Women and men are different, says Ruth Mills, a veteran Neuse Little Theatre director. They communicate with each other in ways that are, at times, indistinguishable to the opposite sex.
Women have friendships, girlfriends, besties.
Men have bromances.
The NLT’s upcoming production features an unlikely five-man bromance in “Elephant Sighs.” The comedy explores the concept of male bonding, said Mills.
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The characters range in age from late 20s to 70s. They’re a loose band of friends who gather without plan or schedule to share their problems.
“They just know when they need each other,” Mills said. “It’s said that elephants make noises; they groan or sigh, and other elephants can hear that hundreds of miles away, and they come to help. That’s what this is.”
The “elephant sigh” of each man during his struggles brings the group together.
Keifer Morris plays Joel Bixby, a young, awkward lawyer unused to group activities. Bill Jordan is Dink Feeney, a fun-loving man with an ailing wife. Dan Ruffino plays Nick Whalen, a down-on-his luck construction worker. Wayne Burtoft is Perry Latimer, a minister relieved of his pastoral duties for daydreaming. Sammy Smith plays Leo Applegate, the group’s leader and a fast-food connoisseur.
“We all have our own problems,” Burtoft said. “And we all had to find a way to connect with our character.”
To help the cast make those connections, Mills encouraged the actors to give their characters more-detailed backstories the actors could identify with. Latimer, the disgraced minister, had a hard upbringing, Burtoft imagined.
“I like to think he had a really stern father,” Burtoft said of his absent-minded character. “I thought of him as someone under a lot of pressure to succeed; maybe he has an ultra-successful older brother.
“He’s got a gambling debt, and he skimmed money from one of the churches he worked at. He’s just trying to succeed and failing, and then he goes to this safe space in his head and he daydreams – even during a sermon.”
The problems the men tackle will be familiar to audiences, Burtoft said. “Everybody has problems, whether it’s your job or your marriage or your family,” he said. “Everyone will be able to find something they connect with.”
And that’s what the characters are searching for, Mills said. “They don’t find resolution,” she said. “They don’t really find solutions to their problems. They’re just there for each other in the way that men are. Men solve problems differently than women, and they help each other differently. This is a window into that.”
While the cast of “Elephant Sighs” is entirely male, the next Neuse Little Theatre production, “Always a Bridesmaid,” will be an ensemble of seven women. “We like to keep a balance,” Mills said.
The director and cast members said they hope audiences enjoy the show, which opens April 8 for a five-performance run.
“I think we’ve all experienced the need for companionship, or met that need for others,” Mills said. “That’s what this is about. Being there when you’re needed or having people be there for you through the big things and the small things. It’s what holds us together.”
For more information, go to neuselittletheatre.org, call 919-934-1873 or find the NLT on Facebook.
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett
Want to go?
What: “Elephant Sighs,” a comedy.
When: 8 p.m. April 8-9, 3 p.m. April 10 and 8 p.m. April 15-16.
Where: The Hut at the corner of Front and Market streets in Smithfield
Tickets: $13 reserved or $15 at the door. For reservations, call 919-934-1873.