By Courtney M. Holbrook
There are certain stereotypes about would-be actors that never seem to go away. For instance, they want to be famous — even if they don’t want to memorize their lines. They want to be loved — even if they’re working for the saddest production in small-town America. And, of course, they want to be seen as artists, receiving the respect owed to an “actoooor” of their stature. Because that’s how it should be spoken — emphasis on the “or.”
In “Enter Laughing: the Musical,” the word “actor” is bandied about as though it were the name of Jesus himself. Never has the “or” at the end of a word been elongated so well. For these characters, being an actor is a Christ-like occupation — even if they don’t really know what it entails.
“Enter Laughing,” which runs at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor until September 4, is the Depression-era story of David, a young man from the Bronx who decides he wants to be an actor. No, he hasn’t been inspired by Sophocles or Shakespeare — though he has a vague idea of what the latter may have written — David is inspired by a youthful libido and a knowledge that, should he become famous, girls will probably sleep with him.
However, there are set backs to David’s pursuit of stardom on Broadway. His parents want him to be a pharmacist. His boss, Mr. Foreman, wants him to wake up to the harsh realities of life. The play for which he auditions — “Fate is a Strange Mistress” — is not exactly ready for Broadway. And then, of course, there’s the tiny detail that David knows nothing about acting.
Although the story is familiar — coming of age meets theatrical in-jokes — the steady script, fetching song-and-dance routines and, most importantly, the impressive cast make for an evening that can only be described as delightful.
Based on the 1958 semi-autobiographical novel by Carl Reiner, “Enter Laughing” works well thanks to its understanding of the ridiculous — both in young men and the acting world. David is constantly desperate for girls — he can’t stop “undressing them” with his eyes. Moments such as David’s first audition — where he doesn’t realize one shouldn’t read cue lines — and first time on-stage — when stage fright takes hold with dizzying results — are captured with over-the-top hilarity.
The audience clearly appreciated these humorous ventures. But what made them so funny was not just the script or music — it was the cast. Many of the cast members were featured in the show’s original production Off-Broadway at the York Theatre. It’s a treat to watch them return.
David, played by Josh Grisetti, is a wonder of awkward horniness and eager youth. The way Grisetti puckers his lips like a drowning fish at the sight of girls, an audience and his mother was enough to bring tears to my eyes. It’s no wonder he won the Drama Desk Award for his performance at the York Theatre.
From the beginning, Richard Kind, playing Marlowe, the director and owner of the theatre where David auditions, was an audience favorite. Kind’s well-known past in comedy earned him several rounds of applause. Yet, Kind genuinely earns every one of those fits of clapping. In his hands, Marlowe moves through jokes as quickly as he moves through bottles of alcohol — sipped through a straw, if you please.
The diva role belongs to Kate Shindle, who plays Angela. Angela seems unaware that she isn’t actually on Broadway. Though her lines are funny, Shindle’s strength lies in physical humor; flailing her body from side to side, and swishing her hips, her every movement is like a lizard that doesn’t realize it’s dying.
Each character remains unique and funny in their moments. Ray DeMattis, as Mr. Foreman, and Michael Tucker, as David’s dad, dance a duet to “the kids a’ today” as though they were half their age. In less capable hands, the role of David’s mother could have been taken to pure stereotype — Jill Eikenberry keeps her from falling into the standard “Jewish mother” role with sweet aplomb.
And let’s not forget the stage manager, Pike, played by Erick Devine, whose “humphs” — so perfectly timed — generate some of the largest laughs in the show. With only a few lines, Devine makes Pike a memorable bit of grumpy joy. Emily Shoolin, as Wanda, plays up the standard ingénue role. This girl is sweet and ever so slightly dumb, but no one is going to take her David away. Eric Mann, as David’s lapdog best friend, Marvin, seems unaware that David’s success has yet to happen — Marvin’s already dreaming about the Hollywood life he can live alongside David.
Aside from the actors, David Toser deserves praise for his deceptively simple costume design. An Elvis Presley wig and an oversized suit set the tone for one of the most hilarious scenes. The carefully designed outfits for Angela and Wanda make one seem ridiculous, and the other the perfect 1930s girlfriend.
And after what seems like an interminable amount of musicals designed around the “American Idol” belting and screaming style of singing, it’s refreshing to hear actors use correct diction and tone. These actors don’t belt when they don’t need to. They don’t show off — they sing with precision. There’s no need for crazy high notes — a good ear can tell these actors know what they’re doing.
With music and lyrics by Stan Daniels, the score brings to mind the simple refrains of musicals past — with dirtier lyrics. This isn’t another “rock opera” — and thank goodness for that.
Let’s hope “Enter Laughing” follows a more successful route to Broadway than David. If this audience pleaser — and old-fashioned piece of entertainment — keeps up the good work, its Broadway aspirations won’t amount to blind stargazing.
Carl Reiner’s story of an artist becoming an actor-and vice versa.
By Courtney M. Holbrook
A lot of people want to be stars. They want to see their name in lights and their picture on the cover of Vanity Fair. But what about the people who want to become artists?
“Enter Laughing: the Musical,” is the story of David, a young man from the Bronx during the Depression who wants to be a star. After auditioning for a play, he realizes that he, in fact, wants to be an artist.
Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor presents “Enter Laughing: the Musical” from August 9 to September 4, with preview performances August 9 to 12. Directed by Stuart Ross, the show originally ran Off-Broadway at the York Theatre, to positive reviews. Now, the company has returned, with a few cast changes, and is ready for an East End audience.
“The York stage was tiny, and the Bay Street Theatre proscenium stage allows us to do different things with physical comedy,” said Erick Devine, who plays the stage manager, Pike. “The script is still there, but we’re able to keep things interesting.”
With a book by Joseph Stein, the writer for “Fiddler On The Roof,” the cast has a lot of help in keeping things interesting. Carl Reiner, the screenwriter of “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Twelve” and “Thirteen,” wrote the semi-autobiographical novel which inspired the musical and a movie in the ‘60s.
Much of the joy of “Enter Laughing” comes from its coming-of-age story. At first glance, the show can seem “like a vehicle for one actor, but it’s the entire cast — the way my character interacts with everyone — that makes this show come alive,” said Josh Grisetti, who plays David.
David’s journey from gawky — and horny — would-be star to artist is a relatable one. Beyond the terrors of the audition process, “Enter Laughing” is the story of trying to be an actor — and all the insanity that comes with it.
“I think anyone can relate to David,” Grisetti said. “As actors, we remember those beginning thoughts about why we wanted to go into this business in the first place.”
What can appear clichéd becomes bitingly real with the 14-member supporting cast, which fleshes out David’s story. David’s father and mother, played by Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker of “L.A. Law,” would rather he be a pharmacist. David’s best friend, Marvin, played by Eric Mann, wants a part of David’s possible celebrity. And while David toils at his job at a machine shop, his boss, Mr. Forman, played by Ray DeMattis, serves as the “dose of reality about life,” according to DeMattis.
“When you’re an actor, you get used to people just assuming you’re dabbling in the business,” Devine said. “When you tell people you’re an actor, they tell you about how they did a play in high school. A lot of people — parents, friends — don’t see it as a legitimate profession.”
But the struggle to make acting an art does not just occur in the arguments between parents and children. There are also the struggles between actors and other actors, directors and stage managers. Much of these internal battles are displayed in David’s interactions with Angela, played by Kate Shindle, and Harrison Marlowe, played by Richard Kind of “The Producers” and “Spin City.” Marlowe is David’s acting teacher and the director of his first play, “The Strange Fate of the Mattress.” Angela is the “star” of the show, and cannot figure out why she hasn’t ascended the Broadway stage.
“Angela thinks she’s Greta Garbo,” said Shindle. “She thinks she’s the ultimate stage actress, but she’s really not.”
Angela is the classic theatre presence — the stage diva; Shindle noted that finding the artist beneath the cliché kept the character interesting. Despite Angela’s over-the-top attitude, she does “care about her art. The best part of this role was finding these layers in her through her interactions with David. She’s more than a cartoon.”
Shindle was one of the new additions to the cast. Adjusting to a show where many of the actors had already performed together was “wildly intimidating.” But thanks to the “supportive cast,” Shindle had “no time to be neurotic. I just had to jump right in.”
Despite the seemingly serious subject matter of artistic passion, the show’s strongest link to audience pull is simple — it’s funny. DeMattis said after years of comedy performances, he had yet to see as strong an audience reaction as they received in “Enter Laughing.”
“People just don’t stop laughing,” DeMattis said. “And that’s because of the script and the director, Stuart Ross. It’s unbelievable, but thanks to Reiner’s book, our job as actors was so much easier. We’ve got the script — Ross added this fantastic physical comedy.”
When the final show within the show begins, “Enter Laughing” has gone into full-blown farce. Gerry McIntyre, who plays many characters in the musical, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Don Darwin, noted that the “intensely fast-paced nature of the comedy just keeps you tuned in.”
Many in the cast noted Grisetti’s performance as the center of the show. For Grisetti, comedy has always been his theatrical choice.
“Even when I try to work in drama, everyone thinks I’m adding comic undertones,” Grisetti said. “That’s just the way my mind and body communicates.”
And in keeping with the over-the-top humor of “Enter Laughing,” Grisetti worried about audience reaction in the East End. After all, “families will love it,” he said. “But I’m really not attractive enough to bring in the artistic, young gay crowd that lives out here. So, I’m hoping for families.”
When “Enter Laughing: the Musical” holds its opening night on Saturday, the cast hopes they will laugh and enjoy the show. But, perhaps they’ll see something they can identify with — the story of growing up and finding the passion in a career.
“People come to theatre to be engaged, not just to laugh at mugging and stupid stuff,” Shindle said. “And with “Enter Laughing,” they’ll be engaged, they’ll care about these characters. But they’ll laugh while that’s happening.”
By Annette Hinkle
Beware: In this play virtually no subject is off limits. Expect scenes rife with lewd language, excessive sexual references, castration, inappropriate familial relationships and overall disturbing behavior
And that’s just act one.
Christopher Durang’s play “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” Bay Street Theatre’s second offering of the mainstage season, is not your average day at the beach and those looking for light summer theatrical fluff would do well to look elsewhere.
But for theater-goers in the right frame of mind who are willing to suspend moral judgment for the duration, “Betty’s Summer Vacation” is definitely a trip worth taking.
As a playwright, Durang offers strong and compelling commentary on the prurient addiction and voyeuristic tendencies of the American public. He also addresses head on societal cravings for ever increasing and vulgar acts of violence, sex, scandal and confession — ideally witnessed by millions through various media outlets.
Ironically, this production, which is directed aptly by Trip Cullman and acted by a stellar cast, opened the same day a jury delivered its “not-guilty” verdict in the over-publicized Casey Anthony murder trial. Though written in the late ‘90s, before the term “reality TV” was even coined, and long before tweets and Facebook, in this era of phone hacking scandals and randy elected officials with a taste for sharing their personal “effects,” Durang’s script is perhaps more relevant now than it was in those innocent days of slow moving Bronco chases.
Scene one of the play opens with Betty (Heidi Schreck) arriving at her summer share, an airy but modest beach rental (nicely conceived by set designer Walt Spangler) with cheesy shell curtains and partial ocean views. Sorely in need of a vacation, she’s sharing the home with her overly-chatty friend Trudy (Celia Keenan-Bolger) who she hopes will quiet down now that she’s out of the city. That seems unlikely though as Trudy never shuts up and wanders with ease from one non sequitur to another, even doing a well honed impression of a car alarm when she stumbles onto that subject.
Relief from Trudy (if you can call it that) comes in short order, with the arrival of Betty’s other “housemates” — among them the pathologically quiet Keith (Bobby Steggert), a suspected serial killer who carries a mysterious hatbox and holes up in his room for much of the play. Also making an entrance is Mrs. Siezmagraff (Veanne Cox), the home’s owner who announces that a change in plans now requires that she take a room as well. The landlady, it turns out, is Trudy’s mother and their contentious relationship plays out for all as Trudy tells of sexual abuse at the hands of her late father while her mother paints her as a dramatic liar. Taking the last available room is the promiscuous Buck (John Behlmann) the young “buck” who can’t function on fewer than 20 sexual encounters per day and is crude beyond measure.
Complicating share house dynamics, Mrs. Siezmagraff, the aging party girl, soon brings home Mr. Vanislaw (Tom Riis Farrell) a homeless flasher she finds taking pictures in a changing room. Mrs. Siezmagraff has no moral boundaries, terrible judgment (and precious little compassion) so has brought the man home for a little entertainment. But the lecherous Mr. Vanislaw is soon bored by charades as well as his hostess and roams the halls in search of other younger diversions — with dire consequences.
A final “character” in the play is a laugh track that provides commentary on the action throughout. It’s a clever devise that draws audiences in and highlights public appetite for private affairs. In the beginning, the voices (Kate O’Phalen, Jacob Hoffman and Tim Intravia) are subtle and at times can barely be heard over the audience’s own laughter – the two are in sync. But as the action progresses, the laugh track becomes increasingly vocal, aggressive and finally, even menacing toward the people on stage. It interacts with them and justifies inappropriate responses by describing to the residents moments that are uncomfortable, ironic or just plain boring.
With the exception of the even-keeled Betty, a bastion of sanity in a sea of chaos, Durang has created a cast of characters that embody stereotype in the extreme. Though at times, there may be those who question where this play is ultimately headed, Durang knows what he’s doing here. Bordering on the surreal — particularly in act two — this is a play that, despite the inexplicable, remains linear in its story telling, which keeps it in the realm of the logical — if not the plausible.
Cullman’s cast (particularly the incomparable Veanne Cox who is hysterically callous with an endearingly warped philosophy on life) is finely tuned and the non-stop pace feeds the energy, building to a crescendo where even the most offended audience member will be looking for more. Durang brilliantly plays on the notion of voyeurism in a way in which the audience itself inevitably becomes involved. Yes, it’s all tragic and sick, but we can’t wait to see what comes next.
But like the real public, Durang’s soundtrack is fickle, and it increasingly becomes involved in the lives of the hapless residents of the beach house. By the end, it’s directing … no, demanding, they give them what it wants to see.
“Betty’s Summer Vacation” is along the lines of edgier productions like “Dinner” and “Romance” that have been well received at Bay Street in recent seasons. But in many ways, this play surpasses those in content by questioning the line of social acceptability and ever widening moral reasoning. What’s funny? What’s not? Flashers and serial killers? Yeah, maybe. Condoned rape of a damaged young woman? Hmmm…that’s a harder sell.
There’s a moment late in the play where Betty removes herself from the fray to pause on the beach and listen to the ocean for the first time since her visit. There’s an odd transference that comes with stepping outside the box, so to speak. Suddenly, we feel as if the characters around her are just that, and are struck by the sense that the whole beach house itself is a pre-ordained social experiment with Betty as the hapless subject. Maybe it’s just a sick, 21st century episode of Candid Camera or business as usual at the “Jersey Shore?”
Or perhaps, the TV inside Betty’s head has finally been turned off and the characters left behind are fading like a darkening screen. Simple figments in the mind of one woman looking to get away from what ails society — as perhaps we all should.
“Betty’s Summer Vacation” runs Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. through July 31. Matinees are offered at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays July 20 and 27 and at 4 p.m. on Saturdays July 16 and 23. Tickets are $65. Call 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org to reserve.
Top: Veanne Cox (Mrs. Siezmagraff) and Tom Riis Farrell (Mr. Vanislaw) get cozy on the couch in a scene from “Betty’s Summer Vacation.” Photo by Jerry Lamonica.
By Claire Walla
The closing Sunday night performance of Darrell Hammond’s one-man show “Tru” at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor was cancelled in the wake of a car accident this past weekend involving the 55-year-old actor.
According to reports from Bay Street, Hammond was traveling in the passenger’s seat of a friend’s vehicle on Saturday afternoon, June 25 when there was a collision near Tyndall Road in North Haven. The actor was bruised but there is no report of broken bones.
Bay Street’s director of marketing and public relations, Tim Kofahl, noted that Hammond was checked-out at Southampton Hospital but released shortly thereafter.
“He’s back in the city now,” Kofahl continued, adding that the actor suffered bruises as a result of the accident. “He’s seemingly doing fine.”
Kofahl went on to explain that Hammond and a friend were on their way to a patron’s benefit when the accident occurred. He rejected claims made earlier this week by New York Post gossip site Page Six that the vehicle that hit them had been traveling at speeds that reached 70 miles per hour.
Hammond gained notoriety for his impressions of former President Bill Clinton and mega-millionaire Donald Trump during his 14-year stint on “Saturday Night Live.” The celebrated comic stepped into the role of Truman Capote in Jay Presson Allen’s play “Tru” to favorable reviews for Bay Street’s first show of the summer season.
In the wake of the accident, Kofahl confirmed that Bay Street cancelled the Saturday show at 8 p.m. and the Sunday show at 7 p.m. All tickets have been refunded or have been transferred to other shows.
Because Hammond had to miss two earlier performances due to illness, Kofahl said this makes four shows that have been canceled in total.
“It effects us as a not-for-profit professional theatre,” he continued. “It does significantly impact our funds.” The next scheduled performance will be “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” which will begin in preview next Tuesday, July 5, which is a pay-what-you-can performance with a limited number of tickets being sold at the box office for the performance after 2 p.m.
By Dennis O’Connor
Back when Darrell Hammond was a student at the University of Florida, Truman Capote spoke at a campus event. When it came time for the question and answer segment, Capote was primed.
Hammond’s voice rises as he tells the story.
“I’m watching, and at the end of his speech, a guy steps up to the microphone and asks Capote if he’s gay. After an appropriate pause, Capote answers, ‘Is that a proposition?’ The place erupted in laughter and applause. It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and I said ‘I want to do that.’”
The standup comedian and actor went on “to do that” with tremendous success, perhaps most famously in his impressions of former President Bill Clinton (along with 106 other characters) as the longest-running cast member in “Saturday Night Live” history (14 years).
Next week, when Hammond takes the stage in the role of Truman Capote in Jay Presson Allen’s “Tru” at Bay Street Theatre (previews start May 31), it will be hard for him not to think back to that evening and the man who inspired him to become a performer.
“Tru” largely focuses on Capote’s later career as a talk show fixture, following publication in Esquire magazine of several controversial chapters of his roman a clef, “Answered Prayers.”
“I recall seeing Capote on ‘The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson’ — and the guy was funny,” Hammond recalled in a recent telephone interview. “He got lots of big laughs and applause breaks on that show; but more importantly he got Johnny to laugh.”
Like Carson, Hammond doesn’t just make others crack up; he appears to enjoy a good laugh himself at times. He brightened when recalling yet another Capote talk show appearance, this time on “The Dick Cavett Show.”
Capote was sitting next to Groucho Marx, he said, and “the two of them going back and forth was hilarious.” The legendary exchange included a proposal of marriage from Groucho to Capote, which led to Groucho delivering a rousing rendition of “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.”
“Tru” is set at Christmastime 1975, in Capote’s apartment on the 28th floor of United Nations Plaza, at a low point in his career. The renowned author and pied piper of the demimonde lounges about, singing, conversing on the phone, talking to the audience, tossing out such pithy epigrams as: “ It’s a scientific fact that for every year you live in California, you lose two points of your IQ” and “I used to be famous for writing books — now I’m famous for being famous.”
If any characterization could encapsulate Capote during this period, it is that second one-liner. He was a man scorned, cast out of the inner circle by people who trusted him, who had confided in him. He had betrayed their confidence in “Answered Prayers,” they believed, and so was excised, cut out. “Tru” finds him very much alone, and hurting.
Tony Award winning actress Judith Ivey is directing Hammond in this one-man show, which the actor considers a blessing.
“I depend on a strong director,” he said, and he has worked with some of the best. “I’m not looking for a politician. I’m looking for someone who really knows what they’re doing, like Judith Ivey or James Lapine, or Lorne Michaels.”
Ivey may be best known to television viewers as B.J. Poteet on “Designing Women,” though she has also enjoyed a successful career on stage and in films. She was recently seen in the role of Amanda in Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. She later reprised the role at Broadway’s Roundabout Theatre. Her directing credits include “Vanities: A New Musical” (Pasadena Playhouse), “Fugue” (Cherry Lane), and “Steel Magnolias” (Alley Theatre).
Elaborating on his need for a strong directorial influence in his work, Hammond talked about working with director James Lapine, playing Vice Principal Douglas Panch in Broadway’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
“It was frightening. He doesn’t mince words. He’s the best of the best at this,” noted Hammond. “But the stronger the director, the better I am. Otherwise, I’ll just wander off in my own head and do something silly.”
Hammond has recently been seen playing what’s been described as a “creepy” character called, The Deacon — a character as cold as dry ice — in the “Damages” TV series.
“We modeled the character on a guy I served when I was tending bar part-time in Hell’s Kitchen in the early ’80s, a guy who was so unnerving that I never forgot him,” Hammond said. “When they called me in to audition for the part, I had that guy in mind. I did the monologue based on this guy I had served a white wine spritzer to, many years ago. I sat down with them on the set and I said, ‘Here it is. This is what I see.’ And they said, ‘Perfect. That’s the guy.’”
While playing the Deacon is a big departure for the typically comedic actor, it has also provided him with an opportunity to display the depth of his talents. The industrious Hammond is also branching out into other creative forms with a book due out from Harper-Collins in October of this year.
“It’s not going to be what people think,” he said, although he is tight-lipped about any between-the-covers content. Still, his playful, irreverent styles shine through in the title: “God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F***ed.”
Putting the actor together with the role of Truman Capote seemed a natural fit for Bay Street Theatre artistic directors Sybil Christopher and Murphy Davis, who had been interested in staging “Tru” for a number of years.
“I think it’s a very strong and powerful piece,” Davis said last week. “The play takes place at an especially important time in Capote’s life. He has undermined himself in a very destructive way, but this is him examining his state of affairs with his unique wit, humor, and insight.”
Davis also expressed surprise at how prepared Hammond was at the first rehearsal.
“When he showed up, he had memorized three quarters of the script,” Davis said, adding that, “we were amazed at how he had gotten to the essence of Capote — the voice, the mannerisms. We were really blown away.”
Hammond had parts in two previous productions at Bay Street Theatre, in Christopher Durang’s “Beyond Therapy” and David Mamet’s “Romance,” but “Tru” promises to be his most demanding role yet.
As the sole performer on stage for two acts, he will have to become Truman Capote. But this time, when he hears the laughter and applause, it will be for him, Darrell Hammond. And he will surely think back to that night at the university theater in Gainesville, when the character he is playing now launched him on the path to becoming the performer he is today. It is pure symmetry.
The Bay Street Theatre 2011 Mainstage season begins with Jay Presson Allen’s “Tru” starring Darrell Hammond, directed by Judith Ivey. Previews begin Tuesday, May 31 at 8 p.m. Opening night is Saturday, June 4 and the show runs through June 26. Shows are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. (with matinees on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and Saturdays at 4 p.m.) For tickets and information, call 725-9500 or visit www.baystreet.org. The theatre is located on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.
Dennis O’Connor of Laurel is an MFA candidate in the graduate program in Creative Writing and Literature at Stony Brook Southampton.
Are students being pushed to do too much?
Vicki H. Abeles thinks so.
In fact, the filmmaker (herself a mother) made a documentary to chronicle the ways in which students are suffering from an influx of academic pressures and extra curriculars that, in some cases, dominate their young lives.
“Race to Nowhere” will be screened at the Bay Street Theatre this Wednesday, April 13 at 7 p.m. and Friday, April 15 at 12-noon.
By Emily J Weitz
There was a time when the Christmas holiday was inextricably linked to Ed Sullivan, Bing Crosby and other celebrities who have now faded into the fabric of our cultural history. But Joe Lauro, whose business owns the rights to clips featuring many of the biggest and brightest stars of the past, will bring these memories back into the spotlight next Saturday evening at Bay Street.
“Back in the 50s, all the big people would have Christmas shows during the holiday time. I’ve gone through 30 years of these shows and pulled the most fun, classic, and bizarre clips and put them together like a brand new variety show.” The show is so authentic it will even feature a host and commercials in the style of the day. “People can expect to be thoroughly entertained for every second of what’s going to be on the screen.”
The idea to create a variety show with hand-plucked classics isn’t new to Lauro this year.
“The program started off as my company’s Christmas party,” Lauro says.
His company, the Historic Films Archive, owns the rights to an astounding variety of footage, from shots backstage on the set of “The Wizard of Oz” to the entire run of the Ed Sullivan Show. So it makes sense that, for the holiday party, they’d showcase some of their classic footage.
“But [our variety show] turned into a complete production… This year we decided it was too good to waste on 50 or 100 people.”
“We are trying to keep it in the style of the parties we had that were so much fun,” says Lauro. “We start with the movie, which is about 70 minutes, and then the screen will go up. Behind the screen will be the band.” The band, complete with a horn section and two singers, is called the Who Dat Loungers and brings the kind of festive party music for which New Orleans is famous. They’ll be parading through the audience and the audience will be invited up onto the dance floor for a dance party.
The film itself will bring the audience for a walk down memory lane with familiar faces like the Beatles, Ed Sullivan, and Bob Hope. “The Christmas Song” (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…) which has been performed by countless legends over the decades, will be turned into a montage.
“In that two minutes,” says Lauro, “you’ll have seven different very famous people singing, like Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and others.” Along with moments that tug at the heart strings, you’ll find yourself laughing. In some instances, the editors took the strange and made them even stranger. “There’s a duet between Frank Sinatra and William Shatner that we created,” says Lauro. “It’s gonna bring down the house.”
Lauro and his team also used technological innovations to take these universal classics and give them a personal twist. “We took a scene from the classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and twisted it with a Sag Harbor theme.”
The details are a surprise, for attendees only, but it’s not hard to imagine Sag Harbor as Bedford Falls, the Smalltown, USA memorialized in the film. There’s always an element of tradition and nostalgia to the holiday season. It may be the communal cooking of latkes on the first night of Hannukah. It may be the reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” every Christmas Eve, even after the kids are all grown and have kids of their own. Whatever it is, we crave this connection to our past.
“When I think of what Christmas is about, part of it is about remembering and being sentimental to some degree,” says Lauro. “Nothing can bring that on better than the memories of some of these things. I find it very effective to see the Beatles talking and Bob Hope and Bing Crosby laughing and singing again.”
The 2010 Christmas Spectacular will take place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 11 at Bay Street Theater. Tickets are $20. Contact Bay Street for more information at www.baystreet.org or call 631-725-0818.
By Ellen Frankman
“The title of this play is not a misnomer,” Reg Rogers insists, the actor who plays a defense attorney in this month’s production of David Mamet’s “Romance” at Bay Street Theatre. It certainly seems however, that audience members may have to dig deep – or perhaps just stick to the surface of absurdity – to confirm this.
Mamet’s “Romance” appears inherently unromantic in fact – a biting conceptualization of a farce that sets nearly every existing ethnic and sexual stereotype amidst the setting of a traditional courtroom drama. The defendant is a Jewish chiropractor, on trial facing a pill-popping judge, defended by an anti-Semitic defense attorney, who is battling a homosexual prosecutor. To laugh at the characters it is suggested that the audience be willing to laugh at human madness itself.
“Romance” first premiered in 2005 with the Atlantic Theater Company, a theater group founded in 1985 by William H. Macy and David Mamet himself. In order to master the scathing humor that emanates from the production, the cast (gratefully an all-star lineup) first had to perfect the staccato rhythm signature to Mamet’s language.
“Mamet’s language is so specific and tricky. You really have to be on the syllable,” explains Chris Bauer who plays the courtroom’s prosecutor, a character he describes as being “verbose, over-mannered, aggressive and obsessive.” Bauer even admits to having started memorizing his part much earlier than what is typical for him.
For actor Richard Kind (Judge), the language — which requires that every word, every breath, every pause be exact — is “close to impossible.”
“This is the toughest thing I’ve ever had to work on in my life. Literally my brain hurts,” says Kind. Although the words sound as they should coming from the characters’ mouths, Kind insists that “gobbledygook” is in fact what the person is actually saying.
Joe Pallister (Doctor) found the style equally as nuanced. “It’s got a very specific rhythm. It’s like music. You can’t paraphrase this type of writing,” says Pallister.
“He wrote a symphony and you can’t start playing any notes you want to,” Kind agrees laughingly.
Ultimately, the true thrill of theater emerges from mastery of the script. “It’s so satisfying when you get it right,” grins Pallister.
And the show’s director Lisa Peterson agrees. “When it’s right, it’s exhilarating!”
There is more to “Romance” than a taxing twist of the tongue, however. “The other part that’s so exciting is how naughty it is,” describes Peterson, who expressed surprise and a modest smirk of approval in the fact that the only insults Mamet chose to not include are those about women.
The cast, described as a “dream come true” by Bauer, is entirely male, “all very good actors and funny guys” according to Peterson, who finds that “they all come at the work at very different angles.” Each one recognizes the absurdity of the content, and though all back the genius of Mamet’s language, few are certain of what the audience’s reaction will be.
“If you’re not liberal hearing and of liberal humor, stay away,” advises Kind. “This is not ‘Hello Dolly.’”
Most of the actors remain positive in anticipation of the public’s reception. Though Bauer admits, “it’s an outrageous 85 minutes,” he exudes confidence in that it is “a play that is dangerous in the way theater should be dangerous.”
Pallister is trusting of the audience as well. “The crowd here I think will be open because it’s so over the top and so politically incorrect.”
“I see them getting it and being taken by it,” agrees Matt McGrath (Bernard).
Whatever the outcome, it appears everyone involved is giddy to take the production on stage. “You’ve got to have the partner of the audience to make the rhythm work,” explains Peterson.
And beneath its charming traditional exterior, Bay Street Theatre certainly gets credit along with its actors for taking on such a challenge. Says Kind, “I love this theater. I think it’s a very brave theater.”
David Mamet’s “Romance” directed by Lisa Peterson will premiere at Bay Street Theatre, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor on August 10 and run through September 5. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Wednesdays at 2 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m., and Sundays at 7 p.m. Tickets $55/$65. 725-9500.
By Marianna Levine
Bay Street Theatre’s 2010 season starts off with the play “Dissonance,” a witty, intelligent drama by the British writer Damian Lanigan. The play, which is named after Mozart’s famous String Quartet No.19 (often referred to as the “dissonance” quartet because of something in the beginning of the piece which sounds slightly awkward), focuses on the intense relationships between members of a string quartet as they rehearse for a performance at Carnegie Hall. The quartet’s delicate equilibrium is unexpectedly disturbed by an encounter between the group’s sole female musician and a handsome rock star.
Lanigan, who has often written about performers in his previous novels and in his work for BBC television, said he was drawn to writing about a string quartet because “it offered an excellent little hothouse of possibilities with lots of dramatic potential.”
Furthermore, Lanigan loves listening to classical music. “It’s my hobby so to speak,” he admits, and therefore writing about music and musicians was a pleasure for him. In the end he thinks, “A lot of writers are attracted to writing about artistic personalities because they basically are trying to figure themselves out.”
“Dissonance” is Lanigan’s first play and it grew out of his desire to write something with a group and perhaps more dramatically serious than his earlier, more comic turns writing for British TV.
“I wanted to work on something that was a collaborative piece. I’m not naturally a loner,” Lanigan states, and adds the first time he heard his words read out by live actors, when the play premiered in 2008 in Williamstown, Mass., he was tremendously invigorated and excited by it.
This New York Premiere will be a somewhat different staging of “Dissonance.” Lonny Price, a Tony-award winning director and veteran of the Bay Street stage, will direct an ensemble of five actors including Rosie Benton, from Broadway’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” Daniel Gerroll of TV’s “Ugly Betty,” Morgan Spector, who was most recently Scarlett Johansson’s love interest in Broadway’s “View from the Bridge,” Robert Stanton of “Confessions of a Shopaholic” and Gregory Woodell of TV’s “30 Rock.”
“A few things have come up during rehearsals this last week, and [with this staging] you get to see the play from a slightly different light. However the main difference for me this time around is that I’ve basically given it to the director. I don’t feel the need to be breathing down his neck,” Lanigan explains and yet does state he has rewritten a few things in the past week to coincide with this new staging.
Bay Street Theatre’s artistic directors Sybil Christopher and Murphy Davis are thrilled to have “Dissonance” kick off a season of entertaining and intelligent drama. After the huge success of the complex play “Dinner” last season, the two realized they needed to respond fully to their audience’s desire for challenging adult dramas.
“The biggest response we’ve ever had from our audience to a play was to ‘Dinner’ last year,” explains Davis. “And this response opened us up to the staging of certain plays we wouldn’t have considered before. Really in the end Sybil’s and my job is to take the pulse of what the community is looking for and mix it with our taste.”
Christopher and Davis had heard about the play back in 2008 when it first premiered, but didn’t have the time to stage it until this year. Davis does add it is a pleasure working with both Price and Lanigan on “Dissonance” because both are such entertaining yet professional individuals and these qualities lend themselves to presenting a drama that is “a multilayered play that is very intelligent, very witty, and very moving. It is great to see a play and be amused as well as touched by it.”
“Dissonance” runs June 1 through 27 and tickets can be purchased from the box office at the theatre on Long Wharf, Sag Harbor for $55 or $65. Previews run June 1 to 4, and a talk back with the actors will follow the June 8 performance. For more information contact Bay Street Theatre at 725-9500.