Jonathan Chisdes, left, portrays Dr. Gibbs, while Abraham Rubalcava plays Joe Crowell Jr. during rehearsal for “Our Town” Wednesday evening at Avix Art. Argen Marie Duncan photo.

The pandemic delayed it for more than a year, but Rio Rancho’s new community theater group is putting on its first performance, a play that speaks to the times, the director says.
The Rio Rancho Players are presenting Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer prize-winning play “Our Town” in six evening performances and two matinées next month at Avix Art, in the second-floor black-box theater.
Performers plan to wear clear, hard-plastic masks over their noses and mouths to maintain COVID safety without muffling their voices as much as a cloth mask would.
“Our Town” was first performed in 1938.
“It has stood the test of time,” said director and Rio Rancho Players founder Mel Sussman.
Wilder wrote the play with the theme that life is fleeting, Sussman said.
“And with the pandemic, we have to embrace the idea that life is fleeting and enjoy every minute of it,” he continued.
The story isn’t happy, Sussman said, but he called the play magnificent.
“It’s about dialogue and the things people say that the audience can take with them,” he said.
The play has little scenery and few props, with characters miming most of their activities. Sussman said the cast ranges in age from 12 to about 80.
“It’s really a cross-section of what this community is all about,” he said.

Rio Rancho Players actor Steve Weitz rehearses in his role of “stage manager,” or narrator, in “Our Town” as other cast members wait their turn Wednesday evening at Avix Art. Argen Marie Duncan photo.

Rio Ranchoan Steve Weitz, who runs KL Steven Co. machine shop, plays the “stage manager,” the narrator and largest part in the production. He’s been acting for a couple of years in Albuquerque community theater productions, but this role is his biggest yet.
He estimated he spends an hour or two every day studying lines. The cast and crew have rehearsed twice during the work week since July and recently added weekend rehearsals.
“You don’t do something like this if you don’t love theater,” Sussman said.
Weitz said performing in front of an audience and having people say he did a good job makes the work worth it.
“It’s extremely gratifying,” he said.
He’s never seen or performed in “Our Town” before, although he watched YouTube videos of it when starting his role.
“It’s really a timeless play,” Weitz said. “It’s really all about humanity and being appreciative of the world around you, being observant.”
Sussman had directed theater for 40 years back East before moving to Rio Rancho with his wife three years ago. He discovered the City of Vision didn’t have its own community theater group.
“I couldn’t live with that (situation),” he said.
Rio Rancho Players began in September 2019 with an interest meeting that drew a dozen people. As time went on, more individuals showed interest and the group began rehearsing “Our Town.”
Then, COVID-19 shut down efforts for more than a year. Sussman wasn’t sure how many people would return, but 65 came to an interest meeting last spring.
Seeing an article about Avix Art, he arranged with Artistic Director Michelle Boutros to rent theater space there for a year. Auditions in June led to a good cast — inexperienced but in love with theater, Sussman said.
Many of the roles have been double cast to give more people a chance to be on stage. Those actors will appear in alternating performances.
“We’re about 3½ weeks away, and the cast and production crew have really come together on this,” Sussman said.
He plans to put on another play in February and yet another next June.

Rio Rancho Players founder and director Mel Sussman gives instructions during a rehearsal of “Our Town” Wednesday evening at Avix Art. Argen Marie Duncan photo.

Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” performed by the Rio Rancho Players
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15 & 16; and 2 p.m. Oct. 10 & 16.
Where: Avix Art performance center, 4311 Sara Road.
Tickets: $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, and $10 each for groups of eight or more.
Available at:; Pet Food Gone Wild, 2415 Southern Blvd.; or at the door.