With its production this weekend of the comedy “Tripp and Fall,” Cocoa Beach’s Surfside Players honors two beloved fixtures of Brevard theater – Arlan Ropp and John Kurowski.
The production marks not only the debut of Surfside’s newly named original full-length play competition, the Ropp Playwright Award, but it also marks the playwriting debut for Kurowski. Well known for his acting work on stage especially as Roger DeBris in “The Producers” at the Henegar Center and Surfside, Kurowski is also known as a music director for a multitude of musicals on many area stages.
Ropp is known for his work as an actor, a director and grand cheerleader for the 34-year-old Playwrights Workshop of Brevard, which produces original one-act plays. Not only has Ropp performed on nearly every stage here, his smiling face and encouraging nods are seen at nearly every production in the area.
He helped Surfside establish its annual full-length original playwriting competition 19 years ago. It has always been held in the summer and with anonymous judges reading “blind” scripts (no names attached). But the problem, said Surfside artistic director Bryan Bergeron, is that some years, there was a dearth of submissions and sometimes they lacked in quality.
“We were looking for better-quality scripts, so we upped our involvement in it,” Bergeron said. “We’ve had some good plays, but some years the submissions were thin-numbered.”
So, last year, in an effort to gain more interest in the competition and attract more submissions of higher quality, Surfside added a $500 purse to it and renamed it the Ropp Playwright Award.
Because, well, everyone loves the guy.
“It seemed the right way to go,” Bergeron said. “He’s thrilled with it. He also appreciates the fact that we’re investing in it.”
What makes it all even sweeter is the fact that Kurowski’s 80-minute play “Tripp and Fall” had been submitted to the competition three years ago. He had worked on it on and off for about 10 years. When it didn’t make the final cut, he tweaked it and resubmitted it this year.
As they say in theater, “Timing is everything.” Now, Kurowski’s play gets to launch the Ropp Playwright Award, as well as getting that $500 prize.
“I think this fits into place a lot better,” Kurowski said. “And the director got a stellar cast.”
Indeed. Director Chris Tsocanos has been blessed with a cast filled with many of Brevard’s favorite actors. Bergeron suspects that Kurowski made sure the best would go audition.
Actor Edward Johnson plays beleaguered businessman Harry Tripp, who takes his personal secretary on a business trip to Boston where he meets with successful Marcel Olivier, played by Rob Kenna.
Katie McCall plays the naive secretary, Patsy Fall, who falls for Michele Olivier, the son of the businessman Tripp meets. Playing Michele is Dylan Bowers.
Because Miss Fall is so fetching, Harry Tripp’s wife, Georgia, shows up to keep an eye on her husband. Georgia is played by Becky Behl-Hill, who has a long track record of taking on funny characters.
The maid at the hotel is named Florencia Mauricio and is played by Donna Furfaro. Kurowski said he fashioned the maid after Furfaro, also a popular area actor and a dear friend of the playwright.
“Every time I’d write a line for (Florencia), I pictured Donna playing the role,” he said. “I told her to go audition for it.”
Rounding out the cast is the popular Terrence Girard, who plays the officious concierge, Robert Plaisir.
“It’s a light farce,” said Tsocanos. “All the characters are intertwined. You have hijinks, mistaken identities.”
The only difference between Kurowski’s “light farce” and a typical full-on farce is that there’s not so many people running in and out of doors, Tsocanos said.
A fan of comedies, Kurowski said he has been most influenced by playwrights like Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor”) and Ray Cooney (“Run for Your Wife”), both well known for their farces.
Because of the complicated plot, Kurowski said he laid out the action in a storyboard format so he could keep tight control.
That approach should be expected from Kurowski. He teaches music and TV production at Williams Elementary in Viera.
“I teach kids storyboard and script writing,” he said. “They create their own films, learn how to shoot it and edit it. For the past 20 years, my students have placed first, second or third in state competitions.”
When “Tripp and Fall” was picked, Bergeron notified Kurowski by text message.
“It was surprised,” Kurowski said. “I knew I was the first winner of the Ropp Playwright Award, so that was very cool.”
Kurowski and Tsocanos only met once to discuss the play’s tone and the playwright’s intention.
“It’s definitely John’s baby,” Tsocanos said. “He wants it done as well as possible. He’s been writing it for a while.”
The two didn’t make any changes to the script.
“There was very little that didn’t seem to play,” Tsocanos said. “He wrote a pretty tight script.”
Kurowski has stayed away and let the director take his script and bring it to life. He has seen only one rehearsal.
“It was surreal to see characters come to life,” Kurowski said. “I just sat there smiling the whole time. I’ve always liked comedies and consider myself funny. I’ve started another play. It was on the back burner but now I’ve got a better vision for it. It’s more of a drama.”
“Tripp and Fall” runs about 80 minutes with an intermission. While there is no adult language in it, the comedy does contain adult situations and is recommended for mature audiences. It performs 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Surfside Playhouse, 301 Ramp Road (5th Street South), Cocoa Beach. Tickets are $15. Call 321-783-3127 or visit SurfsidePlayers.com.