be convincing and still be understood.
Griffey agreed to take on the role of Andrey Botvinnik.
Meinhold was halfway there with one down and only one to go.
Larry Sichter was approached to play the American, John Honeyman, after his ITL award winning performance of ‘12 Angry Men’ at MSJC last year.
Like many people, Sichter believed at first, this was the comedy based on the book by Bill Bryson, which he was a big fan of.
He quickly agreed to do the play and then when reading it realized it was not the same thing, but maybe even something better.
The play, a Tony award winning Drama and a 1987 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama, stirred Sichter and he too loved the timeliness of the work.
Needless to say, he was hooked and being a man of his word, he happily joined the production of this thought provoking drama.
With the dream cast in place Meinhold set about creating the C.A.S.T. season opener.
Meinhold believes that live theatre has a responsibility to expose the audience to historical events such as this, as well as knock on doors just to see what’s behind them.
He stands firmly behind the quote on the C.A.S.T. website by Jeff Daniels, “The American Theater still has a role to play in changing people’s lives and making people think differently.”
On behalf of C.A.S.T. he invites you to go for A Walk in the Woods and be transported.
Matinee performances are at 2 p.m. on Sundays, Sept. 29, Oct. 6, Oct. 13 and on Saturday, Oct. 12.
Evening performances are on Saturday, Oct. 5 and Friday, Oct. 11. All performances are at the Beaumont Women's Club Community Center, 306 E 6th Street.
Tickets are $15 per/person, and may be obtained at www.castplayers.org, or by calling (951) 315-4253. Reservations are recommended.
Tamara Lillibridge-Griffey is a SoCal native and a 20-year resident of Redlands. She teaches technical theatre, and abjudicates for the Hollywood Pantages Theatre.