by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
Actors in Elk River’s fall play “MASH” are intrigued to be presenting a play that previous generations seem to be eagerly anticipating.
“My grandparents used to watch it, so I ended up watching it a lot when I was younger, and I saw the movie (on TV) with my parents,” said James Bounds, a junior playing Hawkeye Pierce. “They were all a little surprised that we were doing it, and really excited, because they love ‘MASH.’ ”
“MASH,” a monster hit movie (1970) and long-running television favorite (1972-83), based on Richard Hooker’s 1968 novel, is seldom seen on stage, but ERHS director Michelle Brooks was looking for something different.
The play opens a two-weekend run Friday night at Zabee Theatre. See schedule below.
Many of her young actors were only vaguely familiar with “MASH.”
“It’s definitely not our normal fall play,” said Brady Murphy, who plays one of the surgeons in the Korean War field army hospital, and had to rent the movie to learn more about the story.
Bounds has the lead role of the mischievous, non-conformist, wise-cracking, drafted surgeon whom Alan Alda turned into one of TV history’s best-liked characters.
“I have to live up to Alan Alda, and that’s kind of a lot of pressure,” said Bounds, who’s been in plays since seventh grade, about his first big role. “Especially with my grandparents so ‘into’ the show. But it’s a good pressure, too, and it helps me get into the character more. It’s such a fun show to do.”
Hannah Gandrud plays Cpt. Bridget McCarthy, a “motherly” character to her fellow nurses, in contrast to the abrasive, regular-Army forcefulness of Maj. Margaret Houlihan, who arrives at the camp as the new head of nurses.
Gandrud said she’s caught the TV show a few times and mainly remembers “a lot of witty one-liners” but has not seen the movie because she couldn’t find it on Netflix. Gandrud likes putting on the olive drabs, and getting into the characters her older relatives enjoyed.
“I think the parents and grandparents will probably get more of the jokes than we do!”
Erin Stein carries the role of Houlilhan with strong stage presence as she spars with smart-alecky surgeons who dub her “Hotlips” partly in parody of her outwardly cold-blooded demeanor and partly because they’re attracted to her. Stein got the key role (which made two actresses famous, Sally Kellerman in the movie and Loretta Swit in the TV show) after having just one bit part previously in “Seussical the Musical.”
Her zinging retort to Hawkeye — “You’re CRUDE and you’re RUDE” — is a favorite line of cast members who like to aim it back at her offstage.
Stein admits she never got interested in MASH when her mom would watch in the kitchen (“I thought it was kinda boring!”) but made sure to watch the movie version to once she knew she’d be in the play.
“I know my parents are really interested in it,” she said.
Murphy, a senior, plays Duke, a character that wasn’t in the TV show or the movie. In the play, Duke is Hawkeye’s best friend, co-conspirator and fellow non-conformist, and a fountain of one-liners, like Hawkeye. Murphy also has a parent who feels a connection to the play. “My dad was in the Air Force and served in Korea,” said Brady, “so MASH is big for him.”
The play has the shenanigans and storylines familiar to MASH fans (such as successfully driving the despised Frank Burns off the deep end) although it’s a different plot than seen before. You don’t view the meatball surgeries, but the run-up to “incoming” is intense as everyone springs into action and the stage goes dark while soldiers wave flashlights to guide the choppers whose wings and motors you can hear, along with occasional gunfire. Like the MASH we knew, it’s not all comedy.
Other familiar roles are played by Grayson Ziegler (Trapper John), Emily Motin (Ho-Jon), Lucas Laniel (Maj. Frank Burns), Andy Bronshteyn (Col. Henry Blake), Taylor Martin (Father Mulcahy) and Andrew Elmquist (Radar).
by Elk River High School
At Zabee Theatre
Fri., Nov. 1, at 7 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 2, at 2 and 7 p.m.
Thu., Nov. 7, at 7 p.m.
Fri., Nov. 8, at 7 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 9, at 7 p.m.