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BWW Review: WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU at NJ Rep-A Solo Must-See Show by James Hindman

"There is only time, and how much of it is left?" by James Hindman in What Doesn't Kill You

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) makes a triumphant return to live theatre with What Doesn't Kill You, a comedic, yet thoughtful one-man show, written and performed by acclaimed actor and playwright, James Hindman. Superbly directed by the Company's Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas, the show will be performed through November 21 on NJ Rep's newly updated theatre space. In his opening address to the audience, Executive Producer Gabor Barabas told the audience, "Enjoy, enjoy, the show." And we truly did!

A solo show can be challenging. It requires an appealing premise, top-notch writing, and an actor that captures the dynamism of the story. Hindman accomplishes this and more as he tells the true story of his near-fatal heart attack and recuperation, travels with his husband, John, and work as an actor and writer. He freely admits to being an avid Cher fan and cleverly brings to life people he has encountered. This witty and wise story will resonate with all those who have dealt with medical issues, travelled abroad, or been touched by historical events. In addition to Hindman's finely crafted narrative and impeccable delivery, photographs (including ones his adorable dog Oopsy Doopsy) are projected on stage for a splendid visual effect.

James Hindman is no stranger to NJ Rep. His play, Multiple Family Dwelling made it's world premiere at the theatre in 2017 to excellent reviews. He was encouraged by both Gabor and Suzanne Barabas to craft What Doesn't Kill You. They surely recognized that Hindman's writing and acting talents along with his captivating story would make for a successful show.

The production team has done a great job of bringing the show to the Long Branch stage. They include costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; sound design by Nick Simone; scenic design and projections by Jessica Parks; and lighting design by Jill Nagle. Jane Huber is the Assistant Director and assists with lighting design. The Production Stage Manager is Rose Riccardi.

Don't miss What Doesn't Kill You. It's a charming, funny, and moving theatrical experience. It will be performed on Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. For more information, to purchase tickets and to learn more about New Jersey Repertory Company, please visit or call 732.229.3166. Patrons should know that the theatre's careful protocols adhere to the CDC, NJ Dept. of Health, and Actors' Equity Association.

'What Doesn't Kill You' will make theatergoers stronger, thanks to actor's vulnerability, resilience

By Patrick Maley | For NJ Advance Media

James Hindman performing his one-man show, "What Doesn't Kill You" at Long Branch's New Jersey Rep. Photo Credit Andrea Phox

In some ways, the slow return of theater to New Jersey has felt like a homecoming.

Friendly faces unseen in a year and a half reassemble at the old stomping grounds to get on with the activities that brought us all together in the first place. This is perhaps nowhere more true than at Long Branch's New Jersey Rep, which has always felt like the homiest of our state's playhouses.

Proprietors SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas welcome patrons warmly into their cozy space, where they produce small productions of earnest, fresh American drama. Losing the NJ Rep to the pandemic would have been like losing a hometown landmark, so it is wonderful to see it reemerge from lockdown with James Hindman's one-man show, "What Doesn't Kill You."

Directed by SuzAnne Barabas, the show is wholly appropriate for a gradual, collective return to live theater. Hindman, an accomplished actor and successful playwright, tells the story of recent growth and understanding of himself occasioned by a heart attack and a vacation visit to Terezin, a concentration camp outside Prague. This might sound like heavy drama, but Hindman keeps the evening light with an air of goofy, self-deprecating humor that makes the show's poignant moments more affecting.

The Terezin visit came about thanks to the go-go drive of Hindman's "then-lover-now-husband John," who is one of those travelers who insists upon seeing every sight in every guidebook during every minute of every vacation. Hindman confesses to being much more desirous of R&R, but to a concentration camp they go. It is disturbing and awful in all the ways we would expect, but Hindman confesses to finding a spiritual connection with a former prisoner, a Jewish teacher who insisted upon opportunities for creativity and learning among the camp's children.

The play draws a connection to a grammar school teacher of Hindman's who put an early taint on his love of writing by harshly criticizing his work. All of this ties into the reason Hindman suspects lies beneath his heart attack, and motivates his self-examination during recovery and beyond.

The NJ Rep stages "What Doesn't Kill You" in its newly spruced up studio space, which makes the show feel more casual than theatrical. Hindman does not hesitate to speak directly to and interact with audience members: We might as well have been gathered around Hindman's living room while he entertains dinner guests with an 80-minute story. The show is about vulnerability and resilience, studded throughout with a deep respect for teachers of all sorts.

Autobiographical one-person shows written and performed by artists are often achingly self-indulgent, and if "What Doesn't Kill You" does not entirely escape that flaw, it sidesteps the pitfall by being more broadly meditative. The show is certainly Hindman's story, but there are more valuable and broad challenges to consider about learning, love, self-care and confidence.

These are worthwhile characteristics for anybody, and are perhaps especially worth considering at this moment in theater history. It is the small houses like the NJ Rep and similar institutions that have the toughest road forward. Hindman's themes of resilience in the face of doubt and unforeseen obstacles therefore resonate beyond his performance and play and throughout the battered-but-surviving world of theater.

James Hindman's one-man 'What Doesn't Kill You' has life-affirming message


James Hindman in "What Doesn't Kill You."

"Has anyone here been to Prague?," asks James Hindman, early on, in his one-man show, "What Doesn't Kill You," which is currently being presented by the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. He doesn't really want to know, of course. It's just a chatty, conversational way to get to the story he wants to tell.

Written by himself and directed by NJ Rep artistic director SuzAnne Barabas, "What Doesn't Kill You" is a monologue presented with an air of homey intimacy. Hindman talks about being asked by Barabas and her husband, NJ Rep executive producer Gabe Barabas, to do the play. He shares photos from his cellphone (projected onto video screens), "mistakenly" showing the wrong ones at times. He talks to individual audience members. As a dark joke, he measures the distance between the stage and the masked audience, to make sure there is no danger of COVID transmission.

The set is basically just four chairs — sometimes placed together, to function as a bed — and a stool holding a bowl of grapes.

I found myself wondering, especially in the first half of the intermission-less show, if his disjointed stories, silly jokes and frequent references to Cher would come together into something meaningful. And I'm glad to report that they did. Hindman, who is deeply experienced as both an actor and a playwright, may disarm you with his casualness. But everything, you'll eventually see, has a reason for being there. James Hindman in "What Doesn't Kill You."

James Hindman in "What Doesn't Kill You."

The two dominant stories — and Hindman frequently shifts back and forth between them — have to do with that trip to Prague, and his recovery from a heart attack. The stories are richly detailed; You learn about the cobblestones in Prague that make his plantar fasciitis act up, and the hospital's many screw-ups during his post-heart attack stay there.

There are also detours into traumatic episodes from his past, and World War II history, and anecdotes about his husband and their dog, Oopsy Daisy.

His accents are terrible. His Hispanic nurse frequently lapses into a generic Brooklyn accent, and his Prague tour guide sometimes sounds German and sometimes sounds Swedish. "I have no idea what this accent is," he confessed while doing the tour guide, adding to the illusion that he's just a regular guy, telling you a story.

But as I mentioned before, everything (even that bowl of grapes) does come together and add up to something. And as you might guess from the title — the full saying, of course, is "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" — that something is quite uplifting and life-affirming.

Out IN Jersey

"What Doesn't Kill You" is a one-man delight

by Alan Neuner

What Doesn't Kill You gives you that feeling of intimacy and warmth

The New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch returns to live performances—and kicks off its new studio theatre spac— with a one-man extravaganza of comedy, James Hindman's What Doesn't Kill You. This new show, performed by the playwright, takes us through events in his past which helped him along his personal path of growth, making him stronger without killing him (obviously).

During the course of his 75-minute monologue, Mr. Hindman relates the stories of surviving a "widowmaker" heart attack, his obsession with Cher, and a tour he and his husband took to the Theresienstadt ghetto/concentration camp in the Czech Republic. Interwoven with these tales are remembrances of past fears overcome, most importantly his effort to overcome his fear of writing, instilled in him by a hyper-critical teacher at an early age.

Sensitively guided by the direction of Suzanne Barabas, NJ Rep's Artistic Director, Hindman plays his story for humor but never strays into trivializing his experiences for the sake of a laugh. His years of acting experience serve him well here, and he forms a quick and easy rapport with his audience. This gives the entire show the feeling that one is sitting by the fire hearing a friend tell stories—the most basic definition of theatre there is.

What Doesn't Kill You gives you that feeling of intimacy and warmth, that intimate connection between people, that few plays successfully do. The New Jersey Repertory Theatre upholds its well-earned reputation for presenting new, thought-provoking plays with this production. I urge you to see the funny, entertaining, and above all touching What Doesn't Kill You before its brief run ends.

BWW Review: THE PROMOTION at NJ Rep Brings a Contemporary Story of Office Politics to the Long Branch Stage

"Don't treat me like a runner up before the race even starts." By Trish in The Promotion

There's a lot of office politics and shenanigans happening in Joe Giovanietti's world premiere play, The Promotion now being performed at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) through April 5. With the creative direction of the Company's Associate Artistic Director, Evan Bergman and a top-notch cast of four actors, this is a contemporary play that metro area audiences will surely enjoy.

Set in the office of the "Life One" insurance company, Josh and Trish are a sales team and seemingly good friends, but they have very different lifestyles. Josh aggressively works at boosting his earnings to provide for his family. Trish is a young African-American woman and an energetic go-getter who needs her salary to help care for her aging mother. When they learn that they are competing for the same promotion, their relationship becomes difficult and at times, awkward. And not only are they vying for the same position, but both of them attempt to land a big account with the firm's wealthy client, Hank. The temporary head of the firm's Human Resources Department, Lois is exasperated as she attempts to deal with Josh and Trish's mounting issues. You'll wonder just who will come out ahead as the office saga unfolds. The fast-moving, realistic story is often humorous but it also aptly addresses timely workplace issues that include race and gender bias.

NJ Rep has assembled the ideal cast for The Promotion. They include John Caliendo as Josh; Sophia Parola as Sophia; Chantal Jean Pierre as Lois; and Phillip Clark as Hank. The troupe is great at delivering Giovanetti's clever, quippy dialogue and brings the spirited story of office maneuvering to life. Memorable moments include Lois announcing the prospect of a promotion to Trish and Josh; Josh communicating by phone with his young son; Trish trying to find a caregiver in the evening for her mom; Trish and Josh returning late to the office after attending a charity event where they drank too much; Trish pitching insurance ideas to Hank for his business; and Lois attempting to mediate the conflict between Trish and Josh. Audiences will also like the surprising "Fun Facts" about the insurance industry that are projected on during scene changes.

The Creative Team has done a super job of bringing Life One's office setting to the Long Branch stage. They include scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; sound design and webmaster, Merek Royce Press. The Technical Director is Brian P. Snyder; Production Stage Manager is Kristin Pfeifer; Stage Manager/Company Manager is Adam VonPier; Assistant Director/Assistant Lighting Design, Janey Huber; and Fight Director, Brad Lemons.

Put The Promotion on your list of springtime theatre excursions. This well-crafted, finely presented play is one that will provoke interesting discussions and be long remembered after the curtain call.

The Promotion is the 137th production in 22 seasons that have been produced at New Jersey Repertory Company. We applaud Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas and Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas for continuing to bring new plays to the stage that go on to be performed worldwide.

news12 New Jersey

New Jersey theater seeks playwrights to create short plays to be performed on fire escapes

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing all New Jerseyans to think outside the box when it comes to work and entertainment. And this is especially true when it comes to the theater industry. Artists and actors have had to use their imaginations in some pretty extraordinary ways to continue their craft during the pandemic – including using a fire escape as a stage. "And immediately it hit us that these fire escapes could be venues that we never dreamt of," says Gabor Barabas of the New Jersey Repertory Company.

COVID-19 is keeping the Long Branch theater dank and without an audience. "Obviously the pandemic breeds new ideas. And in its ironic way creates new opportunities," says Barabas. When the company acquired a former school to turn into its West End Arts Center, it built new fire escapes.

The theater now believes that these fire escapes can be a good place to stage short plays with a drive-in audience in the parking lot. NJ Rep is asking playwrights to send in plays with casts of three actors or less who could be safely distanced on the outdoor stairs – a unique way to provide entertainment in a pandemic world.

New Jersey arts groups receive $492K boost by way of federal grants

Sarah Griesemer, Tammy Paolino and Cheryl Makin, Asbury Park Press

Stages have gone dark, concert halls are empty, and museums long for visitors.

Like most aspects of life right now, the art world looks different than it did a few months ago. As people stay home, arts councils and organizations have gone virtual, trading theater performances and painting classes for online lessons, showcases and contests.

These efforts keep the spirit of the arts alive, but empty seats mean lost revenue, jobs and programming.

"The nonprofit arts industry, like so many others, is reeling from the financial and societal impacts of the current crisis," said Elizabeth Mattson, chairwoman of The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, in a statement. "The innovation we've seen from artists and arts organizations speaks volumes about the resiliency to come. And while their creativity may know no limits, these community anchors need support now to be able to weather this storm and survive."

On May 19, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts announced it would distribute $492,700 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds – provided by the National Endowment for the Arts – to nonprofit arts organizations and agencies.

According to the statement, the council identified nearly 60 New Jersey nonprofit arts organizations that are eligible for a one-time grant of $5,000 and 21 county arts agencies that will receive $9,400.

The funds, per the council, are to be used for operating expenses – salary support, artist fees and facilities costs – and are intended to preserve jobs and stabilize the arts statewide.

"During this most fragile and uncertain time, we are most grateful to be among the arts organizations eligible to receive a grant from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts," said Anthony P. Carter, president of Crossroads Theatre Company's Board of Trustees in New Brunswick. "Any amount of funding is critical to our continued operation, and we enthusiastically accept the New Jersey State Council for the Arts support, which clearly comes with the recognition that Crossroads is an important cultural institution in the State of New Jersey."

"The arts are certainly being drastically affected," said Teresa Staub, executive director of Monmouth Arts, a 49-year-old organization that quickly pivoted most of its programming – including the Monmouth Arts Teen Arts Festival, traditionally held at Brookdale Community College in Middletown – to virtual experiences when the pandemic began.

Last month, Monmouth Arts launched a fundraising campaign, which has raised nearly $3,000.

Gabor Barabas, executive director of the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, said via email that he and his staff have been working from home for the past 10 weeks and have put their season of six world premieres on hold. They have stayed in touch with their audience and donors through virtual presentations, including videos shared on social media from actors who have performed at the theater through its 23 years.

"We welcome the unexpected support from the Arts Council at this challenging time," said Barabas, who founded the theater company with his wife, SuzAnne. "As with all nonprofits, the funds are much needed now."

Bruce Curless is producing artistic director of the Ritz Theatre Company in Haddon Township. He said, "We are grateful and looking forward to receiving the extra funding from the state ... As you can imagine, we need everything we can get with no box office revenue since mid-March and not knowing when and how we can proceed. We are very concerned about our next steps. First and foremost the safety of our patrons actors, and crew Is our main priority.''

For now, the Ritz is offering free viral streams of past performances.

The Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton is temporarily closed due to the pandemic but has offered to connect with "visitors" through social media, virtual classes and exhibitions.

The museum is "honored to be chosen and included with a strong group of cultural institutions in New Jersey to receive this funding," Executive Director Marjorie Frankel Nathanson said.

Nathanson added the museum has been receiving support in the form of enthusiasm and feedback from the community.

"This encourages us to continue developing the best programs and exciting new endeavors we've never done before," she said.

The disbursement also was applauded by Dee Billia of the South Orange Performing Arts Center.

"The New Jersey Council on the Arts is working diligently to help shore up the finances of the arts community as best they can," said Billia, Director of External Relations for SOPAC, via email. "With the latest disbursement of the funds from the CARES Act, many smaller organizations will be helped with grants that can make a meaningful difference in their efforts to adapt and survive. We applaud the council for the hard work that makes them the envy of other states in effective and fair-handed granting."

"During this most fragile and uncertain time, we are most grateful to be among the arts organizations eligible to receive a grant from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts," said Anthony P. Carter, president of Crossroads Theatre Company's Board of Trustees in New Brunswick. "Any amount of funding is critical to our continued operation and we enthusiastically accept the New Jersey State Council for the Arts support, which clearly comes with the recognition that Crossroads is an important cultural institution in the State of New Jersey."

Yet, the outlay falls short of sustainability for many Jersey arts groups, said Mike Stotts, managing director of the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.

"I applaud the New Jersey State Arts Council's decision to quickly distribute these much needed grants to many of the state's smallest arts organizations who are so greatly in need right now, as we all are," said Stotts via email. "However, the amount of federal grant funds to come to New Jersey through the CARES Act is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the federal funds that will be required to assist the New Jersey arts sector recover from the pandemic and shutdown."

"There is a much greater need for funding from all levels of the government, so hopefully there will be more money to trickle (down)," Staub said. "We received some funding but can certainly use more from the government and the community."

Pamela Brandt is president of the South Jersey-based Symphony in C. She said the grant may help the organization avoid a deficit, at least for now.

"As with many arts organizations, Symphony in C had to postpone and/or cancel concerts, educational programs and fundraising galas due to COVID-19,'' Brandt said. "We were fortunate to receive the Paycheck Protection Program loan/grant, as well as an additional grant from the Presser Foundation, to keep our staff and teaching artists working and developing virtual programs for the schools we serve. But we were still faced with a deficit for our fiscal year that will end June 30.

"This special grant of $5,000 may very well mean that our fiscal year will end in the black!" Brandt said. "We are most grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts and to the New Jersey State Council on the Arts for this vital support!''

BWW Interview: Playwright Joe Giovannetti and THE PROMOTION at NJ Rep

by Marina Kennedy
Feb. 21, 2020

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will present the world premiere of The Promotion by Joe Giovannetti from March 5 to April 5. Directed by Evan Bergman, the play stars John Caliendo, Phillip Clark, Chantal Jean-Pierre, and Sophia Parola.

Trish and Josh are coworkers and good friends. When they're both up for the same promotion, they're pushed to their limits. Just how far are they willing to go to get ahead? This is a comedy about surviving in this dog-eat-dog world of business. had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Giovannetti about his career and The Promotion at NJ Rep.

Giovannetti is a theatre- and film-maker from Chicago, IL. He has worked on or behind Chicago's stages for over a decade as a writer, technician, designer, actor, and director. His plays include The Promotion (National New Play Showcase 2019, developed at NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop and at Steep Theatre in Chicago), Kung Fu Suburbia, Lilith, Kung Fu Suburbia 2: Cul du Sacrifice, and Welcome to Earth. Joe holds a BA from North Park University in Chicago and an MFA from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

When did you first know that you were destined for a career in the arts?

I'm not sure about destined, but I definitely knew I wanted to be involved with the arts by 4th grade, when I got a speaking role in my school's holiday pageant December in Our Town. I remember being so nervous until I actually stepped forward to say my lines, and then I realized I was actually really comfortable and at home onstage. From then on, I found ways to be involved in theatre or music or writing in one way or another.

Do you have any particular mentors or people who have inspired your career?

Too many to count! Off the top of my head, Aimee Taylor was the theatre teacher in high school who trusted me and gave me a chance to play lead roles even though I was this shy, weird, chubby kid. Chad Eric Bergman teaches at North Park University, where I went to undergrad, and he was the first person to trust me to write a whole, full-length play and then put university resources toward producing it. Reginald Lawrence, artistic director of MPAACT here in Chicago, was the first person who showed me how to piece together a living in the arts and gave me an artistic home. Zayd Dohrn was a mentor in grad school and, possibly without even knowing it, he helped me to merge my analytical, practical "designer" brain to my messy, outlandish "artist" brain.

You have worn many hats in the performing arts. How have you juggled these many opportunities?

With a lot of patience and understanding from my friends and family, mostly. It definitely keeps me busy, but I always looked at each opportunity as a chance to learn something about the craft of making plays, and it was just hard for me to turn those chances down. Lighting design teaches you about beginnings and endings (lights up, lights down) and how to craft them. Set design taught me about scale. Being an electrician or a carpenter is so physical and demanding and those gigs made me respect the entire process and the entire team more. Production managing gave me better insight to a variety of creative processes and the needs of each department. Being a director made me a better actor which made me a better writer. I guess it didn't feel like juggling so much as it felt like trying to get to a point where I could hold the whole process of "making a play" in my head and write with that in mind.

We'd love to know more about your college and graduate school education.

I did my undergrad at North Park University, which is a small liberal arts college known best (I think) for its nursing program. There was also a small but mighty theatre program where we studied the "Storefront Theatre Model" which is the very Chicago-theatre process of making do with what you have, and still putting on incredible theater. I studied acting and spent a lot of time trying to talk our director into letting me change things in the script, so he pointed out I should try writing, which I did at North Park.

Almost 10 years later, I was on my honeymoon with my wife and we were talking about things we felt like we'd missed out on, and I mentioned that I'd kind of always wanted to go to grad school. She encouraged me to apply, which I did, and was accepted to Northwestern University's "Writing for the Screen and Stage" program. That was truly life-changing - at North Park, I learned how to be scrappy and get things done within strict limitations. But it was an extremely practical course of study. At Northwestern, there was a lot more theoretical, sort of abstract thinking about theatre and storytelling which helped me see a bigger, less constrained picture of what I wanted to write and how it related to the broader world of theatre-making.

What inspired you to write The Promotion?

Most immediately, I was inspired by a talk I went to in grad school. The playwright Young Jean Lee described her writing process and said something about how she would think about plays she was afraid to write (I may be misquoting) and then whichever one seemed the most frightening would become her next project.

So I started to think about what kinds of plays would frighten me to write, and I landed on the idea of writing about white privilege, which seemed really thorny. Then I thought it might be more frightening for me to write if I centered someone who was not a white man, which felt frightening because that meant I would no longer be the "expert" about my own play and I would have to get comfortable saying "I don't know" and relying on generous, patient collaborators to keep me honest.

So after I decided on those two things, I located it in an insurance agency because I had some experience in that industry, and just kind of went off to the races. And it was pretty nerve-wracking to write and share, and I did get a lot wrong, and I did have to listen and learn a lot, and I am incredibly grateful to the collaborators who believed in me and this project enough to help me turn my scary draft into what will be opening at New Jersey Rep in March.

How is The Promotion different from anything else you have crafted?

Prior to this play, I never really wrote a naturalistic, character based play before. It was mostly surrealism or comic book action stuff. But I was always a fan of the Play-with-a-Capital-P and I figured I should try writing one.

How do you like working with the team at NJ Rep?

I love it. They are consummate professionals and I have felt very taken care of the entire time. It has been a dream come true, which is a cliche, but it fits.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

It's funny, sometimes it's sad, and it may cause some interesting conversations on the drive home.

Can you share with us any plans for the future?

My short film "Lunar Cadence" is in post-production and should (hopefully) start making the festival rounds this year. My next play deals with Jerry Falwell, his ministry, and the rise of the "Christian Right" in American politics.

Please share web site and social media information that you'd like our readers to have. Be sure to check out Joe Giovannetti's New Play Exchange page at:

A play about race, class and gender — and it's a comedy

By Natalie Pompilio

What happens to work friends when they're both competing for the same job? Joe Giovannetti's "The Promotion" — at NJ Repertory Company through April 5 — looks at Josh and Trish and the insurance biz. Here, John Caliendo as Josh and Sophia Parola as Trish.


Joe Giovannetti's dark comedy "The Promotion" — which is enjoying its world premiere run at New Jersey Repertory Company through April 5 — centers on Trish, an African-American woman, and Josh, a white man. They are top salespeople at an insurance firm and work friends who legitimately enjoy each other's company and support each other's successes.

Until, that is, a promotion is on the line and issues that had been bubbling below break the surface. By the play's end, that once easy-going relationship between colleagues is forever altered.

"I wanted to write about people separated by gender, race and class, but are equals in terms of raw numbers and performance," Giovannetti said. "It's not who you are facing on the battlefield, but who put you there and told you who your opponent was and why? Who set up the fight? ...

"I hope (the audience) comes out thinking and talking about biases and the things they think about people but don't say, and the things they say to people and don't mean and all of the things that can happen when you spend eight or nine hours a day next to your coworkers."

And did we mention it's a comedy?

"Ultimately it's the players who decide what intensity they're going to bring to the game, and there's good fun to be had with people who turn insurance into a death match," Giovannetti said. "There are lot of laughs, a lot of jokes, but it can get pretty tense. They're playing for everything."

Giovannetti began writing the play in 2018, and its development was aided by the National New Play Network/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop and Steep Theatre in Chicago. He was inspired to tackle the slippery subject of white privilege after one of his professors at Northwestern University's playwriting program said that when thinking of her next subject, she thought about "the play that was frightening to her or she didn't want to write or she felt ill-equipped to write."

"As a playwright, a lot of times you want to be the expert on your work," Giovannetti said. "We're told to write what we know, and that's great, but there's something to be said for stepping out and trying something else. And when someone says, 'You got that completely wrong,' you say, 'Well, try to help me out.'"

Giovannetti had worked in the insurance business and he is a white male, so he sought insights into Trish's character and relationships from a group of friends and colleagues, including African American women.

"I had to humble himself before the play and the process and rely on collaborators who would tell me when I was off the mark," he said.

Director Evan Bergman said the one of the most challenging parts of mounting this production was "finding the humor and finding the truth and balancing both parts to make a satisfying piece of theater."

"This is a humorous look at a competitive world where the best man or best woman is left standing, but this play is really about people, two people you come to like and care about," he said. "It's the humanity and interaction between people that is where this play lives."

An Interview with Joe Giovannetti

NJ Stage

Trish and Josh are coworkers and good friends, but when they are both up for a promotion things change. You'll see just how far people are willing to go to get ahead in The Promotion by Joe Giovannetti. The comedy about surviving in the dog eat dog world of business has its World Premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch in March. The production is directed by Evan Bergman and stars John Caliendo, Phillip Clark, Chantal Jean-Pierre, and Sophia Parola. New Jersey Stage spoke with the playwright to learn more about the comedy. The Promotion has been called a twisted, dark comedy about intrigue and politics in the workplace. 

At its most basic level, it's about two coworkers who are friends up for the same promotion right?

That's right. I'm not sure if I personally would use the word twisted, but I'm probably too close to the play to say that for sure. But at the end of the day, it's a play about co-workers who have that specific friendship that forms when you meet a kindred spirit at the office, and what happens to them when they're put into competition with one another.

Have you ever been in an office situation like this where co-workers were sort of at war with each other? 

Not really. I'm sort of monstrously competitive, personally speaking, like "cheat at board games" competitive. Which I don't like about myself, so I try to stay out of those situations unless I really care about something. The cast has two people in their 30s and two much older. 

Do they all take sides or is everyone out for themselves?

I think part of the fun of the play is that none of the characters are ever sure who's on which side. And at the end of the day, I'm not sure the game they're playing would work if each player wasn't in it entirely for their own reasons.  

How dark does it get?  Anything you could compare it to?

I honestly don't think it gets that dark! The violence is (almost) entirely emotional, so it's certainly not that kind of twisted. But if economic precarity sounds dark to you, this probably isn't the right play to see. It's tricky for me to find something to compare it the risk of sounding self- aggrandizing, maybe think Shonda Rimes (TVs Grey's Anatomy) meets David LindsayAbairre (the play Good People)? Sexism plays a role - was the play written before or after the #metoo movement began? I started working on this a couple months before the Harvey Weinstein article was published in the New York Times. So it sort of came to life roughly at the same time as the #metoo movement was starting to get attention.

Did that affect how you approached things?

Absolutely. A social movement of that scale alters the way people understand conflict in the world they live in, which means it changes the way they read stories, which means it changes their expectations. And writers, I think, should work with (and against) the expectations of the audience. Racism and class are in the mix as well. 

Is it easier or just as difficult to approach sensitive topics like sexism and racism with a dark comedy? 

I'm not sure! I think I tried my best to approach gender, race, and class in a way that felt honest to the way I experience them as a person in the world. Which is challenging, messy, conflicted, and never totally resolved. To me, it seemed like the best way to approach that kind of thing was with heart and some laughs. So maybe approaching those topics was difficult at first, but hopefully now that it's all done, it's easier to receive as an audience member. 

Would you say this is a play that will likely have people talking about afterwards? What do you hope audiences leave the theatre with?

My hope is that audiences will have an uncomfortable encounter with their biases, for good and ill. As I said before, I think identity and class are messy, complicated issues that almost never get resolved in our personal lives. But then when we go to tell stories about those things, our impulse is to make sure everything adds up and the good guys and the bad guys get cleanly sorted.  Hopefully audiences walk out talking about who they think deserves the promotion, and why. And I hope they find reasons to disagree.

Do you personally believe in upward mobility? Or do you think some people have advantages that others cannot get past?

If I had a good answer to this question, I probably would have written a different play.

Have you been involved with the production at NJ Rep?  Will you be attending the production?

I was able to be there for almost the entire first week of rehearsals, which was a phenomenal experience. It's a great team and I can't wait to see what unfolds as they keep diving in and opening up the play. I am planning to be there for previews and opening.

Tell me a little about yourself.  I know you are an actor and director as well. Where are you based and do you have a theatre you're associated with?

I'm based in Chicago. I studied acting in college, but ended up finding my way into all kinds of corners of the theatre world. Whether because of fate or just attention deficit disorder, I've built a pretty eclectic resume including acting, directing, lighting design, carpentry, production management, and plenty of other odd jobs. Over the last 10-15 years though, I've worked primarily with two theatres in Chicago: MPAACT, a company focused on new plays grounded in the many cultures and traditions of the Afrikan continent and its Diaspora, and Akvavit, a theatre that produces plays by contemporary Scandinavian writers. Like I said, eclectic.

Finally, where would you like your career to be in 5 or 10 years? What would signify success to you?

Right now, writing is my side hustle and I have a full-time job to pay the bills. In the next five to ten years, success would look like decreasing my time at the office and increasing it at my writing desk.  I also recently taught a dramaturgy course at my alma mater, North Park University, and really enjoyed that. So I'd also feel successful if I could make teaching a bigger part of my life.

Dreamers of the Stage and Beyond

by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

Gabor and SuzAnne Barabas. Photo by Danny Sanchez

Even though the street in Long Branch is named Broadway, who in their right mind would choose to locate a theater devoted to staging new plays only in a neighborhood that is not lit up at night, has no restaurants, no foot traffic and a muddy parking lot when it rains.

"We're obviously dreamers, but we have some pragmatism," said Gabor Barabas, executive producer of the New Jersey Repertory Company. SuzAnne Barabas, his wife, is the artistic director. "We were very aware that if one wanted to start with a business plan that was destined to fail, this was it.

"Producing exclusively new plays is not the most effective way of drawing an audience," he admitted.

But that was 20 years ago.

New Jersey Rep no longer is the only building with its lights on at night. There are several restaurants, a McDonald's and numerous businesses. Plus, lower Broadway, less than a mile from the Atlantic Ocean, is part of the first construction phase of a $200 million mixed-use redevelopment plan.

And that fulfills another dream the couple had.

"We wanted to be a catalyst for Long Branch and surrounding communities," he said. "We viewed ourselves as more than just a theater that creates and disseminates.

"We wanted to be a part of the overall well-being of our community," Gabor said.

Taking care of people is not new to Gabor. For 30 years he practiced medicine as a pediatric neurologist. He worked at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Robert Wood Johnson in New Brunswick, Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch and had a private practice with his brother.

An unexpected health issue forced him to reevaluate his life.

The son of Holocaust survivors, Gabor was born and lived in Hungary until he was 8 years old and the family fled the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.

"We escaped to Austria in the winter through the forests traveling at night and I could see the Russian campfires through the trees," he said. "Somehow we made it across the border."

The family settled in New England and then made its way to Brooklyn where his brother was born. Gabor attended Brooklyn Technical High School and New York University.

Until then, he had no interest in theater. Then he met SuzAnne, who had dreamed of being an actress as long as she can remember.

"When I was 7 or 8 I'd make up stories and girlfriends would act them out," SuzAnne said. "We were improvising, but we didn't know that then."

She watched plays on TV and a friend's mother introduced her to PBS and took her to her first play, "Mary, Mary."

"I couldn't believe you could see live theater with actors on stage," she said.

She remembers a family friend in show business taking her to Yonkers to see "Milk and Honey" starring Molly Picon and sitting in the first row.

By the time her junior high school production of "My Fair Lady" came around, she was hooked, reading the Sunday entertainment section of The New York Times and searching for the "Ninas" in Al Hirschfeld drawings.

SuzAnne used all her spending money on Broadway shows and would only sit in the first 10 rows, center orchestra.

"I wanted to experience it and I learned a tremendous amount," she said. "It was a remarkable opportunity."

She studied with the legendary acting teacher Lee Strasberg, a co-founder of the Group Theatre and known as the "father of method acting" in America. Tips he taught she still uses.

She also attended Brooklyn College and graduated from Villanova University.

She and Gabor married and moved every four or five years for his career. But every place they lived – Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Long Branch – SuzAnne started a theater company.

Starting a theater is one thing, building an audience is another.

Carl Hoffman, Eatontown, was intrigued when he saw a notice in his local Barnes & Noble for a play reading. He wasn't a theatergoer and had never been to Long Branch.

"It was incredible. I never laughed so much," he said. That was in 2002. He became a subscriber and then a board member.

"Every show may not ring your bell, but it's an oasis and a place to recharge," he said.

With the addition of the 20,000-square-foot West End Arts Center, Gabor said NJ Rep can offer 52 weeks of art that includes poetry, photography, art, music and meeting spaces.

In 20 years they have produced 100 new works, many of which are then mounted round the country and in New York.

"We had the idea it was a good thing to help living playwrights who have tremendous difficulty getting their work done in a pro- fessional setting," Gabor said.

"And we wanted to offer a cultural center to champion other arts and provide space for community such as gay pride events and poets theater," he said, adding he's pleased they have a space in the funky West End.

BWW Review: BONE ON BONE Enthralls at NJ Rep-A 35-Year Marriage in the Throws of Transition

"I'm not interested in being blamed for your unfulfilled dreams."
By Johnathan in Bone on Bone

Bone on Bone by Marylou DiPietro is now being performed at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) through February 9th. It is a smart, finely crafted play about a couple's diverging personal and professional lives. The show will definitely resonate with a broad audience. Moving, honest, and at times comical, the two-hander enjoys superb direction by M. Graham Smith and stars John Little and Wendy Peace.

Jonathan and Linda have been married for 35 seemingly happy years and are settled into their own routines where they live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Johnathan has a successful law career in one of the city's most prestigious firms while Linda is a visual artist. But things are about to change. Ernest, a long-time colleague of Linda, offers her an Artist in Residence position at Rhode Island School of Design. It's a big career opportunity that would entail moving to Providence. The couple is suddenly faced with assessing their futures and the prospect of substantial lifestyle changes. Will there be concessions and progress or has the couple reached an impasse? The play takes an interesting look at a marriage, one that has survived over three decades with its problems and promise. It also speaks to people's need to be challenged, use their talents, and pursue their aspirations.

Wendy Peace as Linda and John Little as Johnathan completely master their roles and they are very convincing as a married couple. Because of Peace and Little's fine performances, audiences will empathize with Linda and Johnathan as they contemplate their futures. There are also other characters woven into the dialogues to round out the story that include Linda's art mentor, Ernest and a young neighbor boy.

NJ Rep's Production Team has done a marvelous job of bringing Bone on Bone to the Stage with their signature creativity. They include scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; assistant lighting design by Janey Huber; sound design by Merek Royce Press; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty. The Technical Director is Brian P. Snyder; Production Stage Manager, Kristin Pfeifer; and Stage Manager, Adam von Pier.

In his opening night address, NJ Rep's Executive Producer Gabor Barabas told the audience that Bone on Bone is the 142nd play that the Company has launched in their twenty-two seasons in Long Branch, with many plays that were launched on their stage continuing on to be produced globally. We applaud him along with Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas and their team for continuing to launch fine new plays. Their 2020 subscription program with six new plays is now on sale with year-round plays for metro area audiences.

'Bone on Bone' is contemplative and frustrating in Long Branch: review

By Patrick Maley

"Bone on Bone" at the New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch. (Andrea Phox Photography)

Linda and Jonathan are a couple in their sixties. They have been married for decades, chose not to have children, and live in a comfortable Upper East Side apartment. He's a powerful attorney; she's a freelance artist. All seems well. But then Linda receives a job offer, and the pair is forced to evaluate their individual and shared values.

So unfolds the short, contemplative new play "Bone on Bone," by Marylou DiPietro, now receiving its world premiere at the NJ Rep in Long Branch under the direction of M. Graham Smith. It's a play that asks big questions without offering much of an answer. DiPietro is more interested in dwelling in uncertainty, examining her characters as they struggle to make sense of lives evolving quite unexpectedly as they incline toward their golden years. That disposition can be frustrating over the course of the play's 90 minutes: it seems to be tentative dramaturgy, eager to establish a tangled knot, and unwilling to tackle the difficult labor of its untying. But "Bone on Bone" makes a clear decision not to chase drama or interpersonal fireworks, electing instead to focus on the challenging processes of identity, love, and marriage as they play out. DiPietro asks us to join the journey of Linda and Jonathan's marriage, and promises only careful consideration of its trials, not a clear verdict.

The play therefore asks a good deal from its performers, who must excavate layers of internal conflict as Linda and Jonathan encounter new marriage hurdles. Wendy Peace and John Little do fine work in this regard, particularly as their characters evolve. At the play's opening, Little's Jonathan is obtuse, imperious, and on occasion insufferable. Linda comes to him to initiate a discussion, but he is almost entirely uninterested in what she has to say. He considers himself set in his ways, part of which includes Linda playing her part in their marriage. In the play's opening scenes, that part for Linda involves gently prodding her husband, aware of the difficulty facing her in trying to change his mind. Peace crafts Linda as frustrated, but nonetheless patient with Jonathan's obstinance. She loves her husband, even if he is being inconsiderate of her feelings.

But just when it seems like "Bone on Bone" will be a flat story about an older couple failing to get out of their rut, a compromise is struck that forces Jonathan and Linda to evolve. In the play's latter half, power and desire shift, and these characters grow more interesting as they develop contours. Smith directs a gradual but clear evolution in Linda, Jonathan, and their relationship as the play's central conflicts about marriage and commitment grow thornier. Peace and Little do their most evocative work in the play's last few scenes, after life has changed for Jonathan and Linda, and they too must change as people. In the play's final few scenes, Peace and Little impress by giving us characters that would be nearly unrecognizable to their earlier selves, as DiPietro asks us to consider how the changing conditions of life effect the bonds established with other people.

"Bone on Bone" references the arthritic loss of cartilage in its title, a process that happens during aging when that which provided comfort erodes and makes room for pain to enter the body. It is a play that wonders about the process of that pain interjecting itself where comfort once seemed so certain. There are no answers here, but Little and Peace show compellingly how that pain can be generative of new discoveries and new selves.

'Bone on Bone' will get under your skin


Wendy Peace and John Little co-star in "Bone on Bone" at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, through Feb. 9

"Bone on Bone" is the perfect title for Marylou DiPietro's drama, which is having its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Feb. 9. That's because it's about two long-married spouses whose relationship has lost its cushioning cartilage.

They don't hate each other. They may even have a future together. But whenever they interact, it's awkward and uncomfortable. They just don't fit together very smoothly, anymore.

Johnathan (John Little) is a successful 60-year-old attorney. He has been married, for the last 35 years, to Linda (Wendy Peace), an artist whose career has never really gotten off the ground. They're childless and live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

John Little and Wendy Peace in "Bone on Bone."

When the play begins, Linda has just received the break she has been waiting for, for decades: The offer of a prestigious job at the Rhode Island School of Design. But she would have to move to Providence, R.I. And John has no interest in leaving New York.

So they discuss options: Visiting each other on weekends, finding a place to live halfway between Providence and New York, and so on. But they can't come up with a mutually satisfying solution. And so she goes, and he stays, and their marriage is left in a state of limbo.

"Bone on Bone" is basically a series of conversations between the two, before and after the move. There are no dramatic confrontations or emotional fireworks: That's not the kind of people Linda and Johnathan are. And there are no smoking guns: Johnathan wonders, early on, if Linda is having an affair with Ernesto — the man who offered her the job, and who was a mentor of hers, years ago — but there doesn't seem to be much substance to his suspicion.

The humor in "Bone on Bone" is mostly of the dry and witty variety. When Linda informs the jealous Johnathan that Ernesto has been married for longer than they have, Johnathan responds, "I thought no one was married for longer than we have." And when they're discussing the idea of Johnathan retiring early and becoming a novelist, Linda says "You could be the next John Grisham" and Johnathan shoots that idea down: "One John Grisham is more than enough," he sneers.

Still, this drama-comedy is more drama than comedy, and much of the drama in it comes in the form of watching Linda and Johnathan's relationship slowly evolve. At the beginning, they annoy each other and bicker in an almost mindless way. What they go through helps them come to a deeper understanding of each other, and themselves.

Which doesn't mean the relationship is magically fixed; DiPietro's ending leaves much still unresolved. It just means that this wrenchingly realistic look at a year in the life of a troubled marriage is also something of a journey.

The LINK News

Theater Review: Tender and powerful performances on display in Bone on Bone

By Madeline Schulman

John Little and Wendy Peace in Bone on Bone, now playing at the New Jersey Repertory Theater. (Andrea Phox photo)

Long Branch — "It was as if the glue was missing," Linda (Wendy Peace) says to her husband, Johnathan (John Little), in the opening scene of Bone on Bone, a play by Marylou Dipietro having its world premiere at New Jersey Rep. The line leads Linda to mention that, as we age, the connections between our bones wear thin, and they grate on each other, bone on bone.

Linda and Johnathan married at 25, and have been married for 35 years (they are childless by choice) so now they are 60 – a handsome, vigorous, youthful 60, but 60 all the same, and the ligaments that held their marriage together are fraying. Many of us know of couples in long, seemingly happy unions who unexpectedly separate or divorce, and never know the reason, but we see the breaking point for these two.

Specifically, Linda and Johnathan are no longer in harmony because they want different things. Linda, an artist, has been offered a prestigious job in Providence, and wants to move to Rhode Island to live her dream life.

"Maybe I'm having a midlife crisis," she muses, and her husband replies, "Then I hope you live to a hundred and twenty." (The play is laced with natural, unforced humor.)

Johnathan, a lawyer, loves his New York life, and doesn't want to move. Anyone who reads the program will know that Linda makes the move, since one of the three settings listed is "Linda's office at Rhode Island School of Design."

If you are wondering how set designer Jessica Parks fits three separate locations on the small stage, I reply, "Genius."

Johnathan and Linda are always out of sync. Each has a chance to feel like the lovers in "Send in the Clowns" by Sondheim, "Me here at last on the ground, you in mid-air." Every time one tries to reach out with a compromise or suggestion, offering a nice bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers, the other has to go for a run in Central Park, or has an unbreakable appointment. They want to be together, but not always at the same time.

As the play ended, an audience member nearby said, "That was powerful." That struck me, because I didn't experience a sense of power, but a feeling of tender hope.

But if she meant the emotional impact of the excellent writing and performances was powerful, I agree.

'Bone on Bone' looks at a 35-year marriage at a crossroads

By Natalie Pompilio

'Bone on Bone' tells the story of a 35-year marriage at a crossroads. Here husband Jonathan (John Little) and wife Linda (Wendy Peace) talk in their NY apartment.


"Bone on Bone," which begins its world premiere run at NJ Repertory Company Jan. 9, opens with a long-married couple in mid-conversation in their Manhattan apartment.

Fine painter Linda (Wendy Peace) is explaining to Jonathan (John Little) how conflicted she feels after lunching with her art school mentor, the one person who thought she was a true talent. She's clearly been speaking for a while before she describes the meeting with the opening line, "It was as if the glue was missing."

As if bone was rubbing against bone, the cushion that both bonded the bones and prevented them from causing pain having worn away. It's a description that also applies to Linda and Jonathan's 35-year-marriage. The childless pair seem settled - until Linda has the opportunity to fulfill her long-denied artistic dreams and Jonathan balks at the change.

It's about the bucket, not the bucket list, explained playwright Marylou DiPietro. It's not about ticking off "must do" items on a list; it's reevaluating the list itself.

"It's not that they don't love each other anymore, but seeing her mentor reminds Linda of the road less untraveled," DiPietro explained. "(Jonathan and Linda) are at a point in their relationship where things are grating, rubbing together … Are they going to get that glue back?"

Director M. Graham Smith called the play "a comedy about a marriage falling apart." Though only 75-minutes in length, it takes the audience on a longer journey, he said.

"The characters are so human, their short comings so recognizable, that you can relate to them even if you're not in the situation this couple is in," Smith said. "I'm a 40-year-old gay man and this is a story about two straight 60-year-olds living on the Upper East side and I see myself in them every day – in the way they negotiate, in the way they need to be supported."

The play has some autobiographical elements. DiPietro has been married to her lawyer husband, Andrew Maneval, for 43 years. The couple lived in New York in the early days of their marriage. But DiPietro and her husband left the city to settle in New England, where they raised their two children. Maneval has always supported DiPietro's artistic dreams, the playwright said.

"There are things I hear in the dialogue that feel like me and my husband, but it's not the same story," she said. "I joke with my husband sometimes and he'll say, 'Don't go all bone on bone on me.'"

BWW Interview: Playwright Marylou DiPietro and BONE ON BONE at NJ Rep 1/9 to 2/9

by Marina Kennedy
Dec. 30, 2019

New Jersey Repertory Company kicks off 2020 with a world premiere play, Bone on Bone, written by Marylou DiPierto. Directed by M. Graham Smith, the show will be on the Long Branch stage from January 9 to February 9.

Bone on Bone is a comic-drama about a NYC couple who realize that their lives are moving in separate trajectories. Jonathan is a successful attorney, pretty set in his ways, who likes his life and the way his 35 year marriage has been going. Linda is an artist who has just been offered a top position at a prestigious art school - the career path she has always dreamed of having. Neither want to end their marriage, but neither want to divert from their chosen path. Who will bend, and who will break? had the pleasure of interviewing playwright and poet, Marylou DiPietro about her career and the upcoming show at NJ Rep.

DiPietro is a prize-winning playwright whose plays include The Anatomy of Shame, Black Butterflies, Bone on Bone, Cold Water Flat, Finish Line, Goodwill, In Love with Cancer, and Sweet & Low. Her work has been produced and/or developed by the Abingdon Theater, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Broadway Bound Theatre Festival, Manhattan Rep, the Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival, the Road Theatre, and the United Solo Festival. She has a M.A. in Theatre Education from Emerson College and is a member of the Dramatist Guild.

When did you first realize your talent for writing?

When I was in the first grade, my sister, who was in the third grade, wrote what I believed was the most beautiful poem ever written. I remember thinking, "Someday I am going to write a poem as good as my sister's." I guess you could say I am still trying.

Have you had any particular mentors?

My most important mentor was Carol Rosenfeld, my acting teacher at HB Studio. Not only did Carol and her class ignite my passion for theater, it turned me into the playwright I am today.

Who are some of your favorite playwrights or authors?

Top on my list of favorite writers is Tennessee Williams, because his female characters are as complex and fully developed as his male characters. Also, because, like Willliams, I think of myself, as a "poet who writes plays".

What was your inspiration for Bone on Bone?

My inspiration for Bone on Bone was the confluence of: 1) challenging myself to write a 10 minute play, which is what Bone on Bone was originally intended to be, 2) meeting with the first person who took my work seriously after not having seen him 20 years, 3) the line, "It was as if the glue was missing," which became the first line of the play.

How is Bone on Bone different than other plays you have crafted?

Bone on Bone is different than other plays of mine because it tracts a critical, year- long turning point in a thirty-five year marriage as opposed to, say, a single moment or event.

How do you like working at NJ Rep?

I love working at NJ Rep because everyone is passionate about and committed to new theatrical work.

Tell us a little about the cast and creative team at NJ Rep for Bone on Bone.

The cast and crew at NJ Rep are a playwright's dream team of talented, committed theater professionals. Any playwright would be extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with each and every one of them.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

I would like the audience to know that they have permission to laugh even if it is nervous laughter born out of discomfort for the situation the characters find themselves in.

Can you share any of your future plans?

I plan to work on plays, stories and poetry I started but haven't had a chance to get back to, and to continue to submit my work for production & publication.

To learn more about Marylou DiPietro, please visit her web site at

The 10 best N.J. theater productions of 2019; our picks

By Patrick Maley

The story of 2019's best New Jersey theater is one of two stellar, surprising, exciting productions—one in Princeton, one in New Brunswick—and a collection of somewhat intriguing, thought-provoking, or otherwise fun shows.

But beyond that list, most of the state's major theaters played matters relatively safe. Witness December, which has seen approximately 4,512 professional versions of "The Christmas Carol" on N.J.'s professional stages. This is fannies-in-the-seats programming of the highest degree. The rest of the year looked similar: a few big-name writers like Ludwig or Taylor, a few chestnuts like "The Rainmaker" or "Cinderella" or "Romeo and Juliet," and an underdeveloped premiere here and there. One always hopes that a balance can be found between alluring marquees and innovative theater. That balance was struck marvelously twice this year: here's to hopes for a roaringly more exciting 2020.

My ten favorite productions of 2019 were…

1. "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" at the McCarter Theater Chicago's Lookingglass Theater Company stormed the Princeton theater with a bold and visceral version of Shelley's novel. Adapted and directed by David Catlin, this show asserted itself with a giant stage in the middle of McCarter's large Matthews Theater, the playing surface upon which performers descended from above, rose from below, and swirled around in aerial gymnastics. Best though were the vibrant performances of the five-person company. At the heart of the show, Walter Briggs as the maniacal doctor and Keith D. Gallagher as his beastly creation combined to bring to compelling life this legendary story by Shelley (herself played wonderfully by Cordelia Dewdney).

2. "Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical" at George Street Playhouse The other stellar production in the state this year was in a theater space no longer operating: George Street's temporary home on Rutgers' campus before their pristine new home in downtown New Brunswick opened this fall. Written and principally performed by Laiona Michelle, "Little Girl" blue was partly a jukebox musical and partly a biography of jazz legend Simone, but it was mostly a layered and complex examination of the confluence of race, gender, art, righteous anger, protest, and myriad other social conditions that come to light in Michelle's telling of Simone's life and career. Michelle's considerable talents made the impact of this show from way back in February linger throughout the year.

3. "Heartland" at Luna Stage Gabriel Jason Dean's new play is concise and challenging, and under the direction of Ari Laura Kreith, Luna Stage found the show's heart and grit. Focusing on how clashes of international politics can take root at the center of a loving family, the production asked us to explore the limits of our empathy. Kareem Badr was moving and warm as Nazurllah, a character caught in the middle of much of the play's tension.

4. "Noises Off" at Two River Theater This show was a ton of fun. Michael Frayn's 1982 farce about the world of theater is goofy, witty, and quick, not at all hesitant to capture the full power of a pratfall, slapped face, or slammed door. The cast was spot-on and Charlie Corcoran's set was a wonder, but the best work here had to be by director Sarna Lapine, who was responsible for harnessing all of the play's whacky energy toward something coherent and enjoyable. Her (and movement coordinator Lorenzo Pisoni's) success amplified a silly evening out to a comic adventure.

5. "Gloria: A Life" at the McCarter In her swan-song season as the artistic director in Princeton, Emily Mann found warmth and energy in one of her own plays, a biographical sketch of feminist icon Gloria Steinem. The McCarter's Berlind Theatre was transformed into a cozy talking circle, as Mary McDonnell played the title role surrounded by a six-woman ensemble who moved between many supporting roles in Steinem's journey. Directed by Mann, the show felt at all times like a celebration of family, community, determination, and strength.

6. "Pipeline" at Mile Square Theater Detroit playwright Dominique Morisseau offered the Hoboken theater a challenging story of family, race, education, and American social structures. Director Kevin R. Free capitalized on Mile Square's intimate space to make the proceedings feel more claustrophobic and tension-filled, allowing the central performances of Malikha Mallette and Jarvis Tomdio to push with desperate angst against the world that seemed always to be closing forebodingly in on them.

7. "The Belle of Amherst" at Two River Theater A one-woman show about a 19th century poet holed up in her house telling her life story to an imaginary audience of strangers might not sound like the most intriguing night of theater, but William Luce's play finds surprising buoyancy in the life of Emily Dickinson. Directed in April by Two River founder Robert Rechnitz, the show was a great testament to Rechnitz's career before his death at 89 in October. His direction supported superb work by Maureen Sullivan to capture and celebrate the often-overlooked humanity of Dickinson as a person and a poet.

8. "Beauty and the Beast" at Paper Mill Playhouse Look, folks: Disney magic just works, ok? Well, I suppose there are conditions where it wouldn't work, given poor production, but the Paper Mill nailed this "Beauty and the Beast." Paper Mill artistic director Mark Hoebee (who spent a decade in the cast of the show's Broadway run) found all the joy and celebratory dazzle in this show and brought it to the stage with full force. Belinda Allyn was a spot-on ingenue, and Gavin Lee was a blast as Lumiere.

9. "Cyrano" at Two River Theater It was a pretty good year in Red Bank, including this October surprise. "Cyrano" is a classic tale told over-and-over again in countless versions and media, but Jason O'Connell and Brenda Withers's version managed to offer something of an interesting take. Putting pressure on the limits of theatricality, as O'Connell and his colleagues are wont to do, this "Cyrano" tried to shed the fairytale but still celebrate its love story. It was not entirely successful, but its sense of adventure and exploration are to be commended.

10. "Voyager One" at New Jersey Repertory Company Forgive me for admitting some ignorance here: but not until some internet sleuthing after having seen this play in Long Branch did I learn the truth of NASA's 1977 Voyager 1 mission that included The Golden Record. It's real, and you should Google it if you don't know about it, but John Michael Delaney's play is more than just a tale of a cool project in history. It uses the story of The Golden Record to probe big questions about people and goals and art and relationships and expectations. Along with director Evan Bergman, Joseph Carlson and Daven Ralston did great work in this two-hander to explore the nature of simple humanity in an infinitely complex universe.

Top 12 NJ Theater productions of 2019: 'The Niceties,' 'The Immigrant,' 'Chasing Rainbows' and more


As was the case last year, 2019 was a good year for New Jersey theater productions with a strong political or social component. Many of the entries in my Top 10 list for this year — from Eleanor Burgess' timely "The Niceties" to Henrik Ibsen's timeless "An Enemy of the People" — had a lot to say about the world we're living in right now, though a few of my selections, including "Noises Off" and "William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged)" were nearly equally valuable as opportunities to escape from it for a few hours.

There are plenty of New Jersey plays I didn't see, of course — I can only see so much — but I don't think that should prevent me from celebrating the best of what I saw.

So here are my 10 favorite productions, in order of preference, with brief descriptions and links to my original reviews. If you feel I'm not including a worthy play, please feel free to write about it in the Comments section, below.

1. "The Niceties" at McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton. A well-meaning middle-aged white Ivy League professor is confronted about the subtle prejudices that underlie her work, and her life, by an uncompromisingly radical African-American student, with explosive results and no easy way to mend the rift that develops between the two characters. The professor's neat, lovely office becomes a veritable battlefield.

2. "The Immigrant" at George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick. George Street found an underappreciated gem in Mark Harelik's 1985 drama about a Russian Jew who moves to Central Texas in the early 1900s. The title character, inspired by Harelik's grandfather, encounters prejudice but also support in the local community and eventually becomes a prosperous store owner and part of the American melting pot, while also staying true to his Old World values and traditions. It's a quintessentially American story. JERRY DALIA Ruby Rakos in "Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz."

3. "Chasing Rainbows: The Road to Oz" at Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn. My favorite Jersey musical of the year told the story of Judy Garland's troubled family life and show-business rise (up to the point when she starred in "The Wizard of Oz" at the age of 16) with classic tunes as well as original music. Ruby Rakos was stunningly good as the driven but vulnerable Garland, and the direction and choreography by Denis Jones conjures the bustling energy and high spirits of golden-age Hollywood musicals.

4. "Yasmina's Necklace" at Premiere Stages at Kean University, Union. A moving drama, with Iranian refugee Yasmina (Layan Elwazani) and thoroughly assimilated Iranian-American Sam (Cesar J. Rosado) falling in love — to the delight of their absurdly meddling and sometimes annoying parents — and learning to live with the harrowing ghosts of Yasmina's past.

5. "Gloria: A Life" at McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton. McCarter's Berlind Theatre was transformed into something like a big living room for this play, about the life and times of journalist and feminist activist Gloria Steinem (Mary McDonnell). The production was enhanced by a short Act 2 with a "talking circle" in which audience members were invited to speak about their own experiences and (on the night I attended, at least) were just as absorbing as the play itself.

6. "Noises Off" at Two River Theater, Red Bank. There were lots of laughs in this perfectly executed production of Michael Frayn's frequently revived 1982 comedy about the backstage (and onstage) chaos in a low-budget British touring production of a wretched farce. It's the original Play That Goes Wrong. Ames Adamson as Scrooge in "Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol."

7. "Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at Drew University, Madison. A polished production of Neil Bartlett's 1994 adaptation, which weaves familiar carols into the action, with a poetic, almost musical quality to the dialogue.

8. "An Enemy of the People" at Centenary Stage Company, Hackettstown. Three days after this play, President Trump used the phrase "a true enemy of the people" to describe the New York Times, confirming the timelessness of this 1882 Ibsen play. In it, a doctor is ostracized in his small Norwegian town after alerting authorities to a truth they don't want to hear: that the water of the baths that draw tourists to the town (and ensure its economic health) are polluted, and the only way to fix the problem is to temporary close and fix them, at great expense.

9. "Surfing My DNA" at New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch. Jodi Long's engrossing autobiographical monologue — a one-woman play, basically, though a musician does join her onstage — about the joys and indignities of her life as an Asian-American actress (and the daughter of entertainers, as well).

10. "Heartland" at Luna Stage, West Orange. Gabriel Jason Dean's heady and topical drama about three people — an American, an Afghan, and an Afghanistan-born American — caught up in political, social and religious forces beyond their control.

11. "William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged)" at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the College of St. Elizabeth in Florham Park. Silly and irreverent, with references to everything from "Hamlet" to "Harry Potter," this comedy — created by the company responsible for the similarly clever "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)" — proved perfectly suited to warm summer nights at the Shakespeare Theatre's outdoor stage.

12: "Lily" at New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch. A post-show, backstage encounter between a country superstar and a groupie at a midwestern arena takes an unexpectedly harrowing turn in this gripping new drama written by veteran NJ Rep actor Christopher Daftsios (who also stars in it).

The LINK News

Theater Review: Sex, violence and surprises make Lily a compelling drama

By Madeline Schulman

Christopher Daftsios and Joy Donze in Lily, having its world premiere at NJ Rep. (Andrea Phox Photography photo)

Long Branch — Christopher Daftsios, who wrote and stars in Lily, now having its World Premiere at NJ Rep, has created a juicy role for himself. Country music star Toby Crenshaw is an easy man to dislike. Within minutes of finishing his performance at a concert arena in Omaha, Toby has gulped a handful of pills and a swig of Jack Daniels, stripped to his red, white and blue briefs (hilariously sucking in his gut when others can see him), refused to do any encores or meet the mayor of Omaha, been gratuitously rude to his manager, Sam (Tait Ruppert) and his right hand man, Tommy (Adam von Pier) and revealed that he recently forgot his son's birthday.

Yet even such a monster of ego and entitlement doesn't deserve the torrent of physical and mental anguish about to be unleashed on him.

Tommy's job includes screening young girls to entertain Toby in his dressing room after a performance, gathering their IDs to make sure they are legal and attractive.

At the head of the line on the night Lily takes place is "Haley from Georgia" (Joy Donze), beautiful, sexy, and full of secrets. Haley is clear that she is in charge of anything between her and Toby, and she uses her amazing strength and fighting skills to enforce her terms.

After sex, Haley reveals that she has the means to blackmail Toby, and some shocking news which will make the revelation of their intercourse the end of his career.

Special praise to Fight/Intimacy Director Brad Lemons. The violence is really scary. The "intimacy" is really believable, a good reason why no one under 17 is admitted to Lily.

Daftsios and Donze are excellent, and Ruppert and von Pier get to shine in two of the quieter moments of the play. While trying to find a solution to Toby's problems, Sam reminisces about the happy day when he first discovered Toby's talent and gave him the guitar Toby still cherishes. Tommy reveals to Haley that he might have been more than a combination bouncer and pimp because of a beautiful secret talent. Perhaps if his entourage had not coddled and enabled him, Toby could have been the decent human who sometimes appears behind his facade.

The setting by Jessica Parks is a dressing room with kitchen facilities and an en suite bathroom. It is so nice that my husband joked it might be a mistake, since the actors at NJ Rep might demand equal facilities. Let's hope that instead they keep presenting thought-provoking drama.

Out IN Jersey

"Lily" is a powerful play set at the intersection of love and hate

by Alan Neuner

Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"

Christopher Daftsios' Lily, a new and powerful play about the powers of love and hate

Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"

The New Jersey Repertory Company closes out their 2019 season with the world premiere of Christopher Daftsios' Lily, a new and powerful play about the powers of love and hate, repentance, and revenge. It is a play with more emotional honesty in its first five minutes than in the whole of some other plays. It is a play that must be experienced.

Lily takes place in a dressing room backstage at a concert arena in present-day Omaha, Nebraska. Country star Toby Crenshaw (Christopher Daftsios) has just finished a performance and is getting ready to receive a selection of groupies who have come backstage to meet him. Toby has just refused to meet with the town's mayor as well as refused to perform a contractual obligation encore to his show and has dispatched his manager Sam (Tait Ruppert) to handle the messy details. Tour assistant Tommy (Adam von Pier) lets in the first visitor, 18-year-old Haley (Joy Donze). After engaging in some unusual verbal foreplay, Toby and Haley have sex. Afterward, sensing he's seen Haley before, Toby asks why she looks familiar. It is then that Haley drops a bombshell about her parentage that sends the play off on a wild ride through fields of memory, sex, booze, money, and revenge.

Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"

Director Sarah Norris mines the depths of emotion in this play, the first full-length play by playwright Daftsios, and is rewarded by highly charged performances from her actors. Christopher Daftsios' Toby is a man riding on his reputation, his best years behind him yet still able to keep the attention of streams of groupies with whom he can satisfy his needs for strong liquor and oh-so-available women. Tait Ruppert, as Sam has the thankless job of portraying a man who willingly gave up his own dreams to promote those of another artist, finding out he's not as appreciated for his fixer's role as he expects. Joy Donze portrays the many moods of Haley with laser precision: now coy, now bold, sweet, and tart, but always strong-willed and single-minded in her pursuits. Finally, Adam von Pier makes a sensational professional debut as Tommy, so easy to pigeonhole as a redneck right-hand-man but with unexpected layers under his stoic, polite exterior. NJ Repertory's regular design team—scenic designer Jessica Parks, lighting designer Jill Nagle, sound designer Merek Royce Press, and costume designer Patricia E. Doherty—outshine their past efforts with unbelievable ease and perfect taste. Special credit goes to Brad Lemons as the fight/intimacy director for this production.

Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"

Lily is a first-rate drama with plenty of touches of comedy. It deals with adult topics and uses adult language, but always in the furtherance of making and expressing the emotional connections inherent in this fine piece of writing. I strongly recommend you see this outstanding production before its all-too-short run ends. If you seek serious, well-written drama, you need to take a trip to Long Branch and the New Jersey Repertory Company to see Lily.


The Two River Times: 'LILY' AT NJ REP

by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

Joy Donze and Christopher Daftsios star in "Lily" at the New Jersey Repertory Company now through Nov. 24. Photo courtesy Andrea Phox Photography

Can one sorry and sordid aging country music superstar change his tune when confronted one post-show night by a determined young woman who seeks revenge for past wrongs?

You bet he can!

He has no choice in this world premiere of "Lily" at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch playing through Nov. 24.

It's the first full-length play written by Christopher Daftsios, a NJ Rep regular who also plays the alcoholic singer Toby Crenshaw. The drama is so full of unexpected twists and turns it caused the audience to gasp at times.

Daftsios has been quoted saying he never thought the play would be produced so he wrote one that he would like to see, without limitations, that hits you in the gut and leaves you changed. It's one of the best shows I've seen on the NJ Rep stage. It's fascinating, clever, freewheeling and unpredictable.

It might possibly be the debut work of a hot new playwright. Perhaps an heir to Sam Shepard, but with more laughs.

(Already looking for ward to Daftsios' next work here in 2020: "Circus Dreams," another comic-drama, it's set in Minnesota and centers on a closeted middle-aged gay man trying to stay in the closet but outed in a most unusual way.)

Tommy (Adam von Pier making his stage debut), the head of security, vets the groupies who get to "meet" Toby after his shows and makes sure they all are at least 18 years old, pretty and eager to please. On this particular night a young, long-haired blonde named Haley (Joy Donze) is first in line and so self-sure and intriguing that Toby tells Tommy to send the others home.

He comes to regret that decision, big time. Haley is on a mission to ruin Toby's career and life just like he has ruined so many others himself.

We see much more of Toby's other enabler and confidant of 25 years – manager Sam (Tait Ruppert) – in the second act. Lily also dominates that act. We never see her, but her name is written in large letters on the mirror in Toby's dressing room.

To reveal more would spoil the show. But, I must say, there is an incredibly sweet and unexpected scene between Tommy and Haley. She shows an interest in the man most people mistake for a dumb bouncer. He rewards her kindness in such a touching, unexpected way and excellent director Sarah Norris gives him the time to do so. The entire cast is superb. Not one complaint.

Jessica Parks' scene design makes the tiny stage look expansive, not an easy thing to do here. Jill Nagle's lighting augments it well.

Because of the adult themes, including a graphic sex scene, and profanity, no one age 17 and younger will be admitted.

The drama is all backstage in NJ Rep's 'Lily'


Christopher Daftsios and Joy Donze co-star in "Lily," which New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch is presenting through Nov. 24.

Onstage, wearing a Stetson hat, jeans and a flannel shirt, country superstar Toby Crenshaw probably projects a regular-guy image that helps him connect with his fans. But now, as the play "Lily" begins, he's backstage in his dressing room, minutes after his Omaha arena concert has ended. And he's having a tantrum.

Christopher Daftsios, who has acted in many New Jersey Repertory Company plays, wrote "Lily," which is making its world premiere at the Long Branch theater through Nov. 24. He also stars as Toby, a complicated man with a dark past whose just-another-day-on-the-road eventually turns into a once-in-a-lifetime nightmare. As directed by Sarah Norris, "Lily" is a tense, gripping drama with some well-crafted surprises. It's also a four-character play in which each character has some depth and at least one revelatory moment.

From left, Christopher Daftsios, Adam von Pier and Tait Ruppert in "Lily."

Getting back to that tantrum … the crowd wants an encore but Toby refuses, even though he's contractually obligated to get back out there. The mayor of Omaha and his wife want to meet him, but he can't be bothered.

Toby takes off the girdle that helps him maintain the illusion that he's as slim as he used to be, and puts on a bathrobe. He downs some Jack Daniel's and gets ready to welcome his groupie du jour. Many are vying for that honor, and it's one of the duties of Toby's stoic assistant, Tommy (Adam von Pier), to help him make the selection.

Tommy knows, by experience, what kind of woman Toby wants. He also, as a matter of routine, asks candidates for their driver's licenses, so he and Toby can make sure they're not too young.

Toby selects Haley (Joy Donze), who, according to her driver's license, has turned 18 today. "You want me to get a cake?" Tommy asks Toby.

As she enters the dressing room, Toby, who has been having a testy exchange with his ex-wife on his cell phone, pretends he's talking to Taylor Swift. But from the moment she steps into the room, Haley doesn't seem like just another bimbo. When Toby pulls his Taylor Swift stunt, for instance, she lets him know she knows he's lying, because she knows Swift is in France on this day, and it's 5 a.m. there, now.

Haley also seems to have some kind of agenda of her own. So it doesn't exactly shock us when Toby's encounter with her takes some unexpected twists and turns, and he has to deal with the consequences.

Toby's sometimes exasperated, sometimes apoplectic manager Sam (Tait Ruppert) gets involved, too, and we learn a little about Toby and Sam's history together. This is a play that takes place over just a couple of days, but we get a sense of what Toby's entire life has been like. It's quite a playwriting feat that Daftsios is able to accomplish that even though the entire play takes place in a dressing room.

In a nice touch, we also learn about what music meant to Toby — in his younger, more unjaded days — and Haley, Tommy and Sam all get to express themselves musically. Tommy and Sam's music, in particular, really help us understand what these characters are all about.

Scenic designer Jessica Parks does a nice job with the dressing room, which looks luxurious enough to befit Toby's status as a star, but also seems kind of bland and anonymous — just another stop on a journey that most people would be glad to take, but that feels to Toby, at this point in his life, like a burden.

BWW Interview: Playwright Christopher Daftsios and LILY at NJ Rep

by Marina Kennedy
Oct. 15, 2019

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) continues their successful season with Lily written by Christopher Daftsios and directed by Sarah Norris. The show will be on the Long Branch stage from October 24 to November 24. It stars Christopher Daftsios, Joy Donze, Tait Ruppert and Adam von Pier.

Aging country superstar Toby Crenshaw is ready for his usual post-performance "meet and greet" with a line of eager, young groupies. But when the first girl to enter turns out to be far more than Toby can handle, he finds himself in an impossible situation. had the pleasure of interviewing Christopher Daftsios about his career and Lily.

Daftsios acting credits at NJ Rep include Mercy, The Jag, Swimming at the Ritz, and Substance of Bliss. As a writer, he's collaborated with Hegenschiedt and Winkler on over a dozen original theater pieces including Dance is not Enough. His short play, In the Hole, was produced at Theatre Brut: When the Circus Comes to Town. Lily marks his first full-length premiere. Circus Dreams, his second full length, will be produced as a staged reading at The Actors Studio, Dec 11th, and will receive a full production in NJ Rep's 2020 season. Daftsios is a proud company member of NJ Rep, NLTP, The Dramatist Guild and The Actors Studio.

When did you first discover your penchant for writing?

For thirteen years I worked extensively throughout Europe in Dance Theatre, a movement medium that may incorporate music, projection, spoken word, etc. We created these pieces through structured improvisation but the choreographers I worked with eventually gave me the freedom to write scenes/monologues outside of these improvisations. Writing was just something that came naturally out of the process of performing.

Who have been some of your career mentors?

I've never had any formal training in the craft. Shepard, Williams, Miller and Simon have certainly been voices that have inspired me to dream in this realm. They've set a bar for truth and courage that I aim for when I'm in the process. In terms of trusted advisors - I'm actually open to critique from any and all sources. If I check my ego and accept that it's about the work and not me then I can better recognize what is and what is not good for the story's development. After completion of a first draft I try to get as many opinions as I can. I'm aware that other writers may see this as a bit on the foolish side but it's working so far so...

How does being an actor complement your work as a playwright?

I write in the same way I act, with respect and care for the moment. When acting every breath of life is inspired by the person in front of you, or, at least, that's the goal. It's the same with writing. When I have my characters I put them on the page and allow them to react to each other. They write the story. I take dictation. If I respect their process and stay out of their way it seems to turn out. When I try to force them into a certain narrative the story suffers just as much as when I try to force moments while I'm performing onstage. It's about letting go of that ego, that control.

What inspired you to write Lily?

Initially boredom. Last January I found myself without a job or plans of any kind and had the idea, "Why not write a play?". The next few weeks I was glued to my couch ten, fifteen hours a day, writing. At the end of those two weeks I'd finished first drafts of a short (In the Hole) and a full length (Lily). As for the actual story of Lily - I just thought it needed to be told. I'm of the opinion that if it's in the realm of human experience it deserves to be onstage. Lily deals with a taboo subject in a non-traditional way. Most writers might avoid this type of narrative as it may be hard to get produced. As it was my first play and I never dreamed it actually would be produced I didn't feel those limitations. When I go to the theater I want to be changed. I want the play to tear my guts out and shove 'em back. That's the kind of play I wanted to write. The kind that I wanted to see.

Tell us about some of the challenges you are having as being a performer and the writer of Lily?

I don't know if I'd recommend it. It's very hard to create an honest moment with an actor onstage when you're thinking, "Is this scene too long?" or "Maybe I should change this word to that". I've had many sleepless nights reworking the play since we've started rehearsing. But I'm surrounded by incredible people who I trust to tell me the truth. Sarah Norris who is directing is also an exceptional dramaturg. She started as an actor so I trust her when she tells me something isn't working or may be superfluous. I will say that acting in it puts me right in the middle of the process of bringing it to life so, although it's been a certain type of hell, I really wouldn't have had it any other way. I've definitely lived a lot of life the last few weeks.

Can you tell us a little about the cast and creative team for the show?

I've already told you about our incredible captain, Sarah Norris. I acted with her in several plays many years back and since have been directed by her in works produced by the theater company she founded, New Light Theater Project. We got lucky with this cast. Tait Ruppert and Joy Donze were so incredible at the initial audition there was no need for callbacks. Filling the role of Tommy, the gentle giant head of security, was tricky as it required someone who had the courage to be simple but needed to also possess a certain level of musical ability. When the artistic director, Suzanne Barabas, recommended Adam von Pier, the theater's assistant stage manager, I was doubtful at best. I'd known Adam for years working at NJ Rep but he'd never acted before so I didn't expect much. What he did for me during a Skype audition made my jaw drop and he was immediately cast. The performances of these three actors are more than worth the price of admission.

We'd love to know a little about your experiences with NJ Rep and how they have influenced your career.

Several years back I was about to go into an audition thinking, "This is my last. That's it. I'll do anything. I'll go to med school." After I finished the audition the artistic director followed me out, sat me down and said, "We need a real actor for this part. Would you like to do it?" That artistic director was Suzanne Barabas and the theater was NJ Rep. I did that play, three after that and a slew of shorts and staged readings. They then took a chance on a staged reading of Lily and here we are. SuzAnne and Gabe have given me a forum to create like nowhere I've known before or since. They've nurtured and encouraged my artistic endeavors as an actor, guided me with care across that delicate bridge from performer to playwright.... and, of course, saved me from med school.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

The show is about an aging alcoholic country western superstar, his straight shooting manager, his gentle giant head of security and the eighteen year old girl who rips through, takes them to task and changes them forever. More than that I don't know. It's not a play for the faint of heart but I can say with assurance it will be an experience for audiences not soon forgotten.

Can you share with us any of your future plans?

My second play, Circus Dreams, which explores LGBTQ issues still pervasive in Smalltown, USA, will have a staged reading at The Actors Studio in December then receive a full production in NJ Rep's 2020 season. I'm currently in talks with several theaters for New York premieres of both Circus Dreams and Lily. I just finished my third play This Neighborhood which examines current controversies within the Catholic Church. As for my plans directly after Lily? Sleep.

MEMOIRS OF A FORGOTTEN MAN at NJ Rep Brings Intrigue to the Long Branch Stage

"What does it mean to be dogged by a persistent memory?"
by Kreplev in Memoirs of a Forgotten Man

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) is now presenting the National New Play Network Rolling world premiere of D.W. Gregory's Memoirs of a Forgotten Man by through September 15, 2019. This intriguing political thriller, based on a true story, is expertly directed by James Glossman and features an outstanding four-person cast. The intimate setting of NJ Rep's theatre on Broadway in Long Branch is ideal for Gregory's fascinating play.

Memoirs of a Forgotten Man tells of a Soviet Journalist whose uncanny, photographic memory was studied by a psychologist, Natalya in the late 1930's. These were troubling times in Stalin's Russia, as people feared the government and its power to upend lives. Twenty years later, Natalya's documents come under review for publication by a government censor, Kreplev who probes the doctor for information not included in her report. The man who was the subject of Natalya's paper, dubbed Mr. S., has long since disappeared, and there are looming questions about his whereabouts. This mysterious story with its surprising twists deftly addresses issues like propaganda and government oppression while it challenges ideas about memory and the inner workings of the human mind.

The play stars Amie Bermowitz as Natalya/Madame Demidova; Steve Brady as Kreplev/Vasily; Andrea Gallo as Peasant Woman/Miss Markayevna/Mother/Utkin; and Benjamin Satchel as Alexei/the Amazing Azarov. The cast seamlessly assumes multiple roles and they are so convincing in their portrayals, it feels like the story is unfolding in real time.

Scenes will captivate that include Kreplev confronting Natalya about the identity of Mr. S; Alexei demonstrating to Natalya that he can instantly memorize a long list number of numbers; the Mother reminiscing about the past with Alexei; Miss Markayevna prying for gossip; Vasily physically threatening his brother Alexei; and Alexei attempting to forget events rather than remember them.

The NJ Rep Creative and Production Team has done a top job of bringing the show to the Long Branch Stage. They include scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; assistant lighting design by Jane E. Huber; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; and sound design/web master, Merek Royce Press. The Production Stage Manager is Rose Riccardi; Stage Manager/Company Manager, Adam von Pier; Technical Director, Brian Snyder; Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas; Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas.

We are sure that our readers will want to see Memoirs of a Forgotten Man. At a time when fake news has become believable information for many people, the story puts an interesting and timeless spin on deception.

In his opening night address to the audience, Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas stated, "Our theatre is as vast as the imagination." We agree. The company continues to bring metro area audiences stimulating new theatre productions that go on to be produced worldwide.

broadway select

Meanwhile, in Long Branch, New Jersey …

By Peter Filichia

Show me a person who works in theater, and I'll show you someone who says something bad about him or her.

Well, almost. I've never heard as much as a scintilla of criticism about Gabor and SuzAnne Barabas.

Instead, I've only heard non-stop raves in nearly a quarter-century of knowing them and their theater.

The Barabases run New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Playwrights who have worked there have plenty to say. "They're incredible beyond belief." (Joel Gross, author of THE COLOR OF FLESH). "They really go all out for you." (Gino DiIorio, APOSTASY). "They make sure you get the best production possible." (Katharine Houghton, best known as the daughter in GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER? but whose play BEST KEPT SECRET debuted here).

These are just a handful of playwrights who've seen their scripts live and on stage thanks to SuzAnne, the artistic director and Gabor, the executive producer. Since the late '90s in this small town (pop. circa 30,000), the couple has been producing six to eight new plays a year. Many have continued onto the other stages.

Note: new plays. Not last year's Tony-winning hit, which so many regional theaters immediately book the second that the rights become available.

Not the musical from 12 seasons ago that has finally ended its Broadway run and at last has been released for national consumption.

No, New Jersey Repertory Company more often than not gives chances to new authors who are only known to their relatives and friends.

And yet, the Barabases have made quite a go of it on Broadway, which just so happens to be the name of the Long Branch thoroughfare on which their theater sits. This Broadway will never be mistaken for the one we have in midtown Manhattan. The neighborhood was quite depressed when the Barabases moved in – but has improved since they opened up shop and started their mission to stage untested works.

That married couples shouldn't work together is a long-held belief. Considering that the Barabases have now reached their third decade professionally collaborating is astonishing enough, but their personal story is even more impressive. They recently celebrated their 51st anniversary, but they were dating long before the wedding — since they literally were teenagers. How many couples can boast that achievement in addition to all the others?

When a show requires music, Ms. Barabas' brother Merek Royce Press composes it. Yes, the family that does plays together stays together – at least in this case.

(And I've never heard a bad word about Merek Royce Press, either.)

Now there was that time in 1999 when the Barabases presented ON GOLDEN POND. But consider the circumstances.

Stuart Vaughan, who'd been directing at New Jersey Rep, was to stage Ernest Thompson's play at a Massachusetts theater – until the playhouse went bust. He called Mr. Barabas and asked if he'd like to take on ON GOLDEN POND. Barabas declined, for it was far from a new play.

Vaughan was surprised, for he wasn't just offering two unknowns in the leads. Oscar-winner Kim (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE) Hunter and her husband Robert (TWO ON THE AISLE) Emmett were to play Ethel and Norman.

When Mr. Barabas told his wife, she told him that they should make an exception and accept. "I felt bad that their show was orphaned," said Ms. Barabas at the time. "And Stuart had done so well by us."

In other words, Ms. Barabas' niceness allowed her to bend her theater's mission and give a director and his stars a break.

"We sold out immediately and turned away hundreds," says Mr. Barabas. "Some people came all the way from North Carolina."

After that, you might assume that the Barabases would say "Hmmm, maybe we've been on the wrong track. There's gold in them thar stars and classics. Let's get more of them."

Despite the full houses, economic boost and additional notice from press and public, the Barabases immediately returned to their mission. They used the newfound money to prepare premieres of FIND ME A VOICE and MEMOIR.

Granted, "full houses" means that all of 67 seats are filled. But the Barabases will be leaving this space in the next few years in favor of a substantially bigger one. They've purchased a school no longer in use and have hired architects to transform it into a few theaters.

"One of them envisioned that we could have a theater with 500 seats," said Mr. Barabas. "Suzie said no; she knows that new plays have a hard time filling that many. She wants 150 at the most."

The theater had no problem selling out its 67 on August 17 when it officially opened a new-ish play that had had its world premiere last year at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. New Jersey Rep got it because it's a member of the National New Play Network, an alliance of professional theaters that was founded to extend the life of new plays.

It's MEMOIRS OF A FORGOTTEN MAN by D.W. Gregory. Its main character, Kreplev, associated with the Soviet Union in the '50s, certainly has no intention of forgetting Alexei, whom he suspects of one anti-government stance after another.

Kreplev summons to his office Natalia, a psychologist who knew Alexei as a client. Because "we must pull together for the common good," Kreplev wants her to divulge information that will help him get his man.

Natalia doesn't remember much – or is she holding back? Alexi, as we see in flashbacks, has no trouble remembering; he has a photographic memory worthy of a Nikon D5. Now all these years later he's using that ability to perform as "The Amazing Aazarov" in carnivals across the country.

Playing Natalia is Amie Bermowitz who sounds quite like Madeline Kahn and rather resembles her, too. Bermowitz does splendidly as the round-shouldered nervous wreck that anyone would be when called into a Soviet Union office. The actress conveys the fear that that government regards her as guilty and will afterward even if she's proved innocent. Everyone in the country dreads "the two a.m. knock on the door."

Steve Brady portrays the no-nonsense Kreplev who's out for every drop of Alexei's blood and each pound of flesh on the man's body.

(That he rather resembles Nikolai Lenin is a bonus.)

In flashbacks of Alexei's growing up in a Soviet household, Brady also doubles as Vasily, his brother. Like so many siblings, each has a different view of the world. Benjamin Satchel is Alexei, who strongly conveys his nonchalant doubts of the dangers that his brother dispenses.

In time, however, Alexei will wish that he didn't have a totally retentive memory. That's what sends him to Natalia with an odd request: Can some of his memory be selectively erased? The man in essence wants another form of brainwashing.

Andrea Gallo plays Alexei and Vasily's mother in admirable fashion. When Vasily warns her that she should hide a controversial book, Gallo straightens her backbone and staunchly states "No – we'll put it on the bookshelf."

An extra bonus comes when Gallo totally convinces as a hard-bitten newsman (yes, newsMAN) with the seen-it-all demeanor worthy of a character from THE FRONT PAGE.

Attendees should also be prepared for a nifty surprise. What seems to be a theatrical convention turns out to be much more than that.

What's remarkable about James Glossman's direction is that he starts off dispensing a sense of paranoiac doom and then builds it to the point where it's close to unbearable.

That and Gregory's script may not exactly make this a "summer show," but the Barabases don't think that way. If the play is good – and MEMOIRS OF A FORGOTTEN MAN certainly is – they'll do it summer, fall, winter or spring.

New Jersey Repertory Company is A Theater for All Seasons.


by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

Steve Brady, as the protagonists older brother, Benjamin Satchel, Andrea Gallo and Amie Bermowitz star in New Jersey Rep's new play "Memoirs of a Forgotten Man." Photo courtesy Andrea Phox

What if you could remember everything that had ever happened to you. Everything you observed, heard, read – everything. Would it be a good thing or a bad thing?

"Memoirs of a Forgotten Man," an intriguing new play at the New Jersey Repertory Theater on Broadway in Long Branch through Sept. 15, explores what happens to a family with a son who has this skill at the wrong time in the wrong place.

Written by D.W. Gregory – her best known play is "Radium Girls" about factory workers exposed to radiation poisoning from painting watch dials in an Orange, New Jersey factory – this play is based on the 1968 book "The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book about a Vast Memory," by Soviet psychologist A.R. Luria about one of his clients.

The two-act play takes place in Russia. Scenes move between Joseph Stalin's Great Purge of the 1930s, a time of political repression, police sur veillance, executions and jailed enemies, and Nikita Khrushchev's Thaw, after Stalin's death, in the 1950s-60s when repression and censorship were eased and millions of political prisoners released.

All four actors, under the deft direction of James Glossman, play multiple roles by adding a hat or a shawl to their wardrobe. A few times there was some confusion over who and when, but not enough to derail continuity. And there are numerous laughs.

Soviet journalist Alexei (Benjamin Satchel) has the dubious gift of total recall and the bad habit of correcting people who mention citizens and events Stalin wants erased. He also plays the Amazing Azarov, an entertainer who finally tames his memory when Khrushchev is in power.

Amie Bermowitz and Steve Brady star in "Memoirs of a Forgotten Man" at New Jersey Repertory Company now through Sept. 15. Photo courtesy Andrea Phox

His older anti-Stalin brother Vasily (Steve Brady) tries to stop him from writing the truth for his own protection, but to no avail. Brady also plays Kreplev, a government censor seeking Alexei in the post-Stalin era.

Andrea Gallo plays four characters, including the brothers' mother. She thinks Vasily is too hard on his younger brother. She's also clueless that her neighbor Natalya (Amie Bermowitz), who brings her hard-to-get food treats, is spying on the family and reporting to the government.

Bermowitz also plays Madame Demidova, a psychologist with secrets. Too many; in fact, it is hard to get a good grip on her motives. She says she's helping Alexei, not transforming him.

He fears his brain is filling up and is in desperate need of a delete button. His reality is not the reality of others. Now that's something we can grasp these days.

The New York Times called Gregory "a playwright with a talent to enlighten and provoke." If that's your cup of Samovar tea, this show is for you.

The LINK News

Theater Review: Memoirs of a Forgotten Man an unforgettable experience

By Madeline Schulman

Amie Bermowitz and Steve Brady in Memoirs of a Forgotten Man at NJ Rep. (Andrea Phox photo)

Memoirs of a Forgotten Man, by D.W. Gregory, is rich in character and incident and subject. The theme is memory, and the central character is Alexei, touchingly played by Benjamin Satchel. Alexei has both total recall and synesthesia.

He remembers everything that ever happened to him, and his experiences and recollections are enhanced with mixed senses, seeing and tasting sounds, hearing and smelling colors. His differences make him insensitive to ordinary cues. Alexei can tell when someone is lying, because that person's words look like washed-out chalk, but he cannot recognize that no one likes being called a liar. Amie Bermowitz and Steve Brady in Memoirs of a Forgotten Man at NJ Rep. (Andrea Phox photo) To remember everything can be dangerous, as we learn from Memoirs of a Forgotten Man, while simultaneously experiencing extraordinary theater and seeing what can happen when a government has absolute power over what is fake news and what is reality, and can alter that truth daily.

In 1957 Moscow, psychologist Natalya (Amie Bermowitz) is seeking permission from bureaucrat Kreplev (Steve Brady) to publish her paper on "Mr. S.", a remarkable patient who could memorize hundreds of items instantly and perfectly. She is pale and submissive, the actress's beauty hidden behind dowdy hair and clothes. He is simultaneously officious and sinister, recalling the colorless men who wielded immense power in the recent movie The Death of Stalin. Kreplev wants the present location of "Mr. S." for reasons that unfold during the play, and he is willing to threaten Natalia with thwarting her career or even with blackmail to get the information.

As Kreplev presses Natalya for details, the play shifts back to 1937 and young Alexei's life in Leningrad. Steve Brady steps into the scene and the past to become older brother Vassily. The family is completed by Andrea Gallo as their sweet, innocent mother. She also plays a stern teacher and a splenetic male newspaper editor (my secret favorite, because mother Andrea is heartbreaking but editor Andrea is hilarious).

The action moves magically and smoothly between 1937 and 1957, the eras meeting as 1937 Natalia speaks across the decades to 1957 Kreplev. In the earlier time, the Stalinist purges are going on, its victims wiped from history (as fictionalized in George Orwell's 1984 and recorded in David King's The Commissar Vanishes: the Falsification of Photography and Art in Stalin's Russia). Alexei begins working for the state newspaper, and fails to understand why Comrade Bukharin's name has to be removed from print or Bukharin's picture from official photos, although Alexei can picture Bukharin and recall his speeches verbatim.

When neighbor Madame Demidova (Amie Bermowitz again) visits with currants and a lemon scavenged from the apartment of a mysteriously vanished couple, it's clear anyone can be in danger of vanishing after a two a.m. knock at the door.

Kreplev offers to bury evidence of Natalya's past missteps. He says the past can be erased and many in the post Stalinist era have left their old lives behind to become someone else. Young Alexei asks Natalya to teach him to how to forget. But can memories be excised without loss and pain to ourselves and others? Can traumas be eradicated along with painful memories? Is forgetting the horrors of history a luxury we can afford? I think we need art like Memoirs of a Forgotten Man to help us to remember.

Memorable "Memoirs of a Forgotten Man" in New Jersey

Scene on Stage, by Philip Dorian

August 21, 2019

You needn't be familiar with 20th Century Russian – Soviet Union, that is – history in order to appreciate D. W. Gregory's "Memoirs of a Forgotten Man." While a sense of that history will enhance the experience, "Forgotten Man" stands on its own as a gripping mystery-drama, premiering now through September 15 at New Jersey Repertory Company.

As a National Rolling Premiere, "Forgotten Man" also debuts this summer at theaters in West Virginia and upstate New York, but it is hard to imagine it any better than at NJ Rep, where, directed by James Glossman and realized by four fine actors, it is an engrossing two hours (including intermission).

The play takes place in separate locations and decades: Moscow in 1957 is the play's present, with flashbacks to Leningrad in 1937. The dates evoke Joseph Stalin's brutal tenure as General Secretary and Premiere of the Soviet Union (1930s-40s) and later, the repressive regime that assumed power after Stalin's death in 1953. (Flashbacks-within-flashbacks can be confusing, but 1957 and '37 are clearly delineated.)

A Soviet journalist with the gift of total recall is the subject of a study being presented to a government censor for approval. Alexie (Benjamin Satchel) is blessed (or cursed) with perfect, instant memory. Glancing briefly at a list of fifty random numbers, for instance, he can immediately rattle them off without hesitation. Backwards, too, if you please.

Alexie is the object of Natalya (Amie Bermowitz)'s research, completed 20 years earlier and just now submitted to government functionary Kreplev (Steve Brady) for review. Ostensibly scanning the dissertation for anti-Soviet sentiments (by analyst or subject), Kreplev has his own guarded personal agenda.

Amie Bermowitz and Steve Brady (as Kreplev) [Photos: Andrea Phox]


Alexie has his own way of perceiving things, ascribing colors and tastes to words and attitudes. Crossing the street, "…honking horns smelled like fried onions and every horn…a different color." Strange – amusing even – as that sounds, Alexie's recollection that a speech by Bolshevik revolutionary Nikolai Bukharin "gave off the smell of turpentine" is intuitive. (A victim of Stalin's "Great Purge," Bukharin was executed in 1938.)

As Kreplev's probe deepens, portions of Natalya's interaction with Alexie are acted out, with Kreplev as observer. It is an effective device. Kreplev is a wily interrogator, a quality that Brady captures in both subtle and obvious tones and mannerisms. He also doubles as Alexie's brother Vasily in the earlier scenes, demonstrating how just putting on a cap can switch personas.

As adept as Brady's Kreplev is at drawing out Natalya's motives and hidden past (one brief exchange speaks volumes), Bermowitz matches him in Natalya's reluctance to be forthcoming and her anxiety over the reception of her report. As temperate and understanding as Natalya is with her subject, Bermowitz changes gears effectively, doubling as Alexie's family's devious neighbor.

Andrea Gallo does more than fill in gaps in several roles, all fully realized. She's Alexie's politically unaware mother, his childhood teacher and, in a remarkable transition, his stogie-chomping editor. She – and a few remarks by Alexie – account for the play's scant humor.

From left: Steve Brady (as Vasily), Benjamin Satchel, Andrea Gallo, Amie Bermowitz, rear

In a couple scenes, Alexie speed-talks his way through long lists of unrelated words and numbers. The actor has memorized and rehearsed, of course, but damned if it isn't amazing anyway. Satchel finds degrees of warmth and humanity in what could be a robotic character.

Likewise, there is much more to directing than moving actors around, but with so many specific settings depicted on NJ Rep's small, sparsely furnished stage (I counted at least six), establishing locales from scene to scene is not a gimme. Glossman does that, as well as guiding his cast into authentic relationships. (The Alexie/Natalya connection, straddling the boundary between academic and personal, is particularly well acted and directed.)

"You think of memory as a camera," explains Natalya. "It's not a camera. The mind doesn't take pictures, it leaves impressions. And over time the impressions change." But not for Alexie. He cannot let go even of the things that don't matter. "Once it's in there, it stays," he says pointing to his head. Is there a limit to his brain's storage capacity? And if so, can one learn how to forget in order to make room for new memories? Is Alexie a potential danger to an oppressive political regime? A threat to other people's more orderly sense of recall? Or is he just an oddity in a traveling carnival show? "Memoirs of a Forgotten Man" poses questions. Theatergoers are welcome to provide their own answers.

Out IN Jersey

Theater "Memoirs of a Forgotten Man" intertwines memory and history

by Alan Neuner

"Memoirs of a Forgotten Man" with Steve Brady, Benjamin Satchel, Andrea Gallo, and Amie Bermowitz. Photo by Andrea Phox

NJ Repertory presents an interesting drama shaded with mystery

D.W. Gregory's Memoirs of a Forgotten Man, now playing at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, explores the problems that arise when a totalitarian regime, seeking to rewrite history for its own benefit, runs up against a man with a memory that prevents him from forgetting anything he's seen or heard, even for an instant. The conflicts arising make for an intriguing drama set in the not-too-distant past, but with reverberations to today's talk of fake news and alternative facts.

Scene from NJ Rep's "Memoirs of a Forgotten Man" Scene from NJ Rep's "Memoirs of a Forgotten Man" with Amie Bermowitz and Steve Brady. Photo by Andrea Phox

Memoirs of a Forgotten Man takes place in 1957 in a Moscow office and in Leningrad in 1937. In Moscow, bureaucrat Kreplov (Steve Brady) is reviewing a research paper by psychologist Natalya (Amie Berkowitz) prior to publication. Her subject is the nature of memory. Kreplow is examining Natalya's research paper, along with her notes on her research subject Alexei (Benjamin Satchel), for any "political" overtones. During their meetings, Kreplov pushes Natalya for more and more information about Alexei, including his whereabouts and his personal relationship with the doctor, raising her suspicions that this is no ordinary pre-publication examination.

Natalya relates Alexei's story: A worker for the state news agency in Leningrad, he remembers being at events where Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938) spoke, memorizing the speeches at first hearing. Bukharin, found guilty in a Stalinist show trial, was relegated to a "memory hole"—all mention of him eliminated in print, all photos retouched to remove him.

Alexei cannot understand why his infallible memory disturbs his superiors. No one fully explains to him the reason why his is a dangerous gift to have in the turbulent Stalinist era. Alexei's brother Vasily (Mr. Brady, in a dual role) warns him and their mother (Andrea Gallo) to lie if necessary about their memories of past events. Alexei first goes to Natalya to gain understanding of his problematic memory, later seeking her help in forgetting things.

Director James Glossman moves his actors through the layers of mystery in the play. Using costume changes, the four actors portray ten different characters in the two separate years of the narrative. Steve Brady portrays two Communist functionaries from two eras affected by the Great Purges of the 1930s—the older, world-weary Kreplov and the younger, more idealistic Vasily. Amie Berkowitz plays both Natalya, seeking to protect Alexei's privacy, and Madame Demidova, a dangerously snoopy neighbor of Alexei and his mother. Andrea Gallo's mother lives in a gentler world of her past, while being alternately gruff and frightened as Alexei's editor, Utkin. Finally, there is Benjamin Satchel's Alexei, possessing an infallible memory and touched with synesthesia. Satchel's performance is the heart of this show—a man in ways childlike but never childish, understanding that few people perceive the world as he can but not understanding why his ability is not valued as the gift he believes it to be.

Jessica Parks' scenic design is a multi-leveled space that easily changes from Kreplov's office in the present to Natalya's office in the past, from the state news agency to Alexei's mother's apartment, aided by the lighting of Jill Nagel. Patricia E. Doherty's costumes easily convey character identities while giving an overall sense of bland drabness in line with stereotypical views of Soviet fashion.

Memoirs of a Forgotten Man is an interesting drama shaded with enough mystery and suspense to catch an audience's attention. You will not be disappointed by making the trip to Long Branch's New Jersey Repertory Company to immerse yourself in the Memoirs of a Forgotten Man.

BWW Interview: Playwright D.W. Gregory and MEMOIRS OF A FORGOTTEN MAN at NJ Rep

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will present the National New Play Network Rolling world premiere of Memoirs of a Forgotten Man by D.W. Gregory from August 15-September 15, 2019. Directed by James Glossman, the play stars Amie Bermowitz, Steve Brady, Andrea Gallo, and Benjamin Satchel.

A Soviet journalist with the gift of total recall. A psychologist seeking to rehabilitate herself. A government censor with a secret past. Their fates become entwined as victims and collaborators in Stalin's campaign to rewrite public memory. Long before fake news was a trending topic, it was called propaganda. And in the Soviet Union, it was the grease that kept Stalin's machinery of terror in motion. A haunting and suspenseful political thriller based on a true story.

Gregory's plays frequently explore political issues through a personal lens and with a comedic twist. The New York Times called her "a playwright with a talent to enlighten and provoke" for her most produced work, RADIUM GIRLS (Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey), about the famous case of industrial poisoning. Other plays include MOLUMBY'S MILLION (Iron Age Theatre), nominated for a Barrymore Award by Philadelphia Theatre Alliance; THE GOOD DAUGHTER and OCTOBER 1962 (NJ Rep); and a new musical comedy, THE YELLOW STOCKING PLAY, with composer Steven M. Alper and lyricist Sarah Knapp. She is also a two-time finalist for the Heideman Award at Actor's Theater of Louisville, where her comedy SO TELL ME ABOUT THIS GUY was produced. Gregory also writes for youth theatre and makes occasional appearances as a teaching artist. SALVATION ROAD was the winner of the American Alliance for Theatre in Education's Playwrights in Our Schools Award and developed through NYU's New Plays for Young Audiences program. In August 2018, Dramatics Magazine listed RADIUM GIRLS among the 10 Most Produced Plays in American High School Theatre. had the pleasure of interviewing D.W. Gregory about her career and Memoirs of a Forgotten Man.

When did you first discover your writing talents?

I started writing short stories when I was about 10 years old. Used to buy little notebooks and fill them up with stories about orphans and kids getting trapped in caves and that kind of thing. In high school -- when other kids were at the basketball game or going to parties --

I sat home alone and wrote stories to entertain myself. I wasn't very well socialized but I had a jump-start on learning the craft.

Are there any particular mentors who have encouraged your work?

John Pietrowski at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey (now Writer's Theatre) was the first to give me a professional production, which is the greatest encouragement any playwright can hope for. He is a great resource for development of new work, having done readings of nine or ten of my plays; I've lost track. He 's got a great eye and a wonderful approach to plays in process -- which can be a delicate matter if you've got an early draft and you haven't quite found the optimal structure. He understands the writer's process because he's a playwright himself. Suzanne and Gabor Barabas have been very encouraging for much the same reasons; they too will read whatever I give them and they've done a number of readings and productions of my plays over the years. Getting into a rehearsal room with actors and director is essential for any playwright -- that's where you find out what works and what doesn't -- so these relationships have been invaluable.

Have you always been interested in history and political intrigue?

In playwriting I gravitate towards historical subjects. I don't know why exactly. I've written a few plays that are contemporary, but most are set in the past. When it comes to recreational reading, I prefer history -- social history, in particular -- historical novels, and classics. So I guess it's no surprise that my plays tend to go there as well. There's great value in looking backwards to understand where we are now. And often the past is rich with cautionary tales -- many times we don't heed the lessons, but they are there for us to tap.

What would you advise people who are interested in playwriting?

Take acting classes. Understand how an actor will approach your script and you will write a better script.

What makes Memoirs of a Forgotten Man a standout story?

Memoirs of a Forgotten Man tells the story of a Soviet journalist with the gift of total recall, the psychologist who works with him, and a government official desperate to track him down. Moving back and forth between the Great Purge of the late 1930s and the Khrushchev "thaw" of the 1950s, the play is both a personal drama about a family struggling to survive in a time of great chaos, and a psychological thriller about what happens when a country allows its leaders to define what is real and what is not.

For me, it's a powerful tale about innocent people who are caught up in the machinery of a corrupt government, and who contribute to that corruption through their own complacency. Though it takes place in Soviet Russia in the 1930s and 1950s, it has much to say to Americans in the early 21st Century.

How do you like working with NJ Rep once again?

It's terrific -- you always know you're in good hands with this company. The design is always top-notch and they're able to attract wonderful actors.

Tell us a little about the cast/creative of the show.

The director James Glossman is someone I've worked with in the past -- he's directed a couple of readings of mine, both here at NJ Rep and at Playwrights' theatre -- so I'm excited to work with him on a full production. He's a really smart director, very sharp and able to zero in on the heart of a scene. He's one of the hardest working people I know -- teaches at Johns Hopkins, writes his own plays, and has directed off-Broadway and in regional theatre--one of his recent projects was the U.S. premiere of John Cleese's new comedy Bang! Bang!

The cast includes Benjamin Satchel as the Memory Man, Alexei S.; Steve Brady as the investigator, Kreplev; Amie Bermowitz as Natalya, the psychologist who works with the memory man; and Andrea Gallo as a series of other characters, but principally Alexei's mother, Sonia. Steve and Amy also double into the roles of Alexei's older brother Vasily and their inquisitive neighbor, Madame Demidova.

Everyone but Steve has appeared at NJ Rep previously -- this is his NJ Rep debut. Amie was in the NJ Rep production of the musical Bookends, for example; Andrea starred in two one-woman shows-- Broomstick and Donna Orbits the Moon--at NJ Rep. Ben appeared in Struck. It's a terrific cast; the actors collectively have amazing credits on Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theatre, television, and film. Steve was most recently in Inherit the Wind on Broadway, for example, and did the national tour of The Exonerated. Amy starred in the off-Broadway show Goldstein.

The set design is by Jessica Parks; costumes by Patricia E. Doherty; lights by Jill Nagle; sound by Merek Royce Press -- all resident designers with the company. They work on every play at NJ Rep -- and having resident designers means you have people who know the space intimately and who know each other's work intimately -- that creates a really wonderful synergy and I think that translates into really high quality production values. I also need to give a shout-out to production stage manager Rose Riccardi and stage manager Adam von Pier, who provide the machinery to keep this train on the tracks.

Can you share any of your upcoming plans for the future?

This is the third installment in a National New Play Network rolling world premiere for Memoirs of a Forgotten Man. After this I will be going home to work on a few new projects--including readings of two new works at the Kennedy Center's Page to Stage Festival on Labor Day: Washington Stage Guild will present my new comedy, A Thing of Beauty, and Transmission Theatre will present a new one-act as part of a bill of short plays called Gas/Food/Lodging. I am also looking forward to a production of my drama Salvation Road at the New Wimbledon Studio Theatre in London this October. Beyond that I have a few other scripts in process -- in particular, a drama called Charming Forge, about a Hessian soldier during the American Revolution.

You can follow D.W. Gregory on Facebook, on Twitter at @dwgregorywrites and on her website at

BWW Review: VOYAGER ONE at NJ Rep-An Intriguing Story of Humanity and the Future

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) is currently presenting the intriguing world premiere of Jared Michael Delaney's intergalactic tale, Voyager One through July 21. Directed by the Company's Associate Artistic Director, Evan Bergman, the play has a stellar cast. This is a show like no other. It creatively explores the future and immortality with a unique personal twist. Audiences of all ages will appreciate the play's captivating themes and it's out of the world staging.

In 1976, Sarah and Carl are part of a team tasked to select music for the "Golden Record" project. This music was part of the NASA Voyager One program to chronicle sounds and images of culture and life on earth to be discovered by future generations. The scenes of Sarah and Carl in their workspace are interfaced with segments that take place in a space unit set far in the future. In another galaxy, a young man, Ceygan has a long term assignment to study Woman, who was found mysteriously floating in outer space. An interesting component for the futuristic scenes is the artificial intelligence Voice that speaks to Ceygan, Woman, and performs scans. The interplay between Sarah and Carl as workmates in the 20th Century is subtly romantic, and personal, while the sci-fi moments from deep space are enthralling as connections between the past and the future are realized.

Daven Ralston as Woman/Sarah and Joseph Carlson as Ceygan/Carl are ideal in their roles. Ralston masters the personality of the young, idealistic Anthropology Phd student and also of the robotic type Woman. The two parts are very diverse and her transitions are absolutely seamless. Carlson captures the portrayal of two intelligent young men that are living in different times. Mae Akana adds a great deal of interest and depth to the story as the Voice in the impressive sci-fi like scenes.

The Design has done a spectacular job of creating a setting that is striking and flexible for Voyager One. They include scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; sound design and Web Master, Merek Royce Press; technical director, Brian P. Snyder; and assistant lighting design and Assistant Director, Janey Huber. The Production Stage Manager is Kristin Pfeifer; Stage Manager/Company Manager is Adam von Pier. The Company's Executive Producer is Gabor Barabas and the Artistic Director is Suzanne Barabas. See Voyager One while it is on the Long Branch Stage. It is a top choice for summer theatre and a new play experience that is truly a standout.

The LINK News

Theater Review: Voyager One puts past, future, rock and mysteries in intriguing orbit

By Madeline Schulman

Joseph Carlson and Daven Ralston in Voyager One (Andrea Phox Photography photo)

Long Branch — Voyager One, the new production at NJ Rep, written by Jared Michael Delaney and directed by Evan Bergman, takes place in two different times. Half the scenes are set in the future, thousands of years from now, in a space craft where an entity (Daven Ralston) is just emerging into consciousness. Is she a woman? An alien? A robot, an android, a cyborg, or none of the above?

She is greeted by an AI voiced by Mare Akana in tones both magisterial and mellow, like Frances McDormand as the voice of God on Amazon Prime's Good Omens. The only other being on board is a man named Ceygan (pronounced Sagan), whose social skills may be rusty after 10 years with no one but the AI's voice for companionship. Ceygan (Joe Carlson) has been waiting for the mysterious lady to come out of suspended animation, hoping she holds the answer to the future of mankind.

Back in the distant past of the 1970s, two attractive young people, Carl (see! Ceygan=Carl Sagan) and Sarah, are curating artifacts to be part of the Golden Record, which was sent into space on Voyager One bearing samples of Earth's images and sounds, including spoken greetings in 55 languages but only one rock song, (Johnny B. Goode, by Chuck Berry).

Carl and Sarah (Joe Carlson and Daven Ralston again), seem less interested in their work than in flirtatious banter about the injustice of not including the Beatles on the Golden Record because EMI won't give permission to use Here Comes the Sun (or even Across the Universe).

In some ways, 50 years ago seems as alien as thousands of years hence, between Carl's puzzlement at gender neutral language and the sight of a movie projector and 45rpm records. Also, we are a long way from #MeToo.

The transitions between past and future are clever and smooth, as the doors which show the stars outside the spaceship close to change the space to a basement room at NASA, and the actors change from their streamlined futuristic gear to regular clothing (Ralston literally lets her hair down).

Twentieth century Carl is smoother and more outgoing than future Ceygan, and twentieth century Sarah is a bundle of animation as opposed to the future entity's lack of expression and literal mindedness. Two talented actors bring four separate characters to life.

Since Voyager One is science fiction, there are some nifty visual and sound effects associated with the genre.

There are mysteries on stage whose solution I don't want to spoil. Who or what is the mystery lady? Does she hold the key to humanity's future? What is the connection, if any, between the two stories?

Here are some other mysteries that occurred to me. Has the AI achieved self awareness? And how many bars of Here Comes the Sun were Carlson and Ralston allowed to sing before EMI got after them?

Out IN Jersey

"Voyager One": two connected tales of interstellar communication

by Alan Neuner

The New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, the premiere venue for exciting and challenging new works, has come up with another in a string of outstanding productions with Voyager One by Jared Michael Delaney. It is a play that demands its audience's attention, rewarding it with intertwined stories about communicating with people both here on Earth and out among the stars.

"Voyager One" by Jared Michael Delaney is at NJ Rep Company in Long Branch

Voyager One is made up of two stories played out in alternating scenes. In the late 70's, two NASA scientists, Carl and Sarah, prepare a list of music and other audio selections to be recorded on golden records as part of the two Voyager spaceships. In the far future, Ceygan, a scientist, is studying "Woman", an artificial intelligence in female form which has just awakened after a 150-year dormancy since its arrival on Earth. In each story, the male character (played by Joe Carlson) initiates forming a working relationship with the female (played by Daven Ralston), although thankfully neither relationship evolves into a romance. The play demonstrates the difficulties of reaching true understanding through communication, showing that everyone – even an artificial intelligence – has something about themselves they wish to keep from others.

Evan Bergman skillfully guides his actors through the nuances of the play. Joe Carlson balances his characters' need to know and desire to help with their attempts to respect boundaries. Daven Ralston's characters try, in their own ways, to maintain an emotional distance until such time as their trust has been justified. An additional character in the future story is Ceygan's database, heard but not seen. As voiced by Mare Akana, the database, while maintaining a neutral tone of voice, uses timing and phrasing to convey a sense of burgeoning feelings and thoughts. It is a difficult task, but one Ms. Akana performs splendidly.

Scenic designer Jessica Parks sets the play on a stark white stage with a large central table and two chairs. Lighting designer Jill Nagle and sound designer Merek Royce Press create stunning special effects, especially during the future story. Patricia E. Doherty's costumes consist of basic outfits with accessories that quickly and easily convey character changes.

Jared Michael Delaney's Voyager One is a tersely-written ninety minute play with not one word of padding. This is a play with outstanding acting and fine direction. It is a privilege to watch, and the New Jersey Repertory Company is to be applauded for presenting it. I cannot more strongly recommend that you make the trip to Long Branch to see Voyager One before its run ends.

'Voyager 1' looks at the immortality of the human spirit

By Natalie Pompilio

Playwright Jared Michael Delaney doesn't want to reveal too much about "Voyager One," his new work which is premiering at New Jersey Repertory Company and running through July 21.

When and where does the action unfold? In a NASA lab in the late 1970s and "in a space craft, in the far, far, far future, somewhere in space." Are all of the characters human? "Sort of. Kind of." What's the story about? "The immortality of the human spirit, and whatever that means to people."

The play was inspired, he said, by two articles. The first was an update on the actual Voyager 1, one of two probes launched by NASA in 1977. The craft is now more than 10 billion miles from Earth – the farthest any man-made object has ever gotten - and still traveling and still transmitting data.

Both Voyagers have a so-called "golden record" on board in case Intelligent life forms in other planetary systems want to learn something about how things once were on this planet. The audio-visual disc – with photos, videos, spoken greetings in 55 language and a collection of music by artists representing different genres, including Mozart (classical), Blind Willie Johnson(gospel/blues) and Chuck Berry (rock) – is expected to last millions of years, at least until Voyager 1 passes the Proxima Centauri star in about 20,000 to 40,000 years, give or take a few thousand.

The second piece, by journalist Chuck Klosterman, asked which artist those in the far future will use to define rock and roll. Then, rock will be a genre that will seem as distant and foreign as Shakespeare is in this age. Klosterman concludes that these future beings will look to Berry's song "Johnny B. Goode," the only rock song on the golden record, making it the "one rock song (that) will exist even if the earth is spontaneously swallowed by the sun."

"That struck me: The planet Earth might not here in 40,000 years but Voyager I will still be heading towards a star and 'Johnny B. Goode' will still be spinning," said Delaney, who described himself as the type of intense music fan who reads autobiographies about performers and producers. "I'm interested in that idea of the enormity of space, the enormity of time, the enormity of all that and us, really tiny little specks in the cosmos."

And, he added, "rock and roll and space ships."

The NJ Rep production -- directed by Evan Bergman and running through July 21 – stars Joseph Carlson, Daven Ralston and Mare Akana. Carlson and Ralston each play two roles: a character in the 1970s and a character in a year far, far from now.

The plot is summed up this way by the company: "In the far future, a discovery is made which upends everything humanity has been led to believe. Meanwhile, in the 1970s, a pair of researchers on the Voyager One Golden Record project find themselves debating the very role humanity has to play in the universe."

Humanity is the key word there. It's not often that science fiction is adapted for the stage – a notable recent exception is Jordan Harrison's "Marjorie Prime" – because of the limits of live theater. Special effects are challenging and there's no change for a do-over in the editing room using computer-generated magic.

But Delaney embraced the challenge.

"One of my motivations for this one was seeing how we could do science fiction on stage without the effects and the robots," he said. "I think the best science fiction is a metaphor for the human condition."

BWW Interview: Playwright Jared Michael Delaney and VOYAGER ONE at NJ Rep 6/20 to 7/21

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will present the world premiere of Voyager One by Jared Michael Delaney from June 20- July 21, 2019. Directed by Evan Bergman, the play stars Mare Akana, Joseph Carlson, and Daven Ralston.

In the far future, a discovery is made which upends everything humanity has been led to believe. Meanwhile, in the recent past, two researchers on the Voyager One Golden Record project find themselves on a journey across the universe where rock n' roll never dies and love lives on.

Broadwayworld had the opportunity to interview Jared Michael Delaney about his career and the upcoming show at NJ Rep.

Delaney's full productions include The Hand of Gaul, 2013 Inis Nua Theatre; Noli Timere (Don't Be Afraid) 2017 Theatre Conspiracy; Voyager One, New Jersey Repertory Company, 2019; They've All Gone & We'll Go Too, Jersey Fringe, 2019. Readings: Paint It Black, You Devil, Strange Sun Theatre, Best Medicine Rep; Child of Lions, HRC Showcase Theatre, "Honorable Mention" New Works of Merit; The Cannibal of Ajax, Best Medicine Rep., Vintage Theatre Comedy Festival; Voyager One, N.J. Rep., Khaos Theatre Co., 5th Wall Productions. His short plays include Fortune's Fool, Aberrant Theatre, NJ Rep's Theatre Brut (published, related anthology); Pontiff Blues; and The Shoes; RGDG?, FringeArts

Tell us a little about your earliest interest in writing?

Writing was always big in my house. My mother was a literature teacher and my father a psychologist. The house was full of books. And my brother and I probably had books in our hands before we had anything else. So the interest was always there, really. And I started scribbling things pretty young, I think. Little poems and things like that.

Did you have that ah-hah moment when you knew you'd be a playwright?

There wasn't really one moment. I was always interested in the theatre and have been acting since high school (I'm still a working actor today). But when I was first thinking of a writing career, I wanted to write for Rolling Stone and go on tour covering Pearl Jam and the Police and things like that. I worked as a journalist for a few years actually but it wasn't for me in the end. And I started working as an actor after grad school and found myself wanting to tell stories that I hadn't seen before. So that's how it started. It was a gradual process.

Who are some of the writers you like to read in your spare time and why?

I read a lot and all kinds of genres. For playwriting, my modern favorites are Conor McPherson and Jez Butterworth. I'm just in awe of the emotional depth of their storytelling while creating uniquely theatrical experiences. But they're just the first two that come to mind. There's dozens whose work I admire and enjoy. I read a lot of non-fiction and a lot of rock n' roll biographies. I've been in a deep, deep Bowie dive lately. I'm on my third biography of him, along with having finished two autobiographies related to him (one by his former drummer, one by his long-time producer). I also read comic books constantly. My favorite writers there are Jason Aaron, Brian Wood, Brian Vaughn. Few others. I also just started Herman Melville's second novel titled Omoo and it's wonderful.

What was the inspiration for Voyager One?

Voyager One was inspired by two articles I happened to read in close proximity to each other. The first was a news report that said that the Voyager One spacecraft, launched in 1977, had left our solar system and was the first man-made object in interstellar space. And that if it maintained its current course and nothing got in its way, it wouldn't even reach another star for 40,000 years. The second piece was by Chuck Klosterman (he's a favorite of mine). He wrote an essay asking this question: in 500 years, when humanity looks back at rock music, what is the one name that will be associated with it? (Like Shakespeare is with Elizabethan drama). He eventually came down on saying it would be Chuck Berry. Now, he listed a number of reasons but the one that struck me was that Berry's Johnny B. Goode was the ONLY rock n' roll song on the Golden Record aboard Voyager One and that the Record's estimated life span could be a billion years. The enormity of those two things really struck me and that's where the idea began.

Tell us a little bit about your experiences working with NJ Rep.

This is my fifth experience working with NJ Rep (3x as an actor, 1 as an assistant director and now, as playwright). It's always a joy. It feels like an artistic home. They've made me an Artistic Associate of the company and I'm honored to be one. Gabe and Suzanne Barabas, the Artistic Directors, are dedicated to telling new stories and doing good work. They also happen to be outstanding human beings. You can't ask much more than that. We'd love to know about the team for Voyager One. The team for Voyager One are the seasoned professionals that NJ Rep uses from show to show and with good reason. They know how to use the space to its full potential and what they've done for Voyager, from the costumes to the lights to sound to set is top notch. The director is Evan Bergman, whom I've worked with for many years in a number of capacities. He excels at developing and directing new work, so he's exactly who you want at the reins. Plus, he happens to be my good friend and that helps too.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

Well, I don't want to say too much, as to spoil it. But I would say to folks coming to see the show to remember that the universe is a stranger and more wonderful place than we could ever know. Keep that in mind as you watch it.

Can you share some of your future plans?

Well next up after this production, I'm having a one-woman show I wrote for a friend produced as part of the Jersey Fringe (which is curated by the good folks at the Eagle Theater in Hammonton, NJ). It's titled They've All Gone & We'll Go Too and it's the story of one fan's love of Canada's greatest rock band (in this case we're talking about The Tragically Hip). The performer, Charlotte Northeast, is Canadian. And an amazing actor and a dear friend and she tasked me with helping tell her story about being a Canadian in America through the lens of this band's music. We're pretty excited how it turned out. Runs Aug 3-5, so come see it if you're of a mind!

Our readers can follow Jared Michael Delaney on Twitter and Instagram at the same handle: @blackcrowe1027 and visit his web site at

Identity-check at NJ Rep: "Surfing My DNA"

Scene on Stage, by Philip Dorian

May 9, 2019

Any time someone appears on stage in tap shoes, I'm all in.

Jodi Long brings that footwear and more to "Surfing My DNA," world-premiering through May 26 at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Written and performed by Ms. Long, the hybrid stage piece is half biography (of her parents) and half her own memoir. With that former content split further between the two parents, including their experiences with anti-Asian racism and their show-business careers, the result, while interesting enough, is necessarily diffuse.

What separated Long's parents from typical mainstream1940s/50s husband-and-wife vaudeville teams was not lack of talent; archived clips of their act, neatly projected on NJ Rep's backdrop, allay any such doubts. It was their heritage that set them apart and dictated their bookings. Long's father was born in Australia to a Scottish mother and a Chinese father; her mother was born in Portland, Oregon, where her Japanese parents had settled. With their dominant Oriental, as it was then called, heritage, Larry and Trudie (their names, really) worked Asian-themed venues in San Francisco, known as the Chop Suey Circuit, before landing some gigs in New York, including a 1951 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. (The grainy footage of Ed introducing them as "direct from China" and Larry intoning Chinese-sounding gibberish, is priceless. Agonizingly un-PC, but historically priceless.) Jodi's narrative through their career, punctuated by her own time-step tapping, is entertaining.

Jodi Long in tap-dance mode [Photos: SuzAnne Barabas]


She also covers her parents' histories, with Larry's centering on his family emigrating from Australia to the U. S., where he pursued a show-biz career, eventually landing a role in a road company "Flower Drum Song" that toured on-and-off for ten years. Bye-bye, family.

Her mother's background is more fleshed out. As a teen, Trudie was interred with her family in the infamous west coast camps where Japanese-Americans – U.S. citizens, mind you – were confined during World War II. Eventually sponsored for release from the camp by a New York Daily News columnist (whose motives remain un-examined), she embarks on an adventurous cross-country train trip, settles precariously in NYC and eventually lands a job as a showgirl at the Mafia-owned China Doll nightclub – for a princely $75 a week. "And that's how I got into show business," mom concludes. The segment is the show's best, both for subject and narration. Trudie's tale could (should?) comprise a play of its own.

The second hour-long act takes a more somber turn. Long attends the funeral of a family "uncle" in Portland and re-connects with long-lost family in Australia, where she learns of her Scottish ancestry. Continuing in memoir mode, the segment about surfing in Bradley Beach is of local interest, but introducing a litany of drunk and druggie 'boyfriends' is clearly TMI. She drops a few F-bombs that dud-out, and her imagined or recalled conversations, in which she does both voices, mostly ramble.

Channeling her late uncle

While "Surfing My DNA" is a solo-actor play, Ms. Long is complemented by a musician-cum sound effects fellow, whose skills are as versatile as his instruments. Set against the wall stage left, Yukio Tsuji provides percussive and electronic accompaniment for the musical vignettes and some hauntingly mood-enhancing atonality on the shakuhachi, a 7th Century Japanese, longitudinal, end-blown, bamboo-flute. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Notwithstanding a couple exceptions over the past twenty-two years, plays premiering at New Jersey Rep do not emerge fully formed. The company's raison d'etre, after all, is to provide authors with the opportunity to see their plays "on their feet" for the first time and to initiate editing and re-tooling, a process that most often involves pruning.

Jodi Long is two-thirds of the "Surfing My DNA" triumvirate. Together with her director Eric Rosen, playwright/performer Long now has a golden few weeks to carve out the 90-minute presentation aborning within "Surfing My DNA." (Keep the tap shoes in.)

In 'Surfing My DNA,' a daughter recounts her family history in a quest to find what shaped her

By Natalie Pompilio

When Jodi Long's parents performed their variety act on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1950, the host described them as "direct from China" and her father spoke in pidgin Chinese before showing the world why some called him 'the Chinese Gene Kelly."

No matter that Larry Long was actually born in Australia to a Cantonese father and a Scottish mother. Or that his wife/dance partner, Trudie, had been born in Oregon to parents of Japanese heritage and, with her family, had been sent to an internment camp during World War II. The couple presented themselves as exotic foreigners, which is what audiences wanted to see.

"That was the whole thing about Vaudeville," Long said. "If you were part of the disenfranchised but you had a little talent – sing or do a tap dance or two – you could make some money."

Long, who grew up hanging out in the "Chop Suey Circuit" nightclubs where her parents performed, took her parents' real and imagined personal histories into account and looked at how they had shaped her life while crafting "Surfing My DNA," her one-woman show at New Jersey Repertory Company through May 26.

"This asks, 'What are the imprints that we have in our lives?' There's our own DNA imprints and the DNA imprints from our parents, our emotional imprints and our societal imprints."" said Long, who wrote the 2008 documentary "Long Story Short" about parents' story. "It's my story, but if I'm really doing my job, people will want to look at their own families and where their parents came from and where their grandparents came from."

Long – a stage, screen and TV actor whose credits include a starring role on "Sullivan and Son," a sitcom that ran for three seasons on TBS - made her Broadway debut at age 7 in the Sidney Lumet-directed "Nowhere to Go But Up." She wrote "Surfing my DNA" in part to preserve family stories that would be lost if not documented and to retrace the past that has made her the person she is today. In the show, Long portrays not only both of her parents but also the Chinese-American man who "gave me a lot about what it means to be Chinese in America."

"Even though my father was Chinese, he was Australian. My mother wasn't very Japanese because it wasn't a cool thing to be during the war," Long said. "I think that's really important: Knowing where you come from and how it's infused in different parts of you. That's really America, this melting pot of different cultures and meanings."

The original version of "DNA" debuted in California in 2006. It's changed a lot since then, Long said. Both of parents are no longer living – her father died before the debut but her mother attended performances - and she's matured.

"It's a more honest portrayal and version of what it was like growing up in that household and how my experiences affected me," she said. "As you get older, you don't care as much, you have less to lose."

BWW Review: THE SOURCE by Jack Canfora Makes its Stunning World Premiere Now at NJ Rep

"There's no excuse for excuses."
-by Eleanor in THE SOURCE

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) is now presenting the world premiere of Jack Canfora's The Source through April 7. This outstanding play has received the prestigious Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Superbly directed by the Company's Associate Artistic Director, Evan Bergman, it features an exceptional three-person cast. Put this one on your entertainment schedule. It is an intriguing story of a modern news organization in the throes of an ethical dilemma.

Media mogul Roland is a sharp, strategic businessman whose enterprises are in peril. A source has revealed that one of his newspapers published a victim's text messages that had been illicitly obtained from the local police. The scandal threatens the reputation of the company and their proposed deal to acquire the media giant, Clear Sky. In a contentious meeting, Roland, his son Andrew who is an executive of the company, and the newspaper's savvy editor, Eleanor decide that there must be a "bold stroke" to deflect public attention from the issue. With tensions running high, it is anyone's guess if there can be a resolution. This keenly written play, with its contemporary subject matter, well-developed characters, and plot twists, will keep you enthralled from the first minute to the last.

The cast of The Source couldn't be better with Eleanor Handley as Eleanor; Andrew Rein as Andrew; and Conan McCarty as Roland. They master Canfora's intense, sharp, and witty dialogue. The scenes shift from May of 2013 to July of 2011 and then to August of 2014. This timeline offers a perspective on the characters' personal relationships and business dealings. Handley, Rein, and McCarty bring their characters to life with such exactness, you will believe that the events are unfolding in real time.

The Creative Team has done a fantastic job of creating the setting for The Source. They include scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; sound design and Webmaster, Merek Royce Press; Technical Director, Brian P. Snyder; Production Stage Manager, Kristen Pfeifer; and Assistant Stage Manager/Company Manager, Adam von Pier.

With the increasing influence of media and our individual privacies is at risk, The Source is a powerful story that is reflects our times. The play is the fourth one by Jack Canfora that has premiered at NJ Rep. We applaud Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas and Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas for continuing to bring the best in new theatre to the Long Branch Stage.


by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

Conan McCarty (Roland), Andrew Rein (Andrew) and Eleanor Handley (Eleanor) star in New Jersey Repertory Company's "The Source." Courtesy NJ Repertory Company

In the New Jersey Repertory Company's excellent, nicely staged, absorbing world premiere "The Source," a newspaper mogul calls a late-night meeting with two of his top executives to plan a strategy to deal with a serious and potentially illegal issue.

Allegations soon will be leveled that his company hacked into the cellphone of a murdered 14-year-old girl to obtain her voice mail messages.

Illegal or not says Roland (Conan McCarty), the mogul, the company is not going to look good to the public whose sympathies will be with the dead girl's family.

And that's not all.

He tells Eleanor (Eleanor Handley) and Andrew (Andrew Rein) the allegations allege his news organization not only knew about the voicemail hacking, it also knew police were paid for information, and the hacking of Prince William, Paul McCartney during his divorce, Gulf War vets and families of the Fort Hood massacre.

If this sounds vaguely familiar that's because the Australian-born American media mogul Rupert Murdoch's companies faced the same dilemma when they were accused of regularly hacking the phones of celebrities, royalty and public citizens.

There are more similarities, but to reveal them would spoil the fun of seeing this well-written, intelligent, often very funny – but serious – play from Jack Canfora.

For instance, after Roland comments his newspaper-owner father never had as great a view of New York City as the one in Eleanor's office, Andrew dryly responds, "That'd be asking a lot of Missouri."

"The Source," starring Conan McCarty and Eleanor Handley, will run through April 7 at New Jersey Repertory Company. Courtesy NJ Repertory Company

Eleanor asks Andrew how his walk was and he responds, "Pretty appalling, actually. In midtown, surrounded by some of the world's great restaurants and Applebee's is packed."

When Roland arrives – late – to the meeting he notes, "This is potentially a very serious legal matter. I want to talk frankly to you about it, and I want you to talk frankly with me about it. So the last thing I want in the room is a lawyer."

Andrew, as the underappreciated son, says, "If I don't make myself the center of everything, how can I expect anyone else to?"

The two-hour work is a winner of the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award (30 previous winners made it to Broadway) and two of his three plays staged here made the move to off-Broadway.

I'd be surprised if this work did not transfer as well. The dialogue is snappy, but believable. You don't see the plot twists coming, unless you're very familiar with Murdoch's story (so don't Google it!). And there's an intriguing, enigmatic ending nicely delivered by Handley.

I mean, really. I'm ready for "The Source, Part 2." And I'm not just saying that because I'm a journalist intrigued by "the forces that shape our views of the world and the influence of the media on our society," as the press release described the play.

Jessica Parks' set design of a luxury office and lighting by Jill Nagle made the stage feel spacious, which is not easy in this intimate theater. Costumes by Patricia E. Doherty not only looked great, they enabled several quick changes.

The LINK News

Theater Review: Ripped from the headlines, The Source is a ripping drama

By Madeline Schulman

Conan McCarty, Eleanor Handley, and Andrew Rein in a scene from the world premiere of Jack Canfora's The Source. (SuzAnne Barabas photo)

Long Branch — Ching, ching!

That is the sound of Law & Order, in tribute to The Source, which is ripped from the headlines, specifically the headlines of 2007, when the British tabloid News of the World, one of Rupert Murdoch's properties, was revealed to have hacked into the phone of murder victim Milly Dowler in 2002. There were other hacking victims, and the scandal led to the demise of News of the World in 2011.

The brilliant cast of the world premiere of The Source at the New Jersey Repertory Company consists of Eleanor Handley as Eleanor and Andrew Rein as Andrew, executives of a huge international news organization, and Conan McCarty as Roland McCabe, owner of the giant corporation. Roland and Andrew hate each other so much I was naively surprised to learn they were father and son. No one will be surprised that beautiful, British Eleanor and Andrew have a romantic history, although Eleanor has an offstage husband.

Bringing the three of them together one night in May, 2013 is the emergence of an anonymous source claiming (truthfully) that Roland, as the owner, and Eleanor, as the editor of the guilty newspaper, were much more involved in a 2011 scandal (which echoes the Milly Dowler case) than they claimed at the time (shown in a 2011 flashback).

Roland is negotiating a merger which will bring billions of dollars, and the new information can ruin the deal, so he has called Eleanor and Andrew for damage control.

After the performance I attended, there was a discussion with the playwright, Jack Canfora, the director, Evan Bergman, the actors, and Judy Feeney, former editor of the Asbury Park Press. Feeney talked about the intersection of journalism and commerce, and the conflict that intersection causes. The very timely Source illustrates how journalistic integrity easily yields to profit.

Conan McCarty, in response to an audience question, cited Russell Crowe as saying an actor didn't have to love a character, just act that character. I am glad McCarty doesn't have to love Roland McCabe, because McCabe is a fascinating monster, with a disconcerting habit of looking into the distance rather than the person he is addressing. He may be contemplating his own greatness, or looking to the next move in his game of staying ahead of everyone. Go to The Source to see if anyone dares to outplay him.

Want some journalistic intrigue? Go to "The Source"

Scene on Stage, by Philip Dorian

March 15, 2019

There is some real good acting on display these days at New Jersey Repertory Company. Not only do the three cast members of "The Source," Jack Canfora's trippy excursion into the world of news management, toss off their snappy dialogue with wit and precision, they also appear comfortable with the inter-twined plot that might stymie lesser talents. In a scenario that swings non-sequentially among places and dates, that plot hinges on the ethics of gathering the news versus the business of disseminating it. It would seem that in Canfora's view, 'journalistic integrity' is an oxymoron. (I will forgo a riposte.)

A two-year old phone-hacking issue, for which media giant International News Corporation had apologized, is back in the news via a leak by an unknown source, threatening INC's acquisition of media giant Clear Sky. If that sounds vaguely familiar, any similarity to real Murdochs – er, persons – is intentional.

Conan McCarty, left, Eleanor Handley, Andrew Rein [Photos: SuzAnne Barabas]


The underlying journalistic malfeasance, phone-hacking, is pretty much generic, but Canfora puts his own spin on it. Eleanor Brock (Eleanor Handley)'s high-up corporate position puts her just below mogul-in-chief Roland (Conan McCarty) and slightly above co-exec Andrew (Andrew Rein), whose relationship to Roland makes for an interesting dynamic. In the course of a meeting in Eleanor's office high above Manhattan (Jessica Parks' sleek set design) over how to deal with the leak, Eleanor becomes Roland's unsuspecting scapegoat, hoist by her own petard*. The maneuver is totally implausible, but the rest of the play depends on it, so moving on…

We're brought back two years to the London site of the original journalistic sin, then ahead a few days, still in London, and finally back to the NYC office, now Andrew's, 15 months after the first scene, where Roland gets his comeuppance…sort of. (Allaying our confusion, dates and locations are projected along a front border.) It could end there, but in a belated "the plot thickens" coda, the manipulation of Eleanor and Andrew's years-ago intimacy is yet to be revealed. It's all complex beyond necessity, but there's no denying the intrigue at its core, which some judicious paring should enhance.

Handley leaves no doubt about Eleanor's intelligence, competence and equal-footing status…until she is conned by a master manipulator, which inspires her to revenge. And fortunately for everyone in the building, Eleanor is going to the opera after the opening-scene meeting, because Ms. Handley does "gussied up," as Andrew calls it, very well indeed. As her cryptic co-exec, Rein finds the balance between loyalty to her and the character's self-interest. The Andrew-Eleanor chemistry is never far from the surface. (I can't resist mentioning that those are also the actors' first names. Could you?)

McCarty plays Roland as the nefarious scoundrel Canfora wrote. You can practically see his take-no-prisoners brain at work, as Roland over-compensates for his somewhat short stature. (Creative casting all 'round.)

Canfora would be wise to keep these three actors on board. Also, who knows if another director could bind them to the play as well as does Evan Bergman, who downplays the characters' types without negating them?

A goodly portion of the repartee is whip-smart. Having been summoned to Eleanor's office, Andrew thinks he might be in trouble "considering all the other times you have had me in here for a drink." "I've never had you in here for a drink," she counters. "Exactly." Other exchanges contain more than a kernel of wisdom. When Andrew questions a business prognosis, Roland asserts the prediction was made "By the smartest people in the world." "The smartest people in the world," retorts Andrew, "don't make predictions."

The final scene of "The Source" leaves a question hanging. Depending on your need for a tidy ending, this can be thought-provoking or frustrating. Someone asked me what I thought might happen with Eleanor after the events of the play. The smartest people in the world don't make predictions, I told her. Nor shall I.



L-R: Conan McCarty, Andrew Rein, and Eleanor Handley co-star in THE SOURCE, the new play by Jack Canfora that enters its world premiere engagement this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photos by SuzAnne Barabas

"SAFE" — it's a word that somehow applies itself very well to New Jersey Repertory Company, nearly every bit as much as it doesn't.

After all, as the area's sole theatrical troupe dedicated exclusively to the promotion of new and original works for the stage, the Long Branch-based professional playhouse has seldom played it safe in its choice of edgy and unorthodox scripts — taking things far afield of the family musicals, drawing-room mysteries, and Neil Simon sitcoms that once comprised what we thought of as "local Shore theater." In the process, founders SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas have continued to cheerfully challenge their faithful audiences with deeply adult themes, complex characters, you-can't-DO-that-on-stage tech work, language as salty as the briny Atlantic surf, and the occasional flash of full frontal.

When Jack Canfora refers to New Jersey Repertory as "safe," he's talking about a creative concern that's offered snug harbor to the Huntington, NY-based playwright and his body of work throughout the years — a place of "insightful, talented artists who are all working toward the same goal…they've been very supportive and tremendously generous to me, and whatever my career is, I owe it to them."

It was NJ Rep that first committed to a full staging of a script by the young writer, actor and musician from Long Island, with a production of the drama Poetic License that almost didn't make curtain when the lead actor had to bow out at the eleventh hour. The show would actually go on to an Off Broadway run in NYC — as would Jericho,another Canfora work that faced its first sudience in Long Branch — and in between those two scripts, NJ Rep would premiere Place Setting, a cocktail-saturated suburban storm that counted Jack Canfora himself among its ensemble cast.

In addition to establishing a fruitful working relationship with "Gabe and SuzAnne," the Jack-of-many-trades found a likeminded creative collaborator in Evan Bergman, the in-demand director whose projects as a Rep regular number more than a dozen — and who helmed every one of Canfora's productions in downtown Long Branch and at New York's 59E59 stage. For his first project at NJ Rep in some eight years (not counting a contribution to one of the company's short play festivals at their new West End Arts Center facility), the playwright reunites once more with Bergman and the Barabas team, for the world premiere of The Source, an intimate drama that's been described as being "ripped from the headlines" — or, perhaps more to the point, the moral gray areas behind the black-and-white headlines.

Freely inspired by the phone-hacking scandal that rocked the international empire of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his family a few years back, the play that goes up in previews tonight, March 7 (and opens officially on Saturday night, March 9) germinated when its author found himself "quite taken with that story…it said a lot about us; the way the media shapes our collective narratives."

While the not-always-visible media landscape represents the geographical setting of The Source, Canfora emphasizes that the play takes place more at the crossroads of "human nature and the pursuit of power."

"For the protagonists, it's about the acquisition and retaining of power…looking at life like a zero-sum game," explains Canfora, placing the play's themes squarely within the playing field of contemporary politics, business, and public life. But, while much of how the press operates comes in for some well-deserved criticism, the writer stresses that "what's happening right now…the constant attacks on the media…is shameful and really dangerous."

In the play that won a prestigious Edgerton Foundation Award in the nationwide 2017 competition, Conan McCarty makes his NJ Rep debut as media mogul Roland McCabe — note the initials — owner of major newspapers in cities around the world, in addition to a cable news operation of considerable political influence.

When an ethically questionable practice exposes the lengths to which McCabe will go to score a story — and, in the process, threatens to shake his empire to its foundations — the old man summons a pair of trusted lieutenants to enact damage control: his heir-apparent son (Andrew Rein), and a young female protege (Eleanor Handley).

Rep regulars may recall Rein from his role in Jericho— but the actor's connection to Canfora extends as well to their collaboration as co-creators of the web series The Small Time, a Webby Award winning project whose pilot (and thus far only completed episode) boasts the participation of LA Law castmates and husband/wife team of actors, authors and entrepreneurs Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry.

The "Tuckerberrys" (whose own collaborations with NJ Rep include last season's Fern Hill) appear in the story of "a literary agent whose only successful clients are his parents," and the episode can be viewed online at

The branching out into different dramatic realms — in this case one that exists at a remove from the live stage — falls well within the creative comfort zone of a playwright who, while he enjoyed a stint as a teacher of great modern American plays to high school students, "didn't grow up going to the theater…I wanted to be a songwriter."

Having cited a short list of influences that leans more to the Beatles, the Boss, Bob Dylan, and Elvis (Costello that is; possessor of "a poetic, savage wit") than to Shakespeare, Canfora still endeavors to get in front of audiences to sing and play guitar whenever his busy schedule allows — and has applied his skills as a composer of incidental music to some of his past productions.

For the moment, the new world premiere play remains priority A-1 on the jukebox — and, as his custom, Canfora has been sitting in on rehearsals as much as possible; discussing the script with his actors and director, and marveling at the dexterity of the tech team as they address the challenges of an intimate play that unfolds within three different locations.

"I think that Evan has a better handle on this play than I do, and the actors have been great," he says. "I'm fine tuning throughout; mostly by making cuts and trims."

"These are very smart people who are making suggestions…and I'd be wrong to ignore them!"

NJ Rep To Present The World Premiere of "The Source" by Jack Canfora

NJ Stage

(LONG BRANCH, NJ) -- New Jersey Repertory Company will present the world premiere of Jack Canfora's The Source, winner of an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, March 7 thru April 7. This powerful play examines the forces that shape our views of the world and the influence of the media on our society and individual privacy. It delves into the inner workings of a newspaper dynasty, and deals with the explosive conflict between its founding patriarch, his entitled son, and the ambitious young woman who is caught in the middle.

The Source stars Eleanor Handley, Andrew Rein, and Conan McCarty and is directed by Evan Bergman. It is the fourth play produced by NJ Rep written by the award-winning playwright. Past premieres by Canfora include Place Setting, Poetic License and Jericho. Poetic Licenseand Jericho both moved to Off-Broadway after their original productions at NJ Rep.

Jack Canfora (Playwright) Plays include: Off Broadway – Poetic License (59E59), Jericho (59E59) (New York Times Critics' Pick). Regional – Fellow Travelers (Bay Street Theatre), Barroom Sonata (NJ Repertory 2017 Theatre Brut Festival), Jericho (2010 Edgerton Award Winner) (NJ Rep, Florida Repertory Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Minnesota Jewish Theatre, UpstART Theater Colorado), Poetic License (NJ Rep), Place Setting (NJ Rep). His web series The Small Time (co-created with Andrew Rein) won the 2016 Webby Award for "Best Writing".

Evan Bergman (Director) Lemonade, Place Setting, Poetic License, Jericho, American Stare, The Tangled Skirt, A View of the Mountains, Saving Kitty, The M Spot, Substance of Bliss, Mad Love, For Worse, Mutual Philanthropy, The Calling. The Source marks his fifteenth production for NJ Rep and his fourth collaboration with Jack Canfora; New York and Los Angeles: The Director starring John Shea Gryzk. (Ensemble Studio Theater); Love Therapy, Alison Frazer (Daryl Roth Theatre); A Better Place (The Duke) The Glass House (workshops) David Strathairn, Hope Davis, Laila Robbins (Connecticut); Geraint Wyn Davies (Barrington Stage); New York Harris Yulin (Clurman Theatre); Jericho and Poetic License (59E59).

Eleanor Handley: NJ Rep Debut. New York Theater includes Tom Stoppard's The Hard Problem (Lincoln Center Theater), Chuck Mee's Limonade tous les jours (opposite Austin Pendelton) and Jack Canfora's Jericho (New York Times Critic's pick). Recent regional credits: On Golden Pond, Time Stands Still, Witness for the Prosecution (Barrymore nomination), Lost in Yonkers (Barrymore nomination). Eleanor has also performed extensively at the Hudson Valley and Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festivals. Favorite roles include Cressida (Troilus and Cressida), Regan (King Lear), Maggie (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Beatrice (Much Ado about Nothing), Milady (The Three Musketeers), Elvira (Blithe Spirit), and Kate (Taming of the Shrew). Television appearances include As the World Turns, Royal Pains and Unforgettable.

Andrew Rein: For NJ Rep: Jericho, Theatre Brut. Off-Broadway: Jericho (59E59), Acts of Love (Kirk Theatre), A Midsummer Night's Dream (TBTB). Regional: TheaterWorks Hartford, Triad Stage, Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, Bickford Theatre, Burning Coal Theatre Company, Washington Stage Guild, PCPA. Film: 39 and a Half, Remains, Ménage a Trois, Bobby G. Can't Swim. TV: Power, The Blacklist: Redemption, Luke Cage, Odd Mom Out, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order, Gossip Girl. 2016 Webby Award for The Small Time, which he co-created and co-wrote with Jack Canfora, and stars in alongside Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker. Training: M.F.A., American Conservatory Theater, B.A., Duke University.

Conan McCarty: is pleased to make his New Jersey Repertory debut in The Source. He has performed in plays by Shakespeare, Shepard, O'Neill, Chekhov, Mamet, Fugard, Steinbeck, Friel, Lee Blessing, Christopher Durang, Aaron Sorkin, Steve Martin, David Lindsay-Abaire, and Brendan Behan on and Off Broadway, NYTW, Manhattan Theater Club, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Pioneer Theater, Center Stage, Cleveland Playhouse, Actors Theater of Louisville, George Street Playhouse, The Old Globe, Shadowland Stages, Indiana Repertory, and the Downstairs Theater Bar at the West Bank Cafe.

BWW Interview: Jack Canfora and THE SOURCE at NJ Rep

New Jersey Repertory Company will present the world premiere of Jack Canfora's The Source from March 7 through April 7. It has the distinction of being the winner of an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.

This powerful play examines the forces that shape our views of the world and the influence of the media on our society and individual privacy. It delves into the inner workings of a newspaper dynasty, and deals with the explosive conflict between its founding patriarch, his entitled son, and the ambitious young woman who is caught in the middle.

The Source stars Eleanor Handley, Andrew Rein, and Conan McCarty and is directed by Evan Bergman. It is the fourth play produced by NJ Rep written by the award-winning playwright. Past premieres by Canfora include Place Setting, Poetic License and Jericho. Poetic License and Jericho both moved to Off-Broadway after their original productions at NJ Rep.

Canfora's plays include: Off Broadway - Poetic License (59E59), Jericho (59E59) (New York Times Critics' Pick) Regional - Fellow Travelers (Bay Street Theatre), Barroom Sonata (New Jersey Repertory 2017 Theatre Brut Festival), Jericho (2010 Edgerton Award Winner) (New Jersey Repertory, Florida Repertory Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Minnesota Jewish Theatre, UpstART Theater Colorado), Poetic License (New Jersey Repertory), Place Setting (New Jersey Repertory) His web series "The Small Time" (co-created with Andrew Rein) won the 2016 Webby Award for "Best Writing" He is thrilled to be working with New Jersey Repertory once again. He lives in New York with his dog, Daisy.

When did you first realize that you were destined to be a writer?

Since I was a child, I had an interest in writing in some form. It's taken many permutations - fiction, songwriting, etc. Finally, my career as an actor, such as it was, made the transition to playwriting sort of natural.

We'd love to know how your education contributed to your craft.

Depends on what you mean by education. I was lucky to have good teachers, both in and out of school. Certainly they cultivated a love of reading that has no doubt deeply influenced me. I haven't really had any formal training as a playwright, but I think my formal training as an actor was actually quite useful to me as a writer. Being inside a play really gives you a good sense of their structures and rhythms. I also taught literature for a while, and teaching plays by the greats, like Miller, Williams, Kushner, really taught me about their architecture on a granular level that no doubt has seeped inside my head in a very helpful way.

What would you advise aspiring playwrights about the profession?

I would advise anyone wanting to be a playwright to read as many plays as possible, see as much theater as they can, and, most critically, write as much as possible. Write and write and write. I'm a partial subscriber to the 10,000 hour rule. Hemingway said "the shortest answer is doing the thing," and while I wouldn't look to him as a role model in many things, this strikes me as true.

The Source is a very timely piece. What are some of the challenges of developing a play that mirrors contemporary society?

Well, I think anything someone writes is a reflection in some way of contemporary society. Even intensely personal-seeming stories are influenced by our socio-political atmosphere. At the same time, overtly political plays should still be rooted, in my view, in human relationships. Usually, I try to come at issues more obliquely than I have in this play. But I think the issues at the heart of this play, which are how media shapes our collective narrative and the vanishing concept of privacy, are also mixed in with the age old questions of the will to power. That's always timely.

The Source: an invasion of privacy

NJ Stage
By Gary Wien
originally published: 02/23/2019

Ever since our lives became intertwined with cellphones, the issue of privacy has moved to the forefront. Just imagine someone hacking into your phone, seeing or stealing your photos, text and voice messages, and contact information. It's a scenario that can keep you up all night. And rightfully so, because hackers have already shown the ability to do this.

The concept of privacy, and the invasion of privacy, inspired playwright Jack Canfora to create The Source. It's the latest World Premiere play at New Jersey Repertory Company and one of five World Premieres to take place in March throughout the Garden State.

"A few years ago there was a big scandal involving some of the newspapers in England owned by Robert Murdoch," explained Canfora. "They had hacked people's voice mails and used them in the service of getting scoops. When they were eventually caught doing it, it raised a lot of questions about privacy and the role of the media has in shaping our understanding of the world around us. So, I set off to write something loosely based on that."

In his play, media czar Roland McCabe owns dozens of newspapers around the globe, not to mention the most powerful and influential cable news network in the world: and his empire is about to grow. But when a controversy from the past threatens to topple it all, he summons his son as well as his most trusted protege to diffuse the crisis, regardless of how they might feel about it.

The Source will be presented from March 7 to April 7 at NJ Rep in Long Branch. The play, which won an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, is Canfora's fourth to be produced at the theatre. As with the others, The Source will be directed by Evan Bergman. The cast includes Eleanor Handley, Conan McCarty, and Andrew Rein.

"The entire team at New Jersey Rep is not only highly professional and skilled, but also nice which is a rare combination," said Canfora. "It is incredibly gratifying and I think I owe a lot of my career to the support I've gotten at NJ Rep."

Canfora said he gets very involved with the World Premieres of his work. He has a very good relationship with the director (Bergman), is part of the casting process and attends most rehearsals.

"I tend to be involved pretty heavily," said Canfora. "But I don't want to ever be in a position where I'm stepping on anyone's toes creatively."

For one of his last plays, Fellow Travelers, Canfora said he did a fair amount of rewriting. He recalls rewriting right up until opening night. For The Source, it's almost the opposite. Instead of changing text or adding text, he's been trying to find places to cut.

"When I'm at rehearsal, it's very useful for me to hear what the actors are doing," explained Canfora. "Very often they can communicate something behaviorally that I was communicating through text, so the text becomes redundant. I may hit a snag and have to do some rewrites along the way, but, by and large, for me it's been figuring out what I can cut."

Even though audience members may picture Murdoch when they see the Roland McCabe character, the play is a fictional account. Canfora says he took the actual news account as the inspiration, but it's very much a work of fiction.

Canfora originally set out to be an actor, receiving training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He acted in regional theatre and was part of sketch groups before concentrating on writing. Canfora believes his acting experience has helped him as a playwright.

"I think it gives me a good sense of structure for plays," he explained. "Having been in a lot of them, you sort of see how they're built. Also, I try to be very sensitive to the actor's needs - as much as possible. By that I mean, I try to always write characters that have enough meat on the bone for an actor to pry his or her trade as well as deeply as possible."

In addition to his acting background, Canfora's work is also inspired by music. Described as a Beatles addict on his Twitter feed, he has mentioned inspiration from artists like John Lennon and Elvis Costello in the past.

"In terms of someone like Lennon or Costello or Dylan, it's in the relationship with language that I find pretty intoxicating," said Canfora. "They've shaped my tastes in terms of what I find compelling linguistically and conceptually. I try to draw inspiration from wherever I can. I was raised not with show tunes or Broadway shows, I was raised listening to Elvis Costello and The Beatles and stuff like that. So they shaped the lens from which I view things artistically. I think it brings more of a rock and roll aesthetic to my sense of what makes a good play. It's got to have a good beat, you know."


APPLE SEASON has an Outstanding World Premiere at NJ Rep

"Both of us looked over our shoulders for a long time."
By Roger in Apple Season

E.M. Lewis' Apple Season is now making its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep). This wonderfully crafted, emotive play is sure to make a lasting impression on metro area theatregoers. With the artful direction of Zoya Kachadurian and the show's splendid cast, it is storytelling at its best.

Apple Season tells of siblings, Roger and Lissie who return to town and their family's apple farm in Oregon after twenty years, for the funeral of their father. Roger now lives and works in Wyoming, while Lissie has stayed in the state and is a fourth grade teacher. Lissie confronts memories of her painful past when Billy, a former high school classmate and neighbor, visits her to talk and offers to purchase the apple farm. As the story unfolds, we learn about the family issues that had grim effects on Roger and Lissie. While Apple Season involves significant and serious subjects, there are many charming and humorous moments that round out this captivating tale.

Apple Season stars Kersti Bryan as Lissie, Richard Kent Green as Roger, and Christopher M. Smith as Billy. Their character portrayals are wholly genuine and bring Lewis' compelling story to life. The actors depict events from their youth and the present time with seamless transitions. Memorable scenes include Lissie and Billy first meeting in the apple orchard after the funeral; Roger and Lissie in their tree house as youngsters; Billy driving Roger home from basketball when they were in high school; Billy telling Lissie about his newly acquired ability to cook; and Billy recalling his high school infatuation with Lissie.

The Production Staff has done a top job of bringing a farm scene to the stage and setting the mood for the show. They include scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; assistant lighting design by Janey Huber; sound design by Merek Royce Press; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty. The Fight Director is Brad Lemons; Technical Director is Brian P. Snyder; Production Stage Manager is Kristin Pfeifer; Stage Manager is Rose Riccardi; and the Assistant Stage Managers are Adam von Pier and Jessica Friedland.

We applaud Executive Producer Gabor Barabas and Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas on an excellent start to their 2019 theater season. Apple Season is a poignant story that poses an age-old question. Can a person can effectively leave the past behind and heal their painful wounds? It is a play that provokes contemplation and conversation. See this outstanding production while it is on the Long Branch stage.


by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

Christopher M. Smith (Billy), Kersti Bryan (Lissie) and Richard Kent Green (Roger) star in "Apple Season" at New Jersey Repertory Company now through Feb. 10. Courtesy: NJ Repertory Company

There is a lot more growing in the orchards surrounding the Fogerty farm in rural Wyoming than just fruit in E.M. Lewis' new play "Apple Season," making its debut at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

Siblings Lissie and Roger have returned home – after they mysteriously disappeared 20 years earlier – to attend their father's funeral. But they haven't come to mourn him. More likely, they've returned to make sure he is really dead.

As the 90-minute play unfolds we learn that, as children, Lissie (Kersti Bryan) and Roger (Richard Kent Green) were terrorized by their father who had a habit of shooting a .22 caliber rifle in all directions when drunk. Which was often.

Their mother, who only spoke in a whisper, died when they were young. You get the idea she was terrorized by him as well.

Kersti Bryan stars as Lissie and Christopher M. Smith as Billy.

Roger, who was so damaged by his father that he flees town before the funeral. He was 16 when he left the first time. At 16 he could drive. He could get a job and support his little sister. At least, that was the plan.

The play opens with Lissie, who inherited the farm (the siblings pretended Roger was dead) picking and sorting apples more by rote than desire. What she really wants to do, we learn later, is to burn down her childhood home because bad things happened inside as well.

When childhood friend and neighbor Billy (Christopher M. Smith) stops by, she just may have found an arson accomplice. And, since neither married and he wants to buy the farm, maybe she found more than she bargained for.

All three actors handle their roles perfectly under the deft direction of Zoya Kachadurian. We learn about their characters' past through flashbacks to their childhood aided by projections on to the side of the shed surrounded by apple trees on the set designed by Jessica Parks and enhanced by the lighting designed by Jill Nagle. Costumes were designed by Patricia E. Doherty.

The LINK News

Theater Review: Crisp acting makes Apple Season delicious play to watch

By Madeline Schulman


Kersti Bryan (Lissie) and Christopher M. Smith (Billy) in Apple Season, now playing at NJ Rep (New Jersey Repertory Company photo)

Long Branch — A tree grows in Long Branch. Actually, two trees, with the suggestion of many more, grow in Jessica Parks's clever set, creating an apple orchard in rural Oregon. Lissie Fogerty (Kersti Bryan), a pretty woman in (as we learn) her early thirties, is on a ladder picking apples when she is startled by a visit from Billy (Christopher M. Smith), her attractive, slightly older neighbor.

Aside from her father's funeral earlier that day, this is the first time Lissie and Billy have seen each other in twenty years. Clearly, there are secrets to be revealed. Judging by the abrupt disappearance of Lissie and her brother Roger (Richard Kent Green) in their teens, those secrets are dark.

Ostensibly, Billy is there to negotiate the purchase of the Forgerty orchard from Lissie, her father's sole heir, but there is obvious chemistry and history between the self-conscious pair.

Apple Season, written by E. M. Lewis, directed by Zoya Kachadurian, and now on stage at NJ Rep, is largely a memory play. Lissie and Billy always on stage (except for a few seconds to put crates of apples in the shed), but Roger only appears in brilliantly imagined flashbacks. For example, we see him as a young boy, comforting his terrified sister while their father is drunkenly shooting at random, as a teenager in Billy's pickup truck riding back from a basketball game, and as a man enamored of Louis L'Amour's novels taking a train to his new life as a cowboy.

Richard Kent Green does a superb job throughout of acting Roger at every age, and would be recognizable as young Roger or adolescent Roger even without the costume signifiers (backward baseball cap or varsity jacket). Kersti Bryan and Christopher M. Smith are also fine re-enacting the younger versions of themselves, as they slip from the present moment into memories.

I don't think the revelation of the trauma that forced Lissie and Roger from their home will come as much of a surprise. The surprises lie more in the clever use of screen projection, the different ways that Roger and Lissie react to their dismal childhood, and the reveal of a marvelous prop on loan from Delicious Orchards.

One little criticism: at one point Lissie takes a couple of bites out of an apple and then puts it back in the crate. She says she is planning to leave the orchard permanently and go back to her fourth grade teaching job as soon as she finishes picking the apples, so what is going to become of the crate? And what will the purchaser make of an apple with a bite out of it?

Out IN Jersey

"Apple Season" explores the strong grip of the past

By Allen Neuner

The New Jersey Repertory Company starts its 21 st season of artistic excellence with Apple Season, a new play by E.M. Lewis, as its 133 rd production. This play is an exploration of the strength of long-repressed memories even over a span of decades, and how the past can continue to taint the present and threaten to mold the future. It is a play of great emotional power. It is a production that needs to be seen.

It's autumn in rural Oregon. The patriarch of a farming family has died, and his two children return to attend his funeral after a twenty year absence. Lissie Fogerty (Kersti Bryan) is picking apples from the family orchard, almost by rote, following the funeral. Neighbor and childhood friend Will (Christopher M. Smith) comes by to offer condolences. He offers to buy the land from her, intending to continue farming it. The offer and the conversation that follows trigger memories of when Lissie and her older brother Roger (Richard Kent Green) fled the family farm, disappearing for two decades.

Director Zoya Kachadurian guides her actors to performances so naturalistic that you forget you're watching actors on a stage. Miss Bryan, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Green brilliantly pull off playing their characters' current selves as well as the same characters twenty years previously. Flashback scenes weave seamlessly with current action, teasing out the long- buried secrets of the Fogerty family. The play raises the question of whether the siblings will ever be able to escape their haunted past. Its unsettling ending leaves that question unanswered.

As usual with NJ Rep productions, the small stage is transformed through the imaginative work of the design team. Jessica Parks once again works magic with her scenic design, in collaboration with Jill Nagel's lighting and Merek Royce Press' sound design. The lived-in costumes of Patricia E. Doherty are timeless, as fitting for the characters of the present as they are for the characters of two decades past.

The New Jersey Repertory Company has been honored this year by the American Theatre Wing, overseers of the Tony and Obie awards, with a National Theatre Company Grant. In giving their reasons for the grant, the Wing cited NJ Rep for "developing and producing new plays to make a lasting contribution to the American stage, enriching the cultural life of their community and acting as a catalyst for redevelopment, educating and inspiring young people in theater arts and playwriting, nurturing the work of writers from diverse backgrounds and building diverse audiences, and building a regional and national destination for the performing arts." Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have seen works produced by NJ Rep heartily concur with their opinion.

NJ Rep is part of the National New Play Network, which does "rolling world premieres" of new plays in different cities. They have been honored to be the first of four theatres which will be premiering Apple Season, and we are honored by this production. Theatregoers looking for a gripping memory play with three-dimensional characters brought to life by talented actors and a skilled director will find it in Apple Season. I strongly encourage you to see it.

'Apple Season' is about a homecoming. It's also one for the director.

Kersti Bryan as Lissie in "Apple Season," a family story that will have its world premiere run at NJ Repertory Company Jan. 12 - Feb. 10. (NJ Repertory Company)

By Natalie Pompilio

In E.M. Lewis' "Apple Season," which will have its world premiere at NJ Repertory Company Jan. 12, a brother and sister who thought they'd left their past behind find that it has instead shaped their current lives and could still alter their future.

How they deal with their childhood pain and with each other is the dramatic thrust of the story, director Zoya Kachadurian said.

"When bad things happen, it's not just the victim who is affected. That's an important message to convey and I like how this play shows that," Kachadurian said. "We think children get over things. We acknowledge basic traumas but we think they outgrow it. It colors their lives in ways we don't even realize."

The director was careful not to reveal any of the details of the show.

The general description offered by NJ Rep will have to suffice, she said: "Twenty years ago, Lissie and Roger fled from their family farm and made themselves disappear. But the family secrets haunt them still. A funeral and a question from an old friend send the two siblings tumbling down a rabbit hole of memory and grief, as they try to let go of a tangled past that refuses to release them."

Just as the play is about a homecoming for the characters, it's also one for Kachadurian, a Newark native and graduate of Barringer High School. There, she said, drama teacher Alfon Valor inspired her to follow a career in theater.

"This is my first time directing in my home state," she said. "It's nice to be back where you have your memories, just as the play is about someone going back to a place and having memories, both good and bad."

Despite being set far from Long Branch, Kachadurian is confident the play will resonate with NJ Rep's audience.

"Anytime theater is thought-provoking, it has succeeded," she said. "It makes people think of their own community."

It's "Apple Season" in Long Branch New Jersey

Scene on Stage, by Philip Dorian

January 16, 2019

At one point in E. M. Lewis's "Apple Season" at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, one of the play's several contemporaneous 'Rolling Premiere' productions, Lissie's former would-be boyfriend Billy (it's been twenty years) says of her taciturn brother Roger, "Anything there was to know about him, you had to piece together." Another time, he tells her "You are the most confusing two people I ever met," and while Roger had been mentioned just prior, Billy's plural could apply just to Lissie.

The nature of the relationships among the three "Apple Season" characters isn't always clear. Neither are the twenty-years-ago details of events that shaped those relationships both then and two decades later. That might seem like a knock on the play, but it is not. On the contrary, that's just how some people are, deep and private, and how some memories are, faded or repressed, and capturing those human elements in a one-act play is an admirable accomplishment.

It is the present day in rural Oregon, soon after Lissie and Roger Fogerty's father's funeral. She is picking apples in the family orchard, before returning to her fourth-grade teaching job in another town. Roger has already left to resume his nomadic hired-hand farming vocation, and Billy, who, at 36, lives on a neighboring farm with his parents ("again, not still"), where he tends to his Alzheimer's-afflicted mother, has come to sound out Lissie about buying the Fogerty property. And, we gradually learn, to renew contact and unburden himself of a secret that has festered over the years.

Lissie (Kersti Bryan) and Billy (Christopher J. Smith [Photos: SuzAnne Barabas]


As they banter and flirt, we learn of the Fogerty family's turbulent past, following the mother's early death, and we begin to understand why the mental and emotional upheaval has never abated. Flashbacks, enacted live and before a rear-projection screen, fill in some gaps, but most of what we learn is through the characters' behavior, their attitude toward one another and the sub-text of their conversation.

Which brings us to the performances, which are, in a word, outstanding. Kersti Bryan reveals more of Lissie's psyche than the woman herself wants known, which is, after all, the point of the play (and, it could be said, of acting). The three-woman collaboration among playwright Lewis, director Zoya Kachadurian and actor Bryan is as smooth as it is knowing. Christopher M. Smith is a charming Billy. Awkward in Lissie's presence, he's nonetheless honest and emotionally available. The two achieve the essential chemistry between Lissie and Billy over a bottle of real AppleJack (if you know, you know), aided by some light-hearted innuendo. Lissie, for example, has plenty of apples, but "I haven't got any cherries." Ms. Bryan also coaxes sexiness out of "You can tell a lot about a man by his Swiss Army knife."

Roger is a strange fellow, bedeviled by life-long anger and resentment he'd had to stifle for years. Richard Kent Smith plays him just that way, with an undercurrent of vulnerability that softens his seeming hostility.

Roger (Richard Kent Smith) and Lissie (Ms. Bryan)

The excellent technical aspects of "Apple Season" belie NJ Rep's intimate playing area. Jessica Parks' set is an apple orchard, and the projections, for which I'm assuming lighting designers Jill Nagle and Janey Huber as well as technical director Bryan P. Snyder share credit, are state-of-the-art in design and execution.

A few plot elements strain credulity. Lissie's (unseen) Aunt Sally's apparent passivity in the face of an unusual situation is glossed over; how Lissie's financial needs, including college, are met is unrealistic (not nefarious, but would be a spoiler), and the idea that the experienced and reasonably worldly teacher had never been out of the state of Oregon seems a stretch.

At 85 minutes, "Apple Season" is certainly not overlong, but tightening some of its exchanges would enhance its pace. As it stands, however, it is an incisive slice of life, staged and especially acted in an impressive less-is-more naturalism. Accepting the rationality of Lissie's final act requires major suspension of disbelief, but by then Ms. Bryan and the Misters Smith and Kent-Green have made it seem plausible.

Culture Vultures - arts weekly


Every family has stories. Some are funny. Some are sweet. Some are sad. And some are never shared.

Those are often the most powerful.

"Apple Season" – a world premiere that opens at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch on Thursday, January 10 and continues through February 10 – has that clandestine kind of story at its heart. The show is a National New Play Network (NNPN) Rolling World Premiere, meaning it will be produced in three theatres in three cities during a 12-month period. This fits perfectly into NJRep's mission, part of which is "to develop and produce new plays and to make a lasting contribution to the American stage."

Written by E. M. Lewis, "Apple Season" shows a sliver of the lives of three people who reunite for a funeral at a family farm, and how they struggle with their grief and memories. It started out as a 10-minute narrative, Lewis explained, but grew from there.

"I began with just two characters and the mention of another," said Lewis, "but I couldn't let the story go. I wanted to know more about what happened to these people."

Although the play is not biographical, it is firmly rooted in a place Lewis knows well – a farm in Oregon's Willamette Valley – and in real people and circumstances.

"I grew up on a small farm in Oregon – fourth generation," she said, "and the world of 'Apple Season' is that world."

More than just a physical setting, the location is also an integral part of the story.

"It's harvest time, with all its sweetness and wistfulness, and it's also a time when things are dying down," Lewis said.

"The play takes place entirely in nature, in an apple orchard behind the farmhouse," she continued. "It never goes inside."

And that's no coincidence.

"There are things inside that you can't open the door to," Lewis said. "It goes along with the family secrets."

And while the characters are mostly fictional, they also come from Lewis' life.

"I had glimpses of recognition of people I know and situations they had to deal with as I was writing the play."

Zoya Kachadurian, who is directing the play for NJRep, agrees with Lewis about the significance of a place that feels real.

"The play is very rich in the detail of farm life in Oregon," Kachadurian said, "and speaks to a particular philosophy and way of living."

It is also a compelling study of human nature, and the situations that occur when these characters come together are very relatable.

Lewis noted that the play is an exploration of two major themes – the power of letting go of secrets and the power of truth-telling.

Kachadurian delved slightly deeper: "It's about the ripple," she said, "when a single event happens, and we fail to understand the far-reaching and long-lasting effects."

"When someone tamps down an emotion or an event, it can close them off. It can affect how they approach things throughout their lives."

Kachadurian credits the "extraordinary cast" – Kersti Bryan, Richard Kent Green and Christopher M. Smith – for the way they handled the story's sensitive subject matter and supported the overall production.

"We feel blessed to have such wonderful actors," she said. "They are smart, talented, collaborative, and caring toward one another and the crew."

"That is the beauty of working with people who are confident and able to contribute their thoughts and ideas."

When she lived in New Jersey, Lewis knew of NJRep but never worked with the company. Since then, she's returned to the Pacific Northwest and to her family's farm. Then, two years ago, "Apple Season" was accepted by NJRep. And, although her participation has been largely long-distance, she feels connected to the show.

Lewis was brought to New Jersey for the first week of rehearsals and is very excited to return for the previews and opening weekend.

"It's very hard to be away from your baby," she said.

Interestingly, there are aspects of the "Apple Season" story that resonate even more strongly now than they did when Lewis wrote the play.

"In addition to being about letting out the truth, the play is also about a woman being brave," Lewis said. "And even though a story about having the courage and facing your past is not a new one, it seems especially fitting now."

"Art often sounds off in front of what's going on in the world."



Kersti Bryan and Christopher M. Smith co-star in APPLE SEASON, the play by E.M. Lewis making its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photo by New Jersey Repertory Company

The Russian master Anton Chekhov had his Cherry Orchard and its group portrait of a fast-fading aristocracy, rotting from the inside out as it falls to the axe of social change. In the latest drama to make its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company, it's Apple Season in the Pacific Northwest's Willamette Valley — and it's there where the low-hanging fruit of past behaviors and secrets threaten the members of one local family with a one-way trip into a wormhole of regret and suffocating grief.

Opening this weekend at the company's downtown Long Branch playhouse, the play by E.M. Lewis represents NJ Rep's first staging of a work by the the Oregon-based playwright who, by her own admission, is "the kind who goes back and forth between smaller, personal stories and bigger political plays." Describing this one as "an intimate little three character play," the award-winning dramatist declares that its themes of "the danger of secrets and the importance of truth telling" operate within her desire to "write about rural people…the ones who are less visible on most theatrical stages."

"Sam Shepard wrote about non-urban people in a way that captured the largeness of human questions," she observes. "People who live in 'small' places are people who are still wrestling with some big issues."

In the production under the direction of Zoya Kachadurian, a funeral brings a sister and brother (Kersti Bryan, Richard Kent Green) back to the family farm that they turned their backs on years ago — leading to an encounter with a neighbor (Christopher M. Smith) who shares a history with both of the siblings, and a situation in which "a legacy of violence" puts an indelible stamp on the here and now. It all unfolds within "the season when the apples are hanging and ready…with no one there to pick them."

Like so many of the scripts that have made their way to NJ Rep's mainstage through the years, Apple Season is one of the National New Play Network's "rolling world premiere" properties that debut in multiple locales, with different casts and directors — and in this case, it's the New Jersey audience that gets to see it first, with additional 2019 productions scheduled to follow in Iowa City and Los Angeles.

"This play has had a past life of readings in places like Boca Raton, and the Women Playwrights Initiative in Connecticut," explains Lewis, who like her characters resides on her family's farm in Oregon — and who also spent three years as a resident of Princeton. "It's exciting to have three theaters tackle my play, with three different directors' perspectives…but I'm especially delighted to have it seen at New Jersey Rep!"

The months ahead also promise to see Lewis continue work on "two opera commissions and a few new plays," among them a "big new political play" entitled The Great Divide. Inspired by the 2016 armed occupation of Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and "set against our crazy election…neither of which turned out the way most of us thought they would," the work in progress touches upon a theme that's dear to the author — that of communication and connection.

"On social media, you can shout awful things with little consequence and no visibility…but social media doesn't do what we do in a theater," says the playwright whose oft-produced The Gun Show was selected as one of the best short plays of 2015-2016. "I'm still a believer in human connection."

BWW Interview: Playwright E.M. Lewis and APPLE SEASON at NJ Rep 1/10 to 2/10

New Jersey Repertory Company will present the world premiere of E.M. Lewis' Apple Season from January 10 through February 10. Under the direction of Zoya Kachadurian, the play stars Kersti Bryan, Richard Kent Green and Christopher M. Smith.

Twenty years ago, Lissie and Roger fled from their family farm and made themselves disappear. But the family secrets haunt them still. A funeral and a question from an old friend send the two siblings tumbling down a rabbit hole of memory and grief, as they try to let go of a tangled past that refuses to release them. had the pleasure of interviewing E.M. Lewis about her career and Apple Season at NJ Rep.

Lewis is an award-winning playwright, teacher, and opera librettist. Her work has been produced around the world, and is published by Samuel French. Plays include: Magellanica, The Gun Show, Song of Extinction, True Story, and You Can See All the Stars. Awards include: Steinberg Award and Primus Prize from the American Theater Critics Association, Ted Schmitt Award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, playwriting fellowship from NJ State Arts Commission, 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship in Drama, Edgerton Award. Member: Dramatists Guild. Lewis lives on her family's farm in Oregon.

When did you first realize your talent for writing?

I've always loved stories. My parents read to me when I was little, and I placed great value on my library card from the moment I received it! I began writing short stories and poetry when I was in elementary school, and continued through high school and college - taking every writing class I could. But coming from rural Oregon, the idea of becoming a writer - a real writer - myself never occurred to me. I thought I'd become a teacher or a nurse or a housewife. That was the whole list of what seemed possible. But gradually, with encouragement from teachers I had along the way, and peers, I began to gain confidence... or at least a strong desire to pursue the craft I loved so much. I went to graduate school, studying writing, at University of Southern California. After taking a playwriting class with Paul Zindel (who wrote "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds," amongst other wonderful plays), I knew that playwriting specifically was the way I wanted to tell stories. I love the theater! I love telling stories for the stage.

What playwrights have you come to admire?

I love Edward Albee's work, especially "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" He was so fierce and smart, and was never afraid to go FARTHER. Sam Shepard was certainly an influence - "Curse of the Starving Class" resonates, especially the desperation of its characters. Lanford Wilson's "The Fifth of July" is a particular favorite of mine. For more recent works, Lucas Hnath's "The Christians" is a play I'm still thinking about, as is Jackie Subblies Drury's "We Are Proud to Present..." I admire plays that ask difficult human questions or ethical questions or societal questions, and aren't afraid of the complexity and complication of the answers.

How does your teaching career and work as a librettist complement your writing?

I love teaching. I feel so lucky to have found a place in the theater world, for myself and my voice - I want to help others find their own voices, if I can. Teaching inspires me. And talking about craft with my students as we look at their plays-in-progress helps me understand what I'm trying to do with my own plays. For the last five years, I've been learning the art of working with composers to create operas. It is an amazing new world to explore! An entirely different way of writing for the stage. Less lonely, more complicated than the work of the playwright. Working as a librettist has made me think about structure in ways I never had before, and the power of things other than the spoken word. It's a very fun and interesting side job for a playwright!

What was the inspiration for Apple Season?

"Apple Season" is very much an Oregon play. It's fictional, but set in the very real place where I grew up. A lot of hard-working, independent people own and work on the small farms in the Willamette Valley. Part of the inspiration for writing this play was wanting to capture the place and the people I grew up with. I've certainly known people like Lissie and her brother Roger, and Billy - people haunted by the ghosts of their pasts, who are trying to figure out how to own the present.

How do you like working with NJ Rep?

I'm so grateful to Suzanne and Gabor for selecting my play for their beautiful stage! They've spent years committing to new work for the theater, taking chances on new stories. I have a wonderful team! Great designers and actors. I'm glad to be here. I actually lived in New Jersey for three years - down in Princeton, when I had the Hodder Fellowship there - and I had the privilege of working with several theaters in the state - Passage Theater, and Premiere Stages... It's nice to be back here in New Jersey, making plays!

What would you like metro audiences to know about the show?

There are many families in the world, and communities, where there is a strong code of silence about certain things. "Apple Season" is about people trying to find words for the unspeakable. It's about the consequences of not taking action, and what happens when we refuse to be silent. This is a story about a woman who doesn't know how to deal with the violent past she's spent a lifetime trying to bury. It's about the devastating effects of family violence and the power of truth-telling.

Can you share any of your future plans?

I have a busy year ahead, happily! I'll be in Tulsa and Pittsburgh in the next few months with my play "The Gun Show," which will be published soon by Samuel French. I'm looking forward to a piano vocal workshop of my children's opera "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Fallen Giant," composed by Evan Meier, at American Lyric Theater in New York City, and a production of my opera "Town Hall," about the people in a small town dealing with big questions about health care in America, at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. I'm also working on a big new political play that I'm very excited about.

Anything else, absolutely anything you want BWW NJ readers to know!

Please join us for "Apple Season." I hope you'll enjoy the show!

For more information on E.M. Lewis, please visit her web site at:

The LINK News

Zoya takes a bite of directing 'Apple Season' at NJ Rep

By Neil Schulman


Kersti Bryan in Apple Season (Photo courtesy NJ Repertory Company)

Long Branch — Zoya Kacha­durian got her start in the world of theater in school at Newark. Now she's back in the state, directing New Jersey Repertory's latest production, "Apple Season," which premiered last week.

The Link spoke with her recently about her career, and what it's been like working on this new play, a story of family secrets coming to light.

Following her interest in high school in Newark, she went to Syracuse University, majoring in Directing. But she didn't actually become a director for quite a while.

"Most of the places wanted directors of new works," she said, which was something she didn't feel quite ready for. Instead, she worked on many productions as a stage manager, which is in many ways like being a director — maintaining the shows artistic vision, and sometimes even casting.

"The craft of directing was being exercised, but not my own vision," she said.

But working at Playwrights Horizon, the Off-Broadway Theater which is dedicated to bringing new works to the stage, was like a "masters class," Kachadurian said.

"I decided to recommit, really start directing," she said.

Since then, she's directed and been involved in many activities, including a healing event in Connecticut weeks after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. One little girl in the event had to leave each afternoon for therapy, still traumatized by what had happened in the school.

The reason that she first got involved with NJ Rep actually goes back before the theater was formed. She'd been working on a Broadway play which had not done well. A child actor associated with the show had an offer to work in Florida, but his mother couldn't come with him immediately. Instead, Kachadurian went down to supervise the child until the mother could arrive. (That actor, by the way, was Anthony Rapp, now in Star Trek Discovery.)

While there, she ran into SuzAnne Barabas, whose son was also in the performance. They spent a week together.

Decades later, after Barabas had helped found NJ Rep and become the Artistic Director, they reconnected. Kachadurian came to the theater, and directed several readings, including "We Will Not Be Silenced" by David Meyers, the story of Sophie Scholl, a German student who lead a non-violent movement to overthrow Hitler.

She was also asked to direct a comedy – which she appreciated since it's easy to typecast a director as only good in one genre. She was also involved in several short plays in Theater Brut here.

She was then asked if she'd like to direct Apple Season.

In the play, by Ellen M. Louis, 20 years ago, Lissie and Roger fled from their family farm and made themselves disappear. But the family secrets haunt them still. A funeral and a question from an old friend send the two siblings tumbling down a rabbit hole of memory and grief, as they try to let go of a tangled past that refuses to release them.

The themes of the play resonate with her, she said.

"Traumatic events, secrets that are hidden in our youth, really color our lives."

"Children, we think they get over it; they're be fine." It's often not the case.

With a new play like this, the script the actors start with often needs tweaking.

"Ellen was with us for the first week," she said. The actors –Kersti Bryan, Richard Kent Green and Christopher M. Smith, mostly did tablework then.

"It's a deep story. There's so much that needs to be discussed," she said. Based on what they discovered, Lewis did some rewriting.

Kachadurian said that putting on a play is a very different experience than most other works of art. When an author writes a book, the reader experiences the words directly. But a playwright's words are interpreted by an actor, under the guidance of a director, to an audience.

And some things that seem good on paper won't work in live theater. If the audience is pondering a line an actor said, they aren't going to be able to pay full attention to the next.

"It's not like hitting pause on a DVD," she said.

She sees one of her roles as making sure the audience will understand the intent of actors and the script.

And she has a good cast to work with.

"These three actors are so smart, so intuitive," she said. "I think it takes a special actor to do a new play and think in this atmosphere," she said.

APPLE SEASON Announced As New Jersey Repertory Company Mainstage Production

New Jersey Repertory Company, located at 179 Broadway in Long Branch, is proud to present the world premiere of E.M. Lewis' Apple Season from January 10 - February 10, 2019.

Twenty years ago, Lissie and Roger fled from their family farm and made themselves disappear. But the family secrets haunt them still. A funeral and a question from an old friend send the two siblings tumbling down a rabbit hole of memory and grief, as they try to let go of a tangled past that refuses to release them.

Apple Season stars Kersti Bryan (Lissie), Christopher M. Smith (Billy), Richard Kent Green (Roger) under the direction of Zoya Kachadurian.

Apple Season runs January 10 - February 10, 2018. Previews are Thursday and Friday, January 10 and 11 at 8:00 PM, and Saturday, January 12 at 3:00 PM. A special talk-back with the playwright and director will be held after the first preview, Thursday, January 10. Opening night with reception is Saturday, January 12 at 8:00 PM. Regular performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM; Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $50 (opening night with reception, $60; premium seating + $5). All tickets may be subject to a service charge. Annual subscriptions are $225 per person. For tickets or additional information call 732-229-3166 or visit

E.M. Lewis (Playwright) an award-winning playwright, teacher, and opera librettist. Her work has been produced around the world, and is published by Samuel French. Plays include: Magellanica, The Gun Show, Song of Extinction, True Story, and You Can See All the Stars. Awards include: Steinberg Award and Primus Prize from the American Theater Critics Association, Ted Schmitt Award from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, playwriting fellowship from NJ State Arts Commission, 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship in Drama, Edgerton Award. Member: Dramatists Guild. Lewis lives on her family's farm in Oregon.

Zoya Kachadurian (Director) Georgia and Me,(best solo show, 2011 Midtown International Festival). The 39 Steps, Stick Fly, An Inspector Calls, King O' the Moon, The Miracle Worker, Stones in His Pockets, The Cocktail Hour;new works for the Estrogenius Festival and at EST's Octoberfest. At NJ REP, she directed Maximillian The Magnificent by L.H. Grant, Fortune's Fool by Jared Michael Delaney and Something About Eve by Lynne Halliday forTheatre Brut, and a reading of We Will Not Be Silent by David Meyers.

Kersti Bryan (Lissie) Shakespeare Theatre of DC, Commonwealth Shakespeare, Moscow Art Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Palm Beach Dramaworks, Ensemble Studio Theatre, TheaterLab, NY Classical Theatre, plus others. TV/Film include: The Deuce, The Knick, Elementary, Golden Boy, Drop Dead Diva, Law and Order, Small MIracles, Actor Seeks Role, Hell's Heart. For NJ Rep Kersti was seen as Donna in Verisimilitude at West End Arts, and most recently, she appeared in Allison Gregory's Not Medea for Art House Productions in Jersey City.

Christopher M. Smith (Billy) is honored to be a part of this World Premiere of Apple Season. Selected theatre credits include: The Gun Show (also by E.M. Lewis) - PS21/Chatham; Sex With Strangers - Portland Center Stage; Other Desert Cities - Speakeasy Stage Co., Boston; Serious Adverse Effects - National Black Theatre of Harlem; Orange Flower Water - Lyric Theatre, L.A.; Washington Square - The Actors' Ensemble, NY; Clever Little Lies - Florida Studio Theatre. TV credits include: Orange is the New Black; The Blacklist; TURN: Washington's Spies; I Love You...but I Lied. Originally from Ventura, CA, Christopher lives in Manhattan with his wife, Victoria.

Richard Kent Green (Roger) is thrilled and honored to return to NJ Rep in a new play by E. M. Lewis. He was last seen here in a reading of Selina Peake by Horton Foote, based on "So Big" by Edna Ferber.Stage: Einstein, Albert Einstein (St. Clements); March On!, White Reporter (The Apollo); Play to Win, Branch Rickey (The Promenade); The Sixth Commandment, Father Richard (BestOfFringeNYC). Film: "Giselle's Heart", "79 Parts", "Stanley Cuba", "The Fallen", "Got This!". TV: Saturday Night Live, Sex & the City New Media: "Off-Off Kilter" Company Artist at The Workshop Theater since 2002.