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It was while Vicki Mangieri was working as a tour guide for a senior cruise ship company that she first got the idea for her play.
“We were docked next to an all-balcony-cabins ship, and I started thinking, ‘What’s going on in those cabins?’” she said. The concept percolated around in her mind for some years before taking shape.
“I was an English major in school, and I’d always thought I’d write a book. But then I got active in theatre in Chattanooga, and realized that I could write a play,” Mangieri said. The first part of what would become “Balconies” was written in two or three weeks. “Then it sat around for a couple of years, even though I had written it all in my head.” But she didn’t forget about it, and kept returning to the idea.
The full-length play, which traces the stories of the occupants of three balcony cabins on a cruise ship, eventually took shape based on stories from Mangieri’s own life, combined with stories she’d heard from other people, “tweaked for the stage,” she said.
Mangieri had performed in a production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with Bruce Shaw, who was looking to create a new production company, Shaw’Nuff Productions. “I let Bruce read the first draft of the play, and he told me there was definitely something there,” Mangieri said. Last November, the pair did a staged reading of the play, took notes, and solicited feedback from the audience, which was enthusiastic.
“It’s had three or so minor rewrites since that reading,” she said. “All the feedback was positive, and we were happy to find that the storylines really hooked people. I’m writing about issues that resonate with many people.”
Shaw agreed to produce the play for Mangieri as the first outing of Shaw’Nuff Productions. The Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga space in Eastgate Town Center was booked for weeks in July when ETC was dark. Then came the difficulties of casting.
“It was not my first choice to be in the show as a performer,” Mangieri said. “I did not want people thinking that it was simply a vanity production.” But eventually she did take a role to round out a cast that also includes Bonnie Stoloff, Denise Frye, Nancy Brame, Marcus Ellsworth, Steven Berryman, Elaine Manieri, Tracy Anderson and Shaw.
“We weren’t sure we could get it cast at one point,” Mangieri said, acknowledging that casting a show during the summer presents problems. “But the cast is now really excited about being in an original production. If I get it published, they’ll be mentioned as the ‘original cast.’”
The minimalist set will depict the three balconies, and there are no scene changes. That has also presented a challenge, she said. “There are limited playing areas, so we’ve had to be creative in keeping the action lively in a confined space.”
For four of the characters, which form one group, “Balconies” is a memory play, as they tell their stories in retrospect. But the other two groups are interacting in “real time,” and provide most of the comic relief, Mangieri explained.
“Balconies” discusses issues including cancer and aging and features a gay couple in one of the cabins. “The stories affect so many different people in so many different groups that we think it will appeal to a wide audience,” Mangieri said. “A lot of people will recognize themselves or someone they know in parts of it.”
“Balconies,” 7:30 Thursdays-Sundays, also 2 p.m. Sundays,
Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga stage, 5600 Brainerd Rd. (inside Eastgate Town Center).
More information: facebook.com/balconiesplay. Reservations: