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Aging Actors Fulfill Dreams on Stage in Somers

“We’re a theater group like no other,” said John Gee, president of the Heritage Hills Community Theater in Somers. “Our community is unique. The average age of our actors is late 70’s.”

Heritage Hills began in the 1970‘s as a development for “over-50’s.” Although the criterion no longer applies, many residents are retirees.

The group performs twice a year. The current play is “Morning’s At Seven,” produced on Broadway three times beginning in 1939. The Heritage Hills production proves that the play is still charming and relevant. The story of four midwestern sisters who are neighbors has garnered nearly two dozen theater awards over the years.

One of the most gratifying aspects of running the theater, according to Gee, “is taking a chance on people and watching them grow in the experience. Our actors range from someone who’s finally getting a chance to fulfill a dream in late life to an Equity performer on Broadway.”

Gee, who moved to Heritage Hills four years ago, took a circuitous route to his vocation. At the age of 32, while working days at J. P. Morgan, he started attending night classes at Juilliard and eventually gave up banking for opera. He has performed professionally in Europe and China.

Actor Ralston O’Connor also stumbled upon the footlights. He volunteered last season to be stage manager. When he showed up during auditions for this play, “John [Gee] said, ‘Get up, you’re reading a part.’ The next thing I knew I was cast as Homer Bolton.”

O’Connor’s only previous acting experience was as a cow in a Christmas play. “I was a very good cow,” he said.

His biggest worry about acting is getting too nervous. “When I get nervous my accent comes up,” said O’Connor, who was born in Jamaica and came to the U. S. about 35 years ago at the age of 13.

Gee feels that the true ages of the actors are irrelevant. “The audience is usually willing to suspend belief and that can go a long way. This play is about relationships, so age and race are not factors.”

Then Gee, who is Asian-American, added, “Look at me. I once played Fiorello LaGuardia. Do I look like LaGuardia?”

Performances this weekend are on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Heritage Hills Community Center. Tickets are $12. Telephone: 914-276-2636

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