Actors relish wit, drama of Coward’s ‘Vortex’
Rob Cramer (from left), Teri Schnaubelt and Kaelan Strouse in "The Vortex." | Photo by Peter Bosy
Dead Writers Theatre Collective, Greenhouse Theater Complex, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, July 20-Aug. 26
(773) 404-7336 or visit deadwriters.net or greenhousetheater.org
Updated: July 18, 2012 1:54PM
Florence Lancaster gets by
with a little help from her friends in Noel Coward’s 1924 drama, “The Vortex.” Barrington native Teri Schnaubelt plays pal Helen Saville. LaGrange Park resident Rob Cramer is buddy Pauncefort Quentin in Dead Writers Theatre Collective’s production under Jim Schneider’s direction.
Florence (Bonnie Hilton) is a celebrated beauty, now middle-aged, who shocks her 24-year-old son Nicky (Kaelan Strouse) when he discovers that her latest boyfriend is close to his age. The critically successful play also shocked some 1920s audiences.
“Helen is the voice of reason in the play,” Schnaubelt said. “My character is sort of a rock. I keep telling people how they should act. I know what’s really going on under all the layers of narcissism. I want to help everyone but it’s hard when they don’t want to help themselves — when they’re so caught up in the vortex that is their lives.”
Although Helen is a dear friend to Florence, speaking as her character Schnaubelt said, “Secretly, I’d like to be more than just friends with her.”
Actor Cramer said of Pauncefort, “I think you can argue that he is the first obviously gay character on the English stage. He’s sort of the comic relief. He and Helen set the tone of the play at the beginning. They set up sort of a snippy kind of funny, kind of serious banter.” The pair also describe the main characters before they arrive onstage.
Throughout the play, Cramer said, Pauncefort will “say an amusing thing here and there to move the show along. I think he’s also an illustration of what Coward was talking about — this frivolous society that the main characters are so involved in. He and his friend Helen are able to make comments about these people to sort of speak for the audience and the author.”
A big fan of the “Vortex” playwright, Schnaubelt also enjoys the vivid dialogue. “I love Noel Coward’s writing, his quick wit and his sharp humor. I like how our director calls it ‘cotton candy with razor blades.’ ”
Although he currently earns his living as a software salesman, Cramer has been acting since he was 12 years old, first at a community theater’s children’s theater. The Hinsdale native continued appearing in shows in high school but wound up majoring in history and anthropology at Northwestern University.
“Strangely enough, I didn’t take a single class in the famous School of Speech there,” he admitted. “I think my parents always looked on theater as an interesting hobby, not anything to be taking seriously — with some statistical justification.”
Back on stage
While working on a graduate business degree at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Cramer’s interest in theater was revived when he directed and appeared in a 1977 show there. “Some people had written a takeoff on the musical, ‘A Chorus Line,’ called, ‘A Placement Line,’ ” he recalled. “They changed it from an audition for a musical into a group job interview.”
After graduation, Cramer worked in business for several years, then began working as a waiter while pursuing an acting career for the next 14 years in Chicago and Los Angeles. “I made some inexpensive action films designed to be shown only in countries where English is not the native language,” he laughingly revealed.
He moved to La Grange around 1991, then later to LaGrange Park. Cramer worked for a number of years with the Theatre of Western Springs and has also performed and directed with Aston Rep Theatre Company in Chicago and Oak Park’s Sense of Urgency Theatre.