On- and off-stage sweethearts
Playing “sweeties” in “Guys and Dolls” is no problem for Wendy DeGeest of Nisswa and Gary Hirsch of Pequot Lakes. The two have been together off-stage for 25 years.
The couple plays Nathan and Adelaide in the Pequot Lakes Community Theater (PLCT) production that will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Pequot Lakes High School auditorium.
Nathan runs an illegal floating craps game, and Adelaide is a Hotbox Girl, a dancer at a local establishment.
The pair they play in “Guys and Dolls” is one of two leading pairs that share the storyline. Nathan and Adelaide provide a sort of comic relief to the show, as Nathan searches for a venue for his floating craps game, doing his best to hide it from Adelaide, who is constantly trying to pin Nathan down in marriage after 14 years of engagement.
“The music is wonderful, some of the best music in Broadway,” Wendy said of “Guys and Dolls.”
Set in a mythical New York City, “Guys and Dolls” is a classic romantic comedy. Alongside Nathan and Adelaide is the story of Sky Masterson, a high-rolling gambler, and Sarah Brown, a “mission doll.”
Nathan makes a bet with Sky, hoping to earn the money to support a venue for his craps game. Meanwhile, Sky falls for Sarah Brown, the doll Nathan bet Sky couldn’t woo.
The subplots wind their way around each other, enhanced by dance and music numbers.
The set PLCT has created for the production is entirely shades of gray, allowing the characters to pop. At the same time, it has a three-dimensional quality, with strong use of perspective.
Though on stage Adelaide fights with Nathan for a commitment, off stage is a different story.
“The big difference is Adelaide wants to get married, where as I, Wendy, don’t want to get married,” Wendy said.
“I echo that sentiment,” Gary said.
The two met through their work in theater. Gary, a high school English teacher in Mora, Minnesota, was also director of the school’s plays. He was directing “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” and Wendy was hired to choreograph the production.
Since then, they’ve worked on numerous plays together.
“We’ve become quite a team, Gary and me,” Wendy said.
Both Gary and Wendy have theater degrees, and both share a common interest in teaching. Wendy is an early childhood special education teacher for children from birth to age 3 in Brainerd.
Wendy got her start in theater when she was 6, in “Bye Bye Birdie.” From there she was in a couple shows in high school, landing the lead her senior year as Mrs. Brown in “The Clown Out West.” What she remembers best is that she had to kiss the clown at the end of the show.
Her mother enrolled her in jazz and tap dance lessons when she was 5, which became the start of a choreography career. She stopped counting after choreographing her 50th show. She choreographed seven of the numbers in this staging of “Guys and Dolls.”
Gary got his start in acting in “Guys and Dolls,” of all productions. He had one line: “What vulgar jewelry.”
Since then he’s directed numerous plays in Mora over the course of a 34-year teaching career. There’s more in the works, too. Gary will direct the one-act plays at Pequot Lakes High School, and he’ll direct “The Glass Menagerie” at Central Lakes College in April.
Gary and Wendy will team up once again as a director/choreographer duo for “Oliver” one year from now.
Out of the many years they’ve worked together in theater, Wendy and Gary have only appeared on stage together once.
“We’ve never had this opportunity before. It’s one of the things we’ve looked forward to,” Gary said.
“We don’t even really have to act at all,” Wendy said.