When Donna Sweet Ault yelled Shakespeare lines in a Southern drawl during a recent rehearsal, even the other actors on stage broke character and started laughing.
With an expressive face fit for “The Carol Burnett Show” and botched Elizabethan dialogue, the 59-year-old Arvada actress seems born to play Opal, a former bag lady who owns an antique shop full of more trash than treasure.
However, she would likely be just as comfortable in a real Shakespeare play, or a Neil Simon production for that matter. She has played a wide range of characters in more than 170 plays with the Player’s Guild.
She said she has never been in plays anywhere else, but she married Charles Ault, who runs the Players Guild and directs most of its plays.
“I was married into this and I had no theater background whatsoever,” she said. “I was very shy and quiet, but it’s fun. I got the bug and that was it.”
She delivers a scene-stealing performance in yet another show as the titular Opal in “Opal’s Million-Dollar Duck,” opening May 13 at the Festival Playhouse in Olde Town Arvada.
The show is one of seven John Patrick plays about the Opal character.
“Everybody loves Opal,” said Charles Ault.
In the play, Opal unwittingly finds an old masterpiece — a painting of a duck — behind a local art museum and tosses it among the dusty relics in her shop. Two actors seeking props and costumes happen upon the painting and recognize it from a news story about the valuable artwork.
Charles Ault said the company has staged all seven Opal plays and nearly everything else Patrick has written. He said he has been staging the shows for more than three decades.
“When we were doing his stuff 30 years ago, people found it offensive, but now they find it humorous,” he said, adding that Patrick shows are especially popular with “the folks who read large print.”
The 59-year-old actor and director has seen plenty of changes in local theater audiences. He grew up in local theater, watching his father create the company in 1936. As the group’s 70th year begins in July, he said it is one of the oldest theater companies in the nation.
He said the company has staged more than 2,000 performances with 1,300 actors for more than 230,000 people. The company moved to the Festival Playhouse in 1990.
“The numbers are staggering,” he said.
The company also continues to be a family affair. Charles is directing his wife and daughter in the show.
“It isn’t often you get a chance for mothers and daughters to be on stage together,” he said.
Also in the show is Arvada native David Cervera, an actor from the Jon Lovitz school of comic acting. He graduated from Arvada High School, where he did several shows, and has been in nine Festival Playhouse shows.
He said the theater provides family entertainment and adds to the business mix in Olde Town.
“We’re kind of overshadowed by the other theater,” he said, referring to the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. “But we make our own contribution.”