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Actors make convincing dogs in 'Call of the Wild'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "The actors are without masks, costumes or special makeup, and you actually believe they are the dogs."

That's how Nina Denton Pasinetti described the Barter Players production of "Call of the Wild."

The classic Jack London tale has been condensed into an hour-long play that will be performed June 18 as part of FestivALL.

The Abington, Va.-based theater troupe will put on two shows -- at 5 and 7 p.m. -- in the Clay Center Walker Theater.

Pasinetti is the longtime artistic director of Charleston Light Opera Guild and represents theater and dance on the FestivALL steering committee.

She acknowledged that she hadn't seen "Call of the Wild," but she said the tour coordinator for the Barter Players told her it was the best thing the traveling troupe has ever done.

Pasinetti said she had tried before to connect FestivALL and the Barter Theater, which is the state theater of Virginia. "The Barter reputation precedes them," she said, listing names of now famous actors who once performed with the Barter: Kevin Spacey, Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Hume Cronyn, Ned Beatty.

The history of the Barter dates from the Great Depression. A struggling New York actor couldn't find work, so he returned home to southwest Virginia in 1933. Robert Porterfield persuaded some friends to come with him, and they put on plays in exchange for food.

Admission was 40 cents or 40 cents' worth of food. According to the official Barter history, "Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams and Thornton Wilder accepted Virginia ham as payment for royalties. One exception was George Bernard Shaw, a vegetarian, who bartered the rights to his plays for spinach."

The Barter touring company ended its season in April, and Pasinetti was told that the six actors in "Call of the Wild" were cast in other plays for the summer season. Then, she was contacted and told that the actors could come on June 18 for the two shows. She booked them.

Then she and her husband, Tom Pasinetti, attended a fundraiser for the theater at West Liberty College. While there she talked with a theater professor, an alumnus of the Barter Theater who had hosted the touring company this year.

The play is aimed at audiences from age 5 up to adults of any age. "He thought it might be too young for college kids. But he said his students were amazed with this performance," Pasinetti said. She said his words reinforced her conviction that "we're lucky to have them."

Catherine Bush adapted London's 1903 novel for the Barter. It's the story of Buck, the heroic sled dog during the Klondike Gold Rush that eventually has to choose between living in man's world or answering "the call of the wild."

"I hope people don't miss this," Pasinetti said. "I hope our performance opens door to connect the Barter with West Virginia schools, like in Virginia."

Tickets for "Call of the Wild" cost $15 for adults, $10 for children age 10 and younger. They may be purchased at Taylor Books and at the Clay Center box office. The performance is sponsored by Brooks Mining Co., a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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