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Slightly Askew Players

A happy coincidence and love for offbeat humorist Ring Lardner led to the creation of an unconventional theater troupe that calls itself Slightly Askew Players.

"Or SAP," says troupe member Buzz London. "That's what we call ourselves."

London, along with actors Russ Mitchell, Rick Hazen and Michael Holstein, will present "about" four short plays by Lardner, with musical interludes of barbershop music by the Gentlemen Songsters, a satellite group of Rogue Valley Harmonizers, at Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland. Shows are set for 2 p.m. Sunday, July 15, and 7 p.m. Monday, July 16.

The players met by chance last summer when they auditioned for Senior Theatre's production of Lardner's "Tridget of Greva." After that performance, the four men decided to look at more works by the author and playwright.

"We started meeting at Wamba Juice and putting the plays together," London says. "We rehearsed at Rick's studio and worked on the set at my place. I have an RV building out in the back, and we call it our clubhouse."

Lardner, an American sports columnist and short-story writer in the early 1900s, was known for his satirical takes on the sports world, marriage and theater.

London, who is stage manager and director of Slightly Askew Players' "More or Less Ring Lardner," says a lot of people aren't familiar with Lardner these days, but he hopes that once audience members get a taste of the writer's work, they will enjoy him as much as SAP does.

"He is really clever and funny," London says. "We want to engage everyone and give them a shortcut to his work. It's kind of a new experience, not a formal play. I think the audience will just have fun with it. I know we do."

Each play is short — about five minutes, London says. "Thompson's Vacation," along with "Tridget," are by Lardner. "Haircut" and "On Conversation" are adapted by Holstein from Lardner's short stories. London says the process of adapting the stories and working with the plays helped them see beyond the actual text.

"We found life in the plays beyond what is obvious on the page," London says. "Lardner had great insight into people and he wrote with such tongue in cheek."

London says the members of SAP are just having fun sharing one of their favorite writers.

Though the group is fairly informal in its structure, none of the players are new to performance art. London earned a master's degree in theater in 1968 from the University of Hawaii. He taught drama at Ashland and Eagle Point high schools and performed in roles at regional theaters. Recently, he played Joe in Studs Terkel's "Working" at RCC.

Mitchell, a longtime stage performer, also appeared in "Working." Hazen, an artist and musician, has worked with Randall Theatre and Southern Oregon Senior Theatre. Poet Holstein teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Southern Oregon University.

The troupe hopes to take its new show to other venues whenever it has the opportunity.

"Eventually, we want to branch out into other areas, maybe even radio theater," London says.

Admission is pay-what-you-want when you leave. Call 541-779-8345 or email buzzard40@msn.com for information.

Left to right, Buzz London, Rick Hazen, Michael Holstein and, front, Russ Mitchell are Slightly Askew Players. - Photo courtesy of Slightly Askew Players