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Press Articles 2014

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Angels and Ministers of Grace

By Martin Denton

Maureen Silliman and David Van Pelt in ANGELS AND MINISTERS OF GRACE | SuzAnn Barabas


Theater is supposed to bring catharsis; that was definitely the aim of the earliest works of western drama, and it presumably remains the goal of contemporary playmakers as well. The funny thing is, catharsis sometimes sneaks up on us, becoming all the more welcome and valuable when we don't really expect it to take hold on stage.

That's definitely what happened to me at Angels and Ministers of Grace, the new play by Elaine Smith at New Jersey Rep. For most of the first 90 minutes or so of the show, I was wrapped up in its story of a family in Northern Florida struggling to cope--in a singularly full and fraught day--with a variety of life's troubles ranging from serious illness to economic difficulty to unresolved feelings about divorce and the death of a child. Even though I'd just met and still hardly knew these family members (Arletta, the elder sister, who seems to be afraid of reality and spends much of her time crafting figurines of angels; Miriam, the younger sister, a divorcee overloaded by the demands of her situation; and Jimmy Ray, the younger brother, a little slow but kind-hearted in his way), I found that by intermission I was caught up in their story. And even though so much of what they were experiencing on their poor small-town Southern farm felt very far-removed from what I experience in my Northeastern urban life, I was nonetheless interested to see what would happen to them.

And then, in the final scenes of Angels, something curious happened--the thing that you hope will happen when you go to the theater. The details of story and plot became subsumed by something more essential as the raw, fundamental heart of these characters' existences gave way to undistilled emotion. The message of the play is easily stated and almost seems cliche: it's about allowing the truth to set you free, and accepting the love and care of those around you. But the feeling conveyed on the intimate NJ Rep stage in the final moments of the play was more potent than that, reminding me of the ways that all human beings are linked--that we need the same things and fear the same things, regardless of our particular circumstances.

Whence came the source of this powerful, though ephemeral, occurence? Obviously Smith's script contains at least the outlines of it, and the in-all-ways exemplary production surrounding it, helmed with grace and skill by Marc Geller, facilitates it. (Kudos to the NJ Rep team, much heralded on this website in the past: Jessica Parks (sets and properties), Jill Nagle (lighting), Merek Royce Press (sound), and Patricia E. Doherty (costumes); and also to stage manager Jennifer Tardibuono and technical director Michael "Rusty" Carroll and the company's leadership, artistic director SuzAnn Barabas and executive producer Gabor Barabas -- all of these people ensure that the details of theater-making have been carefully attended to.)

Their efforts in turn mean that the actors on stage are able to live unfettered in the world of the play, and to deliver the cathartic experience that this play kind of astonishingly becomes. All four of the actors bring experience, presence, and talent to bear here; without even for a second calling attention to the fact that they are acting, this ensemble left me mightily impressed, at show's end, by the skills and resources that gifted performers share with an audience to make us feel something that's significant and palpable. Maureen Silliman and Dana Benningfield play the sisters (Arletta and Miriam, respectively), David Van Pelt plays brother Jimmy Earl, and James Earley portrays Miriam's ex-husband Frank, who figures importantly in a few scenes. It's not so much that they imbue these people with reality as that they key in on the emotional forces driving them, revealing them to us with a naked energy that demonstrates why they're the ones on stage and we're the ones privileged to take it all in from our seats in the auditorium.


Review: Angels and Ministers of Grace - StageBuddy


Photo courtesy of SuzAnne Barabas.

Unexpressed grief is the powerful unseen force behind all the characters in Elaine Smith's play Angels and Ministers of Grace, premiering at New Jersey Repertory Company, a marvelous small theater in Long Branch, NJ dedicated to nurturing and producing new work.

Three middle-aged siblings reside on the family farm in rural Florida, a setting evoked effectively by scenic designer Jessica Parks; the kitchen, frozen in time with its icebox, 1930's stove and flapping screen door, is the centerpiece for the unfolding drama. Miriam (played with honest conviction by Dana Benningfield) and her older sister Arletta (Maureen Silliman) are keepers of the house now that their mother has died. Their brother, Jimmy Ray (David Van Pelt), lives in a cottage on the property. Eccentricities abound as unresolved grief makes these characters do crazy things in order to keep the floodgates closed against pain. (The only being who actually gives voice to their pain is a mother cow whose calf has been taken away: her plaintive bawling from offstage regularly interrupts the play's action.) Arletta, who hasn't left the house since her mother's death, hears voices that warn of danger. Her antidote is to create multitudes of angels in various shapes and sizes, and the house is strewn with faceless angels standing guard, hovering over chairs and hanging from the ceiling, brandishing antlers, swords and thorns. Miriam is the practical one, the glue holding the family together (if it wasn't for her, Arletta would have "37 cats and a forest of angels" ruling the house), though her coping mechanisms are failing as is her health.

Veteran actress Maureen Silliman, in a fragile and beautiful performance, gives Arletta just the right balance of loopy and big sister caretaker. Van Pelt, perfectly cast as Jimmy Ray, shows us a goofy little boy in a grown man's body desperate to be seen and heard; he expertly reveals Jimmy Ray's pain at being labeled stupid and slow his entire life. Franklin, Miriam's ex-husband is a man who's tried to move on, but is still a little bit in love, and James Earley effectively embodies Franklin's stoicism, awkwardness and the frustration that comes from trying to make things better. Ms. Benningfield as Miriam delivers a taut, on the verge of snapping performance culminating in a powerful final scene.

Lovingly shaping many small moments of anguish, director Marc Geller tells the story with warmth and clarity. Ms. Smith's writing captures the cadences of backwoods Florida folk in this well-crafted play. She understands the importance of the spaces between the words and creates empathetic characters that audiences recognize and root for. In a second act scene, her dialogue between Miriam and ex-husband Franklin is heartbreakingly nuanced as they struggle to connect, both haunted by the death of their daughter. Unexpressed grief pulses underneath, but so does love.


BWW Reviews: ANGELS AND MINISTERS OF GRACE - A Poignant New Play at NJ Rep Through 11/23

www.broadwayworld.com



New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) continues their successful theatre season with the World Premiere of Angels and Ministers of Grace now onstage through November 23rd. With superb direction by Marc Geller, area audiences will be fascinated by the intriguing portrayal of a loving but dysfunctional family. This new play is written by Elaine Smith who has created a thoughtful and touching piece about the human condition and a complex family dynamic.

Rural life in the South is especially difficult for a trio of siblings who are struggling with issues of loss, health concerns and the pressures of day to day living. There are angels among them, seen and unseen, who can make all the difference in their futures.

The individuals in Angels and Ministers of Grace are distinctive. Miriam, played by Dana Benningfield, seems to be the stable force in the family who manages their practical affairs. Arletta, played by Maureen Silliman, is Miriam's mystical and eccentric sister often preoccupied with the artistic angels she creates. Jimmy Ray, played by David Van Pelt is the unruly brother and the youngest of the three siblings. Franklin Robie played by James Earley is Miriam's ex-husband who is very concerned about her.

The interaction of the characters in Angels and Ministers of Grace is remarkable and the cast captures their respective roles perfectly. There's a true bond between sisters Miriam and Arletta, but the tension between the two women escalates as they must deal with their fears and frustrations. Jimmy Ray's impulsive behavior is contrasted by unexpected good reasoning and a true love for his sisters. And it is Franklin Robie who tries repeatedly to reach out to this family he was once an integral part of.

NJ Rep's fine creative team brings the world of Angels and Ministers of Grace to life with scenic design by Jessica Parks, lighting design by Jill Nagle, sound design by Merek Royce Press and costume design by Patricia Doherty.

NJ Rep has departed from the comedic tenor of recent shows with Angels and Ministers of Grace. The play is an emotional journey but it is also laced with humorous and sincere moments that every family can relate to. Bring your friends and see it. It is a piece of theater you will reflect upon again and again.



Review: 'Angels and Ministers of Grace' immensely satisfying at New Jersey Rep in Long Branch


Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney
 


When Hamlet sees his father's ghost for the first time he exclaims "Angels and ministers of grace defend us!" Family ghosts also loom large over playwright Elaine Smith's similarly titled freshman outing now playing at New Jersey Rep in Long Branch. Despite the season, these are not the haunted house type of ghosts, but the sort that haunt the soul.

Miriam (Dana Benningfield) and her sister Arletta (Maureen Silliman) share a rural North Florida farmhouse with their brother Jimmy Ray (David Van Pelt). The siblings are still reeling from recent losses and each has processed the passings in their own way – or, in the case of Miriam ('the smart one') – not. Arletta (the 'artistic one') has developed psychic powers and thrown herself into making craft angels, which cram every corner of the cluttered kitchen. Jimmy Ray (the self-described 'stupid one') just lives day-to-day, running errands for his sisters and helping maintain the failing farm. Miriam's practical ex-husband Franklin (James Earley) arrives to deliver the news that someone is looking to buy the land and home truths are revealed, including that Miriam may be ignoring some serious health issues.

With a title that quotes the Bard, Smith naturally follows through with more Shakespearean references. Franklin describes himself as "a little more than kin and less than kind" (Hamlet's first words). Other disclosures surface that equate the pair's only child with Hamlet's Ophelia. It is revealed that Franklin and Miriam first met in college and that she holds a part-time job driving the county bookmobile, nicely hinting of potential unfulfilled and justifying their classical banter. While Miriam and Franklin are besotted with the Bard, Auletta logically quotes the Good Book with such passages such as "And an angel of the Lord stood in the way" and "Take this cup away from me" when her psychic vibrations cause her distress.

The play brings to mind the Southern Gothic writings of Beth Henley, especially her Pulitzer Prize-winning "Crimes of the Heart," a play also about three siblings haunted by family passed. The similarity is even more pointed when the iced tea and lemonade flow like a cure-all tonic. Like Henley, Smith shows a talent for the well-timed revelations of the characters' dark secrets. Of course, Smith and Henley both owe a great debt to Anton Chekhov and there's something vaguely Chekhovian about "Angels" as well: Three siblings living in an isolated location under the threat of eviction. There's even an offstage cow whose incessant mooing is due to separation from her calf. It's no cherry orchard, but even the most casual theater goer won't fail to recognize the symbolism.

All this might turn into pretentious claptrap in the hands of a lesser writer, but Smith handles her literary inspirations with great care and skill – especially for a novice playwright. If anything, the play might benefit from one more plot twist or some judicious editing, but for a first-timer Smith has an extraordinarily uncommon knack for dialogue and character. It helps that this production is also meticulously cast and performed. Benningfield and Silliman not only share a remarkable resemblance but a familial rapport that makes the play immensely satisfying and ultimately heartfelt. While the men seem secondary, they too are ideally cast. Van Pelt's farmer's tan and sweat-stained tee-shirt make a smart contrast to the starched, button-down success of Earley's outsider ex. Marc Geller's subtle, nuanced direction makes it all flow effortlessly toward its cathartic conclusion.

Smith is clearly a smart and talented new addition to the art of play writing. "Angels and Ministers of Grace" is a promising start to what will certainly be a unique voice in the American Theater.



'Angels and Ministers' come to Long Branch


By Tom Chesek
 

PHOTO: SUZANNE BARABAS

To hear Elaine Smith tell it, "It all grew out of one line, really…one sentence that I had to finish."

"From there what started as a monologue became a conversation, and then these characters started to talk and live, and carry me to some unexpected places."

The characters are members of a dysfunctional family — and really, when it comes to bringing people out to the theater, is there any other kind? — while the play is "Angels and Ministers of Grace," making its world premiere bow this weekend as the latest offering from New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

This will be the first fully staged production for the comedy-drama that was performed earlier as a reading at NJ Rep, with screen actress Linda Hamilton ("The Terminator," TV's "Beauty and the Beast") on board. In fact, it's the first fully staged production of any full-length script by Smith, an actor-director and "accidental playwright" whose exposure has largely been through her participation in numerous short play festivals — and whose very first work of any length was this play.

Such is the NJ Rep seal of approval, however, that a completely unknown property by a fledgling dramatist is given the same weight as a famous author's sequel to his Pulitzer-nominated signature work (Lee Blessing's "A View of the Mountains"), or a couple of crowdpleasing comedies starring cast members of "The Wonder Years" and "The Sopranos." With "Angels" as with so many of their previous premieres, producers SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas dare to tread where other, supposedly more established companies would be extremely hesitant to step.

Described as "a poignant and compelling story of a close-knit, yet eccentric family's struggle to overcome life's ups and downs," Smith's four-character play "captures the struggles that confront families today throughout the heartland" — if by heartland we mean northern Florida, the playwright's formative stomping ground and a place that "just came together as a setting… I found myself writing in the dialect and the cadence of the area."

Despite the play's scheduling on the cusp of the holiday season, the action doesn't spring from a tense family get-together, but from "an ordinary day; one when this small group of people is forced to deal with things on their own."

According to Smith, at the heart of the play is "a woman who's trying to solve all of her family's problems…things that happened in the past force their way into the present. Skeletons come out to play, and even angels can't keep all hell from breaking loose."

Taking over the role played by Linda Hamilton in the reading is one of the shining stars of the NJ Rep stock company — Dana Benningfield, whose contributions as an actor ("Lemonade," "The Laramie Project") and director ("Character Assassins") have been a big part of the professional playhouse since its earliest seasons. She's joined by a fellow Rep veteran, James Earley, from the underrated "October 1962."

Broadway veteran Maureen Silliman might be more familiar to New Jersey audiences from her work with Two River Theater ("The Glass Menagerie") and Paper Mill Playhouse ("Rags") — or through her two years as Pam Chandler on the network soap "The Guiding Light." Reprising his character from the play's reading, David Van Pelt starred in several productions of Romulus Linney's "Gint," under directors that included the celebrated Linney and Pulitzer winner Tony Kushner.

Helming the production is Marc Geller, a "smart director who brings good ideas to the table" — and whose previous projects at NJ Rep include such stylized and surreal offerings as "Middlemen" and "Noir" — while present at rehearsals has been the Florida-based wordsmith, who "was able to be part of the process from the beginning…I feel so fortunate."


BWW Reviews: Elaine Smith, Playwright for ANGELS AND MINISTERS OF GRACE at NJ Rep

www.broadwayworld.com



Angels and Ministers of Grace will open at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch on October 23rd and run through November 23rd. Directed by Marc Geller, it is written by actor, director and playwright Elaine Smith. Broadwayworld.com had an opportunity to interview Smith about her career and the show.

Angels and Ministers of Grace is a compelling story of a close-knit, yet eccentric family's struggle to overcome life's ups and downs. The play captures the current issues that confront families throughout the heartland and urban centers of America and reveals in bold relief forces that threaten to destroy the American dream.

Smith is an award winning playwright. Her other works include The Looking Glass and Ten Minute Life among many others. Smith holds a B.A in Theater from the University of Delaware and Masters in Theatre from the University of Denver. A member of SAG-AFTRA and the Dramatist's Guild, she is represented by Ron Gwiazda and Amy Wagner of Abrams Artists.

Smith became interested in theatre as a youngster. "I had the lead in my kindergarten class play because I was the only kid who could remember the lines. It was something about candy canes and gum drops, I think. I probably became a little more seriously interested in the 6th grade, when I had a teacher who not only directed the class play but did community theatre. A number of us went to see her perform at the Candlelight Dinner Theatre, and I loved the whole experience. Then, in high school, we had a terrific teacher who ran the drama club and directed shows with the help of student directors. He chose me, among others, and gave us real responsibility and artistic input, and I think that sealed the deal for me.

Smith told us about her many mentors and inspirations.. "I have had so many mentors: Carole Weisenfels in 6th grade. Frank Livoy in high school. Polly Bray and Rebecca Nordstrom in college. Judy Leavell in grad school. I studied with a lot of wonderful teachers when I lived in New York. Anne Bogart has a particularly fascinating way of looking at theatre. Julia Carey is a wonderful, life-changing acting teacher. I learned a lot about acting Shakespeare from John Basil of the American Globe Theatre. Julia Miles, who founded and ran the Women's Project, supported my early directing efforts. Jan Buttram and Sam Bellinger of the Abingdon Theatre Company have always given me invaluable advice and support, as have fellow playwrights-Margaret Hunt, in particular. Theatre Resources Unlimited (TRU) is a terrific source of information. And several commercial producers have been kind enough to give me guidance and advice. Pat Addiss, Meredith Lucio, Cheryl Wiesenfeld have been so helpful. Richard Frankel sat down with me. Also, the late Randall Wreghitt. The theatre community is amazingly generous."

She also commented, "A high point for me was when actress Linda Hamilton did an early reading of Angels.... It was so generous of her, and she did such a terrific job! I am a big fan of her work, and she turned out to be such a lovely person. The fact that she would take an interest and put herself out for this play was so encouraging. It really made me push myself to work harder."

Smith has been active in many aspects of theater. We asked her how she has balanced different roles and responsibilities. "A life in the theatre is always challenging, no matter which hat you wear at any given time. Acting stretches you mentally, physically, vocally and emotionally. Directing requires a strong visual sense, an understanding of how to help and support actors, the ability to deal with designers and technicians. Diplomacy comes in handy. And writing a play seems to draw on all those skills and more. I love that the challenges are always shifting. One day, you are researching epilepsy and suicide preparing to work on Marsha Norman's 'night, Mother and the next you may be learning how to maneuver through a doorway while wearing an Elizabethan farthingale. Today, I've been researching CB lingo because of a sound effect in Angels.... Theatre takes you everywhere.

She also expressed deep appreciation for her life in the theatre. " I feel very fortunate to have had all these different experiences. I think I am a better writer because I have been an actor and director, and I hope I would be a better director and actor now that I have been a playwright."

As Angels and Ministers makes its way to NJ Rep, we asked Smith about her inspiration for the play. "The initial impulse to write came out of the realization that there are a sadly limited number of roles for women past the ingénue stage. My first thought was to see if I could write something that would add to those opportunities. I thought maybe I could manage a ten minute play. Then I thought that as long as I was trying to write one good female role, maybe I should try for two. So I began to think about relationships among women: doctors/patients, lawyers/clients, mothers/daughters, etc. An unfinished line of dialogue came into my head, and I thought, "Hmm. I wonder what that's about?" I started writing, and I realized I was writing in the cadences and dialect of northern Florida, where my grandparents lived and where I used to spend summers. That gave me a setting, and some very quirky but specific character traits from which to draw and from which a lot of the humor of the piece arises. The whole thing grew from there. Along the way, I realized that, in addition to creating opportunities for actresses, I had something I wanted to say about people's connections to and responsibilities toward one another. Many, many rewrites later, Angels and Ministers of Grace is about to be seen on stage."

Smith is a great advocate for the work of NJ Rep. "NJ Rep is such a great organization with seventeen seasons of producing new work, much of it by new and unknown playwrights. That's rare. They produce year-round. Their shows are of consistently high quality. The production values are always so strong-which astonishes me when you consider what a limited budget not-for-profit theatres tend to have. They draw on an exceptional pool of talent for actors, directors and designers. We have a great cast: Dana Benningfield, James Earley, Maureen Silliman and David Van Pelt. I'm enjoying working with talented director, Marc Geller. I am so fortunate to have SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas producing this play. They did a reading of Angels... some years ago, and I am so glad that they continued to be interested while I continued to work on it. It's a very supportive, nurturing place to work."

We asked Smith if there was anything else she wanted our readers to know. "The journey to this production has been long. There have been all kinds of ups and downs along the way. But it's been exciting and rewarding. I've had so much help along the way, but I wouldn't be here if I hadn't also been lucky. I attended grade school and high school back when we thought the arts were important enough to get some funding. The next generation of great actors and directors and playwrights aren't necessarily getting that experience. I hope we can figure out how to do something about that."


 DAN LAURIA in DINNER WITH THE BOYS Wins Best Actor in a Drama (Professional) from 2014 BroadwayWorld New Jersey

Click Here for the New York Times Review of 'Dinner with the Boys'

Click Here for the New York Times Article on 'Dinner with the Boys' moving to Off-Broadway



'Sopranos,' 'Sullivan' stars in premiere at NJ Rep


By Tom Chesek
 

PHOTO: SUZANNE BARABAS

New Jersey Repertory Company has been on a bit of a roll lately — as the Long Branch-based specialists in world premiere plays steamrolled their way through the normally sleepy summer season with some well-chosen scripts, bar-raising casts and a realization that many of their "children" have gone forth and prospered in the big land beyond.

With the current premiere engagement of "Dinner with the Boys," there's a sense that the little, off-the-beaten-path playhouse on lower Broadway has cultivated a larger-than-life profile among those most likely to sit up and take notice: talented creative folk who'd drop everything to work with a venue that's not afraid to take risks on material that's unfamiliar, untested, and completely unencumbered by past expectations.

Thus has a busy TV comedy stalwart — Dan Lauria, of "The Wonder Years" and the current "Sullivan & Son" — traveled cross-country for the chance to present the first full staging of his own darkly comic script at NJ Rep. He brought with him his partner in the celebrated LA-based Playwrights Kitchen Ensemble (Richard Zavaglia); rang up a familiar face from "The Sopranos" (Ray Abruzzo, better known as Little Carmine Lupertazzi), and sought out the services of his longtime colleague, director-actor-writer-filmmaker Frank Megna.

Although it traces its origins to Hollywood (and script-in-hand readings that boasted the participation of Dom DeLuise, Charles Durning, Peter Falk and Jack Klugman), it doesn't get a whole lot more Jersey than "Boys," a mob-comedy minestrone that spices its sitcom-savvy laughs with some dark undercurrents of "Goodfellas," "Sopranos" and other signifiers of a violent, post-"Godfather" entertainment landscape.

Playing out against the hideous avocado and pumpkin colors of a 70s kitchen set design by Jessica Parks, "Dinner with the Boys" finds aging wiseguys Charlie (Lauria) and Dom (Zavaglia) sharing close quarters, exiled far from the city action to the "foreign country" of New Jersey for their roles in a botched hit. Considering the alternative, it's not all that bad a life, as Dom is given free rein to indulge his passion for cooking — thanks to a steady supply of exotic meats, and fresh vegetables furnished by Charlie's well-tended (and exceptionally well-fertilized) garden.

Although their longtime-buddy act has apparently morphed into an old-married-couple dynamic by this point ("are we having our first fight?"), the two housemates are still not beyond blindsiding each other with secrets, confessions and revelations that forever threaten to upset the already edgy equilibrium, there beneath the wall-mounted jello molds. Charlie — a "made man" who delights in relating detailed accounts of his greatest hits — would love nothing more than to believe he'll once again have a place in the boss's inner circle, while Dom would just as soon prefer to stay in semi-retirement; maybe even open a little bistro.

Over the course of a play that amounts to a two-hander for much of its running time, Lauria and Zavaglia evoke a lot of classic comic duos, from Oscar and Felix and Laurel and Hardy, to eternal "Honeymooners" Kramden and Norton. There are echoes of everything from "Arsenic and Old Lace" to a hundred studio-audience sitcoms — perhaps even a hint of Bea Arthur in the be-vested Charlie.

It's a bitchy bromance, and an uneasy version of domestic bliss, broken by the harsh intrusion of Big Anthony Jr., the capo who set the two old soldiers up in their remote outpost — and who can put an end to the arrangement with one twitch of his hair-trigger temper. While Abruzzo invests his role as the next-gen boss with a spitting intensity that kicks the fast-moving comedy into overdrive, there exists an even greater authority than Junior — and it's The Uncle Sid, the last of the old-school Jewish gangsters. Veteran Moe Rosenbaum returns from retirement, to inhabit a character whose almost philosophical air masks the blandness of real life-or-death power.

To reveal any more would be to disrespect the playwright's code, to say nothing of spoiling one's appetite. Suffice to say that this "Dinner" is a feast for a cast of "actors of a certain age" — and a pretty rich repast that could easily become something of a Jersey tradition.


Review: Dinner With The Boys


by Gary Wien, New Jersey Stage
 


Before each play, Gabor Barabas (Executive Producer at New Jersey Repertory Company) gives a little speech in which he tries to sell attendees on a season subscription, points out the emergency exits, and urges them to be ambassadors and tell their friends about the show. As a theater company that almost exclusively presents new works, word of mouth is vital for the company. But before the start of "Dinner With The Boys," Barabas took a very different approach.

"Don't tell anyone about the play!" said Barabas, pointing out that for the first time in the company's history the entire run was basically sold out prior to the first production. As theatergoers continued to push for tickets, NJ Rep was able to extend the run for an extra week. The final production is now Sunday, October 12 at 2pm. Even with the extra week, this production is easily the hottest ticket in the state... and for good reason.

"Dinner With The Boys" is a new play by Dan Lauria, a playwright/actor best known for playing the father on "The Wonder Years" hit TV show. It was quite the coup for NJ Rep to land this production as it's not often one gets to see an actor of Lauria's stature in such an intimate space and even less often to see a major work like this premiered outside of the city. NJ Rep benefited from a long-time relationship with Lauria and a reputation based on presenting new works - a mission Lauria truly believes in.

"Dinner With The Boys" stars Lauria alongside Ray Abruzzo (who played Little Carmine Lupertazzi on The Sopranos), and Richard Zavaglia (a veteran of stage and screen who has appeared in such films as Donnie Brasco with Al Pacino and Johnny Depp.)

The play deals with a pair of aging mobsters: Charlie (played by Lauria) and Dominic (played by Zavaglia) who are hiding out in a house in the suburbs of New Jersey while they await their punishment by Big Anthony Jr. (played by Abruzzo) for failing to complete a hit they were ordered to do.

It's an old-fashioned comedy, exactly what Lauria set out to create. In an interview with New Jersey Stage, Lauria said he was tired of seeing movies being put on stage and telling everybody it's a play. "This is a play," he explained.

Lauria does a wonderful job bringing the audience into the world of mobsters we rarely see. This is the world in they are revealed as human beings, albeit with a few quirks. They enjoy the peace and quiet of the suburbs, they dream of owning their own restaurant, and they eat vegetables from the same garden where bodies were buried! Meanwhile, they live in fear as "ghosts" according the business - people who are dead already, but just don't know it yet.

As the play roles on, ugly truths rise to the surface. Charlie and Dominic learn much about their roles in the "family" and why they have found themselves in their current situation. Charlie once was a "made man", but now realizes it's them versus the family. Murder is their only escape. The family is coming after them and the pressure leads to Charlie and Dominic turning on each other. The question is who will be left in the end?

"Dinner With The Boys" is an often hilarious production with wonderful actors. Originally written for Lauria's friends and mentors (Peter Falk, Dom DeLuise, Jack Klugman, and Charles Durning) who have sadly passed away, this production is one all four would truly be proud of.

NJ Rep has always taken a risk by presenting new works, but this past year has seen a major leap forward with the actors on stage. The combination is taking the Jersey Shore company to new levels. It's exciting and rewarding to see a company grow like this.


Dan Lauria: Dinner With The Boys


by Gary Wien, New Jersey Stage
 


Dan Lauria says he doesn't like to look back, but it's hard not to imagine his old friends Charles Durning, Jack Klugman, Dom Del Louise, and Peter Falk during "Dinner With The Boys", a new play Lauria wrote and stars in at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. The play, which was originally written with those four actors in mind, runs until October 5 and is one of the hottest theater tickets in the state. Nearly every performance was sold out before the run began, a first for the company.

Best known for his work as the father on "The Wonder Years", his stage acting resume is very impressive, and even more so when you examine his passion for doing new plays instead of revivals. He's famous for saying, he doesn't do plays by dead white guys. What many people don't know is he not only has an MFA in playwriting, but originally came to New York City to be a playwright. In fact, Charles Durning, who became a father figure for Lauria, helped him get his first production mounted on Off-Broadway in just a few years. The experience helped him land an agent and his acting career took off. It's one that has landed him roles in films, television and even Broadway. So, why is he holding the world premiere of his play at the tiny playhouse in Long Branch, NJ?

It's because the theater shares the same mission as he does.

"It feels great to be here with Gabe and SuzAnne Barabas," said Lauria. "Gabe's one of the few people who ever listened to me. I told him years ago when they first got started that no theater ever made a name by doing a revival and 99% of the plays he produces are originals… For me, it feels great to be here… to be able to literally have a place where you can try and fail, and go back and try again, until you get the play to where you want it to be.

"In the first public reading [of "Dinner With The Boys"], Peter wasn't there and I read his part, but we read it again at Peter's house for a very limited audience and it was quite an experience," continued Lauria. "But then Dom got sick and so did Peter, and they both passed. I didn't feel right about sending it out. When Charley and Jack passed a couple of years ago, the first person I thought of was Gabe. I said if you want to do this, let's make a time and I'll turn down work and come over there and we'll see if we can get it to work."

In "Dinner With The Boys", Dan plays Charlie, an aging mobster who lives as a "ghost" with Dom in a New Jersey home as the pair await their punishment from Big Anthony, Jr. for failing to do a hit they were ordered to do. It's a very funny comedy which shows a different side of mobsters - from Charlie's work in the garden to Dom's culinary wonders in the kitchen - and a story that truly believes you are what you eat.

"It's deliberately written as an old fashioned play," explained Lauria. "There are two acts. Even with an intermission it runs less than two hours. It's one set and there's very little special effects. I'm tired of seeing movies being put on stage and telling everybody it's a play. This is a play. It's something I hope other regional theaters will do because it's easy to produce."

The cast includes Ray Abruzzo who played "Little Carmine Lupertazzi" in the Sopranos, Morris "Moe" Rosenbaum, Richard Zavaglia, and Lauria. It's directed by Frank Megna. Lauria says that everyone was involved in adding little bits and pieces to the script and he was completely fine with that even if it seemed a bit odd to others in the crew.

"I'm working as an actor would write, not as a writer would write," he said. "When an actor comes up and says can you change this or here's a good joke, we try it and we actually do it. I don't sit back and say no, it's not what I wrote. I'd say about 8 out of every 10 suggestions the director and the other actors have given me are in the script… and I'm going to take full credit for it - they know that!"

Lauria has been following the advice Charles Durning gave him long ago: never go a year without doing a play. He's been able to follow that advice throughout his career, even while starring in "The Wonder Years" and his current show "Sullivan & Sons" on TBS. He says if you count acting, writing, and directing, "Dinner With The Boys" is his 60th production. The resume included shows off-Broadway and in regional theaters, but never on Broadway until the past few years in which he's been in "A Christmas Story" and "Lombardi", both times originating a role.

"I had a lot of offers to do Broadway over the years, but they were all revivals," said Lauria. "So, to me, to be on Broadway three years in a row with a brand new play that I originated… that was the ultimate of my career. Between Lombardi and A Christmas Story, Sullivan & Sons and now this with The Wonder Years on DVD, I've stuck around so long I'm new again!"


The LINK News
Theatre review

Theater review: A funny, scary Dinner With The Boys

By Madeline Schulman

Do you enjoy stories about organized crime families? Do you like the movies The Godfather and Goodfellas, as well the television show The Sopranos? Now you have another chance to meet the fascinating rogues we see on the screen and read about in the papers, if you have "Dinner with the Boys" at NJ Rep.


Richard Zavaglia and Dan Lauria prepare the dinner for Dinner With The Boys, now at NJ Rep. (SuzAnne Barabas photo)

In this very black comedy, written by and starring Dan Lauria (of The Wonder Years), we meet Charlie (Lauria) and his friend Dominic (Richard Zavaglia) in the 1970s style kitchen of a house in the wilds of New Jersey, three hours from beloved Brooklyn. They have been banished by Big Anthony Jr., (Ray Abruzzo) head of the Family, for misdeeds which will be revealed throughout the play.

The set, designed by Jessica Parks, is so authentic that the audience member in front of me exclaimed that the coffee pot, portable black and white TV, and copper molds on the wall had been taken from her kitchen!

Six months ago, Charlie and Dominic were fixtures of the Family. Irascible Charlie and his departed friend Leo were enforcers, and more tender-heartedly emotional Dominic was the Family cook. In exile, Dominic whips up gourmet meals with produce from Charlie's garden, while Charlie reminisces in sometimes gruesome detail how he and Leo dispatched pimps, bookies, and assorted rats.

Our anti-heroes live in fear of Big Anthony Jr., played with a great mixture of humor and ferocity by Abruzzi, and his terrifying The Uncle Sid (the legendary Morris "Moe" Rosenbaum, exactly as good as Abruzzi). As Charlie says, their mouths are full of blood. After all this time, Big Anthony Jr. is coming for a special Sunday dinner with the boys. That does not bode well.

Charlie and Dominic are amusing company. Cooped up together in exile as they are, they constantly fight and make up, but we can see clearly by the excellent acting of Lauria and Zavaglia and direction by Frank Megna, that they truly love each other in an Odd Couple fashion. They have a funny way with the English language. Dominic says that "Big Anthony Jr.'s heart" is a "moron ox," and Charlie boasts that he is famous as a "raccoonteur."

There is onstage and offstage bloodshed in Dinner with the Boys. Accept the invitation, but watch your hosts and fellow guests carefully. Remember the little old ladies of Arsenic and Old Lace and their elderberry wine before savoring Dominic's delicious little white meatballs and his cheesecake. The secret ingredient is orange rind!


A CurtainUp New Jersey Review - Dinner With The Boys

 

Left to Right: Richard Zavaglia, Ray Abruzzo, Dan Lauria (photo credit: Suzanne Barabas)

I could never hurt you. Do what you gotta do, Charlie. Kill me if you must, I'm not going back. — Dominic

In Dan Lauria's Grand Guignol-ish comedy Dinner With The Boys a pair of Brooklyn-based professional hit-men — Charlie (Dan Lauria) and Dominic (Richard Zavaglia) — have been sequestered by their mob boss Big Anthony, Jr. (Ray Abruzzo) to remain in semi-seclusion in a house somewhere in the wilds of New Jersey. Living together for the past six months as preliminary punishment for not completing a "hit" as instructed, these two inglorious anti-heroes have established a routine of housekeeping, gardening, shopping, cooking and reminiscing about the good old days as they await phase two of their fate. Their past has been marked with enough "hits" between them to keep their dinner conversations lively comprised primarily of the preparation of food and of their most memorable killings, as described with gruesome detail.

Listening to Charlie and Dominic trade off stories as they also consider the options that these "good-fellas" have or don't have, one might initially get the impression that there is more to their relationship than simply the preparation of food and figuring out who did what to whom, when and why. But Lauria's skill as an actor and now as a playwright gives him an edge in a role that is designed to show him off. He is full of surprises in a performance that builds up a nice head of comedic steam and is nicely balanced with the more conservatively nuanced Zavaglia.

Fine teamwork is at the root of Charlie and Dom's long-time attachment to each and is the pleasures they recall of their past rub-outs. Exposition plays a large part as does our unwittingly surrendered affection for the motor-mouthed Charlie and Dom.

Big Anthony, Jr.'s arrival, which is expected by one of the "boys" and unexpected by the other, puts them into survival mode: a concerted effort that has been well calculated by Lauria to insure plenty of uneasy laughs as well as many full out guffaws. There are also some chills in store for those who may not have a taste for blood and the macabre. When Charlie and Dominic also finding themselves welcoming mob accountant "The Uncle Sid" (Morris "Moe" Rosenbaum) and unseen others, it is time to put all their culinary skills to work.

Dom's preparation and serving of what they refer to as "the last supper," is not only comprised of such lip-smacking dishes as Cervello with onions, herbs in a lobster bisque sauce, scalloped potatoes, eggplant and broccoli-rob but are enhanced in somewhat the same way that made the pies sold by Sweeny Todd's Mrs. Lovett extra special. A nicely designed, but more importantly, well stocked kitchen designed by Jessica Parks is the setting for a play that is not only playfully preposterous but also purposely tasteless, save those presumably savory "brains."

"Thanks for sharing," says the terrific Zavaglia who gets many of the play's biggest laughs as he expertly slices and dices, mixes and stirs, sautees and simmers the ingredients for the last supper under the most trying of circumstances — those being the scarily comical intrusions by Abruzzo as a mood-swinging Big Anthony, Jr. and Rosenbaum as the eerily unctuous The Uncle Sid.


BWW Reviews: DINNER WITH THE BOYS at NJ Rep - An Entertaining 'Killer' Comedy

www.broadwayworld.com



"Once the family goes thumbs down on someone, it's over!"
-- from Dinner With The Boys

It's thumbs up for New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) for their newest show, the World Premiere of Dinner With The Boys. NJ Rep is in their 17th season and this new play is their 105th production. Dinner with the Boys is already popular with metropolitan area audiences; the run is nearly sold-out in advance. The show will be on the Long Branch stage through October 5th.

Written by Dan Lauria, he also stars as Charlie. The stellar cast also includes Ray Abruzzo as Big Anthony, Jr., Morris "Moe" Rosenbaum as The Uncle Sid and Richard Zavaglia as Dominic. In Dinner With The Boys, the mobsters reap a type of havoc that is rarely encountered.

After making a hit on their friend, Leo, Charlie and Dominic have fallen from grace in the family. The two are now living together somewhere in New Jersey where seasoned cook, Dominic prepares Italian delights. But, some of his ingredients are truly questionable. Friendship, food, and fiends are all part of this dark comedy. The unsavory themes in Dinner With The Boys work well because, above all else, the show is a true parody of the violence that we consume.

With superb direction by Frank Megna, the dilemmas unfolding in Dinner With The Boys seem almost believable, even with their absurdities. And, there are the truly humorous moments like when Charlie and Dominic reminisce about the "old days," and stereotypes that include Ma Greeley, Harry the Horse and Tiny Randuzzi are discussed.

Charlie and Dominic have a long time friendship, one that is being tested by current events. As Charlie says, "A true friend is the greatest gift in the world." But, with their questionable past, will they have a future?

Lauria's play was written 8 years ago for his friends and fellow actors, Charles Durning, Dom DeLuise, Peter Falk and Jack Klugman. Yet, Lauria's play couldn't be timelier. With shows on television like Mob Wives, the recent popularity of HBO's series The Sopranos, and the never-ending fascination of the public with criminal elements, Dinner With The Boys strikes a real nerve as you may ask, "How far will people go?"

The run at NJ Rep is likely the start of many successful stagings to come for Dinner With The Boys. If you have the chance, don't miss it.


thefrontrowcenter.com

Dinner With The Boys

Posted By  on Sep 16, 2014

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"Death is a funny thing," says one of the characters in Dan Lauria's "Dinner with the Boys" currently playing at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, a theatre with an impressive record for introducing new plays with the mark of success on them. This funny, tautly-written, extremely well-acted comedy is no exception.

The man who gave us the steady, enigmatic father in "The Wonder Years" — a television show that won our hearts — and in "Lombardi" an embodiment of the winningest coach in NFL history — to the avid cheers of theatre and sports fans alike — wins once again as both playwright and actor, in "Dinner with the Boys."

Here is the recipe: take three parts excellent actor (Richard Zavaglia, Ray Abruzzo, and Dan Lauria himself), take one mob theme in which we have all been so well-schooled, take at least a dozen dishes so deliciously described that we can almost taste them, mix in laughs liberally, add wit as sharp as a kitchen knife, sprinkle with musical language refrains (you'll see what I mean), spice it all up, add a twist, and another twist, and… you have a raucous comedy that makes a serious point about senseless violence and the value of kindness.

Here are two characters in a predicament as lonely as that of the two hobos in Waiting for Godot, caught in an ongoing exchange as situational and comical as any between Abbot and Costello. Like Vladimir and Estragon here are two guys waiting for their fate. But unlike Beckett's play, something does happen and it keeps happening to our delight.

What is theatre except the expression of character and the tracking of action in a small space? The play is confined to a kitchen as realistic as your own. When we see these two figures close up, hear their stories, and watch them interacting, we learn their differences. We observe the see-saw of every relationship, and it feels real. The play is also a tutorial in how much the perishable art of all of those great meals we've had in our lives, whoever cooked them, have been performances, orchestrations of reality.

Richard Zavaglia does an amazing job as Dom, the cook. We feel the passion he feels. We appreciate his deep understanding of all the egos involved. He reminds us that being out of the spotlight gives more complete perspective to the alert observer. He plays a character whose role it is not only to act, but to improvise, to season his presentation with just the right kind of intelligence. We believe in him.

Every dish needs its spice. Ray Abruzzo is the catalyst. Known for his many roles, including on the Sopranos and Mad Men, he simultaneously raises the energy and the comedy level. He is multi-faceted and exciting to watch. The play depends for its success on how he bursts on the scene and dominates the action.

Dan Lauria gives us a very sympathetic Charlie. One scene alone, with an open newspaper before him, tells us all we need to know about him and the author behind him who is also Dan Lauria. It is a mark of unusually good writing that the offstage characters – the ones we hear about but never see – who only inhabit the words of the actors before us, take on as much life as these visible actors – a double compliment to Dan Lauria.

All of this has made me very hungry.



'Dinner with the Boys' at NJ Rep


By Tom Chesek
 

PHOTO: SUZANNE BARABAS

He laughingly refers to himself as "the only Italian-American actor who was never on 'The Sopranos'," and — in an entirely unrelated thought — he "does not do plays written by old dead white guys."

Ask anyone who's watched a few hours of TV in their time, and they'll peg Dan Lauria as the dad on "The Wonder Years" — the long-running, Emmy winning series just now on the verge of its first DVD release. That, or the current cable sitcom "Sullivan and Son," a project of which he says, "I feel like I fell asleep under a cash register…I'm making money, and all we do is fool around."

Fans of football and legitimate theater — and no, they're not mutually exclusive things — remain in awe of Lauria's starring turn as "Lombardi," the iconic coach who the actor channeled in several high-profile productions and TV appearances. From the Super Bowl legend, Lauria moved on to multiple runs as Midwest humorist Jean Shepard, in "A Christmas Story: The Musical."

Still, in a decades-long career of highlights, Lauria's perhaps proudest of his work as artistic director at Playwrights Kitchen Ensemble (PKE) — the LA-based company that "produced over 450 public readings of new plays with the finest actors in the business, in order to promote the development of the new American playwright, and to seek literary representation for new writers."

How fine were those actors? Try this dream cast on for size — Peter Falk, Jack Klugman, Charles Durning, Dom DeLuise. That was the assembled talent when Lauria's original script "Dinner with the Boys" was performed as a reading, at a venue where it wasn't out of bounds to see the likes of Gena Rowlands, Jack Palance and even Robert Mitchum joining in the fun. When his actors passed away one by one ("Charlie and Jack died four hours apart…I did the eulogy for both"), "Dinner with the Boys" was filed away — until Lauria got wind of a certain Monmouth County concern with a particular specialty in the development of new plays.

Eight years after its first script-in-hand performance, "Dinner with the Boys" makes its fully staged world premiere, as the latest offering from New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch — with playwright Lauria and his PKE partner Richard Zavaglia joined in the cast by Ray Abruzzo (who did indeed feature on "The Sopranos," as Little Carmine Lupertazzi) and octogenarian veteran Morris "Moe" Rosenbaum. Manning the megaphone is director-writer-filmmaker Frank Megna, with whom Lauria collaborated on "Where's Abe Weber," a circa-1980 video drama that had the distinction of being the first original script ever produced for cable television.

As for what's on the menu for "Dinner," it's described as a "killer comedy" about "a couple of old-time wise guys who like to cook great Italian food, complain about everything under the sun, and kill anyone who gets in their way."

"It's a bizarre little play," the author says, "for Italians who didn't like 'The Sopranos.' "

It's also got some serious points to make, Lauria adds, regarding our "culture of violence…how callous we've become to it all. The phrase 'leave the gun, take the cannoli' was what started it all; what led to things like extreme video games and the 'Saw' films."

And above it all is the blood-red gravy of a prepared-on-stage meal; an immersive experience with "lots of onions and garlic wafting out over the audience…hopefully you'll be hungry by the end of it."



A Killer Comedy With A Twist

The mob, meals...and a message, "Dinner With the Boys," a new play by Dan Lauria debuts this weekend at New Jersey Rep.

A world premiere play, written by "The Wonder Years" star Dan Lauria opens this weekend at New Jersey Rep in Long Branch.

This killer comedy stars Mr. Lauria along with Ray Abruzzo, Morris "Moe" Rosenbaum and Richard Zavaglia, and is directed by Frank Megna.

Hear Valerie Smaldone's interview with Dan on this week's "Valerie's New Jersey" podcast.

Dan, also known for his starring roles on Broadway, most recently in "A Christmas Story" and "Lombardi" tells Valerie why he wrote it. Although it is a comedy, there is an important message behind it. And find out which four stars were slated to be in the original cast.

The New Jersey Repertory Company is a professional, non-profit theater founded in 1997 by SuzAnne Barabas (Artistic Director) and Gabor Barabas (Executive Producer).

New Jersey Rep has produced 93 plays in seventeen seasons including 61 world premieres. The theater is committed to nurturing the work of not only established writers but new and unknown playwrights and has maintained an open- submission policy receiving over 750 scripts each year from throughout the U.S. and around the world.


BWW Interviews: Dan Lauria on DINNER WITH THE BOYS at NJ Rep

www.broadwayworld.com



Dinner With The Boys, a World Premiere Comedy, will open at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch on September 11th and run through October 5th. The play is written by Dan Lauria who also plays Charlie, one of the starring roles in the play. Broadwayworld.com had the opportunity to speak with Lauria about his accomplished career and Dinner With The Boys.

Directed by Frank Megna, Dinner With The Boys is about some old-time wise guys who want to have a good Italian meal, a few laughs and tie-up some loose ends before dessert. Lauria calls the play, "an off-beat, dark comedy." He said the play was inspired by "all of the violence we consume." Acting alongside Lauria, the cast includes Ray Abruzzo, who played Little Carmine Lupertazzi in HBO's The Sopranos, and Richard Zavaglia, veteran of stage and screen who appeared in films like Donnie Brasco.

Lauria wrote Dinner With The Boys eight years ago. He intended the play to be performed by some of his friends and show biz veterans: Peter Falk, Dom DeLuise, Jack Klugman and Charles Durning. Lauria's role in Dinner With The Boys was originally written for Durning. Speaking of Durning, Lauria said, "As I deliver my lines in rehearsal, I can hear Charlie." Lauria also acknowledged that Charles Durning and Jack Klugman were "his greatest mentors in the business."

Lauria is well known to theater, television and movie audiences. He describes his career as "very fortunate." As a junior in college, he was recruited right off the football field of Southern Connecticut State by Constance Welsh, the well respected Yale acting coach, to perform in several college plays. A self proclaimed "theater rat," Lauria's career has encompassed theater, movie, and television roles.

Lauria's regional theater credits are extensive. In 2011, he played the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi in the Broadway play, Lombardi. Lauria returned to the Broadway in the 2013 production of A Christmas Story. He is well-recognized as the Dad on the Emmy Award winning ABC television show, The Wonder Years and currently can be seen as Jack Sullivan in the new TBS sitcom, Sullivan & Son.

Lauria has a strong commitment to promoting and advancing new plays. For ten years, he served as the Artistic Director of The Playwright's Kitchen Ensemble (PKE) of Los Angeles. With his partners, Joe Cacaci and Richard Zavaglia, PKE produced over 450 public readings of new plays with the finest actors in the business to promote the development of new American plays and to seek literary representation for writers.

Lauria has high praise for the work of NJ Rep's Producer, Gabor Barabas, the theater's Artistic Director, SuzAnne Barabas, and the mission of NJ Rep. He is very impressed by their commitment to present new works. In fact, Lauria commented that regional theater should be presenting original works rather than relying on shows that have been seen again and again. He said, "Revivals are killing regional theater." Lauria further stated, "New Jersey Repertory Company is doing just what modern theater needs."


 

VIEW the New Jersey Rep Video (a Meet the Theatre film) from TDF

 

 


NJ Rep's 'Lucky Me' is funny, fast-paced


By Tom Chesek
 

PHOTO: SUZANNE BARABAS

By his own admission, playwright Robert Caisley was shooting for something out of Neil Simon in "Lucky Me," the comedy now in its world premiere engagement at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. What he wound up with is something more like an odd coupling of Neil Simon with the dark mythology of Neil Gaiman.

The play under the direction of NJ Rep's SuzAnne Barabas takes place in a Denver apartment shared by middle-aged Sara Fine (Wendy Peace) and her elderly, blind father Leo (Dan Grimaldi) — apartment number 13, to be precise; a place that boasts a brick-wall view, plastic slipcovers, and some vaguely unsettling choices in wallpaper and upholstery.

As realized in the detailed set design by Jessica Parks, it's also a place that's apparently under some sort of curse — an environment in which water drips from the ceiling, pets disappear and die, windows break with alarming regularity, and light bulbs don't even last as long as the goldfish. Prone to injurious accidents and — with more than a little help from her irascible father — monumentally unlucky in love, Sara is seen ringing in the new year with a freshly fractured foot, the result of a not-unprecedented fall from the roof.

Assisting her is neighbor Tom (Michael Irvin Pollard), an airport TSA worker with a Good Samaritan streak that's about to be biblically tested.

Over the course of several months — and despite the warnings issued by Sara's Ukrainian landlord Yuri (Mark Light-Orr) — the lonesome divorcee works himself into the lives of his rather oddball neighbors; motivated as much by his own compulsion to help, as by his growing romantic obsession with a woman who does little but push him away.

With her food allergies, "electromagnetic sensitivity" and aversion to going out in public, Sara presents an epic challenge to the increasingly disaster-plagued Tom — and her unwillingness to open up about her past suggests a dark secret that only serves to draw her would-be suitor deeper into her world of near-supernatural misfortune. More challenging still is the hovering presence of Leo — a long-retired insurance man who dresses for the nonexistent office each day; who's driven by a need to "protect" what he sees as his possessions — and who may or may not be as blind, demented, clueless and helpless as he lets on.

As in NJ Rep's production of Caisley's "Happy," director Barabas shows an affinity for the playwright's twisted take on life, love and laughter — and she's reunited here with three of her four cast members from that earlier show.

Rep regular Pollard is a specialist in characters like the outwardly affable (but inwardly edgy) Tom, while Peace finds a meatier role as a person resigned to her status as an apparent Typhoid Mary of lousy luck. Although he doesn't show up until the second act, Light-Orr quickly stakes out his turf in a broadly comic turn that carries just enough menace to keep it all in sync.

What truly puts this ensemble outing over the top is the presence of Grimaldi as Leo, the troll who lives down the hall — and who guards the fortress of Sara's heart with a determination that masks his own considerable neediness and secret sins. Familiar from "The Sopranos" and countless other top-shelf TV shows, the veteran character ace with the Brooklyn-bred voice is a welcome addition to the Repertory fold; a player whose intense performance here bridges the swings between savvy situation comedy and sudden excursions into dramatic territory.

With "Lucky Me," Caisley, Barabas and company have crafted a meditation on the reality-altering toxicity of human relationships — and the ultimately winning ways of the heart — in a manner that's fast-paced, funny, and occasionally fearsome. The hardworking tech team at NJ Rep has really stepped up, too, navigating the play's array of breakages, blackouts, blowouts, smokeouts and spills as only a bunch of experienced theater pros could understand.


A CurtainUp New Jersey Review - Lucky Me

 

Wendy Peace and Michael Irvin Pollard (Photo credit: SuzAnne Barabas)

I figure this out: whatever come out Leo's mouth, approximately one out of three things is true, one out of three, he not remember, one of out of three, is complete, utter bullshit. — Yuri

It was only little more than a year ago that I reviewed Robert Caisley's dark comedy Happy ( Review) in which we saw the loony lengths that a couple of vengeful neurotics would go to unsettle the security and composure of a well-adjusted, happy-go-lucky guy and his wife. The talented Caisley is back with another play that stretches the boundaries of neurotic behavior, but with a more comically romantic slant.

With Lucky Me , Caisley (a professor of theater and Head of the Dramatic Writing Program at the University of Idaho) sends his characters on a more metaphysically induced expedition: one that boggles the mind as it also becomes more curious. Funny enough without it making much sense for most of Act I, Lucky Me considers the possibility that some people may be born either lucky or unlucky, while others are more likely to accept the idea that they are not only deserving of the bad luck that defines their life, but are subsequently, if also subconsciously, willing to see and accept the unsettling things that are manifested in their world.

Purposefully incredulous, this play, under the fine direction of SuzAnne Barabas, continues the playwright's interest in neurotics, with a third play presumably to follow. Here is where the metaphysics comes into play and specifically into the play as it applies to forty year-old Sara Fine (Wendy Peace) whose life for the past twenty-two years has been a non-stop series of disastrous events and mishaps both physical and emotional.

The furnishings are covered in plastic within the second-floor two bedroom apartment that has been expressly designed by Jessica Parks with significant help from lighting designer Jill Nagle to respond to the tumult to which it has and will be exposed. In short order, we learn that Sara is coping the best she can with a constantly leaking roof, a broken kitchen window that seems to invites intruding baseballs, the expectancy of dead fish in the fish bowl, light bulbs that blow out so often that she keeps a cabinet filled with replacements, and a cat that regularly goes AWOL. She's not a happy camper, especially as we first see her with her leg in a cast following a fall from the roof. She is no stranger to accidents and seems clear about being diagnosed with "EHS: electromagnetic hypersensitivity." In no way is she ready for the romantic zeal of an empathetic stranger who won't accept what he hears and sees. A feeling of melancholy adds to the persuasiveness of Peace's performance.

Don't despair if you can't figure out what to make of what you see and hear in Act I. From the start of Act II, you will be laughing too hard to let any lack of comprehension bother you.

Brought home from the hospital by forty-something Tom (a terrific Michael Irvin Pollard), a thoughtful new neighbor who works as an airport security guard. Despite her reticence, Tom's determination to understand what is going on with Sara is further piqued by the unnerving presence of Leo (Dan Grimaldi), her blind, belligerent and extremely rude father who spends most of his time either mocking every word spoken by Tom or talking to imaginary people on a cell phone. Tom also becomes acquainted with Uri (Mark Light-Orr ), the Ukrainian landlord who evidently spends a good deal of time in the apartment fixing things and who also harbors a protective interest in Sara.

Sara's answer to a world in which people and things appear to be her adversaries is to be left alone. She apparently accepts the bizarre and often terrible things that happen to and around her as appropriate punishment for past deeds and decisions. How and why bad things happen to her as well as apparently to those around her becomes part of the equation, the thrust of the plot and its satisfying resolve. Pollard, Peach and Light-Orr played roles in Happy and are once again spot-on in interpreting the close to absurdist characters. However, it is left to expressionless Grimaldi's Leo to get most of the laughs with his blistering, often non-sensical retorts. Let's thank our lucky stars that there are plays that don't necessarily make sense but can still make us laugh.


Lucky Me? Lucky Us!


by Diego Allessandro, New Jersey Stage
 


Luck is hard to come by, especially in the state home to the casinos of Atlantic City and the crane games on boardwalks up and down the shore. Just a short drive from the beach, The New Jersey Repertory Company has long presented new plays into the long and illustrious history of the American Theatre. From playwright Robert Caisley and director by SuzAnne Barabas comes Lucky Me, a delightful new romantic comedy debuting this month in Long Branch and is a must see for those who enjoy stories of love, family, AWOL cats, mustard and airport security.

Lucky Me follows the seemingly cursed Sara Fine (Wendy Peace) who slipped off the roof on a cold, icy New Year's Eve in Denver and fractured the 5th metatarsal in her foot. To her rescue is the nice and slightly awkward TSA agent Tom (Michael Irvin Pollard) who has just moved in across the street after being transferred from Juno, Alaska. He brings her to the hospital and helps her back to her apartment only to meet her aging father Leo (Dan Grimaldi) who instantly distrusts the kind hearted Tom. Despite the warnings of her landlord Yuri (Mark Light-Orr) and Leo's constant attempts to either scare or annoy him away, which ever works quicker, Tom pursues Sara's affections.

Robert Caisley's writing is brilliant, witty and insightful in what can be described as modern day Glass Menagerie. Lucky Me is pleasing mixture of great sitcom and vintage Neil Simon with a dash of Aaron Sorkin. Caisley, a Professor of Theatre and Head of Dramatic Writing at the University of Idaho, crafts a story that is both relevant and heartfelt while maintaining big laughs at the expense of family dynamics, romantic histories and the TSA. The scenes make masterful use of the stage space and great comedic timing under the direction of SuzAnne Barabas. The apartment's wallpaper adds a timeless feel to the set which allows the audience to further invest themselves emotionally in the characters and the story.

  

The cast have great chemistry and make the comedy feel both effortless and natural. Dan Grimaldi, known to many as twin mobsters Philly "Spoons" & Patsy Parisi on HBO's classic drama The Sopranos is brilliant as Leo, who comes off like a mix of Jerry Stiller's King of Queens quirky father character Arthur Spooner and Carrol O'Connor's classic Archie Bunker from All In the Family with the mischievous scheming of Family Guy's Stewie Griffin. Leo becomes more loveable the more he lays into Tom and shines that boy like smile when he knows he's gotten over on him. In researching the role of Leo, who lost his sight after he retired, Grimaldi admitted to observing blind people and watching Scent of A Woman and USA's espionage thriller Covert Affairs while crafting his own take to bring the character of Leo alive.

Wendy Peace, who portrays the accident prone and loveable Sara, sees her character as someone fighting for optimism and commented "there's not a sense of inevitability about her." At first Sara is not willing to accept anyone or anything new into her life; she refuses to name her pets because she expects them to die or run away within 3 months of her bringing them home and tries to keep Tom at bay despite her attraction to him. Sara's most remarkable scene comes in the second act after a cathartic moment in which Tom, Leo and Sara lay their cards on the table when she begins to accept her fate and allow herself to let Tom to get close to her. For Peace, Sara embodies an important life lesson, "open yourself up to love and you never know the possibilities that can come to you."

Michael Irvin Pollard is no stranger to NJ Rep having appeared in previous productions of Big Boys, Ten Percent of Molly Snyder and six other productions. His performance of Tom, the TSA agent next door, is inspired. Tom is a divorcee who admits he's been closed off to the possibility of love since he and his ex-wife split until he met Sara. His affection for Sara is immediately genuine as he takes it upon himself to help Sara take care of herself and Leo after falling off the roof. His ability to be open with her even when she asks him not to ask questions creates an interesting tug of war under the surface of their relationship. Tom, a usually easy going guy with a good sense of humor, is no push over as displayed when he stands up to Leo after taking weeks of Leo's teasing with a grain of salt. With the help of Sara's quirky, hungry and straightforward Ukrainian landlord Yuri, played masterfully by Mark Light-Orr, Tom seems determined to win Sara's heart and learn how to deal with Leo, the scars, the bruises and the constant barrage of sporting goods flying through the windows.

Lucky Me is a play sure to bring laughs aplenty to audiences this month. With its wit, charm and stellar cast it's serendipitous that it has come to debut here in the Garden State.


BWW Reviews: LUCKY ME at NJ Rep - Entertaining, Thought Provoking Comedy

www.broadwayworld.com



Metropolitan area audiences are indeed fortunate that Lucky Me is now at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep). This charming new production is a World Premiere play written by Robert Caisley and directed by the theater's Artistic Director, SuzAnne Barabas. The show will be on the Long Branch stage through August 31st. It is completely entertaining, wonderfully written and features excellent acting. Caisley's script shines with Barabas' artful direction; this show is a must-see piece of theater.

Robert Caisley also wrote the critically acclaimed show, Happy that was chosen for the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere and was on stage at NJ Rep in 2013.

Lucky Me is a romantic comedy about love, aging, cracked windows, broken bones, dead fish, missing cats, airport security and twenty-two years of bad luck. Sara Fine lives with her very contentious father Leo Fine who is visually impaired. Their neighbor, Tom works as an airport security guard. Clearly attracted to Sarah, Tom offers to help the father and daughter pair after Sarah breaks a bone in her foot. Even as Tom's infatuation with Sarah grows, he realizes that there are some "weird" circumstances in her family dynamic. Enter Yuri, the building landlord who attempts to shed some light on the mishaps of Sarah and her father claiming that she is "bad luck." Yuri simply states to Tom, "Don't go out with her."

Lucky Me is comedy done right. The plot unravels slowly, keeping the audience captivated and wondering about the outcome. Will Sarah end up with Tom? Why is her father Leo so contentious? Is Tom the nice guy he appears to be? Is Yuri right that a woman can be plagued with bad luck? While there are hilarious moments, there are also some harsh realities to be considered: the complexity of personal relationships and the strain of a difficult living situation.

The cast of Lucky Me perfectly captures their roles. Wendy Peace is ideal in the role of Sara. She is thoughtful, demure and surprisingly patient in the face of conflict. Dan Grimaldi is in full command of his part as Leo, a father who is alternately domineering and befuddled. Michael Irvin Pollard as Tom captures the spirit of the play, trying to bring reason to unreasonable situations. And, Mark Light Orr as Yuri brings a hearty dose of comedy to the show as the all-knowing landlord who actually doesn't know very much.

Gather your group and head over to New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Lucky Me will make you laugh and possibly shed a tear. It is an impressive piece of theater that you will long remember; a chance to consider the intriguing circumstances of the foursome being portrayed in this superb new play.


The LINK News
Theatre review

Theater review: Lucky Me a delightful story of a comic female modern day Job

By Madeline Schulman

(l-r) Sara (Wendy Peace), Tom (Michael Irvin Pollard) and Yuri (Mark Light-Orr) deal with Sara's decades-long run of bad luck in "Lucky Me" at NJ Rep.

Lucky Me, now playing at the New Jersey Repertory Theater in Long Branch, is the story of a comic modern female Job, or (for those who remember L'il Abner), Joe Btfsplk (sorry, spell checker!). Poor Sara Fine (Wendy Peace)! Light bulbs burn out minutes after she replaces them, mysterious leaks move around her ceiling, her goldfish keep expiring (I have been assured that no goldfish were harmed in the making of this play), and kitchen fires have prevented her from enjoying a hot meal since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Making comedy out of Sara's troubles takes some comic brilliance, and playwright Robert Caisley accomplishes this.

When we meet Sara, she is being helped up the steps to her second story apartment in Denver, Colorado, by Tom (Michael Irvin Pollard), her neighbor, a TSA agent from across the street. She has been in the emergency room to tend to her foot, broken when she fell off the roof (not for the first time in her life).

Soon they are joined by Sara's father Leo, a blind, cantankerous, possessive but slyly humorous man, possibly suffering from dementia, who as played by Dan Grimaldi is at once charming and infuriating, magnetic and repellant.

Yuri (Mark Light-Orr), Sara's sympathetic Ukrainian landlord, has Leo's number, which is three. Divide what Leo says by three, Yuri advises. One third is true, one third Leo doesn't remember, and one third is bull.

In spite of the dangers of courting Sara, whose friends and suitors end up in neck braces and arm slings, Tom is soon in love with her, and attempts to win her with adorable awkwardness, showing off his salsa moves and trying to persuade her that they had a special moment as they both reached for the Parmesan cheese. His courtship is hindered by her ludicrous run of bad luck and Leo's antipathy.

As played by Wendy Peace and Michael Irvin Pollard, Sara is so attractive and Tom so winning that we root for them. Wendy Peace also shows a knack for physical comedy, whether groping for crutches just out of her reach or holding a bagged goldfish in her teeth.

There are some nifty special effects, graphically showing light bulbs sizzling out, water dripping, and other artfully staged disasters. The set design (Jessica Parks) is effective, and the acting and direction (SuzAnne Barabas) are great. One tiny quibble: although there are only 4 units in Sara's building, there is an ominous 13 on her door. Maybe she should change it to lucky 7 – but that might shorten the very funny play!


Front Row Center
Posted By Raphael Badagliacca on Aug 11, 2014

Lucky Me



"Lucky me," I was thinking to myself once again as I sat in the NJ Repertory Theatre in Long Branch, because this theatre is such a find. Twenty minutes before show time were enough to quietly marvel at the set – a seemingly fully-functional kitchen, a dead ringer for the ones audience members may have just left on their way to a play about to start. It reminded me how much and varied artistry it takes to bring the mere words of a script to life which must be why they call it – a production.

As it turns out, in "Lucky Me" the set plays a major part.

So do the actors, of course, with a dyspeptic, comedic Dan Grimaldi at the center of the action playing the part of Leo, by turns predictable and unpredictable, but always excruciatingly entertaining. He fills us with doubt – about whether he actually perceives the things he says he does and about whether he's actually devoid of the sense he acts as if he doesn't have. He delivers that rare level of acting that makes a script even more interesting than it may be. Not only is the actor acting but so may be the character he portrays. This keeps the audience on its toes and moves the action along.

Wendy Peace as Sara is also hiding something. She's made her peace with events we witness bordering upon the comically supernatural, which is where the set comes into play. But there is also a bigger reality she is not talking about, which may explain her very convincing hesitancy about well… everything, including Michael Irvin Pollard as Tom, smitten and persistent, in spite of everything. He is the only character in the play without a sense of foreboding. We wonder whether his job as a TSA Agent has inured him to worrisome signals, which gives us a sense of foreboding for our own lives outside of the theatre, if he's typical.

Mark Light-Orr as Yuri, the young landlord, gives dimension to what in other hands would be a one-dimensional role. We like him and we like his accent, and we're thankful to him for helping to unravel the mystery in such dramatic fashion.

Fireworks, failing lights, and an unbelievably realistic rainstorm make us bow to set designer Jessica Parks, lighting designer Jill Nagle and sound designer Merek Royce Press.

Director SuzAnne Barabas draws impressive performances from an excellent cast. The interaction between the actors carries the day. I've also resolved to arrive 20 minutes early for every upcoming performance to let the set begin the play before the play begins.


TheaterMania

5 Unlucky Stories With the Cast of Lucky Me

From stage catastrophes to housing evictions, the NJ Rep company members dish on the days when luck was not on their side.

By Hayley Lewitt

Lucky Me, a new romantic comedy by Robert Caisley, is now enjoying its world premiere with the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, New Jersey. Directed by SuzAnne Barabas, the brand new play follows a woman named Sara Fine, who's been experiencing a few decades of unusually bad luck. Continuing along this theme of misfortune, TheaterMania decided to hear from the playwright and his cast members about their own tiffs with lady luck. Satisfy your craving for schadenfreude and read their unluckiest reminiscences below.


Robert Caisley (Playwright)

One of many unlucky moments in theatrical history, for me.

I was directing a production of Much Ado About Nothing a few years back. The day before we opened, the actor playing Dogberry fell off his scooter and broke his ankle. Someone had to go on for him — and the rub was, the role required the actor to shave their head to fit the costume design. A intrepid and talented actor agreed to 1) learn the part overnight and go on the following day, and 2) shave their head – didn't even blink an eye. I was so impressed with this actor's dedication, that at the opening night party, I arrived with my own head shaved – my personal statement of solidarity for this actor's conviction. The cast was fittingly impressed with my gesture.

The next day, I hopped on a plane to fly to Phoenix, Arizona to start rehearsals for my next project. It was August. In Arizona. Temps around the 120s every day. Our first day off I idiotically agreed to join a friend for a day's hiking in Sedona. I idiotically didn't wear a hat. In that kind of heat, the crummy SPF sunscreen evaporated faster than Icarus' wings about 20 seconds after I thought I'd taken precautions by slathering it on inch thick.

The next morning I woke up and trotted to the bathroom to discover my head was a different shape than normal. Looking in the mirror first thing is always a horrifying experience, but on this particularly day I looked more "missing linky" than usual. Feeling oddly disoriented, and with a raised, fluid-filled blister covering the entire surface of my head, I got ready for rehearsal. As I climbed into the rental car to head to the theatre, I accidentally bumped my head on the door frame. All afternoon, while leaning over to discuss the changes I wanted to make in the script, my director kept complaining that my head was "leaking" on his script. And over the ensuing weeks, as my hair follicle began to regrow … and began, in turn, to lift that now dried-out blistery mantle so that it hovered about a ¼ of an inch above my wrinkled head, I resembled something not entirely of this earth. To this day, I recall the look of horror and repulsion my girlfriend gave me as I walked out the of the airport upon my return.

Now … was this bad luck … or just plain stupidity? (You don't have to answer!!!)


Dan Grimaldi (Leo Fine)

Living in a two-bedroom apartment in a two-family house in Brooklyn with my (ex)wife and two sons aged three and one. {the] landlord [loves us and says we can stay as long as we want (the landlord does not live there...the upstairs male tenant likes to walk around in a T-shirt in the winter, so he keeps setting the thermostat, which is located on the first floor outside my apartment, at around 85. Our apartment is so hot, so I keep setting it back down to around 75 which is still hot but a good compromise, I think. This went on for 4 winters. One day the landlord serves us with an eviction notice. I had two young kids and nowhere to go. Six months later we bought a house, which we were not ready to do, but that eviction day I was furious. He never gave us a reason: He said his daughter wanted to move in, which never happened because we stayed in the same neighborhood and the apartment was not occupied for some time. I later discovered that the upstairs tenant convinced the landlord that I had ties to the mafia, which was totally untrue. So just because the tenant was vindictive, I encountered the unluckiest day.

 


Michael Irvin Pollard (Tom)

Making the fourteen-hour drive from Suttons Bay, Michigan back home to Metuchen, New Jersey. We were cruising along without incident, making great time for the first 11. Then we hit a severe snowstorm in the Poconos. Interstate 80 is reduced to a single lane of traffic, moving in blizzard conditions at about twenty miles per hour. Knowing that it changes to rain the further east we get, we decided to trudge onward. True to the forecaster's word, as soon as we cross the Delaware River it becomes a steady but manageable drizzle. There was still quite a bit of slush on the road surface, however, an eighteen-wheeler blows by me kicking up a huge chunk of slushy ice that crashes into my windshield and decapitates my driver's-side windshield wiper. I spent the last two and a half hours of a very long road trip performing the most excessive gangsta lean in the history of the Subaru, as I had to look out the passenger side of the windshield to see. But…coulda been worse.


Wendy Peace (Sara Fine)

I'm a pretty optimistic person, so I don't think too much in terms of being "unlucky," but I guess this would at least constitute a "challenging" day. I was doing a show out of town and after a thirteen-hour drive with my hundred-fifty-pound Great Dane, Cooper, I arrived to find that my actor's housing consisted of a condemned house in a sketchy neighborhood. Having dropped my stuff off I went to first rehearsal. At the end of rehearsal I ran to the bathroom in the dark, tripped up the stairs and tore a ligament in my thumb. Upon returning from the ER, my hand in a cast, I struggled with the screen door accidentally letting out the two dogs that lived there. They tore down the street with Cooper and I chasing after them. Over a mile later I was able to use Cooper's treats to lure them to me, only to realize they weren't wearing collars. Carrying one and using Cooper's leash and collar for the other two dogs, my hand throbbing, I somehow managed to get everybody home. The show was a great success, though, and I would go and work there again in a heartbeat.


Mark Light-Orr (Yuri)

My unluckiest day came, as I imagine it does for so many performers, during a show. I was playing Charlie Cowell in a tour of The Music Man, and after many months on the road, I found myself in need of a jolt of energy before my big scene in Act II. Although never a coffee drinker, I decided to have an extra-large coffee during intermission. Within about ten minutes, I felt my heart racing and my forehead clammy with jittery caffeine goodness.

I thought, Oh, I'm in trouble. Maybe I should have gone with a small.

My first scene was a confrontation with Marian Paroo in front of her house. I carried with me the greatest prop ever made: a black suitcase with a weight suspended inside it. When I introduced myself in the scene as "Charlie Cowell — anvil salesman!," I would let the suitcase drop with a mighty, satisfying clank, indicating to the audience that indeed I had an anvil in my suitcase. Never failed to get a laugh, and I loved that moment.

That day, the scene flew by in a blink. At the end of it, my blocking required me to turn on my heel and storm offstage, while the River City men's quartet entered in front of me, softly singing "Lida Rose."

After screeching my last line at Marian, I picked up my suitcase and whirled around, ready to stomp offstage left. However, I had somehow overestimated the energy required to storm off. I felt my right foot catch my left, and suddenly I was flat on the ground, with my precious anvil suitcase tumbling end over end into the wings, clanging and clanking mightily as it went. It was stopped only by the offstage pulley system that controlled various set pieces on stage, all of which now danced and jerked like clothes hung out to dry during an Iowa tornado.

My instinct for survival kicked in, and for some reason, I proceeded to crawl on my belly across the stage, following my suitcase like a lemming headed over a cliff. I was pretty sure I was going to die, and I just needed to do that offstage, not in front of the thousands of audience members that were now laughing uproariously. Meanwhile, the River City men's quartet had entirely dissolved in convulsions of laughter in front of me; I'm not even sure they were singing anymore.

I suppose with all the real suffering in the world, if that was the unluckiest day I've had — I've been pretty fortunate. But these things are relative. And a good, strong cup of coffee has since become one of my favorite pre-show rituals, so I suppose even the unluckiest day has its silver lining.


BWW Interviews: Playwright ROBERT CAISLEY Premieres LUCKY ME at NJ Rep

www.broadwayworld.com



New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will present Robert Caisley's Lucky Me from July 31st through August 31st. The show is a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. Directed by NJ Rep's Artistic Director, SuzAnne Barabas, Lucky Me is a whimsical, romantic comedy about love, aging, cracked windows, broken bones airport security and twenty-two years of bad luck.

Caisley is a Professor of Theatre and Film and Head of the Dramatic Writing Program at the University of Idaho. His last play, Happy was presented at the 2011 National New Play Network Annual Showcase of New Plays and was a 2012 Finalist for the prestigious Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center's New Play Conference. Happy had a very successful run at NJ Rep in 2013. In addition to being an award-winning playwright, Caisley's career includes credits as a director, creative consultant and a much sought after speaker. Broadwayworld.com had an opportunity to interview him before the opening of Lucky Me at NJ Rep.

We asked Caisley about his inspiration for Lucky Me. "With Lucky Me I just sat down one day and started writing this play that took place in an apartment. I didn't know it was going to be an apartment until I wrote "a two-bedroom apartment." The lights came up on the stage and these two characters entered - one was on crutches, the other was helping them back from the E.R. That's all I knew about them at that point, but I was interested to learn how the one on crutches had sustained the injury - which turned out to be a 'Dancer's Fracture,' a fracture of the 5th metatarsal. Who knew? And I kept discovering little bits and pieces about the people that lived in that space. I find that if I can sustain this inquisitiveness over 15 or 20 pages, I'm usually invested enough to keep going."

Caisley also spoke about how Lucky Me is distinctive from his other plays. "Lucky Me essentially asks if there is such as thing as Good Fortune and Bad Fortune controlling our lives, and how does it seem to operate so disproportionately in some people's lives and not in others?" He also spoke about how his work has evolved and said that his early plays were about "the complexity of plot" and his latest work is about "the simplification of plot."

Caisley has high praise for NJ Rep, SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas, and the Long Branch audiences. He stated, "The producers of professional theatre around the country are, by and large, a timid breed. Their timidity stems from assuming their audiences do not want to assume the challenge and risk of a new untested play. Gabor Barabas and SuzAnne Barabas at NJ Rep have discovered the exact opposite to be true. Their audiences really celebrate the arrival of a new play to the stage, because they've recognized what a rich experience it can be to see something unfold before your eyes for the very first time, to be part of the very first group of people witness to the birth of a new American play. I remember attending a script-in-hand reading of a new play in NJ Rep's ongoing reading series when I was first in town for rehearsals for Happy. I was amazed by how engaged the audience was, attending with their notebooks in which many of them had scrawled down extremely enlightened observations about the play read that day. I experienced the culture of a theatre that has inculcated in its audience, not only a real passion for new work, but a keen sensitivity to what an audience can do to encourage, edify and contribute to the healthy continued life of any new work for the stage."

Caisley also said, "In fact, Lucky Me is premiering in Long Branch, specifically because Gabor and SuzAnne committed to it early on -- immediately after hearing a very informal reading they'd organized while I was in town for the opening last year of Happy. They don't just support individual plays, they support writers, and that's an important and critical distinction in an industry that is generally looking for the next hit."



'Lucky Me' staged in Long Branch


By Tom Chesek
 


There's "Happy," "Kissing," "Good Clean Fun" — and the newest, "Lucky Me." To scan the titles of Robert Caisley's works for the stage is to conclude that the playwright is all about the positive attitude, and a bright, peppy, "up with people" perspective on the human condition.

Anyone who happened to catch "Happy" in its 2013 engagement at New Jersey Repertory Company could tell you otherwise, however. That pitch-dark comedy of ill manners and sadistic head games offered up a view of cheerfulness as tragic character flaw — and showcased an intense turn by NJ Rep regular Michael Irvin Pollard, as a seemingly well-adjusted family man who's pushed to the brink.

Between the last day of July and the last day of August, NJ Rep's SuzAnne Barabas returns to the realm of Robert Caisley, with a world premiere production of "Lucky Me" that reunites the director with three of the cast members from her "Happy" family — Pollard, Wendy Peace, and Mark Light-Orr.

More exciting still is the newest addition to the company — Dan Grimaldi, the veteran tough-guy character ace (and Ph.D. professor of mathematics) best known for his dual role as Philly and Patsy Parisi in "The Sopranos." Apart from his many credits in pretty much every celebrated TV series of the past ten years ("The West Wing," "Mad Men," "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost"), the Brooklyn-born Grimaldi is known to cult horror connoisseurs as the star of "Don't Go in the House," a 1980 psycho epic filmed entirely in locations throughout Monmouth County.

Speaking from Arizona, where he's been looking in on rehearsals for his play "Winter," Caisley describes "Lucky Me" as an ensemble piece built around a central question: "Why do some people seem to experience nothing but good fortune, and others seem to be born under a black cloud? Is it timing? Coincidence? Or something else entirely?"

A resident of Moscow — Idaho, that is, where he serves as associate professor of theater and film (and head of the Dramatic Writing Program) at the University of Idaho — Caisley also sees "Lucky Me" and "Happy" as entries in "a kind of trilogy, each one tied to a single consuming emotion or quality of life." It's a triptych completed by a work in progress tentatively titled "The Open Hand;" a script that examines the concept of generosity (and jealousy) through the sort of person who's "so suspicious of such things, that they have an aversion to receiving a gift from anybody."

"Lucky" presents a central character named Sara Fine, who's having a week in which "the light bulbs in her apartment keep burning out; there's a leak in the roof; the aquarium is full of dead fish; the cat's gone AWOL, and her blind, elderly father — who chased off her last beau — is suspicious of Tom, their new neighbor, a TSA agent who just brought Sara home from the emergency room on New Year's Eve with a fractured fifth metatarsal."

It's a study of "love, aging, bad luck and airport security" that finds Sara and Tom dealing with their attraction as they struggle to get to the heart of her 22-year streak of incredibly lousy fortune. It's also a production that the playwright plans to check out in person on opening weekend, as he pays a return visit to "one of my favorite places…they innately understand my rhythms, pace and ways of working, and there's no greater education than seeing your play in front of this audience."

"The play is a broader sort of comedy — and ultimately a great love story, in spite of my darker tendencies," says Caisley, adding with a laugh, "These characters have a way of asserting themselves; of turning things around their way."


 Click Here for the New York Times Review of 'Butler'

'Butler' is Brilliant!


by Gary Wien, New Jersey Stage
 


"Running away is easy... the only thing is we didn't have any place to run to."

(LONG BRANCH, NJ) - New Jersey Repertory Company has world premiered many plays during its 17-year existence in Long Branch, but "Butler" - the company's latest production - just might be my favorite to date. Based on real life events that changed the lives of more than 10,000 slaves, the play is expertly constructed by playwright Richard Strand, superbly acted, and uplifting as it shows how simple decisions can truly change the course of history. It's an often hilarious look at a particularly important part of the Civil War that history books often ignore.

The play is set inside the command post of Fort Monroe in Virginia during the beginning of the Civil War. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln is the giveaway that this is a Union hold out. Major General Butler, a lawyer from Massachusetts who worked his way up quickly to his current rank despite never receiving any military training, is in charge. Butler (played by NJ Rep regular Ames Adamson) is interrupted by Lieutenant Kelly (Benjamin Sterling) with news that a runaway slave is at the fort demanding to see him. The Major General is astonished by the news, and is determined to clarify what exactly leads him to astonishment over merely being surprised. In an opening scene that plays out like an extended Monty Python skit, Butler introduces the concept of how and why words matter. And words like "astonishment" and "demands" are two which are featured prominently throughout the play.

Butler doesn't like people making demands of him. In fact, he points out to the Lieutenant that the only people who have the right to demand things from him include the President, the President's cabinet, all those who outrank him, and his wife. The scene truly establishes Butler as a man of the law. He may no longer be a civilian, but his actions are still determined by legal concepts. While building his case that words matter, Butler also begins setting up the framework for a second case. Butler asks the Lieutenant for the name of the runaway slave, but it never occurred to the Lieutenant to ask. Even though he's fighting for the North, the Lieutenant is guilty of treating the man as property himself - something pointed out by the Major General.

"Lieutenant, do you dislike all negroes?" asks Butler.

"If all negroes are like this negro... then yes," he replies.

Butler is warned by the Lieutenant that the runaway slave is dangerous and he should be armed when meeting him. It's advice that Butler wrestles with, but ultimately decides to ignore. While the scene may seem a bit long, it contains many clever and humorous lines, and everything said during this point is important in the play's construction.

The play really takes off when the runaway slave enters the picture. John G. Williams gives a remarkable performance as Shepard Mallory, an educated black man seeking refuge at the fort. During the first act, Williams provides one of the best acting performances I've ever seen on the NJ Rep stage, or anywhere else for that matter. He shows anger and pain, but restraint as well. It's his mastery of restraint that is remarkable. Mallory has such an amazing backstory and Williams lets us see the man's history through his eyes and clenched fists. Instead of acting mean or crazy, his character simply is mean and crazy. It's an acting performance that seems effortless... It's perfect!

Mallory's anger stems largely from being a man out of time; a hundred years from his era and he might have become a political leader. Yet, during his time, he is a piece of property carrying a series of scars on his back from disagreements with people. Mallory came to the fort with the hope that Butler's legal background could help him, as he's been told lawyers can twist the law as they wish.

Butler is amazed at the way Mallory talks - refined, sometimes using very large words — and filled with sophisticated concepts of thought. Butler also picks up on the fact that the slave knows how to read. Confused about what he's seeing, he asks, "Are all negroes like you?"

"Yes suh, once you meet one, there's pretty much no need to meet another," wisecracks Mallory.

The Major General is fascinated by the contradictions posed by Mallory. He describes the slave as being scared and obnoxious, humble yet arrogant. Butler says, "I'm trying to understand you, I want to understand you."

"The way I am... gets me in a world of trouble," admitted Mallory. "There is no person in this world, white or black, that reminds me of me."

Recognizing that his initial request to seek asylum in the fort is not going well, Mallory goes a different route, offering his services as a spy and to help build military fortifications as he's done for the Confederacy. Butler is shocked to learn that the Confederates were using slaves for such purposes.

"It didn't occur to you that the Confederate Army was using slaves to build fortifications? How can the Union Army win the war if the generals are as dumb as you?" Mallory blurts out. An admission, he instantly wishes he could take back. As he's leaving the office, Mallory says, "General Butler, that's the sort of thing that got me whipped."

Mallory begs Butler to come up with a loophole in the law, something the Major General denies that lawyers do, but it's the only hope the slave has. After some time thinking over the situation, Butler has another meeting with Mallory. Butler informs him that his owner is sending someone over to pick him and the other two runaway slaves that came to the fort with Mallory back to their owners. He offers Mallory a choice: go back to his owner or escape the fort and start heading north immediately.

"Where do you expect me to go?" asks Mallory. "To Maryland? I don't believe I'd be very popular there either."

The longer the two are in the same room together, the more they see how much they are alike. Mallory and the other slaves came to the fort with the hope of joining the Union Army, a fantasy for the era; however, his knowledge of confederate troops and military installations impresses Butler and the Lieutenant. The most impressive note was his detailed information about Major Cary, the man coming to pick up the slaves. Mallory instructs them to blindfold the man, as he's not an ordinary soldier and was chosen for this assignment on purpose.

The Lieutenant originally hated Mallory, as most people do, but his views appear to change as he spends more time with him. It's a fascinating look at racism and how prejudices can change once you're able to put a name to the face.

Mallory's goal all along was for the Major General to use his expertise of the law to find some sort of loophole to ensure his survival and, in the second act, he finds one... and it's a doozy!

If you think social media spreads news around the globe fast today, you'll be amazed to see how fast Butler's final decision changes things within Virginia.

Ames Adamson is excellent as Butler. A veteran of many plays at NJ Rep, this role just might be his best to date. He offers a truly realistic portrayal of a lawyer thrust into a wartime role, trying to hold on to his humanity, and his comic timing is perfect.

Benjamin Sterling as Lieutenant Kelly is a great side-man whose constant interruptions of Butler are humorous throughout. He does a nice job of showing growth as a character from initial hatred of Mallory to suspicion to champion of his cause.

David Sitler as Major Cary isn't on stage very much, but does a wonderful job in a limited role. He portrays the Southern soldier as someone trying very much to remain dignified in a situation that's anything but dignified.

But John G. Williams steals the show; simply a tremendous performance as Shepard Mallory. Powerful, intense, hilarious, and thought-provoking... it has to be seen.

Credit should also go to Joseph Discher, whose direction lets us believe in these characters and in the wonderful dialogue written by Richard Strand. The play's pace is good and comic timing is excellent.

This play was a welcome surprise for me. New Jersey Repertory Company is known as an incubator of new works. Theatre absolutely needs companies like NJ Rep, but presenting new works offers many challenges. Some productions are very good, some are a bit ambitious, and some need a little fine-tuning. Many go on to have lives of their own on stages throughout the world; yet, few arrive in Long Branch as complete in design as this one. The dialogue is fantastic, the characters are well defined, and the story moves along crisply. It's so well constructed that it's hard to believe it hasn't gone through a series of productions and workshops and fine-tuning already. It's complete. And it's very, very good.

It's got great acting, great comedy, and tells a great story... "Butler" is recommended immensely!



NJ Rep's 'Butler' serves up ripping historical drama


By Tom Chesek
 

PHOTO: SUZANNE BARABAS

To most Americans, he's hardly a household name — not even a schoolhouse name — although there are places in this land where a souvenir shopper can purchase a chamber pot with his picture at the bottom. With the opening of the play "Butler," however, the real-life Civil War general Benjamin Butler gets to state his case in a way that, while it probably won't make him any more likeable, at least allows us to "just see things differently."

Indeed, the Union officer who would come to be known as "Beast Butler" is pretty hard to like at the outset of Richard Strand's surprisingly good-humored historical drama, now in its world premiere engagement at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. When we meet Butler (Ames Adamson), he's a politically connected Yankee attorney, fast-tracked into a commission as a major general; a man with a fondness for fine sherry, and an apparent disdain for his new command — Fort Monroe, a moated medieval castle of a Union stronghold that sits squarely inside Confederate territory.

Set entirely inside the general's office at the fort (a scrupulously researched and detailed design by Jessica Parks), "Butler" wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter — or would, if Butler didn't greet the news that three escaped slaves have shown up seeking sanctuary, by haranguing his loyal and efficient lieutenant (Benjamin Sterling) over his choice of words, nit-picking protocols and conducting his vaguely sadistic head games in the petty and condescending manner of the classic Bad Boss. The dynamic changes dramatically when Lt. Kelly ushers in the runaway slave Shepard Mallory (John G. Williams) — an educated, literate escapee with a confrontational way, and some potentially valuable intelligence on the nearby Rebel positions. Alternately "humble and arrogant, scared and obnoxious," the strange young man — one who declares, "there's not another person reminds me of me" — would appear to have flummoxed and perhaps even fascinated the potbellied lawyer.

Of course, Butler has an even thornier matter on his hands, in that the law of the land states unequivocally that a straying slave be returned to his owner. When it's learned that the fort is to receive a visit from Confederate Major Cary (David Sitler) — and that Mallory will almost certainly be consigned to a death sentence — the legal eagle from Massachusetts concocts a solution that has the potential to either ruin his career, or perhaps turn the tide of the slavery issue in a way that the most decisive battlefield victory could never manage.

Word-warrior

While real-world General Butler had his (rather unsuccessful) turn in the saddle as a field commander, Strand wisely chooses to present the man as a word-warrior who jockeys a desk instead of a steed — and who brandishes a toasting goblet with the assurance of a leader's sword. It's there in the claustrophobic confines of the commander's quarters that some significant history is made (some outdoor events have even been relocated to the great indoors), and the playwright provides a compelling history lesson that's laced with a surprising amount of humor.

Adamson, a versatile character player with a genuine flair for comedy (and a man-out-of-time affinity for nineteenth-century figures) has worked with director Joseph Discher to frame a bureaucrat whose arrogance is tempered by an underlying sense of his own ridiculousness. It's a quality most evident in Butler's second-act scene with the "hornswoggling jackanape" Cary; a couple of comfortable civilians with a past history, a mutual acquaintance, and a military career measured in mere weeks.

Onstage for the entirety of the play's action, Adamson finds a good working rhythm with all three of his fellow cast members — particularly in an "edutaining" sequence wherein Butler attempts to explain his quickly concocted strategy to Mallory and Kelly. It's Williams as Mallory who plays the pivotal part here; a catalyzing presence with a coolly contemporary edge — and it's Sterling's Kelly who undergoes the greatest journey, from a steadfast West Pointer who doesn't much care for Negroes, to an ally at the frontlines of some decidedly uncharted territory.

Well crafted and dotted with little surprises, "Butler" functions like the best historical plays — the kind that give the actors something to sink their teeth into, and that give the audience a chance to, as they say, see things different.


Review: World premiere of 'Butler' at NJ Rep in Long Branch


examiner.com
 

SUZANNE BARABAS

First, banish any preconceived notions that BUTLER, Richard Strand's new play currently at NJ Rep, is about the life of a domestic servant – the sort with Oprah Winfrey in the background to provide moral support. The title actually refers to real-life Civil War Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler, who served the Union as commander of Fort Monroe, Virginia, where the play is set.

The events of May 1861 are matters of historical record: three runaway slaves arrived at the Fort seeking sanctuary. Butler's predicament is whether to return them to their rightful owners (as per the laws of the time) where they will most certainly face torture or death, or to somehow allow them to escape North to freedom. Both options seem equally unacceptable to the slaves, who insist on sanctuary - also a matter of historical fact. What is not fact, of course, are the imagined conversations between Butler and the slaves (here embodied by Strand-appointed spokesman, Shepard Mallory); those are strictly the manufacture of the playwright. And riveting stuff, they are indeed.

Strand opens his play with an extended verbal exchange between Butler (a commanding Ames Adamson) and his Lieutenant (an appropriately obsequious Benjamin Sterling), who has the unfortunate duty to convey the slaves' demands to the astonished Butler. The Major General's pre-War profession becomes increasingly apparent as he engages in a lengthy linguistic diatribe over the Lieutenant's unfortunate use of the word 'demands'. Only a lawyer could so vigorously battle over the verbiage used by a duty-torn soldier. The sequence brilliantly sets up what is to come – a war of wits and witticisms. Mallory (a wonderful John G. Williams) is a well educated slave – one who may or may not be able to read but who has a vocabulary that surely comes from something other than building Southern garrets, which has been his main pastime of late. Whatever its source, this educational edge allows him to go toe to toe with the Major General – taking the blustery Butler somewhat aback.

In the play's second act, the Confederacy sends munitions expert Major Cary (a dignified David Sitler) to retrieve their 'property.' Once again, wily wordsmith Butler engages mightily with Cary, whom he rightly assumes is more Southern spy than official emissary. How the issue is eventually resolved is on a par with the most brilliant courtroom drama – showing that Butler's brain is certainly mightier than his bravery or brawn. Without resorting to history book spoilers, Act Two finds Butler taking issue with another choice word - 'contraband' – and manipulating a recent declaration from the Commonwealth to his own ends.

Strand's play is pitch perfect in both structure and dialogue – a rarity for a world premiere. He paints a textual picture of a man who is more at home on the bench than the battlefield. Strand's Butler is a complex character, one with moral ambiguities – a beast with a brain. In his NJ Rep debut, director Joseph Discher stages the play with a no-nonsense briskness that always values words over movement, something that would please the Major General, no doubt.

With a rock-solid script and assured direction, the success of the play falls to the actor cast as Butler. NJ Rep regular Ames Adamson is nothing short of magnificent in the title role. His is a considered, exacting performance that keeps us riveted throughout. Thanks to his odd period hairstyle and desk-jockey paunch, Adamson also looks alarmingly like photographs of the real-life Butler. The actor inhabits the character inside and out.

George S. Kaufman once quipped that "God writes lousy theatre" - meaning that the events of history are rarely interesting enough on their own without a dramatist's intervention. In BUTLER, the Deity comes as close as can be imagined, and Strand and company more than capably provide the rest.


An Interview with John G. Williams


NJ Stage, by Gary Wien
 

SUZANNE BARABAS

Butler by Richard Strand is in its final two weeks at New Jersey Repertory Company (in Long Branch). The play tells the true life story of Benjamin Butler, a lawyer turned Major General during the start of the Civil War, who is in charge of Fort Monroe, a Union hold-out in Virginia. Shepard Mallory, played by John G. Williams, is an escaped slave who seeks sanctuary at the fort. Unfortunately, the law of the land still allows for slavery and his owner seeks to have him returned. It's a wonderful play that mixes drama with comedy to great effect, while telling an amazing historical story that deserves to be told.

John G. Williams, a Rutgers graduate who is brilliant as Shepard Mallory, recently spoke with New Jersey Stage.

I thought you gave a tremendous performance — especially during the first act when the role seems so mentally demanding. There are roles like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman that actors often describe as mentally draining to perform night after night. Do you feel that way about Shepard? Is the role draining?
Well, I'm exhausted when I go off stage for intermission, that's for sure, but I have enough time off stage that once the show is over I feel good to go.

During the rehearsal process, I started holding my body a certain way and breathing a certain way, and I noticed that I would find myself sort at weird times. That was something in the performance that I didn't really expect. Generally, I'm exhausted at intermission, but, as far as performing the character, it doesn't take too much out of me.

It seems like the second act is a bit lighter in tone. Does that help make it a bit easier?
It does... I imagine this character as holding so much in. He has been through so much in his life and he really hasn't had the opportunity to be himself up to this point in any situation. So, I just imagine this person being completely clenched all of the time - never able to relax. And when he gets the news that things may finally be turning around for him, he can finally breathe. For me, as an actor to be able to do that on stage, it does release some tension.

After some rehearsals, I was pretty exhausted because that's where a lot of the real work gets done. That's where you try things, scenes are a bit longer, and there's experimentation and stuff. Those days are a lot more exhausting. Now that the work is done and I've sort of found who the character is to me, I've been able to internalize it and communicate it on stage. And it's a little bit less exhausting each day. Now that it's all incorporated, I can access it a little bit faster.

You mentioned finding the character... many of your previous roles were in classic plays such as The Misanthrope, Romeo & Juliet, and Antigone. What's it like to be the guy that actually creates the character for the first time?
It's awesome! This is a new experience for me and I have to say I love it — just knowing that nobody has ever done it before, the first time anybody's ever seen this character personified was through me. That's a really thrilling thing to think about. Frankly, it makes me want to do it again and again and keep doing it and keep finding things because I do feel a certain ownership over it now.

Was that something that drew you to the play or do you think you didn't realize how important it was until you actually went through it?
Well, I knew it would be a world premiere, but being in the room with the other actors and the director and the producers, all of us working on it and finding our voices and the interplay between us, I think we all really liked that aspect of it. It's such a great play. The script is so strong. In the initial stage, that's what drew me to it more than anything else.

The script... the dialogue... the lines I would get to say — just this character that had been written. There's so much there, but I felt like I sort of understood the character's core to an extent. I kind of understood what this person may be dealing with, I could conceptualize it. I definitely don't understand because I'm much more fortunate than this person, but I could conceive of what the struggle in him would be. That's what was the most exciting part - this phenomenal character had been written and I might get an opportunity to play it.

What I love about the play is how it mixes dramatic moments and this very sensitive subject matter with some really great - almost slapstick - comedic scenes.
I don't think I was totally aware of just how funny it was until we got up on our feet and started doing it. Reading the script for the first time, I realized there were some funny parts but it's like I'm a runaway slave... that's not funny! Then I got up there and I'm reading the words and I'm realizing the play is hilarious. And I'm ok with that, it's not offensive or anything. It was a really interesting feeling.

And I love that the play is actually based on a true story.
Yeah, it's a phenomenal story and it's cool that somebody wrote something about it. In our talkbacks, it's a little embarrassing for me to say that I didn't know the story, but we've heard from a lot of people who didn't know it either. So, it's a great story being told now. The Civil War is so fascinating and there's so much to it, this is yet another nugget.

Any plans for after this run? Anything set yet?
Not quite yet, I'm auditioning for stuff here and there; theatre projects, web series, and commercials.


Butler Rousing New Civil War Comedy Premieres

Review by Bob Rendell, Talkin' Broadway


Benjamin Sterling and Ames Adamson


In two separate incidents prior to May 23, 1861, slaves who had sought sanctuary at Union military posts (Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens) had been returned to Confederate authorities under the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act which held that slaves were property and had to be returned to their owners.

On May 23, newly commissioned and assigned Union Major-General Benjamin Butler was in command of Fort Monroe in Virginia when three runaway slaves sought sanctuary there. Butler was reluctant to return them to the Confederacy. The action which Butler took upon his own authority to resolve his moral dilemma is depicted in Butler, the new Civil War comedy by Richard Strand premiering at New Jersey Repertory Company.

The details of the manner in which Butler undertook his significant historic action are lost to time. Thus, Strand has successfully undertaken the task of creating personalities and scenes which provide plausible motivations and situations.

However, the dialogue and interplay are happily not realistic. For, whether by intent or good fortune, Strand's clever, witty creation proves to be a rousing, witty, and quite pointed comedy. The interplay and repartee involving the four male protagonists is theatrical and intellectually refreshing. Very importantly, it illuminates the historical moment that it depicts, and renders the idea of treating a human being as property as an absurdity.

Ames Adamson's Butler is a cantankerous, overbearing individual with a clever mind, moral code, and a great deal of self assurance. His over intensity as performed by Adamson enhances the comedy. John G. Williams is superb as runaway slave Shepard Mallory. Mallory, despite his own cantankerousness, is so perfectly brilliant, funny, reasonable, articulate and likeable that he could only exist in literature. And this is all to the good in the context of the artifice of Butler.

Solid support comes from Benjamin Sterling as Butler's aide, Lt. Kelly, and David Sitler as confederate Major Cary. Sterling conveys maturation in Kelly as a result of his observation and participation in the events portrayed. Sitler is on target as the foil for Butler and the others.

Director Joseph Discher has elicited lively, excellent performances which bring out all the wit and passion of the text. Jessica Parks has designed a detailed fortress of a commander's office.

Although it always holds our interest, Butler initially plays like a light history lesson for families. However, once it gets rolling, it becomes a clever, full-blown comedy which could become widely popular.


 

The "Butler" Did It!

Scene on Stage, by Philip Dorian


Left to Right: John G. Williams & Ames Adamson (Photo Credit: SuzAnne Barabas).


Rarely has a slice of history been as entertainingly – and accurately – portrayed as in "Butler," Richard Strand's world-premiere play at New Jersey Repertory Company. The characters in "Butler" really existed and the circumstances really occurred. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the dialogue was lifted from an actual recording.

There was, of course, no recording device in the office of the Commander of Fort Monroe, Virginia on May 23, 1861, six weeks after the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter precipitated the Civil War. No, the dialogue between General Benjamin F. Butler and an escaped Negro slave, as he's labeled, is fabricated by Strand, who scripted it into "Butler." Lucky us.


A CurtainUp New Jersey Review

 

Left to Right: John G. Williams & Ames Adamson (Photo Credit: SuzAnne Barabas).

We are fighting to uphold the law. We can't suddenly decide to break the law in order to uphold it. — Butler Sure you can. You're a lawyer. You can twist the law. You can make the law be anything you want it to be. You can make a law mean the opposite of what it's supposed to mean. That's what lawyers do, isn't it? — Mallory

Former Massachusetts attorney Benjamin Butler (Ames Adamson) may be insecure and ill-prepared to assume his role of Major General in 1861 at the start of the Civil War. And he also doubts if he is up to meeting the unexpected challenge he is faced with at Fort Monroe in Virginia where he is newly in command. The war has barely begun and Butler must decide if he is obliged to disobey the law of the land wherein a slave must be returned to their owner. He ponders this with resolve when confronted by Shepard Mallory (John G. Williams) a runaway slave who has asked for sanctuary at this strategic post.

Butler is an excellent and engrossing play laced with humor by playwright Richard Strand. It is comprised of a series of blistering confrontations primarily between Butler and the unexpectedly literate and erudite Mallory. Although it is charged with socio-political inquiry, it is also fueled by its amusingly discharged discourse between the authoritarian general and the fervently argumentative slave who is making his plea to be conscripted into the Union Army. It becomes more of a major issue when Butler's refusal to return the slave could mean his court-martial and a certain death sentence for the slave.

The dilemma reaches a peak when Butler is visited by an arrogant Confederate Major Cary (David Sitler) who, acting under authority of the slave's owner, demands his return. Under Butler's command is Lt. Kelly (Benjamin Sterling), who generally confounded by his superior's decisions.

Strand, who says that he was made aware of the real incident by way of a footnote in a Lincoln biography, is chairman of the theater department at Mt. San Antonio College where he teaches "History of Theater and Playwriting." He is to be commended for making his play a thoroughly entertaining and dramatically informed return to an historical incident. The director Joseph Discher, noted for his laudable 2002 to 2010 te tenure as Associate Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, has encouraged splendid performances from the four actors, each giving vivid portrayals of the play's well-defined characters.

The play is set within Butler's office, as effectively designed by Jessica Parks. It has the modest decor of a masculine study with an easy chair, book shelves, a throw rug, a Lincoln portrait, wall map and a flag. In it, Butler presides deploying all the techniques and tactics of a skilled lawyer. Adamson takes the disagreeable personality of his character quite seriously even as he toys with and tests the patience of those in his presence. Mostly bald except for the long black hair that fills up the back of his head and a formidable mustache, Adamson is at his best bellowing, the better to keep his adversaries on guard. "If I heard myself talking, I would consider better what I was saying."

Williams is impressive as the formidably assertive Mallory who has led a small group of slaves (unseen) of slaves to the fort. Tough, insolent, and as argumentative as is Butler, Mallory is willing to risk everything for freedom and a chance to join the Union Army. The tide begins to turn when Butler realizes that the slaves who are being used to build bridges for the Confederacy and may be held and considered as contraband.

Condescension marks Sitler fine performance as Major Cary just as nonplussed compliance defines Sterling as Lt. Kelly. The play moves along as swiftly as the twisting and turning of the decisions being made will undoubtedly help in turning the tide of the war with Lincoln's unveiling of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. There is likely more to be heard about Butler following this world premiere.


BWW Reviews: BUTLER at NJ Rep - A Fascinating and Entertaining Historical Play

www.broadwayworld.com



"Lawyers manipulate language to make the laws what they want them to be."

From Butler by Richard Strand

The World Premiere of Butler is now being performed at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch through July 13th. It is a completely entertaining play, artfully written by Richard Strand. Butler has received the prestigious Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award. It is based on real life events that changed the lives of more than 10,000 slaves. Director, Joseph Discher, has done a superb job of bringing this story to the NJ Rep stage with flawless staging and creative touches.

The play is set at the start of the Civil War. Benjamin Butler (Ames Adamson), a Massachusetts lawyer, is promoted to Major General and given command of Fort Monroe, a Union hold-out in the state of Virginia. Butler is a spirited and independent individual who finds himself in an explosive situation when Shepard Mallory (John G. Williams), a runaway slave, requests sanctuary at the fort along with two other slaves. Assisting Butler in his official duties at the fort is the diligent and serious West-Point graduate, Lieutenant Kelly (Benjamin Stirling).

According to the law of the land, Shepard Mallory is considered property and must be turned over to his owners in the South, a situation that would surely result in the man's death. Benjamin Butler is confronted with a moral dilemma, one which is compounded when the fort is visited by Confederate officer, Major Cary (David Sitler), who intends to take back Mallory.

The play takes place in Major General Butler's office and the dialogue between the men is very lively. Butler is a cantankerous sort, yet thoughtful and intelligent. Mallory is a defiant young man, relentless in his desire to stay at the fort. And, it is Kelly who attempts to maintain order in the face of difficult circumstances.

The four man cast is outstanding in their roles. Ames Adamson as Butler brings just the right touch of humanity to his very demanding role. John G. Williams as Mallory has his part just right. He is at first presented as a "dislikable" character. Yet, as the play unfolds and more is revealed, Mallory's personality is well understood. Benjamin Stirling maintains the right tenor as the lieutenant who strives to maintain his professionalism. And David Sitler's portrayal of Major Carey brings the Old South alive when he visits Butler's office.

There is just the right amount of humor in Butler, moments in the play that keep it moving and offset the serious nature of the subject. It is a very significant piece of theater, a timeless exploration of social conscience and individual responsibility.



'Butler' staged in Long Branch


By Tom Chesek
 

PHOTO: SUZANNE BARABAS

His record as a field commander in the War Between the States is generally regarded as a failure. And, although he'd pay out of pocket to feed the hungry during his tenure as administrator of occupied New Orleans, he wasn't winning any popularity contests there either — witness his nickname of "The Beast."

Beginning this weekend, however, Benjamin Butler — Union general, successful attorney, Massachusetts governor, congressman, and real-life complicated character — gets his due, as the historical drama "Butler" premieres at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

As playwright Richard Strand describes him, Butler the man (1818-1893) "was no abolitionist," although during his terms in Congress he'd play a pivotal part in the campaign to eradicate the Ku Klux Klan, and author a landmark piece of Civil Rights legislation.

"Butler" the play finds him assigned to Fort Monroe in Virginia — a Union position not far from the Confederate stronghold of Richmond, and the setting for an incident that would engender a controversial new policy toward the thorny issue of escaped slaves. As Strand's drama details, the headstrong (and not terribly well liked) new commander is quickly faced with a moral dilemma, when a runaway slave named Shepard Mallory appears at the fort pleading for sanctuary. As such escapees are still considered by law to be the rightful property of their owners, the general is forced to choose between dispatching a human being to a certain death sentence — or crafting a solution that would come to spark tensions on both sides of the battle lines.

"The story, in shorthand, doesn't make sense," says the California-based Strand, whose previous production at NJ Rep was the very different "Ten Percent of Molly Snyder," a surreal (and downright Kafka-esque) comedy of clerical errors and berserk bureaucracies.

"It wasn't safe for (Butler) to do what he did…he was going to get himself in serious trouble. While I constructed the play in hopes that it shows clear objectives and motives, the real answer remains unknowable."

Returning to NJ Rep in the play's title role is the ever-versatile Ames Adamson, most recently seen on the Long Branch stage in last winter's goofy comedy "Admit One." A seriously thoughtful actor (and a serious sporter of period-correct facial hair when he needs to), the Philly-based Adamson has excelled in a number of 19th century characterizations, among them the iconic wit George Bernard Shaw in 2008's "Engaging Shaw." Co-starring here is John G. Williams as Mallory, with David Sitler and Benjamin Sterling completing the cast under the direction of Shakespeare Theater of NJ veteran Joseph Discher.

"It's certainly an actor's play…one that I think opens up a discussion on what makes a historical drama effective," says Strand, whose other foray into fact-based territory is "Saguenay," a riff on the 16th century explorer Jacques Cartier and the Huron tribal chief who he spirits away to France from his native Canada. The playwright, who's due to be present in Long Branch for the June 19 and 20 performances of "Butler," also plans to participate in a table reading of "Saguenay" at NJ Rep that weekend.

"Different plays can take on entirely different meanings and character, depending on the era in which you encounter them," observes the theater department head at Mt. San Antonio College in Los Angeles County. "When I read 'Oedipus' in the 60s, it was about the Vietnam war…now in today's context, it's about political polarization!"

As a theater professional who juggles the hats of author, educator, director and award-winning set designer, Strand admits that he ultimately tells his students, "I don't have a single rule that hasn't been broken…a lot of rules work, but then the same goes for their opposite. I break them all the time."


Click Here for the New York Times Review of 'View of the Mountains'



A 'View' to a kill, at NJ Rep


Katrina Ferguson is scanned for bugs by Eva Kaminsky as John Little looks on in 'A View of the Mountains,' now in its world premiere run at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. / Photo courtesy of SuzAnne Barabas

You don't really need to be familiar with "A Walk in the Woods" — Lee Blessing's Tony- and Pulitzer-nominated portrait of U.S. and Soviet arms negotiators, who reach their own kind of accord far away from the conference table — to get what's going on in "A View of the Mountains," the playwright's all-new followup piece to his 1980s signature success.

That said, "A View" — which is currently making its world premiere not on Broadway exactly, but on the Broadway, Long Branch stage of New Jersey Repertory Company — is a study in weapons-grade family dynamics; one that draws some playful parallels with the earlier piece, even as it breaks down the spirit of détente into an escalating string of threats, fights, panic-button posturing, and border brinksmanship.

Written by its distinguished playwright with the pencil sharpener apparently cranked up to 11, the one-act ensemble piece is a hot-potato treatment of this political generation's most uncivil cold war — the paralyzingly polarized level of discourse in American society — with the negotiating table replaced by patio furniture, and the doomsday device hovering in the form of a potentially devastating family secret.

Picking up the character of John Honeyman from the Reagan-era play, "View" finds the aging word-warrior (personified on Broadway and TV by Sam Waterston, and played here by Rep regular John Little) returning from the "Woods" to a somewhat marginalized, semi-retired life complete with think-tank affiliation, an idyllic Catskills home belonging to the family of his old-money second wife (Katrina Ferguson), and a teenaged son named Andrey, in honor of his Soviet counterpart from the first play.

Turns out that Honeyman, about whose domestic life we previously knew next to nothing, wasn't exactly winning any Father of the Year awards back on the home front while he was busy in Geneva. Having cheated on his similarly straying spouse, the veteran negotiator left behind a son from whom he became completely estranged — and 30 years on, young Will is not only a staunchly right-wing reflection of his liberal-lion dad, he's no less than the Republican junior Senator from Tennessee, short-listed for running mate status on the upcoming Presidential ticket, and played by Michael Zlabinger with the well-groomed style and on-again/ off-again accent of several sunbelt slicksters from recent political memory.

Given that sonny-boy has pretty much based his entire career on the tearing down of his biological father's life's work and legacy, Honeyman invites the suit-and-tie stranger to the mountain retreat to deliver a heavy-handed ultimatum — get out of public life, or risk the rattling return of a formidable skeleton from the high-profile pol's closet.

Center of attention

Any notion that this might be the sort of father-son conflict that could be resolved by some long-delayed game of catch is quickly nuked, however, by the arrival of Gwynn (Eva Kaminsky), the Senator's campaign manager wife and the real center of attention in this scenario. A thermonuclear firestorm of negative energy — and fueled by so much projected ambition that Lady Macbeth might advise her to dial it back a smidge — Gwynn enters checking for listening devices with a hand-held scanner ("it's not about finding anything, it's about them knowing you're looking"), and proceeds over the course of the play to threaten various people with bodily harm, test food and drink for poison, viciously insult everyone within earshot (not least of which her husband) and, as regards the other characters, pretty much suck all the oxygen from the room.

Having parked things at a fever pitch by the play's midpoint, Blessing only ups the ante from there with some choreographed mayhem, and a late-innings intercession by the wry and wily Russian Andrey from the "Woods" — not as a "ghost" on flybox wires, but channeled in the person of the namesake teen (played in alternating performances by Monmouth County high school students Jon Erik Nielsen and Jared Rush) who inadvertently steers the action in an unexpected direction.

Always a passionate writer who's never shied from making his own political viewpoints loud and clear in his work, Blessing has dispensed with all semblance of subtlety here — attacking the canvas with slashing strokes, and reducing even the thoughtful old negotiator Honeyman to little more than a thin-skinned blackmailer. The stylized set design by Jessica Parks — with its jaggedly embossed suggestions of mountain peaks and tree limbs — tells us that we're not so much in America Today as in a version 1.0 holodeck representation of same; populated by figures with little or no real-world resonance, and programmed by a creator with some curious ideas on writing women, kids, and humans (really, what are we to make of Gwynn's elective tube-tying and preemptive double mastectomy?).

Evan Bergman, a director who's regularly mined dramatic gold from tense domestic situations by Jack Canfora and others, does his best with this strange but never static script — and the able John Little adds another credit to his gallery of beleaguered family men and living legends under siege.

But it's clearly Eva Kaminsky who's most in sync with the play's in-your-face assault and often deliciously evil energy. As a one-stop repository for the author's biggest peeves and fears, she works hard to set the pace. You may love to hate her, you may not buy her tacked-on "humanizing" moments, but you won't doubt for a second that she's earned her center spot at curtain call — and that, just like the impending election at issue, the show is hers to win or lose.

 


 

thefrontrowcenter.com

A View of the Mountains

Posted By  on Apr 30, 2014

Count your blessings. That’s what audiences at playwright Lee Blessing’s “A View of the Mountains” can do through May 25 at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. So can all the residents in surrounding areas – to have such a theatre within reach. Once again, the set, the acting, the direction, the intimacy achieved between audience and performers reach a level of excellence that begins with the choice of material. “The play’s the thing,” and for that, we need to thank Mr. Blessing.

View17

Credit: SuzAnne Barabas

A number of years ago I saw his “Cobb” off-Broadway in NYC where the three characters on stage were the infamous hall-of-fame baseball player at three different stages in his life. They argued, taunted, questioned each other and tried to explain themselves as any of us who has lived more than a few years does within ourselves nearly every day.   This innovative staging of character made an impression that has never left me. In “A View of the Mountains,” the debate is just as familiar, because it echoes the current national political polarization and the ageless conflict between father and son.

The action is very quick. This is a compliment to all involved when you remember that the substance out of which the story emerges is made up of only words. This is the art of theatre at its best, and for some reason that seems to get communicated more thoroughly in confines this small in size.

“A View of the Mountains” is a sequel to “A Walk in the Woods,” Mr. Blessing’s earlier play about a US arms negotiator and his Russian counterpart.   Thirty years later, we encounter that arms negotiator in his comfortable home on the Hudson anticipating an uncomfortable visit from his son, the junior senator from Tennessee, radically different from his father in political ideology.

What transpires is the acting out of differences within a family – memories, anger, disappointment, comedy – physical comedy – and the revelation of secrets…

Eva Kaminsky embodies the role of Gwynn, the senator’s wife. She’s comic in the extreme, energetic, highly expressive, single-minded, an audience magnet.   John Little as the arms negotiator is reflective and strategic; he gives us a man with experience. Katrina Ferguson as the negotiator’s wife strikes the right ironic balance; a late entrant into this family drama, she is alternately amazed and amused. Michael Zlabinger as “Will” has very little will; he convincingly shows us someone under the influence of external circumstances and forces, including his own wife.   The teenage son of the arms negotiation and Ilsa, half-brother to Will, is played with complete familiarity by Jon Erik Nielsen or Jared Rush in different performances.

 

 

'A View of the Mountains' to premiere in Long Branch

A famed playwright takes a follow-up 'View' of his signature play, at NJ Rep

MyCentralJersey.com


John Little, Katrina Ferguson, Eva Kaminsky and Michael Zlabinger appear in 'A View of the Mountains.' / Photo: SuzAnne Barabas


Ask any Cold War baby you happen to see: with U.S.-Russia relations currently Topic A on the Sunday talk shows and the hotline heating up again between the Secretary of State and his "Russian counterpart," there's a feeling in the air that's strangely nostalgic — almost comforting in its sense of more sharply personified dangers.

Of course, any short list of milestone plays from and about the Cold War era would have to include "A Walk in the Woods," Lee Blessing's Tony- and Pulitzer-nominated 1988 duet that placed a pair of arms negotiators from opposite sides of the table — a passionately principled young American named Honeyman, and an older, wry and worldly Soviet named Botvinnik — in a relaxed and candid setting that brought out the personal common ground behind the panic-button politics and posturing. Inspired by a real-life story; nominated for both a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize, the play was adapted as a cable TV film with its Broadway cast (Sam Waterston, Robert Prosky) intact.

Interesting then that here in 2014, it becomes necessary for the character of Honeyman to be summoned into being once more — as New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch becomes the vehicle for the world premiere of Blessing's companion piece to his earlier success, "A View of the Mountains."

Set "25 to 30 years into the future" from the dissolution of the USSR, "A View" finds Honeyman (played here by NJ Rep regular John Little) not as some spy-novel George Smiley called back into action, but as a man who is, in Blessing's words, "more or less retired, remarried, with a new son, working for a think tank…he's been on the sidelines for a while."

New kind of Cold War

Speaking from his home in California, Blessing sees his character as one whose "ways aren't very much in favor," in a world where "the nature of international threats has changed from conferences over limiting nuclear warheads, to a much more multifaceted and complex" sort of scenario. With his services no longer required, the veteran negotiator finds himself dealing instead with an altogether different kind of Cold War — the paralyzing polarization of American politics and social discourse, as represented by his relationship with the adult son from his first marriage.

Ideological sparring

This isn't just any old dinner-table family feud, either — that estranged son (Michael Zlabinger) is now the junior U.S. Senator from Tennessee, and is in line to be tapped as running mate for the next presidential candidate. As an ideological sparring partner, he's a much different creature than the amiable apparatchik of the earlier play; one who leaves the aging Cold Warrior "dealing with both of his marriages, in the context of our domestic politics."

"Pulling Honeyman into our era allows us to look at the nature of our current political debate," says the playwright, whose two previously produced works at NJ Rep include "Whores," an "entirely disrespectful" and controversial satire (based on the story of a nun-murdering generalisimo granted comfortable sanctuary in sunny Florida) that he calls "the best play I never had published."

"I became fascinated with the personal side of (Honeyman's) life…the relationships that he left back in the United States; the things that caused his son to become disaffected."

Joining Little and Zlabinger in the cast are Rep returnee Katrina Ferguson ("Engaging Shaw") and young veteran Eva Kaminsky, as well as area high school student actors Jon Erik Nielsen (Red Bank Regional) and Jared Rush (Ranney School). Directing is Evan Bergman, another NJ Rep regular who seems to specialize, as suggested by "Saving Kitty" and "Jericho," in the sociopolitical slam-bang and epic drama of the deceptively innocuous family get-together.

"There are times when theater must attack the audience, rather than being some bourgeois ritual designed to make you feel safe and warm," says Blessing, who expects to make the cross-country trip for the play's opening night performance in Long Branch. "At its best, theater makes the audience ask the hard questions of themselves."


A VIEW OF THE MOUNTAINS Now at NJ Rep - Don't Miss It!

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Whatever your political views are, you will want to see A View of the Mountains onstage at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) though May 25th. This thought provoking play is laced with humor and presents an insightful view of the current polarized landscape in American politics.

Written by renowned playwright Lee Blessing and directed by Evan Bergman, the play reveals stark differences in peoples' worldviews while weaving together an engaging story of an estranged family. A View of the Mountains is the sequel to Blessing's highly acclaimed play, A Walk in the Woods that garnered him nominations for the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize.

In this exceptional show, John Honeyman (John Little) is a former arms negotiator who represented the United States in the early 1980's. Now thirty years later, he is remarried to Isla (Katrina Ferguson) and living a peaceful life in their mountain home along the Hudson River. John's son, Will (Michael Zlabinger), the Junior Senator from Tennessee and a rising star in the Republican Party, arrives for a visit with his wife Gwynn (Eva Kaminsky). It is an uncomfortable and bitter reunion filled with anger and threats. John and Isla also have a teenage son, Andrey (Jon Erik Nielsen/Jared Rush) who is visiting a friend and misses much of the encounter.

The cast plays their parts to perfection. The relationship between John and Will is made worse by their strong, unwavering views and personal grudges. John even states, "It's humiliating that my son has become such a phony." While Isla makes a few attempts to reconcile them, she is thwarted by the Gwynn who is wholly focused on Will's political success. Gwynn's obnoxious behavior contributes a great deal to the group's tension with her suspicions of "bugs" and tainted food. As the visit spins out of control, family secrets surface and threaten any hope of reconciliation. The foursome even has a heated physical encounter. While the plot may sound serious, Blessing has struck just the right tenor with thoughtfully placed comic relief, well defined characters and quick, clever dialogue.

A View of the Mountains is an excellent piece of theatre, wonderfully staged, with a stellar cast. Metropolitan area audiences should not miss an opportunity to see it now through May 25th.


The LINK News
Theatre review

A View of the Mountains, an intense look at family and politics

By Madeline Schulman

The reunion of an estranged father and son and their spouses does not go smoothly in "A View of the Mountains." Shown, l-r, Michael Zlabinger, John Little, Katrina Ferguson and Eva Kaminsky.

A View of the Mountains, by Lee Blessing, is a sequel to his 1988 play A Walk in the Woods, which was nominated for both a Tony and a Pulitzer. A Walk in the Woods followed the arms limitations negotiations between American John Honeyman and Russian Andrei Botvinnik, and A View of the Mountains brings back John Honeyman (John Little) 30 years later.

John's first marriage ended when his wife left him for a Tennessee Senator named Branch, whose last name John's estranged son Will (Michael Zlabinger) has taken, and John is now married to Isla (Katrina Ferguson) and living on a pleasant estate on the Hudson River, with a beautiful view of the Catskills. John and Isla are waiting for a visit from Will and his wife Gwynn (Eva Kaminsky), but we know it will not be pleasant. "Some sons hate their fathers," Isla says. "You didn't give Will his politics."

Replies John, "He got them from Satan."

John and Will have not seen each other for 30 years. John is a liberal, and Will, now occupying his stepfather's seat as Junior Senator from Tennessee, is a right-wing Republican, soon to be picked as the nominee for Vice President at the Republican Convention. Rubbing salt in the wound, he has partially made his reputation by insulting John Honeyman's role in the Geneva arms limitation talks. Clearly, this family reunion will not be a loving one.

It starts badly when Gwynn sweeps the room for listening devices and complains that the beer might be drugged to put Will off his game, and gets worse when John starts putting pressure on Will to refuse the Vice Presidential nomination, serve out his Senatorial term, and quit political life. How does John apply this pressure, and how do Will, Gwynn, and even Isla react? Those questions are at the core of the constantly interesting and gripping plot.

The acting is all so excellent that singling out one actor seems unfair, but the role of Gwynn is a great one, and Eva Kaminsky runs with it. Gwynn is paranoid, vicious and calculating, willing to use unpleasant information gleaned from the Internet to quell an enemy, and ready to resort to physical violence if necessary.

Isla compares Will and Gwynn to the Macbeths, and Gwynn has the Scottish Queen's eye on the prize and willingness to do anything to achieve it. She is a fascinating monster.

In addition to the four adults, the cast includes Jon Erik Nielsen and Jared Rush alternating in the small but crucial role of John and Isla's teenage son, Andrey (the name is a tribute to John's late Russian friend). We saw Jared Rush, who was sweetly natural in the part, A View of the Mountains is a fascinating look at family and political life in the 21st century.


BWW Interviews: Lee Blessing, Playwright for A VIEW OF THE MOUNTAINS at NJ Rep

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New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will have the World Premiere of A View of the Mountains by renowned playwright, Lee Blessing. The show will run from April 24th through May 25th. Directed by Evan Bergman, the play explores how the current extreme political polarization in our society has come home to roost and threatens not only our nation but the intimate ties that bind families. Broadwayworld.com had the opportunity to interview Lee Blessing about his career the upcoming production in Long Branch.

Blessing currently resides in Los Angeles. His wife, Melanie Marnich is a television writer-producer who is currently works on a new Showtime series, "The Affair" which is due to premiere in October.

Blessing has received countless awards and accolades for his work including the L.A. Drama Critics Award and The Great American Play Award. He has been nominated for Tony and Olivier Awards and also for the Pulitzer Prize. Among his many plays are Broadway's, A Walk in the Woods, and the Off-Broadway shows, Thief River and Cobb.

We asked Blessing who have been some of the mentors for his impressive career. He spoke of his two biggest influences. "When I was at the University of Iowa getting my MFA my playwriting mentor was Oscar Brownstein, who later ran the graduate program at Yale. He was instrumental. Also, Lloyd Richards, with whom I worked repeatedly at the O'Neill National Playwrights Conference."

A View of the Mountains has a very timely message. Blessing commented about the play's inspiration. "I think the play was inspired by national campaign cycles more than anything. I was working on it just before the 2012 election, and the polarization of the electorate was rather stunning. Basically we've got two countries that don't know how to talk to each other--and may not have any desire to."

He also feels that the play is distinctive for him. He stated, "I've followed the life of one of my characters from one play into another. John Honeyman can now be seen not only in the middle of Reagan-era international tensions, but also much later as a family man and a concerned diplomat cast adrift in the current Mix-Master of contemporary domestic politics."

Blessing spoke about his experience with NJ Rep. "I truly enjoyed working with New Jersey Repertory Company a little over a decade ago when they world-premiered my lost play Whores. As the years have gone on, I see that Gabe and Suzanne have done an increasingly extraordinary job of world-premiering important new American work."

We asked Blessing what else he would like our BWW readers to know. He commented, "This play is certainly about the current take-no-prisoners tone of American politics, but it's also very much about the concept of family in our society. How these two spheres of experience interface is for me the heart of the play."


 Click Here for the New York Times Review of 'Date of a Lifetime'


    Click Here for Audio Review of 'Date of a Lifetime' by Peter Filichia on Broadway Radio


A perfect 'Date' for imperfect daters, at NJ Rep


By Tom Chesek
 

Trisha Rapier and Jamie LaVerdiere take a whirlwind, roller coaster tour of speed dating, and all that (maybe) comes after in 'Date of a Lifetime,' continuing at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. / PHOTO COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS

It's the ideal date show — just make sure you've already made it at least to that second date.

Set in the somewhat dismal (but ever-hopeful) alternate dimension of speed dating — and onstage now at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch — the new musical "Date of a Lifetime" puts a pair of lonely hearts characters through an emotional gauntlet (and a "literal" roller coaster), as each imagines what the decades ahead would be like with a person they've known for seconds.

As ably embodied by two singing comedic actors both new to this stage (Jamie LaVerdiere and Trisha Rapier), Marvin and Katie are an uncoupled couple of white, heterosexual, thirtyish New Yorkers — blessed with unstable careers in freelance writing and advertising, and the sort of half empty/ half full outlook that draws them out to the basement rec room of Symphony Space for another round of "Rotate-a-Date" that will most assuredly "never work out."

While the show with book and lyrics by Carl Kissin unfolds within a slightly longer time frame than the five to eight minutes that elapse in the lives of the characters, it's still a similarly speedy look at the lifespan of a modern American relationship; one that favors comedy over cloying sentimentality. And while it's evident that Katie and Marvin possess divergent goals and clashing egos, each manages to arrive at the same milestones (getting down, shacking up, lawyering up, moving on) from different paths up the mountain.

Rising to the task in a show that (while it supposedly takes place at a table) seldom allows them to sit still, the actors explore the different facets of these plainly very nice people – how they see themselves, how they see each other, and how they imagine their idealized selves to be. LaVerdiere and Rapier go for the laughs in a two-hander tunefest where the dialogue is often more nightclub cut-up than rapier-like cutting edge; multi-tasking (with an occasional verbal assist from onstage musical director Daniel Rein) as various waitstaff, attorneys and other supporting players in the fantasy. The two have particular fun early on as an assortment of speed dater types — the cat lady, the LA swinger, the prison wife, the Mets fan — who fail to make the cut.

Fast-paced production

The accomplished director and choreographer Marlo Hunter puts her cast through some serious paces in a fast-moving production that plays out on an all-purpose set design by Jessica Parks. There's real choreography on display too; the kind of workout that can leave the actors sweating and out of breath, and a degree of movement that's rarely seen on the intimately scaled stage of the NJ Rep playhouse.

Most of all, there's a solid comic sensibility at work here, both in the situations and the songs (featuring music by Robert Baumgartner Jr.). Neither a festival darling nor a moonlighting academic, playwright Kissin is a crowd-tested improv veteran (with the venerable Chicago City Limits troupe) and comedy writer who's peppered his script with laughs at the expense of New York City institutions that range from Time Out New York and the High Line, to fusion cuisine and the subway system's ubiquitous Dr. Z. Less successful are a handful of topical jokes which, while they're supposedly fresh as the current cable news cycle, come off as stale as an 18-year-old video of the Capitol Steps.

Driven by a score that throws in shuffle-mix doses of revue showstoppers, blues and hip-hop hokum, the music (nimbly performed by Rein on solo piano) takes center stage during those big life-moment interludes, and is so well-integrated with the book that the show almost doesn't register as a "musical" experience at all. It's a show that could conceivably do quite well in an off-Broadway nightspot setting with drink minimums and table seating — and for the next several weeks, NJ Rep gives audiences first crack at what may prove to be a very popular "Date."


Date of a Lifetime; Laugh and Fall in Love with this Show

www.broadwayworld.com



Two extraordinary actors, a remarkable script and impeccable direction make Date of a Lifetime a musical comedy hit. It is now being presented by New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch and Hat on a Hat LLC through April 6th. And,you won't find a better production this side of the Hudson River.

Directed and choreographed by Marlo Hunter with book and lyrics by Karl Kissin, music by Robert Baumgartner Junior, and musical direction by pianist, Daniel Rein, this team got it just right. Hilarious elements and sentimental touches develop the show's theme perfectly and the musical numbers fit in seamlessly.

The setting is a classic modern dating scenario. In the basement of New York City's "Symphony Space," another "Rotate at Eight" speed dating session is happening. Tech enthusiast, Marvin (Jamie LaVerdiere) meets career woman, Katie (Trish Rapier) with just minutes to communicate before moving on to the next "date." And, in those minutes, each one of them projects the possibility of a lifetime together with scenes that take the audience on two very different journeys; one from Marvin's perspective and the other from Katie's.

With ingenious staging and just a few props, you will be transported to a fusion restaurant, the couple's apartment, the Highline, Coney Island, and an art museum. This is a fast-paced production that uses New York City as a backdrop with Time Out New York's "Best of" lists, bustling subway rides and city park outings.

The abundant talents of LaVerdiere and Rapier are ideal for Date of a Lifetime. They have respective credits that range from major Broadway productions and beyond; the duo is in full command of this two-hander. They bring to the show the much needed chemistry to be alternatively romantic, funny, and at times, contentious.

LaVerdiere and Rapier's vocal talents are extraordinary and the bits of choreography that they master keep the play lively. Numbers like Marvin's tribute to parenthood, "A Redo of Marvin 2.0" or Katie's lament, "What's the Matter with Katie" are genuine and thoughtfully placed. Even Marvin's rendition of "WTF" has its spot, humorous yet pointed.

Date of a Lifetime is a show about love and longing and it is easy to relate to. As Kate and Marvin wade into the possibility of a relationship, they bring the audience right along with them. At one point, Marvin calls himself, "A renter of happiness, never an owner." Find out if this couple has a chance to own happiness. Gather your group and go, go now, to see Date of a Lifetime at NJ Rep.


Date of a Lifetime: Light and Amusing Musical for Two

Review by Bob Rendell, Talkin' Broadway


Trisha Rapier and Jamie LaVerdiere


Date of a Lifetime is an amusing, joke-filled 90 minute, one-act musical for two performers which provides pleasant revue style entertainment. It is particularly suitable for couples on dates for whom it will provide beaucoup fodder for discussion. Thus, this musical is an antidote for those awkward dating moments which occur when either one or both have difficulty in coming up with something to say.

The setting is a facility where single men and women are participating in a "Rotate-A-Date" session of Rotating Speed Dates in a basement recreation room at Symphony Space on Manhattan's upper West Side. Every "date" lasts a total of eight minutes at the expiration of which each participant rotates to a new dating partner. This eliminates the need to waste an entire evening on a date with an incompatible individual.

At the beginning of this musical, James LaVerdiere and Trisha Rapier perform a series of cameos in which each plays about a half dozen speed daters. All are distinctive and display traits and attitudes which reflect off-putting individuals which every one of us has encountered in others, and get Lifetime off to fast and delightful start. Of course, none of us are ever like these cretins. Of course not. Thereinafter, LaVerdiere plays 40-year-old Marvin, and Rapier the slightly younger Katie. Both are highly skeptical about any possibility of an affirmative outcome. Katie is particularly afraid of commitment, whereas Marvin is clever and glib, and appears capable of winning over a woman when inclined to do so (as he is here).

Marvin proposes that each take four minutes of their eight-minute "date" to sell his or her self to the other. Marvin goes first and uses his time to paint a picture of how he envisions their live together will be. If one were to take it seriously, Marvin's imagination of the future is that of a depressive personality. His preview of their future includes dating; moving in together; she seeking a commitment from him; his proposal; a honeymoon in Las Vegas; having a baby; more babies; she having an affair; their separation; dealing with (ugh) lawyers; reconciliation; growing old together bitterly; her death; his sadness at losing her; and his looking back happily at their time together. As told largely through song and comedy routines, this four minute summary of a lifetime consumes 40 minutes on the stage. Lo and behold, when the time comes for her four-minute pitch, Katie also chooses to present her vision of what their future together would bring. Her comic litany is as long as Marvin's, and concludes even more ironically with divorce, marriages to others (his second wife dies/ her husband gets Alzheimer's), and her visiting him in his assisted living facility and reminding him that she loved him the most.

As you may have already noted, Marvin and Katie share a skepticism and wry sense of humor. However, it may not be enough to overcome Katie's extreme fear of commitment and relationship. The basis for this full-length musical was a three-minute comic monologue that was written and perform by Carl Kissin, a former member of Chicago City Limits, who has provided the book and lyrics. Robert Baumgartner, Jr. has written the lively contemporary pop music which pleasantly supports Kissin's lyrics.

The delightful performances of Jamie LaVerdiere and Trisha Rapier enrich the material. Although he is not hopeful about the Rotate-a-Date evening, LaVerdiere's Marvin displays the style, self-confidence and swaggering good looks to sell himself to both Katie and the viewing audience. Rapier's Kate is very funny and appealing as she obscures her neurotic lack of confidence with sardonic humor.

Director-choreographer Marlo Hunter maintains an appropriate tone and lively pace throughout. Musical director/pianist Daniel Rein provides sharp musical accompaniment and gets to participate in a scene to good comedic effect. Jessica Parks' set features a delightful series of digital projections (mostly stills, but occasionally in motion) of locations throughout New York City. The in-motion, digitally projected Coney Island roller coaster ride is particularly effective. In addition to being suitable for intimate theatres such as the New Jersey Rep where it now in performance, Date of a Lifetime would be a good vehicle to showcase musical stage actors in cabaret rooms such as Manhattan's 54 Below.


nytheater now

Date of a Lifetime

By Rochelle Denton

Jamie LaVerdiere, Trisha Rapier | SuzAnne Barabas


If you would like to catch a lively, entertaining performance of the new two-hander musical comedy Date Of A Lifetime head straight to New Jersey Repertory Theater in Long Branch.

Writer Carl Kissin and Composer Robert Baumgartner Jr. have crafted a 90 minute musical confection that feels like a mash up between a trendy romantic comedy, Saturday Night Live and an imaginative score reminiscent of the musical style of Marvin Hamlish.

The fun begins when two lonely hearts, Marvin and Katie, each take a leap of faith and participate in a "Rotate-A-Date" session in the basement of Symphony Space in New York City. Marvin suggests they use their limited time to fantasize about how each would imagine their future lives together. Two very different scenarios emerge yet both envision a lifetime connection.

The script exudes humor and inventiveness and includes a number of timely references to things like "cronuts" and "bridgegate" which elicited amused responses from the New Jersey audience present. Director Marlo Hunter has creatively staged the show, which journeys through the future and all over Manhattan. Hunter utilizes every corner of the space creating unique stage pictures and keeping the audience completely engaged throughout. The pace never lulls and the two super-charged performers carry the energy through to the end. The set by Jessica Parks includes rolling furniture, moving panels and projections that help to cleverly suggest the multiple locations. Lighting by Jill Nagle allows imagination to flow and focuses our attention to the moment at hand. Costumes by Patricia E. Doherty were simple but felt just right.

The show is impeccably cast. Jamie LaVerdiere as Marvin and Trisha Rapier as Katie share the perfect combination of attractive and quirky. They accomplish the herculean feat of musically exploring the various aspects of modern relationships with musical facility and precise comic timing.

The best songs include "Roller Coaster", a number that explores the ups and downs of love in Katie's version of their relationship and another hilarious song she sings about the joy she feels when a man actually listens to her expressing her feelings.

This script has been developed over a period of time and hopefully the creators will continue improving the show. Because fantasy aspects dominate in Date Of a Lifetime we feel like we never get to know the real Marvin and Katie. The play dives so quickly into their imagined lives that the audience does not have an opportunity to really root for the actual Marvin and Katie to find happiness. By the end of their timed date we, like the cynical daters, are still wondering if one is an ax murder or the other an emotional train wreck. If Katie and Marvin were given more time at the onset for the audience to discover their true personalities the pay-off at end would be much greater.

Regardless, Date Of A Lifetime is a light hearted and charming evening of entertaining comedy and song that may very well be coming to a theater near you.


FILICHIA ON FRIDAYS

March Leftovers and April's Brainteaser

By Peter Filichia

Down in Long Branch, New Jersey, a felicitous musical called DATE OF A LIFETIME shows great commercial potential. For one thing, it has only two characters and doesn't need much of a set. For another, it's terrific.

It deals with speed-dating – you know, where you sit and talk to a potential mate for a few minutes before a bell goes off and you move to a table where another potential mate is a-waiting. Marvin Shapiro and Katie Clemmons experience love at first sight and have second thoughts a second later. They relish when they have something in common, but are dashed when they suddenly disagree after three or four nice connections.

A show about dating is duty-bound to stress that looking for someone to love is as much fun as going to see an unemployment counselor for the ninth week in a row. To nifty music by Robert Baumgartner, Jr., librettist-lyricist Carl Kissin adds some fascinating details: "I wish you'd talk to me the way to talk to dogs on the street," sings he. "Will you tell me now and not in 10 years that you're gay?" sings she. Jamie LaVerdiere is fine as Marvin but oh that Trisha Rapier! She's Carol Burnett and Karen Morrow combined, with a jaw that Hirschfeld would have loved to have drawn.

Kissin makes good work of the famous cliché "Where are we going?" With Marvin glued to ESPN, Katie sings a song full of sports imagery, ending with the fact that after each game that decides a championship "the winner winds up with a ring." That's what she wants, too. It leads to a wedding day: "Something borrowed, something blue; something Gentile, something Jew."

Of course that's when things get stickier. He mourns "this tiny shackle on my finger." When the fight, they reconcile through baby talk: "You know I wuv you" -- as we know they no longer do.

If it sounds dour, Kissin has many a surprise in store that keeps it buoyant and entertaining. I smell a smash-hit that will be embraced by couples who are dating and couples who are glad that's all behind them. In short, millions of theatergoers will eventually make a date with DATE OF A LIFETIME.


TRI CITY NEWS March 20, 2014

Date of a Lifetime at NJ Rep

New Musical Premieres in Long Branch

By Hannah Walker

Long Branch – Few eight minute spans of time are more painful than the eight minutes that happen during a speed-dating session.

But at "Date of a Lifetime", New Jersey Repertory Company's new musical now playing in Long Branch, those eight minutes become decades, two lifetimes worth. Instead of making that eight minutes misery multiplied exponentially, it becomes a musical that is more sweetly charming fun than any speed-date has any right to be.

The whole is carried by the performances of Jamie LaVerdiere and Trisha Rapier as Marvin and Katie, two New York City singles heading into the dating game danger zone with battered but persistent optimism. In a two person musical, you have no chorus line to take over the belting once in a while and give you time to get a breath. But LaVerdiere and Rapier sing, they dance, they let the snappy one liners fly and ambush you with emotional truth in the middle of all the fun.

The heart of the musical is in the book and song lyrics written by Carl Kissin (set to music by Robert Baumgartner, Jr.). The songs are good fun, firmly linked to present day New York City, complete with references to Apple Stores and the Hop Stop app. It might make the musical seem dated years from now, but it's refreshing to see a musical that isn't trying for some bland universal time and place.

When Marvin suggests to Katie that he tell her how he imagines their first date going, his imagined first date (which leads the imagined first month, first year, first child, and beyond) is a fine blend of sweet and serious. When Katie takes her turn, the musical becomes something more than just charm and a witty lyric. She imagines the real complications of their lives, and her story rejects played out stereotypes. It's funny and sharp, and might surprise you (and Marvin) by drawing a tear or five.

The date ends and real life has to be faced again. Whether Katie and Marvin decide to try a real date after two hypothetical lifetimes together is just a bonus epilogue. The journey to the end of that first speed date is what counts, and it fortunately isn't limited to eight minutes.


The LINK News
Theatre review

Date of a Lifetime is the Time of Your Life

By Madeline Schulman

Photo: Trisha Rapier and Jamie LaVerdiere do seem to be having a "Date of a Lifetime."

Everything about Date of a Lifetime, the new production at NJ Rep, is funny, delightful and ingenious: the book and lyrics by Carl Kissin, the music by Robert Baumgartner Jr., the piano playing of Daniel Rein, Marlo Hinter's lively direction, the acting of Jamie LaVerdiere (Marvin) and Trisha Rapier (Katie), and even the set by Jessica Parks.

At first, the basement of Symphony Space looks drab, but as the play goes on the audience is transported to Park Slope, Coney Island, the High Line, and many other New York spots.

Katie and Marvin are first seen getting ready separately for their trips to Rot-a-Dating, a speed dating site. After cycling through several briefly glimpsed losers, Katie and Marvin come face to face and are instantly smitten.

Marvin asks to use his four minutes to sketch out what their first date would be like – but why stop at that? He will envision their whole life together. Katie agrees, if she can do the same with her four minutes. For the bulk of the play, Katie and Marvin act and sing and dance out these scenarios, until the bell rings and the time comes to decide whether Marvin, number 33, and Katie, number 16, will pursue a relationship.

The two stories follow similar trajectories. They date, they get close, they marry, they part, and finally reconcile. However, the details diverge, allowing for two completely different, hilarious narratives.

He pictures their first date at a Japanese-Mexican-Greek fusion restaurant, for example, while Katie sees them on the roller coaster at Coney Island.

The clever set up allows for many funny songs. I can't say which is the funniest, but by far the sexiest is "Fasten Your Seatbelt, Marvin," wherein Katie unwraps her wraparound dress for a lively seduction.

The great chemistry between the two attractive actors makes all their comedic and romantic interaction entertaining and believable.

New Jersey humor note: when Katie considers divorcing Marvin, her lawyer advises her to paint him as "Hitler, Pol Pot, and Chris Christie all rolled into one."

Date of a Lifetime zips along for ninety minutes without an intermission. You will wish this date lasted longer!


Date Of A Lifetime

Front Row Center - posted by Raphael Badagliacca on Mar 10, 2014

If you are male or female and find yourself anywhere within a 250-mile radius of the New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch, New Jersey – that's at least five states I can count – you can't afford not to see Date of a Lifetime.

Buy a ticket today. Here's why: It's outrageously funny, clever, timely, musically and verbally brilliant, but most of all because every step, lyric and note rings true.

Date of a Lifetime achieves that rare combination – it is both light and substantial – that leaves audiences smiling and reflective. And it is fast-moving. The very talented Jamie Laverdiere and Trisha Rapier dance-sing-act their way non-stop through 90 minutes of doubts, rushes, highs, lows, dreams, fears and discoveries – real and imagined – that choreograph every relationship.

It's worth the price of a ticket to experience how efficiently book and lyrics writer Carl Kissin gets across the elasticity of time inside the mind. In concert with musical collaborator Robert Baumgartner, Jr., director Marlo Hunter, and musical director/on-stage piano player Daniel Rein,

Kissin gives us an unforgettable 90-minute exploration of two 4-minute speed date sessions during which each of the two potential lovers time travels the other at least five decades into the imagined future. Now that's the kind of genius I find impressive. And so will you. Kissin and team create a sense of intimacy by sprinkling the dialogue with newsworthy references, double-entendres and sight gags. Two simple table-like pieces of furniture neatly fit together or separate to parallel the action. Unlike many flawed musicals, the singing and dancing never stops the flow of the narrative; it advances the action at every stage.

Ms. Rapier and Mr. Laverdiere make this show happen with every unflagging word, step, and facial expression. We believe they are who they believe they are even when they're not sure who they are or what they want.

The residents of Long Branch and surrounding towns are lucky to have this theater, located at 179 Broadway, as much a discovery for those who don't know it as this play.

As to Date of a Lifetime, we hope that OTHER Broadway is taking note.



A fast and furious 'Date of a Lifetime' at NJ Rep


By Tom Chesek
 

James LaVerdiere and Trisha Rapier are a couple of speed daters who fast-forward into the future in 'Date of a Lifetime,' the musical that begins its world premiere engagement this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. / PHOTO: SUZANNE BARABAS

Speed dating! We've all heard about it — even if the last time we heard about it was in an old magazine at a doctor's office — but for those brave souls who put their hearts on the line, mixing and matching their way around a room in little three-to eight minute rendezvous, these semi-automatic rounds of romantic roulette are very much a hypercurrent and happening thing.

For Marvin and Katie, the protagonists of "Date of a Lifetime," a few seconds seated across from each other in the basement rec room of NYC's Symphony Space are all they need to embark upon a flight of fancy that brings them from the edge of commitment, to very married life and beyond — all without ostensibly leaving their table. The show makes its debut this weekend on the stage of New Jersey Repertory Company, the latest offering in a season of premieres at the Long Branch playhouse.

Directed by Marlo Hunter, and co-starring Broadway actors James LaVerdiere ("Motown") and Trisha Rapier ("Sister Act"), it's a full-length piece that evolved from an award winning three-minute monologue written and performed by Carl Kissin, the veteran of the Chicago City Limits improv troupe whose credits span Joan Rivers to Joseph Papp. It's also that rarest of bird sightings on NJ Rep's jewelbox stage — a musical, boasting book and lyrics by Kissin and tunes by Robert Baumgartner Jr., with musical direction by Daniel Rein.

"Working on a 'two hander' musical like this means you need to keep things moving; keep people vested in a show where you just have two voices delivering an entire score," says Hunter, who choreographs as well as directs — and whose work has seen her collaborate with artists ranging from Neil LaBute and Alfred Uhry, to Charles Grodin and Monmouth County's own Joe Simonelli.

"Fortunately, the whole piece really moves…these two characters are in constant motion, and it all goes to the most unexpected places."

The director — who confesses to being a happily married sort who's never partaken of the fast-and-furious speed dating scene — nonetheless "can relate to the appeal of projecting a fantasy…imagining what our lives would be like if we changed one little detail. That's what these two excessively flawed but well-intentioned people get carried away with here."

"You can only project a fantasy to the degree that you think you deserve it," says the recent winner of the Callaway Award for Excellence in Choreography. "We can only project life through our own lens."


SuzAnne Barabas – An Artistic Gem

WomanAroundTown.com



There is a lot of good professional theater happening in the New York Metropolitan area, none better than the New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch, New Jersey. Besides serving as a home for new professional plays, NJ Rep is an arts institution where visitors are welcomed by Artistic Director SuzAnne Barabas and her husband, Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas. Their vision for ground-breaking, original theatrical productions has been captivating audiences for nearly two decades.

Barabas has produced plays since she was in her early twenties. In 1970, she founded the Cincinnati Repertory Company and, in 1975, the ART of Philadelphia which occasionally produced less "mainstream" plays. When she moved to New Jersey she focused on acting and directing. In 1997, the opportunity arose to acquire the building that now houses New Jersey Repertory Company on Broadway in Long Branch only blocks away from the town's oceanfront and Pier Village. A small, intimate playhouse, the house seats 64 and has the right bit of rustic charm to complement the venue.

With the acquisition of this property, SuzAnne realized the important mission to produce new plays in a professional theater. "Playwrights get discouraged and abandon theater to write for more lucrative media such as TV and film, and there is a gradual degradation of theater so that it becomes merely a form of entertainment," she said. "I wanted to create a dynamic environment where there was a constant ferment to push the envelope, take chances, and make a permanent contribution to the American Stage. At NJ Rep we have maintained an open submission policy and we receive over 750 submissions each year from throughout the country. We give the same consideration and weight to plays by new and unknown playwrights as we do for established writers. We have presented over 350 developmental readings in 17 seasons of new works and produced over 70 world premieres many of which have gone on to be presented by other theaters or have been published for wider availability."


Happy, World Premiere by Robert Caisley, Directed by SuzAnne Barabas

Barabas, who grew up in Brooklyn, became interested in theater at a very early age. "I had a remarkable teacher in junior high school who had us read the New York Times theater section every Sunday and report on what was happening," she said. (The teacher also had her students hunt for the "Ninas" that artist Al Hirschfield hid in his black and white drawings of actors, a tribute to his daughter.)

When SuzAnne was old enough to get a part-time job, all of her income went to purchase theater tickets. "I attended Brooklyn College where most of my professors had something running in New York City, so I had a great opportunity to work with directors, actors, designers and producers in the field," she said. Moving to Philadelphia, she attended Villanova University and then Mason Gross at Rutgers. She wrote several children's plays and co-wrote plays with her husband, Gabor, including Find Me A Voice and the musicals Immortal Interlude and Hyde and Seek.


Broomstick, a World Premiere by John Biguenet, Directed by SuzAnne Barabas

NJ Rep has received a number of impressive national accolades for its work. In 2012 it was the recipient of a National Theater Company Award from the American Theater Wing, sponsor of the annual Tony Awards for Broadway. One of its recent plays, Broomstick, by New Orleans playwright, John Biguenet, was just nominated for the Steinberg Award by the American Theatre Critics Association. The theater has also received several New American Plays Awards from the Edgerton Foundation in Beverly Hills including one for its upcoming world premiere of Butler, by Richard Strand.

NJ Rep is a member of the National New Play Network, a consortium of 26 like-minded theaters throughout the U.S. dedicated to producing new plays. NNPN's flagship program is the revolutionary concept of the rolling world-premiere where three theaters agree to produce a new play in three different cities within 12 months. This frequently catapults an entirely unknown play into the national consciousness and enables it to become part of the repertoire of the American theater. NJ Rep has participated in ten such rolling world-premieres in eight seasons.

NJ Rep has also received grants from The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, The Stone Foundation of New Jersey, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, OceanFirst Foundation, Investors Bank Foundation, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and others who value and want to nurture the theater's work. Several plays that NJ Rep has premiered have recently gone on to productions Off Broadway including The Housewives of Mannheim, Poetic License, and Jericho, which had a successful run at 59E59 Theaters, starring Jill Eikenberry. (Read our review.)

Barabas has her own directing style that has been very much appreciated by actors and creative team members at the playhouse. She comments that she works in a "very collaborative" manner. "Each actor has his/her unique style and as a director, I have to be able to shape the play with that in mind. I don't impose any particular form, but rather sculpt with what I am given."


Annapurna, an East Coast Premiere by Sharr White, Directed by SuzAnne Barabas

Barabas expresses a great deal of pride in the company's recent productions. "This has been a particularly good season with excellent playwrights, directors and actors, working along with our tremendous design team and production staff," she said. "Each play had something special for the audience to mull over, be amazed by, laugh, argue, or cry." Recent productions included Broomstick, middlemen, Saving Kitty, Noir, Annapurna, Ants, Happy, and Esther's Moustache. Broomstick was nominated for the annual Steinberg Award given by the American Theater Critics Association, has several productions scheduled through 2016, and was part of a NNPN rolling world premiere. Happy was also a National New Play Network rolling world premiere and was recently published. Annapurna is opening on Broadway. Handle With Care and Too Much, Too Much, Too Many were produced in New York after developmental readings at NJ Rep.

There is clearly a very good dynamic in the theater's personnel. "We are somewhat unique in that we have a core of designers that work on all our productions," she said. "In this way we have built a cohesive team that understands our aesthetics and capabilities, as well as our limitations in resources. They communicate almost by short-hand as to how to create the most remarkable and elegant worlds and environments on our intimate stage." The NJ Rep team includes: Jessica Parks, set designer; Patricia E. Doherty, costume designer; Jill Nagle, lighting designer; and, Merek Royce Press, sound designer. In addition, Michael "Rusty" Carroll builds the sets and Jennifer Tardibuono, stage manager, makes sure that the productions run smoothly.


Admit One, Directed by Karen Carpenter

While SuzAnne directs some of the plays, she always seeks out other directors as a way to enrich the theater. Evan Bergman has directed each season and will be directing the world-premiere of Lee Blessings' A View of the Mountains. Currently, Karen Carpenter is directing the world-premiere of Admit One that opened on January 16. Jeremy Dobrish will be directing the musical, Date of a Lifetime., while Marc Geller will be returning to direct his fourth play for NJ Rep, the world-premiere of Angels and Ministers of Grace Defend Us. Joseph Discher will be directing his first play at NJ Rep, Butler.

Many of the recent productions have had sold out houses at New Jersey Repertory and runs have even been extended including the recent production of Broomstick, John Biguenet's one-woman play that premiered at NJ Rep in the fall. There is a solid core of patrons and many new ones have been attracted to the company and its performances. "We have been in our current space for 17 years and are bursting at the seams," said SuzAnne. "We would like to expand and do more programming, add a children's theater component, and classes, but are limited by the size of our building. We need help moving to the next level. This can only be accomplished with support from individuals, corporations and foundations that appreciate and understand what it takes to run a theater that develops and produces new works. We especially need an angel or several angels to make this happen."



A Silly Pas de Faux

"Admit One" to lots of fun at New Jersey Repertory


By Tom Chesek
 

It's generally not considered good form to reveal a play's major laugh line at the outset, but here goes – "Duke".

Yes, "Admit One" is the kind of comedy in which the names of schools do duty as punch lines: a place where the laugh-ops hinge on grammatical bloopers and Jersey jokes, along with the odd "ripped from the headlines" topical reference thrown in as a Hail Mary pass.

If the script by prolific playwright Wendy Yondorf is a little on the thin side, however, the premise is a solid one – and the play (now onstage at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch) is carried forward on the backs of two very capable comic actors, as well as a director of "superstar" name and super-hot skills.

Karen Carpenter, whose formidable credits include the off-Broadway smash "Handle With Care" and the Drama Desk winner "Love, Loss and What I Wore", makes her NJ Rep debut with this world premiere production – and she has the immense good fortune to preside over the first ever pairing of two Rep regulars of unimpeachable repute. Catherine LeFrere has very quickly become a mainstay of the theater's stock company in recent seasons, while Ames Adamson is an asset who's been too long away from this stage.

The setting of "Admit One" is the netherworld of the annual college admissions scramble – and as Yondorf makes clear from the outset, it's a realm that's built more on deception, connections and soullessness deal-making than on academic merit. Even the fake plants and sticky doors of the play's supposedly posh New York hotel suite telegraph the fact that nothing is ever what it seems, and it's there that Mary Sure Creek (LeFrere), admissions officer for ultra-elite Giddings University, arrives with briefcase in hand.

Mary Sue is in town to meet one of the school's most generous donors – Howard Everett (Adamson), the 23rd Giddings doesn't preclude his feeling the need to intercede on behalf of his son, Dirk. It seems that Dirk may have gotten himself into a spot of serious trouble – and when Howard presents a somewhat shady scheme designed to ease his kid's way into Giddings, it initiates a dance between the irresistibly wealthy force and the immovably principled object.

The "pas de faux" choreography is complicated by a series of missteps that include the ritual giving of gifts that fall a bit flat, to say the least. And Howard's malapropisms set off all sorts of alarms with Mary Sue, a grammar freak.

The fact that these two soon enough have the goods on each other is only half the story, of course – a couple of characters who are dedicated to the perpetuation of such a crooked card game can make the most gleeful co-conspirators after all, and the actors rise to the occasion, in a setting that's more about heightened silliness than the delivery of razor-sharp repartee. While their characters don't constitute a classic "couple", Adamson and LeFrere find a certain queasy chemistry that leaves the audience wanting to see more of the two in collaboration.

Director Carpenter keeps the one-actor moving at a brisk pace, employing physical gags and savvy shtick to plug up the play's gaps in real-world logic and out-loud laughs. Playwright Yondorf, for her part, has fun with the concept of bargaining with the devil- and with the rich tapestry of lies that passes for social mobility and tradition in this cockeyed caravan.


Review: A Punchy Look at Admissions in "Admit One"

njmonthly.com


Actors Ames Adamson and Catherine LeFrere in Admit One. Photo credit: SuzAnne Barabas

The two-person comedy "Admit One," now playing through February 16 at the NJ Repertory Theatre in Long Branch, is a comical view of the ruthless college admissions process.

"I got in!" These are three words all parents want to hear from their college-bound teens. But how far are some hovering moms and dads willing to go to reach that blissful moment? Such is the essential question of playwright Wendy Yondorf's punchy, two-person comedy "Admit One," now in its premiere run at the New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch.

After 18 years of homework, hormones and hysteria, college admittance seems like the final thrust toward adulthood for many kids. Yet, with steep competition the drive to "get in" results in some parents getting creative with the application process. Such helicopter parents become well acquainted with the admissions officer type: 30s, tightly wound, well-educated and presumably over-qualified for the job. Returning NJ Repertory actress Catherine LaFrere embodies this stereotype as a convincing Mary Sue. She proves herself an able combatant with upper-class parent Howard Everett (Ames Adamson).

The two are connected through their alma mater, the fictional Giddings University. The distressed Howard is desperate to ensure his spoiled son Dirk's enrollment in the elite school. To save his son's skin after a scandal with a female fellow student, Howard devises a plan to bribe the admissions office. His plan seems foolproof until he runs up against the by-the-book Mary Sue, and hilarity ensues.

The show is so full of rapid twists and turns that you could easily miss a key plot point. Yet the pace suits Yondorf's humorous observations on topics from sex to the hypocrisy of the upper class. "The rich are always crucified," whines Howard, spreading his arms across the fireplace of the five-star hotel room where the play is set.

With no intermission, "Admit One" is a 90-minute dash to the finish line, and the dynamic between Howard and Mary Sue keeps the audience engrossed throughout. Despite the pace, Yondorf's characters manage to create a certain intimacy with the audience. The dialogue is custom-tailored for New Jersey and remarkably current, even mentioning Bridgegate. For Mary Sue, New Jersey students are suburban, talented, normal, nice — and "Princeton's problem."

The play exposes the absurdity of the college admissions process and the near impossibility of admittance, even for the most qualified students. At one point, Mary Sue describes how one student was accepted only after losing a leg. Mary Sue's bookishness and Howard's haughtiness are the crumbling facades of people who, much like high school students, are far from perfect and simply desire acceptance.


The LINK News
Theatre review

Admit One for wonderful fun

By Madeline Schulman

Ames Anderson and Catherine Lefrere in Admit One at NJ Rep.

You cannot be admitted to prestigious Giddings University, because it is imaginary, but you can be admitted to NJ Rep and have a wonderful time at Wendy Yondorf's hilarious comedy, Admit One.

Ames Adamson and Catherine Lefrere in Admit One at NJ Rep. The set by Jessica Parks shows a suite at the Waldorf Astoria, where Mary Sue (Catherine Lefrere), admissions officer (or admission officer, as she insists) from Giddings University has come to meet with rich alumnus Howard Everett (Ames Adamson).

Knowing this set-up, I anticipated a comedy about the difficulties of buying admission to college. I thought Howard would insist that his donations to Giddings insured his son's admission and that Mary Sue would refuse on moral grounds, but I was pleasantly surprised by a much funnier and more original plot. Dirk Everett will certainly enroll in Giddings. As the father says, "Sometimes you make accommodations for benefactors." This meeting with Mary Sue has been engineered to persuade her to fast track the application of Ellen Mackerel, who is blackmailing Dirk with an accusation of date rape – an accusation Ellen will drop as soon as she is admitted to Giddings.

Mary Sue does not want to acquiesce. Although an excellent student, Ellen does not fit the Giddings profile! Lots of humor blossoms from this situation. There is physical slapstick, nimbly acted under Karen Carpenter's lively direction. There is character humor, as Catherine Lefrere showcases all the sides of Mary Sue's character – pedantic, obsessive, and simultaneously bossy and insecure. Her smile is amazing, seemingly showing more teeth than humanly possible. She constantly corrects Howard's grammar and vocabulary, and displays a compulsive neatness to rival Phil Hartman's Anal-Retentive Chef.

Ames Adamson gives a brilliantly nuanced performance as reclusive billionaire Howard Everett. To top it off, there is New Jersey humor, including a timely reference to the "bridge-closing Governor", and Mary Sue's dismissal of students applying from New Jersey. "They're Princeton's problem!" The play also features a shout out to Robert Pinsky, the Poet Laureate from Long Branch. All in all, Admit One is a wonderfully funny and entertaining play, which the audience members leave feeling happy. Maybe they will even gather tips on writing an impressive college application essay!


BWW Reviews: ADMIT ONE at NJ Rep, College Admissions with a Comical Twist

www.broadwayworld.com



The New Jersey Repertory Company is staging the World Premiere of Admit One through February 16th. The play is a wonderfully crafted piece by playwright, Wendy Yondorf and is superbly directed by Karen Carpenter. This comedy in one act highlights the stresses of college admission and reveals some interesting nuances about the process.

Staged in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria, Howard Everett (Ames Anderson) is a wealthy donor of Giddings University and he has a meeting with the school's admission officer, Mary Sue (Catherine LeFrere). Mary Sue is prim and intellectual with just the right amount of quirkiness to make the character interesting. She vainly works to maintain the integrity of her position while Howard is unscrupulous in his efforts to have his teen attend Giddings; Howard is clearly used to getting what he wants. Hilarity ensues as the two grapple about the qualifications needed to gain the much coveted entry to the very prestigious school.

The two characters could not be more opposite and it is the interplay of their personalities that gives Admit One perfect pacing. The talents of LeFrere and Ames have found their place; they portray their characters so convincingly that you may forget that Giddings University is a fictitious institution.

Whether Mary Sue is correcting Howard's grammar and pronunciation or Howard is attempting to bribe Mary Sue, the scene is full of laughs. Admit One also poses a critical question. How important is this prize anyway?

The admissions game is neatly portrayed with all of the elements known to competitive schools including the significance of legacy status, grades, scores, essays, extra-curricular activities, self-identification and geographic advantages.

Admit One has broad appeal to anyone who has attended college or whose children have gone through the application process. And, there are just enough New Jersey quips to make the run in Long Branch extra fun.

Metropolitan area audiences should not miss the opportunity to see Admit One. It is a show that will entertain with clever comedy and a note-worthy subject at its core.



'Admit One' to be staged in Long Branch

NJ Rep regulars return for a world premiere comedy

Ames Adamson co-stars with Catherine LeFrere in 'Admit One,' the play that begins its world premiere engagement on Thursday, Jan. 16, at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. / COURTESY OF NJ REP

 
By Tom Chesek

"I love doing this kind of work," declares actor Ames Adamson, reached on a rare day off from rehearsals. "It uses an entirely different part of my brain."

The character ace is actually referring to the construction and renovation work that engages his skills between acting jobs — particularly his ongoing project, restoring a huge and historic Philadelphia home belonging to a couple of friends. It's a gig that finds the veteran Shakespearean likening himself to Eldin, the eccentric house painter character played by the late Robert Pastorelli on "Murphy Brown."

Beginning the third weekend in January, Adamson joins a crew of talented creatives in a rewarding project of a different ilk — building a stage play from the ground up, as the never-before-produced comedy "Admit One" makes its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

In the script by prolific playwright (and former actress-comedian) Wendy Yondorf, Adamson portrays one Howard Everett — wealthy philanthropist, highly competitive parent, and a major donor to the elite Giddings University. The well-to-do patron's expectations of getting his offspring into Giddings with no muss or fuss are complicated, however, by the presence of a school admissions officer who plays it strictly by the book — and it becomes a test to see just how far the driven father will go, in his quest to send his kid to the head of the class.

"There's a lot of business; a lot of physical comedy … and something happens that changes the direction of my character," observes Adamson about the 90-minute show that will be presented without intermission. "We keep the language tight … this play should be a train in motion."

It's a welcome return to the NJ Rep stage for the vividly versatile Adamson, last seen in Long Branch as the iconic wit George Bernard Shaw in 2008's "Engaging Shaw." Prior to that, the Philly-based actor wowed Shore audiences, playing multiple nutty personalities in "Panama" and "Tour de Farce;" as various memorable obsessives and compulsives in "Tilt Angel," "Maggie Rose" and "Old Clown Wanted" — and in an acclaimed solo turn with "Circumference of a Squirrel," a solo tour-de-force that he would reprise in three other cities.

"Admit One" teams him for the first time with another Rep regular — Catherine LeFrere, who adds "the admissions officer from hell" to a resume that further features a starring turn in "Esther's Moustache," plus exceptional ensemble work in "The Judy Holliday Story" and last year's smoky, seductive "Noir."

To bring this wild duet to full-fledged life, NJ Rep has scored a coup by retaining the services of one of the most celebrated directors working in the theater today — Karen Carpenter, whose more than 60 credits as producer and/or director include the Drama Desk Award winner "Love, Loss and What I Wore," as well as the Broadway-bound musical "Wallenberg." Formerly an associate artistic director of San Diego's acclaimed Old Globe and a Yale Drama faculty member, Carpenter has also seen an annual award for excellence bestowed in her name by Boston University School of Theater Arts — and she brings to the project an approach that Adamson characterizes as "discovering flow, trajectory … how things happen, in order to achieve a crucial bit of plotline. It's exciting … and it's tiring!"


BWW Reviews: ADMIT ONE by Wendy Yondorf Premieres at NJ Rep

www.broadwayworld.com



Admit One by Playwright, Wendy Yondorf will have its World Premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch from January 16th to February 16th. The plot of Admit One will appeal to metropolitan area audiences at a time of year when many are awaiting college decisions. As many a parent succumbs to hysteria when it comes time to get their children into the best schools, Howard Everett is no exception. Being one of the wealthiest donors to the elite Giddings University, he did not anticipate that he was about to meet the admissions officer from hell, who goes by the book. With his child's future at stake, we learn just how far Everett will go to secure a spot at Giddings for his off-spring.

Wendy Yondorf is also the author of The Black Sea which will have its reading at The Actors Studio in the Spring of 2014 and Space Between the Trees which was a Kennedy Center finalist. Among her many accomplishments, she is a founding member of Writers' Bloc and a three time semi-finalist for the O'Neill.

Yondorf is pleased to be working with the New Jersey Repertory Company on Admit One. When asked what she likes about the company, she commented "Everything" and pointed to their "commitment to detail." She also feels that the world premiere of Admit One is "perfectly suited to Long Branch."

Admit One is directed by Karen Carpenter and stars Catherine LeFrere and Ames Adamson. Yondorf has appreciated the cooperation of the cast and the production staff. She said, "You can take a good suggestion from anywhere."

Yondorf is also impressed with the creative team that she has had the opportunity to work with on Admit One. She commented, "I wish the creative team would get on stage and give a bow at the end of each performance."


NJ Rep to Present ADMIT ONE, 1/16-2/16

www.broadwayworld.com



New Jersey Repertory Company is proud to present the world premiere of "Admit One", a new comedy by Wendy Yondorf playing January 16 through February 16, 2014 at 179 Broadway in Long Branch.

Many a parent succumbs to hysteria when it comes time to getting their children into the best schools. Howard Everett is no exception, but he has a leg up being one of the wealthiest donors to the elite Giddings University, a hallowed gateway that assures access to the American Dream. What he does not anticipate, however, is that he is about to meet the admissions officer from hell with her own agenda and rules. With his child's entire future at stake, just how far will a father go?

Wendy Yondorf (Playwright) is the author of "The Black Sea" (reading at Actors Studio, Spring 2014), "EDFCZP" (Manhattan Theatre Source and Circle Repertory),"13 Rites" (La Mama), "The Mildred B. Fankhauser Award" (reading directed by Karen Carpenter), "I'm Peggy Guggenheim & You're Not" (optioned by Elizabeth Healy), "The Space Between the Trees" (Kennedy Center finalist and readings with Frances Sternhagen, Camryn Manheim, Laura Esterman, David Rakoff and Frank Wood), "Lupus Quadrille", and "Murder in the Book Club". Wendy is working on the forthcoming plays "Carmine's Arm" and "Bid". Wendy is a founding member of the Writers' Bloc, a three-time semi-finalist for the O'Neill, recipient of a Berrilla Kerr Foundation Writing Fellowship, and a featured playwright at Niagara and Brown Universities. She is a Brown alumna.

"Admit One", directed by Karen Carpenter, stars two NJ Rep veterans, Ames Adamson and Catherine LeFrere.

Karen Carpenter (Director) is most notorious for her smash hit "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" by Delia & Nora Ephron (Broadway World, Drama Desk Awards,) now worldwide. Currently, the thriller "Witnessed by the World" and the romantic comedy, "Handle with Care", Off-Broadway; and "Wallenberg" the musical, Broadway-bound. Recent: "Spoolie Girl", MITF (Best of the Fest,) "Vagina Monologues", Bucks Co. Playhouse; "Top of the Heap", NYMF (Director's Choice Award,) "Steel Magnolias", Papermill Playhouse; "Frankenstein!!!" and "Riot of Spring" starring Roger Rees, Indianapolis Symphony. As Associate Artistic Director of the Old Globe, Karen has produced more than sixty plays, including premieres of "Nora's Imaginary Friends" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels". Karen directed Michael Keaton in the 24 Hour Plays, "Napa" and has been named Glamour "Women of the Year". She is involved in global campaigns for the United Nations, World Health Org. and the Clinton Global Initiative. Karen is a member of the Inge Foundation Board and member of the Yale Drama Faculty from 1990-1996. In 2011, Boston University's S.F.A. established an annual award for excellence in her name.

Catherine LeFrere's (Mary Sue) film/television credits include: "Running Wilde" (FOX); "Maybe There's a Tree". Her New York acting credits include: "For Worse" (NY Stage & Film); "Just In Time: The Judy Holliday Story" (Lucille Lortel); "The Empress of Sex"; "At Home Abroad" (Symphony Space); "Really Bad Things" (NYMF); "Can I Really Date A Guy Who Wears A Yarmulke?" (MITF Award, Best Actress nomination); "Once Upon A Time in New Jersey"; "The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret"; "The Blue Room"; "The Green Knight" (Planet Connections Award, Best Featured Actress); "Sex with Robots" (Secret Theater). Catherine's regional credits include: "As You Like It", "The Boys from Syracuse" (Shakespeare Theatre Company), "Noir" and "Esther's Mustache" (NJ Repertory), "Anything Goes", "Grease" (Wagon Wheel). Catherine is a graduate of Northwestern University and The School at Steppenwolf.

Ames Adamson (Howard Everett) past NJ Rep credits include: "Engaging Shaw", "Tilt Angel", "Tour de Farce", "Old Clown Wanted", "Circumference of a Squirrel", "Maggie Rose" and "Panama", as well as numerous staged readings and participation in the Theatre Brut Festival of short plays as an actor and director. Ames will return to NJ Rep next summer in the title role of "Butler". His regional credits include: "A Most Dangerous Woman", "Oliver Twist" and "Timon of Athens" at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey; "Arms and the Man" and Martin Crimp's adaptation of "The Misanthrope" at Quintessence Theatre Group in Philadelphia, "Macbeth" at The Wilma, "Hamletand", and "As You Like It" at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre.

Scenic Design by Jessica Parks, Costume Design by Patricia E. Doherty, Sound Design by Merek Royce Press, Lighting Design by Jill Nagle, Technical Director Michael "Rusty" Carroll and Stage Manager Jennifer Tardibuono.

Performances are Thursdays, Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm; and Sundays at 2:00 pm. Special reduced price previews Thursday, January 16 and Friday, January 17 are at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Saturday, January 18 at 3:00 pm. Opening night followed by a reception is Saturday, January 18 at 8:00 pm.

Tickets are $40; Previews are $35; Opening night with reception is $50. Discounts are available for seniors, students, and groups of 10 or more. NJ Rep is a year-round, professional, non-profit theater located at 179 Broadway in Long Branch only minutes from the Jersey Shore. Free on-site parking is available and there is easy access from NJ Transit (North Jersey Coast Line) and Academy Buses.

Contact the NJ Rep Box Office at 732-229-3166 or visit www.njrep.org to reserve your seats online.