Theatre Arts Instructor Michael Whistler Prepares for Debut of Latest Play

by Rebecca Rhodin

Artwork for "The Prescott Method"

Artwork for “The Prescott Method”

In a theater, the audience gets to watch “lives that aren’t the lives we lead,” observes playwright Michael Whistler.

Whistler himself delves into the lives of two ’60s homemakers in his upcoming production “The Prescott Method, Easy Steps to Perfect Bread Baking, Every Time.”

“The Prescott Method,” a comedy opening at the Walnut Street Theatre on March 28, is the story of chaotic Veronica, who goes to the more orderly Peg to learn how to bake bread. They open up about their lives and become friends. It is directed by Greg Wood, and features the actresses Susan Riley Steven, Madi Destefano and Jessica Bedford.

“Each of the two women in the play is trying to create something perfect,” says the Montgomery County Community College instructor and theater arts coordinator, “but in a not so perfect world.”

The idea for the play came when Whistler saw two women on the Today Show holding a sign that read “On vacation from our husbands.” “It made me think of the women who raised me, and who they might be when they were by themselves, and not busy being wives and mothers: I wrote the piece as a love letter to them—and the 60’s suburbia I grew up in.”

The two women of “The Prescott Method” – Veronica the mother of six scrambling to handle her brood, and Peg, the newly arrived wife of college professor who keeps an orderly house – handle tasks differently, from baking bread to managing their lives. This leads to conflict, and comedy.

Conflicts are the very basis of theater, according to the playwright, who got his MFA at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“One of the things I believe is that plays are not people who are coping. They are written about the days and decisions we make when we do dangerous things, ill-advised things, not the Oprah-sanctioned choice,” he says. “That’s what makes for good drama. As a playwright, that’s where I start. I try to understand where the characters are, the problem they are facing, and the actions they take to face it. Sometimes those may seem foolish to us, or pathetic, but it is that unique human response which makes for a funny and human character.”

At Montgomery County Community College, in his Introduction to Acting and Improvisation class, his students read Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The tempestuous play sparks discussions about why the characters take their non-coping actions and what the fallout is.

“There are parts of ourselves that scare us, like falling in love, being cowardly or being brave,” Whistler muses. “In the theater you can experience these emotions in a safe place.”

“The Prescott Method,” presented by the Walnut Street Theatre as a part of their Independence Studio on Three series begins previews March 26, and runs through April 14. Tickets are available through the Walnut Street Theatre’s website, www.walnutstreettheatre.org, or by phone at 215-574-3550

A lot of work goes on in preparing for the production: Whistler and director Greg Wood have been tinkering with the script for some time.  But Whistler notes that only after the curtain goes up does the art of theater become truly engaged.

“Before an audience, the story gets told,” he says.

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