‘Buzzard Ball’ puts seniors onstage

Vultures and Vulturettes Brian Joyce, Christine Dornbusch, Michael Oslund (back), Eric Wood, Annie Zimbel, Janet Mondloh, Stu Naber (center), Jerry Hoffman, Judy Hoffman, Mikel Clifford, Shannon Kennedy (front), Helen Donnay (sitting). (submitted photos)

Vultures Brian Joyce and Michael Oslund (top), Eric Wood and Stu Naber (middle), Jerry Hoffman and Shannon Kennedy (bottom).

The senior softball team “The Vultures” are determined to end their three-season losing streak.

Local talent fuels ensemble comedy

There seems to be plenty of stage space for young thespians, from classroom skits to high-school plays and summer camps and programs.

What you don’t often find is a showcase for older actors -- the ones who have enough life experience to portray any character they’re playing to a “T” and are confident enough to push the portrayals to their comedic utmost.

Passport Stages is filling that gap, presenting the senior softball comedy “Buzzard Ball” from March 7-16 at Faith United Methodist Church, 1530 Oakdale Avenue.

Playwright Alexx Stuart, a Minnesota native, offers a light-hearted look at a not-so-good senior softball team -- “The Vultures,” and their patience-stretched wives, “The Vulturettes.”

Described as a cross between “Grumpy Old Men” and “The Golden Girls,” the play aims to delight seniors and families alike.

Local talent steps up to the plate

The comedy features a dozen cast members from across the Twin Cities.

Real-life married couple Jerry and Judy Hoffman of Mendota Heights both appear in the show. Jerry plays Gramps, the oldest player on the senior softball league. Judy is Dorothy, the soft-spoken wife of larger-than-life softball player Kielbasa, who is played by West St. Paul resident Brian Joyce.

Judy Hoffman was encouraged to get started in local theater by her husband, who has been involved in community theater for more than 20 years. 

“He has been encouraging me to try small roles to get my feet wet,” she says.

Judy’s actually no stranger to musical performance; for years she’s been singing and performing in  the Twin Cities rock ‘n’ roll ensemble “Alive and Kickin’.” However, the characterizations, lines and blocking of live theater are an enjoyable new challenge. 

“It’s really fun. There’s a lot of humor and camaraderie with the cast. You learn a lot about how to stand on stage and how to project and how to learn your character.”

Putting ‘fogeys’ in the spotlight

Woodbury resident and local theater professional Steven Peterson directs the show. Peterson has been involved in theater for more than 40 years, acting and directing at almost every major Twin Cities venue, including Park Square Theatre, Theatre in the Round, Lakeshore Players and Actors Theater of Minnesota.

Peterson is the artistic director at Passport Stages, which he started 2 1/2 years ago as a workshop at City Passport in downtown St. Paul. Passport Stages carries on the tradition of Allan Lotsberg’s “New Fogey Follies,” which gave seniors an artistic outlet starting in the mid-1990s and continued for nearly two decades.

Seniors don’t sit on the sidelines

The mission of Passport Stages is to provide theater opportunities for seniors.

“Once you get to be a certain age, it’s hard to get cast in shows around town,” Peterson explains. “We’re just trying to make a broad statement: ‘Come to our theater and you still can get cast and we’ll still work with you and we encourage you coming.’”

All the characters in “Buzzard Ball” are over fifty, albeit for the mysterious youngster, a 49-year-old newcomer to the team, and the twenty-something “trophy wife” of the team’s manager.

Peterson sees “Buzzard Ball” as a crowd-pleasing combination of over-50s casting and relatable characters and humor.

“It’s one of the best comedies in a while,” he says. “It’s like how you would imagine a crowd at a softball game.”

Rooted in honesty

Though humor is at its heart, the play does not shy away from difficult topics. Characters deal with health problems, disappointments and the challenge of belonging.

“The issues that [the characters] talk about are issues that seniors are dealing with on a daily basis,” Peterson says.

The play’s realism comes from playwright Alexx Stuart’s conversations with his own senior softball team members, which inspired him to write the play.

Judy Hoffman is proud to share the play’s message about seniors. 

“Any kind of senior project breaks stereotypes that seniors are unnecessary, over-the-hill, not interested in anything [or] past their prime,” she says. “I just think we need to look at seniors as full people with full lives, and ‘Buzzard Ball’ helps that.

“For the actors, we get to do something we love that’s entertaining for the community. And the community gets to see that older people aren’t just sitting home in rocking chairs being couch potatoes.”

She adds that any “messages” in the play are, well, softballed, as the humor catches and keeps audiences’ attention.

“It’s hugely entertaining. I really would encourage the community to come and see it no matter what age.”

Performances of “Buzzard Ball” include evening shows on Friday and Saturday, March 7-8 and 14-15 at 7 p.m., matinees on Sunday, March 9 and 16 at 3 p.m. and a matinee on Tuesday, March 11 at 1 p.m.. Playwright Alexx Stuart will participate in an audience talkback session following the March 7 and 8 performances.

Tickets are $15, or $12 for groups of ten or more. Reservations requested and highly recommended. Call 612-244-6420 or visit www.passportstages.com.

If you go ...

Performances of “Buzzard Ball” include evening shows at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 14-15, and matinees at 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 16.

The Passport Stages production is being presented at Faith United Methodist Church, 1530 Oakdale Ave., West St. Paul.

Tickets are $15, or $12 for groups of 10 or more. Reservations requested and highly recommended. Call 612-244-6420 or visit www.passportstages.com.


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