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Frost Players Prove Community Theater is Alive

A play about three construction guys talking, revealing the disappearance of the Lindbergh baby, can only be surpassed by Supervisor Gerry Connolly playing the murderer in "Sorry, Wrong Number." It's the Frost Players of Fairfax, a community theater group gaining a foothold in the suburbs.

"It's amazing the talent we have. The biggest challenge is doing better than we did the last time. We're always building," said Janet Bartelmay, the group’s publicist, producer and part-time actress.

Chip Gertzog is president of the group and director of "Sorry, Wrong Number."

"Whatever we do, we want to do in the best quality possible," he said.

All are part-time thespians, including Connolly who is currently immersed in the county budget quagmire as well with the Frost Players. He's a veteran of the stage.

"Gerry's been in almost all our productions. He said 'I want to do more' and the director gave him flexibility around budget time. He's never missed a practice," Bartelmay said.

Connolly likes being part of the team. This is his fifth production with Frost Players.

"I think there's a real role for community theater. This is my fifth play. It's a lot of fun, and it's for a good cause, the Frost PTA," he said.

Gertzog sees Connolly go through a metamorphosis.

"When Gerry shows up to work with us, he stops being Gerry of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors," he said.

Other roles they take on off the stage, also known as "real life," include Sara Bennett, who teaches Kinder Music; Doodie Brethwaite is a social worker; Katie Brown is a student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Technology; Kevin Harnisch is into information technology; Chip Gertzog works for the county; Matt Ames and Mike Matthesin are both lawyers; Bill VanderClute is a teacher; and James Hoffman is a minister.

"I'm a lawyer for a trade association. It [the play] gives me more energy. I love this," Bartelmay said. "They've really found flexibility in their life to do this."

"SORRY, WRONG NUMBER" is one of the one-act plays the group is performing at Frost Middle School, April 19-20. The others are "Mere Mortals" and a musical "Let Me Sing," the group’s first musical. Paul Nasto and Susan Devine from Fairfax wrote the musical.

"We like to throw in a musical when we can. The voices are to die for, really stupendous," Bartelmay said.

"It's the first time we've done an originally written production. We were hunting for a one-act musical to do," Gertzog added.

The first two are 30-minute short plays, with a scene change in between — then an intermission before the musical.

"It's really an amazing feat," Bartelmay said.

The group took acception to a statement in a publication recently claiming there is no community theater in Northern Virginia. The Frost Players have been around since 1998 and modeled themselves after Elden Street Players in Herndon, so they took offense. Bartelmay read the article right before they went on stage one evening.

"We were at best amused. We feel that since '98, we've at least proven ourselves," she said.

Gertzog mentioned the Reston Players, the Great Falls Players and the Little Theater of Alexandria as inspirations as well. The troupe is developing character.

"Right now, it's working for us," he said.

There were highlights as well. One person told them their version of "Arsenic and Old Lace" was better than the movie.

Recently, they have been incorporated as the Providence Players theater group, and in the fall of 2003, they hope to leave the stage at Frost Middle School and take up residence at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church after its renovation is complete.

"Mr. Connolly asked us if we'd like to play there," Bartelmay said. They still need to follow the procedure with Fairfax County, though.

"The hope is as part of the renovation this will be home to the troupe. To have a permanent home anchors the troupe," Connolly said.