When the conversation at Doug and Laura Marr’s wedding reception in the summer of 1983 turned to their future, it was not just about the happy couple.
It was about their theater.
Doug and Laura fell in love during a UNO production of “Marat/Sade,” Peter Weiss’s play within a play performed by inmates in a lunatic asylum. At their wedding reception Doug Paterson suggested the lunatics open a theater and take their productions to the people. “I remember the feeling that came over us as we discussed the idea of forming our own theatre; like, of course that’s what we have to do,” recalls Mike Markey. “We had all worked closely together at UNO, and we shared a similar desire to continue working to create important theatre–together.” The Circle Theatre was born.
Originally located in Joe & Judy’s Café in Benson, the Circle Theatre became Omaha’s first independent theater company in Omaha. The Circle was not a dinner theater; it was a diner theater, where the action of the play, and the play itself took place in a real-life diner. Doug Marr’s first original work, “Phil Contemplates Putting a Jukebox in the Diner,” opened on January 6, 1984.
According to Mike Markey, they opened on a Monday, because all the other theaters in town would be dark. “The reaction was electric. The audience responded to a form of theatre they hadn’t had before, where the actor and audience shared the same space. In that first script, the audience was the customers of the diner. The actors talked with them, they served them food and poured coffee, all the while carrying on a dialogue with other actors—in a diner. I don’t know if it was great theatre, but it was a great experience. So, we did another Monday night, and another, and Doug wrote another play about these characters, and another, adding more characters, until three years later we had produced nine plays in the ‘Phil’s Diner’ series.”
Thirty years later, the Circle has produced over one hundred new original dramas, comedies and musicals, along with numerous other works. Director M. Michele Phillips also performed in some of the ‘Phil’s Diner’ productions. “Every night something sparks another memory of past shows,” she muses. “’Phil’s Diner’ is a classic slice of life show, a perfect evening of theater.” It features vintage Doug Marr writing; quirky, funny, charming and sentimental. Markey agrees. “Those first days in the Diner will always be special to me, and I will always be grateful to Doug, and to those other talented artists—and friends—who worked to create the Circle Theatre. We created a theatre that mattered, plays that mattered, and relationships that mattered. And that’s all you can ask for in the theatre.”
Most of the original cast (sadly, Matt Kamprath has passed away and other obligations kept Doug Paterson from returning) is now reuniting to perform the original “Phil’s Diner” script as a fundraiser for Doug Marr. The show, which lasts about an hour, even comes with a slice of Harold’s home-made pie. Circle co-founder Mike Markey reprises his role as the original Phil. Other cast members include Laura Marr, Steve Gibbs, Peg Gibbs, Bill Lacey, Rob Baker, Ryle Smith, and talented newcomer Dan Luethke.
The Circle’s first production of “Phil’s Diner” runs Friday and Saturday nights, from June 2nd through June 17th with a 7:30 pm curtain time. The play will take place in iconic Harold’s Koffee House in Florence. Located at 8327 North 30th Street, Harold’s Koffee House is across the street from Florence Park, just a short drive up 30th Street, (or a quick hop south of the 30th Street exit on I-680). Tickets for the show are $25 and include a piece of Harold’s home-made pie and fresh coffee. The production is a fundraiser for Doug Marr, who is recovering from surgery. Donations for Doug are encouraged and gratefully accepted.
For reservations or more information, call 402-553-4715 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the Circle Theatre’s Facebook page or their website: http://www.circletheatreomaha.org.