Director Sara Vitale sees theater as an invaluable asset

WILLIAMSVILLE — Sara Vitale, 40, of Athens, is well known to area audiences through her work with the Rock River Players, Actors Theatre Playhouse and Guilford Stage.

"I got into acting as a freshman in high school," Vitale explained. "My parents noticed I would memorize huge chunks of movies after seeing them just one time and thought I could use that to memorize lines. I've always been a creative person and I fell in love with the performing arts the first time those stage lights hit my face. I've been acting ever since." She went to the University of Northern Colorado on an acting scholarship and studied there under Tom McNaly, a student of the late renown acting teacher Uta Hagen.

A consummate woman of the performing arts, Vitale is rekindling a long-time interest in film: "I have dabbled in film off and on since I first started in the performing arts. Film and stage are two entirely different worlds and my heart has always been partial to live theater. Last summer I did a film with Robert Fritz, though, and I fell hard for film. I have a lot of training to do to bring my on camera skills up to the level of my stage skills, and that's the fun." Vitale trains for all aspects of her career at the Actor's Green Room in Manhattan and with several private coaches.

For the current RRP production Vitale is on the other side of the proscenium directing "`night Mother" by Marsha Norman. Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize, Norman's provocative work is set in the living room/kitchen of a small house on an isolated country road, a home shared by Jessie and her mother. Jessie's father is dead; she lives with epilepsy and is unemployable; her loveless marriage ended in divorce; her absent son is a petty thief and ne'er-do-well; her last two jobs failed and, in general, her life is stale and unprofitable. As the play begins, Jessie asks for her father's service revolver and calmly announces that she intends to kill herself. At first her mother refuses to take her seriously, but as Jessie sets about tidying the house and making lists of things to be looked after, her sense of desperate helplessness begins to build. In the end, with the inexorability of genuine tragedy, she can only stand by, stunned and unbelieving, as Jessie quietly closes and locks her bedroom door.

Vitale explained her choice of this script, "I lost a dear friend to suicide a few years ago. It's affected my life in every way imaginable. When the controversy over the glamorization of suicide by the media popped up last year with the release of '13 Reasons Why,' I felt compelled to do something. Theater gives us a safe platform to explore difficult issues: bringing to the stage the reality of suicide and what it does to the people left behind feels like an appropriate and effective way to counter the messages that pop culture insists on embracing."

It's not easy to tackle such a piece . In fact, Vitale was apprehensive about taking it on for several reasons: "First, this is personal to me. I worried what it would do to my mental and emotional health to be immersed in this material as I've been for a year now. I'm not going to say it hasn't been painful. It has been extraordinarily painful, and I've struggled many days. This is the beauty of theater, though. I'm surrounded by people who are willing to explore this with me and we can support each other. I was able to rely on the theater once again as a personal growth tool and outlet. I also had and have concerns about the effect this could have on audience members. I've gone to great lengths to be sensitive to our audiences."

Vitale's cast is veteran actress Heather Martell and newcomer Lisa Litchfield; Miles Keefe assists.

The Rock River Players offer a special morning performance at 10 a.m. today to which students, counselors, mental health workers a nd teachers are especially welcome — by donation. This performance, tailored to young people, will be followed by a Q&A session. Other performances will be Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19,at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, at 2 p.m. at the Williamsville Hall, Dover Road. For more information write

The Rock River Players will follow this weekend of drama with an evening of comic relief — three one-act comedies and some improv Friday and Saturday, May 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m., also at the Williamsville Hall. Audience members from "`night Mother" will be entitled to half-price admission to the evening of comedy.


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