Native playwright returns to Addison County with ‘Four Beers’

MIDDLEBURY — David Van Vleck Jr. left Addison County to pursue a career as an actor, playwright and screenwriter.
His journey will come full circle on Feb. 13, when one of his plays, “Four Beers,” will be staged at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater. Van Vleck grew up just down the road in Cornwall and is a graduate of Middlebury Union High School.
“For sentimental reasons, it’s great,” Van Vleck said of the four Middlebury Community Players (MCP) performances of what he called a “very funny drama” that will feature five local men in the lead roles. Set in the Reagan era (1980s), “Four Beers” introduces the audience to a group of “hard working small business owners” who regularly gather at their neighborhood bar to watch Monday Night Football. But the TV is on the fritz on this particular evening, forcing the men to converse and reveal some very poignant, sobering and unexpected things about themselves.
“Their relationships change very dramatically and irrevocably,” said Kevin Commins, who stars in Four Beers with Richard Reed, Peter Dempewolff, Tim Franklin and Ark Lemal. Joyce E. Huff is directing and Algy Layden is producing.
Van Vleck, who now works and resides in New York, wrote the play in 2000.
“What fed me (in the endeavor) was a philosophical bent I have for thinking that men have screwed up the world and that women should be the more valued gender,” Van Vleck said in a telephone interview late last week. “Although the play has five men, it’s all about women.”
“Four Beers” has been staged around a half-dozen times, but until now, never in Van Vleck’s home state. It was Eunice Van Vleck — David’s mom and co-founder of the MCP — who recently chatted with Joyce Huff about her son’s play, according to Layden. Huff inquired whether David Van Vleck might consider staging the play at the Town Hall Theater. He agreed, and that prompted a casting call that resulted in the selection of “five terrific actors who fit their roles,” according to Layden.
Among them is Commins, a Middlebury College graduate (theater). He, too, is a screenwriter, mainly for TV movies. He has written several Hallmark Christmas movies, including this past year’s “12 Trees of Christmas.”
Commins auditioned for “Four Beers” and was impressed with the script.
“It’s a challenge for an actor, because it is dialogue-driven,” Commins said of the script.
“There are a lot of ideas that well up in this.”
Commins plays “Mel,” a member of the group who recently lost his wife and is emotionally distraught.
“He continually says the wrong thing — without malice,” he said.
Layden has enjoyed his role as producer of a play he said is very simply staged. “Four Beers” runs around one hour, 20 minutes without an intermission. Van Vleck will be in town for the performances, and hopes to see family and friends in the audience. Locals will recognize some Middlebury-area references in the play, such as “Chipman Hill” and “Ralph Foote.”
Due to strong language and adult themes, “Four Beers” is not recommended for anyone under the age of 16. Performances will be staged Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 13-15, at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Feb. 16.
Tickets are $17 and are available at the Town Hall Theater box office or through www.townhalltheater.org. More information about the play can be found at www.middleburycommunityplayers.org.
“I think the play will be interesting to see,” Commins said. “It is great to have a hometown guy do a show you can see and have hometown people in it.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
Look for photos from the dress rehersal on addisonindependent.com later this week.

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