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“Web” at Sand Lake Center for the Arts puts community in community theater

Growing up, some kids dream of joining a circus and traveling the country. Sadly, few follow their dream.

Growing up, Brendan Mack dreamed of traveling the country as an actor. Happily, he did.

A part of Brendan Mack returns to the Capital Region this week as his play “Web” is being produced at Sand Lake Center for the Arts in Averill Park. It has a performance at 2:30 pm today and continues Friday to Sunday, June 14-16. 

It sounds like a fascinating play, but that’s only part of its charm. No matter the quality of the material or the production, the intricacies behind the production make for the feel-good story of the year.

However, according to the director, Michael McDermott, there is little to worry about with the play. He promises a great time, insisting the play is unusually thoughtful. 

About the material, he says, “Because there is a lot of humor in the play the complex story at first didn’t seem that provocative. The more we worked on it the more we are finding the depth I didn’t first see in the writing. As my talented cast works on their characters, they are asking some very deep questions.”

It’s not rare for a director to find hidden depth in a play during the rehearsal period. However, in this situation it shows a man with a clear eye towards the creative process. 

One would think that director, McDermott being Brendan’s father, would have a parental sense of pride towards the material that might cause him to think that anything his son created would be pure genius.

Well, actually he does. McDermott has put countless hours into this production and hand-picked the cast as well as the creative team in terms of set and visuals. In a bit of serendipity Brendan’s mother, artist Debra J. Michael, who is divorced from McDermott, is the play’s scenic designer. She also leads a weekly Thursday afternoon art program at SLCA.

As he continues our telephone interview, McDermott makes the situation of a woman on trial for murdering her child seem compelling. The twist in the play is that during the trial the woman starts to believe she is in the midst of her favorite childhood book, “Charlotte’s Web.”

McDermott adds psychological intrigue when he reveals that “Charlotte’s Web” was the book the mother of the murdered child was reading when her brother was killed years ago.

As for the technical elements, he gets absolutely ga-ga when discussing the slides and visual elements that will help the audience understand the transition that takes place when the actors go from people in the courtroom to animals in the book.

It would be tempting to say that Brendan comes by his passion for theater naturally. You know, following in his father’s footsteps. Oddly, it was Brendan whose enthusiasm for performing brought his father into the world of creating live theater.

Brendan, who is a Columbia HS graduate, went to Syracuse University, as did both his parents. He graduated with a major in Acting/Directing. However, starting in Elementary school, Brendan needed to be onstage. As he got older he worked regularly with local community theaters.

He was such a noted performer that in 1998 he played Young Scrooge at Capital Rep, in a professional production which starred Larry Linville as the older Scrooge. 

The following year, a now deceased playwright and family friend, Peter Tyger, wrote a musical, “American Dream,” with Brendan in mind for the lead role. Albany Civic Theatre produced it in 1999. It was so successful, it returned to open ACT’s 2000 season.

As a dutiful father, McDermott drove his son to the theater and sat in the rear of the theater during rehearsals. When an actor suddenly left the production, the director pleaded with him to assume the role. “I agreed on one condition,” says McDermott. “ I was not to be in any song or dance numbers.’ Ha! He says in a couple of weeks he found himself in the opening dance sequence, and had a solo song to open the show.

It was the start of two theatrical adventures. After Brendan left on a national tour with Missoula Children’s Theatre, which lasted three years, Dad became more and more involved in local theatre. Today, he is a past-president of Albany Civic. He works several shows a year at a variety of theaters. 

This season he directed the intense drama “August: Osage County” at Schenectady Civic Players and the musical “The Bridges of Madison County” at Ghent Playhouse. When it comes to scenic design, visual effects or just as a volunteer construction worker, McDermott is known as the ‘go-to-guy.”

Meanwhile, Brendan’s last stop of the Missoula tour ended in Seattle in 2009 Now 39, he’s been there for 15 years and is a busy member of the vibrant Seattle theater community. He acts, directs, teaches and even had his own theater company, STAGEright in Seattle. He is now the booking director for a touring company that does children’s theater. 

This is without doubt a unique story about a family connected through theater. But it’s more than family. In this area theater is a bonding agent. During his early acting years Brendan’s closest friends were Brian Sheldon, Owen Smith, Krysta Dennis and Diane DeSantis. 

Sheldon is now the Executive Director of Sand Lake Center for the Arts and the person who selected “Web” for the season. Dennis is a professor at Siena College teaching and directing theater. Smith is the Executive Producing Director of Park Playhouse and Playhouse Stage.

As for Diane De Santis, she’s playing the central figure, Karen in the SLCA production of “Web.” 

Yes. This “Web” is indeed tangled - in a very nice way. For tickets and schedule information go to. slca-cto.org.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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