Tag Archive | "Richard Kind"

Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties” Brings Belly Laughs to Bay Street

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Richard Kind in "Travesties" at Bay Street. Photo by Jerry Lamonica.

Richard Kind in “Travesties” at Bay Street. Photo by Jerry Lamonica.

By Tessa Raebeck

Strip teases, pie fights and Lenin. The three don’t normally go hand in hand, but playwright Tom Stoppard brings them together in “Travesties.”

The Tony award-winning comedy is running through July 20 as the second production in Bay Street Theater’s main stage season, called a “season of revolution.”

The play is told through the memory of Henry Carr, an elderly man who was a British consul in Zurich in 1917 during World War I. Mr. Carr reflects on his participation at the time in an amateur production of Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, in which (in Mr. Stoppard’s take on it) he worked alongside some of the early 20th century’s most influential figures: James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin and Tristan Tzara.

“What it really gets at,” Bay Street’s artistic director Scott Schwartz said of the play when the season was first introduced this winter, “is the sort of passion and fire and revolutionary spirit of these guys as they’re trying to meet girls and trying to have a great time in Zürich at this time.”

When you think of Lenin in 1917, in the heat of the empire’s collapse and subsequent community revolution in Russia, you don’t necessarily imagine him spending his time trying to meet girls, but Mr. Stoppard expertly humanizes even his most notable characters with humor.

“It’s one of the most bracing theatrical challenges to be a part of—full of brilliance and fun—overflowing with ideas and using all the elements; knockabout humor, song and dance, the ‘theatre’ of theatre, to create a whirligig of intriguing ideas,” Gregory Boyd, the artistic director for the Alley Theatre in Houston, who is directing Bay Street’s production, said in an email interview.

Photo by Jerry Lamonica.

Photo by Jerry Lamonica.

“There isn’t another play like it—unless it’s another Stoppard play. He is unique,” added the director.

A Czech-born British playwright, Mr. Stoppard was 2 years old when he moved with his family to England to escape the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. He was knighted in 1997 and the next year won an Academy Award for “Best Original Screenplay” for “Shakespeare in Love,” which he wrote with Marc Norman. He has also won four Tony Awards.

Written in 1974, “Travesties” has been performed in productions across the world. The play won the United Kingdom’s Evening Standard Award for “Best Comedy of the Year” in 1974 and in 1976 both a Tony Award and a New York Critics Award for “Best Play.”

“Stoppard,” Mr. Boyd said, “is writing about art and artists, revolution and revolutionaries and how they collide. James Joyce, Lenin and Dadaist artist Tristan Tzara were indeed in Zürich during World War I, but it is the playwright’s genius that brings them all together through the eyes and erratic memory of a minor civil servant, as he (Henry Carr) looks back over his life.”

“It’s dealing with the whole question of how art and change interact in our lives,” said Mr. Schwartz, adding that “Travesties” is the “centerpiece” of Bay Street’s summer season.

Having directed or produced over 100 new productions from writers as varied—and renowned—as Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee, Mr. Boyd is no stranger to the stage. There’s already one “Travesties” production under his belt; he directed the comedy several years ago at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.

“He’s a brilliant director,” Mr. Schwartz said. “I’m so excited to bring his vision to the theater.”

As Bay Street’s artistic director, he added, he would like to “bring great directors in from around the country and perhaps eventually around the world.”

Richard Kind, noted for his roles on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Spin City,” returns to Bay Street, where he serves on the Board of Trustees, for his role as Henry Carr, who, like the legendary figures he hangs out with, was a real person in Zürich at the time.

Actors Michael Benz, Carson Elrod, Aloysius Gigl, Isabel Keating, Julia Motyka, Emily Trask and Andrew Weems are also in the cast.

“The cast we have is a wonderful group—and working with them on this marvelous script is the most enjoyable part of it,” said Mr. Boyd. “Stoppard asks that the actors be comedians, but capable too of giving full voice to the brilliant language.”

Photo by Jerry Lamonica.

Photo by Jerry Lamonica.

Credited for shaping stream of consciousness and other techniques of the modernist avant-garde movement, Joyce is in the middle of writing Ulysses during the time of the play. Tzara, a French avant-garde poet, essayist and performance artist, is busy creating art and poetry that gain him notoriety as a leader of Dadaism and Lenin is planning to overthrow one of the world’s largest empires, which has been in power for nearly 200 years.

But then Mr. Stoppard comes in, and—although the figures are still their distinguished selves—they are flanked by the wild theatricality of his writing, with an almost burlesque style of humor.

“I love the Bay Street Theater space—and ‘Travesties’ uses it in an interesting way, I think. From toy trains to pie fights, there are a lot of moments that come together in a fresh way,” said Mr. Boyd.

“It’s a wonderful conceit of a ‘small’ man hoping to achieve some meaning in his life through his association with these three giants,” the director added. “The play is full of comedy, gorgeous language, exhilarating ideas—and some real heart, too. That combination is very hard to resist.”

“Travesties” opened Tuesday, June 24, and runs through July 20 at Bay Street Theater, located on the corner of Main and Bay streets in Sag Harbor. General admission tickets range in price from $60.75 to $75. The “Student Sunday” matinee allows high school and college students to attend the 2 p.m. matinee on Sundays for free. A $30 ticket is available for those under age 30. For tickets and more information, visit baystreet.org or call the box office at (631) 725-9500.

Keep Laughing

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Enter Laughing sm

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.

Laughing His Way On Stage

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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.”

Taking on Mamet’s Surprising Comedy

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web romance

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.