Jim Liesz, who is directing “Lend Me a Tenor” at Wheaton Drama, tries to keep an open mind when it comes to staging a show.
“I usually block a scene based on what I see in my head,” Liesz said. “But I also take feedback from the actors. I love the reciprocation with actors. While the actors are memorizing their lines, they are also thinking of the characters on different levels.”
“Lend Me a Tenor” will be presented from Sept. 13 to Oct. 6 at Wheaton Drama Playhouse 111 in Wheaton.
In the farce “Lend Me a Tenor,” world-renowned tenor Tito Merelli has signed on to play Otello at a Cleveland opera company in the fall of 1934. He arrives late and, through a set of crazy circumstances, passes out after mixing wine with a double dose of tranquilizers.
Believing that the singer is dead, the opera manager gets his assistant, Max, to replace Merelli on stage. Meanwhile, the tenor’s jealous wife, his ambitious female co-star, Max’s young girlfriend and the flirtatious head of the opera guild are all fighting for the star’s attention.
“This show is full of action and crazy situations,” Liesz said. “With this show, you are just highly entertained. There’s no message here. It’s just what it is — pure entertainment.”
Liesz said that when directing a farce like “Lend Me a Tenor,” it helps to know the actors with whom you are working.
“I have a really talented group,” said Liesz, who has been a member of Wheaton Drama for 34 years. “They have years of experience on stage. I have worked with probably 90 percent of the cast before and many people in the cast have worked with each other before. That helps in a farce because you are looking for comedic timing and camaraderie.”
Although this is the first time he is directing “Lend Me a Tenor,” Liesz directed the farce “Noises Off” twice for Wheaton Drama.
“You really have to start with a clean slate,” he said about looking at the “Noises Off” productions for ideas for this show. “They are two different entities.”
But Liesz does acknowledge that directing and performing a farce does require a bit of a balancing act.
“With a farce, you have to keep it real,” said. “Otherwise it is not believable.
“Sometimes you have to reel the actors in,” he continued, referring to actors overplaying their roles. “At first, they may not be playing things big enough, but if they go too far, it becomes melodrama.”
Liesz finds great satisfaction from working with friends and seeing the show in its final form.
“I have lots of old friends in this production helping in props and set design, as well as on stage,” he said. “Seeing it all come together; seeing all the people chasing each other on stage; and seeing them working off of each other is rewarding. I am very appreciative of all of my friends who have worked hard on this production.”