Tag Archive | "Theater"

Bay Street Theater Brings World Premiere of “My Life is a Musical” to Sag Harbor

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A rehearsal photo taken at the New 42nd Street Studios in NYC with the cast of "My Life is a Musical:" Danyel Fulton, Wendi Bergamini, Howie Michael Smith, Adam Daveline, Brian Sills, Justin Matthew Sargeant, Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, Robert Cucciolo. Photo by Barry Gordin.

A rehearsal photo taken at the New 42nd Street Studios in NYC with the cast of “My Life is a Musical:” Danyel Fulton, Wendi Bergamini, Howie Michael Smith, Adam Daveline, Brian Sills, Justin Matthew Sargeant, Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, Robert Cucciolo. Photo by Barry Gordin.

By Tessa Raebeck

Parker has lived his entire life seeking solitude, trying to hide his affliction from the rest of the world. He doesn’t make new friends, he doesn’t have romantic relationships and he most certainly does not want to join the local chorus.

Parker, a straight-laced accountant, is suffering from a rare condition that makes his entire life take the shape of a musical. Bay Street Theater’s latest play, “My Life Is a Musical,” follows Parker’s struggle as he tries to navigate a world in which everywhere he goes people are singing, dancing, and going through life with an energy that is only found in musical theater—which he happens to despise.

The musical, written by Adam Overett and directed and choreographed by Marlo Hunter, “both real rising stars in musical theater,” according to Bay Street’s artistic director Scott Schwartz, will have its world premiere in Sag Harbor.

Director/choreographer Marlo Hunter, playwright Adam Overett and music director Vadim Feichtner. Photo by Barry Gordin.

Director/choreographer Marlo Hunter, playwright Adam Overett and music director Vadim Feichtner. Photo by Barry Gordin.

The play opens on a normal—and thus strange—day in the life of Parker, who quickly sees the order through which he controls his affliction turned upside down when his accounting firm sends him to work for none other than a rock band.

“Of course, it’s his worst nightmare,” Ms. Hunter said in an interview on Friday, July 18, “because he has to be around music all the time and he won’t have any idea what’s going on.”

With his company’s future hanging in the balance, Parker accepts the position.

In a structure similar to “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand, the play follows Parker’s struggle to discern between what is song and what constitutes a person’s inner thoughts.

“He hears the truth of their emotion in the song,” explained Ms. Hunter.

Although the proximity to music is what terrifies Parker, in the end, it is what helps him to see the value of his affliction.

“It’s about how this person struggles with and ultimately embraces the thing about him that he thinks makes him a freak, which is a very universal theme,” the director said.

“We all have things about ourselves that we feel don’t fit in or we’re not comfortable with,” Mr. Schwartz said. “This show explores that life from a wonderful, musical land.”

The cast, which Ms. Hunter called “sensational,” has appeared in celebrated shows including “Evita,” “Hair” and “The Lion King.”

It stars Howie Michael Smith as the confused Parker, and Robert Cuccioli, who plays the rising rock star Zach, with Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone and Justin Matthew Sargeant playing other the principal roles.

The ensemble, “the hardest working people in show business,” according to Ms. Hunter, features Wendi Bergamini, Adam Daveline, Danyel Fulton and Brian Sills. They play over 70 characters between the four of them.

“It’s pretty astounding what they do,” Ms. Hunter said of the cast, “and they have to sing, dance and have broad comedic ability—they were hard to find.”

The show’s music is as varied as the ensemble’s roles.

“We really run the gamut stylistically,” she said. “It’s not all just traditional musical theater. There’s some pop, rock in there.”

Through Mr. Cuccioli’s character Zach, who Parker hears singing like a musical theater star, Mr. Overett shows how musical theater moments get transformed into rock songs.

Mr. Overett, Ms. Hunter and Mr. Schwartz agree this is a show for both people who love musicals and people who hate them.unnamed-5

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people in previous readings or in our workshops who have said, ‘I don’t usually like musicals, but I love this,’” Ms. Hunter said, adding she thinks both sides of the audience will walk away from Bay Street with a love—or at least an appreciation—for musicals.

The show addresses the aspects of  musicals that bother people while celebrating them at the same time.

“The form of musical theater, there’s an aspect of it that is—it’s larger than life—and in some ways, that feels inaccessible to people, because it seems insincere in its grandeur. But that’s also what other people love about the form—that it requires such a suspension of disbelief,” Ms. Hunter said.

“The beauty of the way Adam has written this show,” she added, “is that it may not seem realistic but he’s written us characters who are very real and very accessible and a story line that is incredibly heartfelt.”

“My Life is a Musical,” Ms. Hunter said, delivers the big production and entertaining numbers of a musical, but with “real heart and a strong core.”

“This is the kind of show that in your career you hope you find and I’ve been lucky enough to have found it,” the director said.

“My Life is a Musical” opens Tuesday, July 29, and runs through Sunday, August 31, at the Bay Street Theater, located at the corner of Bay Street and Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. For more information or tickets, call (631) 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.

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.

Pierson Cast of “A Chorus Line” Wins “Best Ensemble” on the East End at the 2014 Teeny Awards

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Pierson's production of "A Chorus Line" took home the highest award, "Best Ensemble," at the 2014 Teeny Awards.

Pierson’s production of “A Chorus Line” took home the highest award, “Best Ensemble,” at the 2014 Teeny Awards. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

By Tessa Raebeck

A testament to both their talent and their teamwork, the cast of “A Chorus Line” at Pierson High School took home the highest honor at the 2014 Teeny Awards, “Best Ensemble.”

Held Sunday, June 8, at Longwood High School, the Teeny Awards are put on by the East End Arts Council to recognize the talent of local actors, musicians, technicians and all other artists of the theater.

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Photo by Zoe Vatash.

“As ‘A Chorus Line’ is a musical about the ensemble–about them as individuals, who make up the chorus as a unit–this is the ultimate compliment to our group,” Pierson Theatre Director Paula Brannon said. “It means we did it right.”

“As their director, I am extremely proud of these young thespians for not just their talent, but [their] dedication and extremely hard work as a unit,” said Ms. Brannon. “They were truly an ensemble and we are honored to have been recognized for that work.”

 

For a full list of the Teeny Awards taken home to Sag Harbor, click here.

To read more about Pierson’s production of “A Chorus Line,” click here.

Review: “Conviction” at Bay Street Theater

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Brian Hutchison, Elizabeth Reaser, Sarah Paulson and Garret Dillahunt in "Conviction" at Bay Street Theater.

Brian Hutchison, Elizabeth Reaser, Sarah Paulson and Garret Dillahunt in “Conviction” at Bay Street Theater.

By Annette Hinkle

Belief is perhaps one of the most powerful motivators in the arsenal of human emotion. Whether it is held in the absence of tangible proof or in the presence of damning evidence, often little can be done to assuage a deeply held position once it is ingrained in the psyche.

It’s true of politics, it’s true of religion …and it is especially true of relationships.

The notion of belief and trust are at the core of “Conviction,” Carey Crim’s powerful drama which opens Bay Street Theater’s 2014 summer mainstage season. Directed by Scott Schwartz, Bay Street’s new artistic director, “Conviction” enjoys its world premiere at the theater now through June 15.

But be prepared. Despite its fairly simple and straightforward approach, the subject matter is complex and this is one of those plays that will keep you thinking (and talking) long after the final curtain falls.

“Conviction” tells the story of Tom Hodges (Garret Dillahunt) a popular high school teacher whose enthusiasm for Shakespeare is infectious. When bright and engaged students come to him eager to learn more about the Bard, in his mission as an educator, he can’t help but share his enthusiasm.

As the play opens, Tom and his wife Leigh (Sarah Paulson) are arriving home with their best friends, Bruce (Brian Hutchison), also a teacher at the school, and Jayne (played by Elizabeth Reaser) following the school’s production of “Romeo and Juliet,” which Tom has directed.

As they joke about the length of the play and the talent of the lead teenage actress, Tom and Leigh’s energetic 13-year-old son, Nicholas (Daniel Burns) makes a brief appearance to raid the fridge before heading off to a friend’s house for a sleep over. Then the phone rings — it’s the school’s principal calling for Tom and from that point on, life will never be the same.

The bulk of the play takes place three years after that phone call. Tom is coming home from prison after being convicted for inappropriate sexual relations with the teenage actress who starred as Juliet in his play, and in those years, much has changed. Leigh adamantly believes her husband’s professed innocence and makes his homecoming special by inviting Bruce and Jayne to be there when he arrives. But it soon becomes clear this will not be an easy reunion and picking up where they left off nearly impossible.

Bruce puts on a brave face and acts like little has changed, but tension, anger and fear soon surfaces in Jayne, who literally takes on the role of “doubting Thomas,” giving voice to the unspoken suspicions about her old friend. She thinks he is guilty and her own conviction wreaks havoc on the couples’ long-standing friendship. Bruce and Jayne’s two daughters, who have been friends with Nicholas since they were babies, are no longer permitted to spend time at the Hodge’s home, which now shelters a convicted sex offender.

For his part, Nicholas is a young man struggling to come of age in a community that believes his father is a sexual predator. He has undergone a particularly dark transformation during Tom’s incarceration and is a withdrawn and friendless 16-year-old who dabbles in drugs and disappears for long stretches at a time.

Leigh smiles and does her best to keep her family intact, but the stress of the situation is evident. Tom’s purported indiscretion has been front page news. They rarely share a bed and suspicious glances, harassing anonymous phone calls and financial hardship has taken its toll. Leigh works at the hospital, but has been unable to keep up on the mortgage payments and the family is in danger of losing the house. Tom has lost his job, his direction and the respect of the community.

The best plays are those which provide no easy answers, and in fact, leave audiences with more questions than when they came in. “Conviction” does exactly that. Schwartz’s direction of the material is impressive and he has assembled a stellar cast for this production. The material is not easy, yet the actors bring the issues to a crescendo with great skill and sensitivity — particularly Paulson who is quite impressive as the long-suffering and stoic Leigh. Anna Louizos’ well-designed set exudes the comforts of suburban living. But she wisely offsets the American dream with a painted backdrop of neighboring houses which lurk menacingly close, pressing in on a private family drama which is being played out in public.

While the community’s awareness of the situation is key to the characters’ motivations, the power of “Conviction” comes from the fact the play looks intently at the collateral damage of sexual misconduct. Yes, the act is abhorrent, and while society’s revulsion of such crimes is well placed, lost in the debate are the families left to pick up the pieces. Not just the victim’s family, but the perpetrator’s as well — people who are subjected to harassment, judgmental stares and whispered gossip simply because they happen to be related.

So how does a family survive when someone has been convicted of a sexual offense? Can they survive? What if the accusations are false? These are just some of the many sticky questions which “Convictions” sets out to explore.

During a talk with Tom after a night out, Bruce tries to reconnect by pointing out that many teenage girls invite attention from men by dressing and acting far older than they are. Though he’s trying to sympathize with his friend, Bruce’s sentiment is disturbing in its familiarity — how many times have we all heard similar statements made in conversations with our own friends?

It’s a slippery slope indeed. When does a child become an adult? Actually, it depends on where — and when — you live. Shakespeare’s Juliet was just 13. Today, most people would agree a 15-year-old student sleeping with a 36-year-old teacher is a clear case of abuse. But what if the student is 17 and the teacher 23? Is Tom’s accuser a victim or a temptress? Is she a naïve child or a jilted lover? In our effort to protect children from abuse, have we gone too far by not allowing teachers to comfort distraught students with an embrace or offer counsel behind closed doors without witnesses?

While “Convictions” doesn’t set out to answer these questions, it does go to great lengths to explore them. That’s what makes this such an intriguing offering. Whether or not Tom “did it” is beside the point. This is a play about how we go on afterwards and one that considers the many victims beyond the obvious one

There are no easy answers — and in the end it does, indeed, come down to the power of convictions.

“Conviction” runs Tuesdays through Sundays with evening and some matinee performances through June 15 at Bay Street Theater, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor. The play is produced by Bay Street in association with Dead Posh Productions, Rubicon Theatre Company, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Off-Broadway Across America. Tickets are $60.75 to $75. To reserve, call (631) 725-9500.

World Premiere of “Conviction” Opens Bay Street’s Mainstage Season in Sag Harbor

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Rehearsal for "Conviction" in New York City. From left to right: Director Scott Schwartz, playwright Carey Crim and the cast, Brian Hutchison, Sarah Paulson, Daniel Burns, Elizabeth Reaser and Garret Dillahunt. Photo by Barry Gordin.

Rehearsal for “Conviction” in New York City. From left to right: Director Scott Schwartz, playwright Carey Crim and the cast, Brian Hutchison, Sarah Paulson, Daniel Burns, Elizabeth Reaser and Garret Dillahunt at the New 42nd Street Studio in New York City. Photo by Barry Gordin.

By Tessa Raebeck

You can grow up with your friends, live with them, even marry them, but can you ever truly know them?

This is one of many questions, perhaps unanswerable, in “Conviction,” a new play by Carey Crim that will have its world premiere Tuesday, May 27, opening the Bay Street Theatre Mainstage Season.

“In relationships, be they spouse or parent-child or friends, there is always a limit to how much we can know about another person,” said Bay Street’s new artistic director Scott Schwartz, who is directing the play.

That limit is clear in “Conviction,” the story of Tom Hodges, a beloved teacher at his local high school, who, early on in the play, is accused and convicted of having sexual relations with an underage female student.

“Conviction” stars Garret Dillahunt (“12 Years a Slave,” “Raising Hope”) as Tom Hodges. His wife Leigh is played by Sarah Paulson (“12 Years a Slave,” “American Horror Story”) and Daniel Burns (“Twelfth Night,” “Shipwrecked!”) portrays their 17-year-old son.

Brian Hutchison (“Man and Boy,” “Looped”) and Elizabeth Reaser (“Twilight” films, “Grey’s Anatomy”) play a married couple, Tom and Leigh’s longtime best friends.

“These five actors are all powerhouses,” said Mr. Schwartz. “I feel so lucky to both just be in a room with them, but also to have the opportunity to bring them to Bay Street and to share their amazing talent.”

“Conviction” explores the aftermath of Tom’s fall from grace and how his wife, son and best friends struggle with whether or not they believe his claim of innocence—and how to reconcile those beliefs with their love for Tom.

“This play,” said Mr. Dillahunt, who plays Tom, “examines the possibility of relationships of all sorts surviving where there is even a kernel of doubt and distrust.”

The cast of "Conviction:" Sarah Paulson, Brian Hutchison, Daniel Burns, Elizabeth Reaser and Garret Dillahunt. Photo by Barry Gordin.

The cast of “Conviction:” Sarah Paulson, Brian Hutchison, Daniel Burns, Elizabeth Reaser and Garret Dillahunt at the New 42nd Street Studio, New York City.

Photo by Barry Gordin.

 

“There are things that we individuals can just never know about the people we are with, so all we can do is live with conviction…and have belief about who they are deep inside them,” Mr. Schwartz said. “And when that conviction is challenged, when you’re forced to realize that there are things that you cannot know about the people you are in or choose to be in a relationship with, what does that do? How do you navigate that? How do you live your life—and is it possible for your relationship to survive?”

Ms. Crim came up with the idea for “Conviction” after a month of seemingly constant headlines involving inappropriate relationships between children and those in positions of authority culminated in a gig as a camp counselor, during which staff were directed against hugging campers or taking them to the bathroom without another witness present.

Although the rules made sense, she recalled her own experience as a camper climbing into her counselor’s bunk to hear ghost stories.

“Although I completely understood why we did it, it also made me a little bit sad for a more innocent time,” Ms. Crim said. “I started thinking about, putting those two things together, what has led us here?”

“I wanted to look at what it does to family and friends, who can never truly know…we can never, no matter how much we love someone, no matter if we live with that person, can we ever really truly know another human being,” she added.

Throughout the play, the viewer’s opinion on Tom can change multiple times. Ms. Crim said even her own “very strong” opinion when she began writing the play became less clear as she continued.

“Tom is the only one that really knows the truth,” explained Ms. Crim. “So, the audience is kind of in the shoes of the rest of the characters on stage, in terms of what information they get and don’t get. So, they have to take that journey—it is left up for them to decide.”

Also struggling with that decision are the actors, who remain loyal to the perceived convictions of their characters.

“I do believe that Leigh believes he is innocent,” said Ms. Paulson, adding she agrees. “But, I think part of her pragmatism lends itself to her believing what she wants to believe…She loves her husband very much and she wants to keep her family together.”

While Leigh appears loyal to her husband’s claim of innocence—and Ms. Paulson true to her character’s opinion—Ms. Reaser’s character, Jane, is burdened with doubt.

Ms. Reaser said although she is still figuring it out, she, like her character, thinks Tom is guilty.

“It’s kind of this thing that haunts her and it’s haunted her for years,” she said. “Is he guilty? Is he not guilty? And how do I reconcile that with this incredible man that I’ve always known him to be?”

“Some people can really live a duality and I find that very impressive. I think it’s important that we do know how to live a duality, because not everything is black and white,” she added. “But in Jane’s case, she really can’t straddle that line.”

“There is no template for a family on how to deal with something like this,” said Mr. Dillahunt. “Everyone is flying blind and doing the best they can. It’s a story of survival and, in the end, sometimes, things you hold dear must be sacrificed.”

Tom’s conviction comes down to he said, she said, with only the two parties involved definitively knowing the truth.

“There’s no evidence beyond that, beyond testimony—and that’s really a fascinating, scary thing about the world that we live in,” said Ms. Reaser.

“Conviction” premieres Tuesday, May 27 at 7 p.m. and runs through June 15, showing at 8 p.m. A special “Pay What You Can” ticket offer for the opening show has a limited amount of tickets available at the Box Office after 2 p.m. that day. For other tickets, visit baystreet.org or call 631-725-9500.

Rothko on Stage: ‘Red’ to Open at Guild Hall in East Hampton

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Left: Victor Slezak as Mark Rothko and Christian Scheider as his assistant Ken. Photo by Brian Leaver.

Left: Victor Slezak as Mark Rothko and Christian Scheider as his assistant Ken. Photo by Brian Leaver.

By Tessa Raebeck

The job of the artist assistant is to stretch canvases, mix paint, grab coffee and, in many cases, serve as the sounding board and mellowing counterpart to the boss’ eccentricity.

Such is the case in “Red,” a Tony-Award winning two-man play by John Logan centered on the relationship between the renowned postwar American artist Mark Rothko and his young assistant, Ken. Produced by Guild Hall in association with Ellen J. Myers, the play, which premiered in 2009, will open on the John Drew Theatre stage Wednesday, May 21.

Directed by Sag Harbor’s Stephen Hamilton, noted for his recent shows at the John Drew Theatre including Martin McDonough’s “The Cripple of Inishmann” and Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanda,” “Red” stars Victor Slezak as Rothko and Christian Scheider as Ken.

Victor Slezak as Mark Rothko. Photo by Brian Leaver.

Victor Slezak as Mark Rothko. Photo by Brian Leaver.

“The discussion that takes place between them, the action between them is a debate about commerce and art, about humanity,” Mr. Hamilton said of the main characters. “It’s about art and humanity, it’s about the importance and meaning of art in our life.”

Of Russian Jewish descent, Rothko, unlike many other artists, rose to prominence during his own lifetime and was at the apex of his career during the play’s two-year span, from 1958 to 1959.

At the time his inventive young assistant Ken comes to work with him, Rothko has just received an unheard of public commission for $35,000, the equivalent of about $2 million in today’s market, from the Four Seasons Restaurant to create murals, now known as the Seagram murals. The entire play takes place in the studio at 222 Bowery in New York City where the murals were created.

Although he himself rejected the term, Rothko was classified alongside his contemporaries Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock as “one of the most famous abstract expressionists in the New York school,” according to Mr. Hamilton.

Pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were just coming into prominence in the late 1950s, much to the chagrin of Rothko.

“All of these artists are just starting to get recognized and that whole movement—it was a big shift between the expressionists and this time,” said Mr. Hamilton. “And its reaction to that—Mark Rothko is a bigger than life character, whose impressions and whose very deep feeling about the meaning of art in the world comes to stark contrast with what he thinks is the complete sort of obliteration of that psyche.”

“There is no such thing as good painting about nothing,” Rothko once said.

Pop artists were critiquing the art world of Rothko, essentially making fun of its gravity.

“It’s on the theme of seriousness,” said Mr. Scheider, a Sagaponack native and a young up-and-coming actor who plays the role of Ken. “Seriousness in art, seriousness in what you say, seriousness in what you live. Meaning Rothko was very much somebody who felt himself to be an outsider in American culture for a long time—until, of course, he became sort of a pillar of that culture, but that happened later—and so, throughout his whole life he dealt with this—I’m not going to say insecurity, because in fact he had a lot of security in himself—but a doubt as to whether there were people that could look at his paintings. He didn’t know if people were going to be moved by them.”

“So, much of what Ken does in the play is through the course of it, he sort of proves it possible that one can develop an appreciation for an abstract painting as a lay person,” he added. “So in a way he’s kind of a foil, but Ken in his own way is an artist.”

Although Ken is a painter, he’s not making art when he works with Rothko. He’s supporting the artist by grabbing food and cigarettes and doing the busy work. Throughout the play, he complements Rothko’s long-winded monologues with one-word, monosyllabic answers.

“What do you see?” Rothko will often ask.

“Red,” replies Ken.

Rothko will rage, stomping around the room, slinging packets of paint at his assistant, who will, in turn, pick up the packets, toss the artist a cigarette and clean up after his rage.

“Rothko’s right at the height of his powers right now, 1958-59, there’s nobody painting like him. He has achieved his mature style that you recognize from Rothko and yet he knows that that energy, that life force—right around the corner is the diminution of that force. He’s not in the greatest health and he knows that he’s right at the apex of his career, there’s nowhere else to go,” said Mr. Hamilton.

The youthful energy of Ken collides with the threat of dead-end maturity felt by Rothko, setting off their conflict in moments of both humorous dialogue and pure tension.

“One of the central questions in the play is, ‘What do you see?” Mr. Scheider said. “Which, of course, is whatever you see, I mean there’s no right answer… but for Rothko, he was trying to make people weep, which is hard to do with blocks of color, but somehow he managed.”

Mr. Scheider said the mentorship, intentional or not, of Rothko on Ken correlates to his own experience working with Mr. Slezak, a veteran actor who has been performing regularly on stage, films and television for 40 years.

“He’s a seasoned actor and is bringing a kind of gravitas to this role that is really impressive and inspiring because he’s the kind of actor who can live a character,” said Mr. Hamilton, adding, “He can really bring this character to life and same with Christian [Scheider], they’re both doing a fantastic job.”

“For me, as a young actor working with a much more experienced actor, there’s a lot of overlap between the rehearsal process and the play, it’s actually very useful,” said Mr. Scheider. “As a young person, [I am] honored to be given this responsibility.”

“Ken, over the course of the play, becomes a better artist by having just been with him.” Mr. Scheider said. “They have very different intentions in their work and yet Rothko instilled in him a kind of fearlessness…to take himself seriously.”

In Rothko’s words: “Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.”

“Red” runs from Wednesdays through Sundays from May 21, through June 8 at 8 p.m. at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street in East Hampton. Tickets are $35 for general admission, $33 for members and $10 for students. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 324-4050 or visit guildhall.org.

Stages Brings a Favorite Back to Bay Street

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The cast of Stages' 2006 performance of "Once Upon a Mattress." Photo courtesy of Stages.

The cast of Stages’ 2006 performance of “Once Upon a Mattress.” Photo courtesy of Stages.

By Tessa Raebeck

A twist on the fabled tale of “The Princess and the Pea,” the romantic comedy “Once Upon A Mattress” returns to the Bay Street stage this weekend in three shows by Stages, a Children’s Theatre Workshop, Inc.

A fractured fairy tale that takes a comedic twist on the classic story, “Once Upon a Mattress” has music by Mary Rodgers, lyrics by Marshall Barer and book by Marshall Barer, Dean Fuller and Jay Thompson.

The play will mark the 97th production for Stages, which begins its 20th season of professional-quality shows featuring local young actors this summer.

Director and choreographer Helene Leonard manages a cast of 30 young actors. Local musicians Amanda Jones and James Benard will provide accompaniment.

For Sunday’s Mother’s Day show, all mothers in the audience will receive a crown marking them “Queen-for-a-day.”

“Once Upon a Matress” is Saturday, May 10 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 11 at 2 p.m. at Bay Street Theatre, 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, visit stagesworkshop.org, email info@stagesworkshop.org or call 329-1420.

Bay Street Theatre’s New Works Festival Explores the Craft of Playwriting

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By Tessa Raebeck

With three staged readings and an interactive panel discussion, Bay Street Theatre’s first New Works Festival will give up-and-coming playwrights a chance to develop their work in front of an audience—and give that audience a chance to see the culmination of the playwrights’ creative process firsthand.

At 4 p.m. Saturday, an “Artist Interact” panel discussion moderated by award-winning writer John Weidman will allow the playwrights to explore the challenges of being a modern playwright and the process of developing new work in the theater.

At 8 p.m. Friday, the festival starts with a reading of “Fight Call” by Jess Brickman, a comedy about the backstage of the theater world. The play explores the boundaries of trust and professionalism between a veteran theater star and a young up-and-coming actor when one of them threatens to commit an actual act of violence—as opposed to an acted act of violence—on stage during their performance.

A contemporary reimagining of Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard,” according to playwright P. Seth Bauer, “The Orchard Play” will be read Saturday at 8 p.m. It follows the struggle of a Pennsylvania family farm as it tries to contend with outside pressure to sell their land to oil companies interested in “fracking,” hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas.

The final reading is of “The May Queen” by Molly Smith Metzler Sunday at 2 p.m. The comedy focuses on the disappointment of Mike Petracca when he is reunited with the high school flame he has been obsessed with since her departure years before. It examines the unreliability of expectations and the roles people play in one another’s lives, often unknowingly.

“Talkbacks” in which the audience can interact with the writers will follow each reading.

The New Works Festival is at Bay Street Theatre, 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information or tickets, call 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.

Bridgehampton Students will Reunite the Peanuts Gang in “Snoopy! The Musical”

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By Tessa Raebeck

Focusing on the life of Snoopy—and the natural comedy found therein—the Bridgehampton School is presenting “Snoopy! The Musical” in three shows today, Thursday, April 24, Friday, April 25 and and Saturday, April 26.

The second musical ever produced at the school, “Snoopy! The Musical” is the sequel to “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and also stars the characters of Charles Schulz’s iconic comic strip “Peanuts.” The book musical follows Snoopy and the gang through trials from trying to not be called on in class to trying to get a manuscript published, as Charlie Brown grows more and more insecure of Snoopy’s growing independence.

“It is hysterical,” said Lindsey Sanchez, the choral director at Bridgehampton School. “It’s all brand new for the students and they are loving it, the show is going to be great.”

“Snoopy! The Musical” will premiere today, April 24, at 1 p.m. in a show for Bridgehampton’s elementary students, and also run April 25 and 26 at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium at Bridgehampton School, 2685 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton. Tickets are $5. For more information or to purchase tickets, call Lindsey Sanchez at 537-0271, ext. 127.

Bay Street’s First Annual New Works Festival Highlights Emerging Playwrights

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By Tessa Raebeck

From farmers contending with fracking interests in rural Pennsylvania to unrequited love for a high school flame built up to unrealistic—and potentially devastating—expectations, Bay Street Theatre is exploring the various manifestations of struggle this spring.

The Sag Harbor theater will open the 2014 season with its first annual New Works Festival April 25 to 27, highlighting the work of three of New York’s emerging playwrights.

The festival will include readings of the newest work by P. Seth Bauer, Jess Brickman and Molly Smith Metzler, as well as talkbacks following each reading, in which the audience can interact directly with the artists. An “Artist Interact” on Saturday will offer further dialogue with the authors through a panel discussion led by award-winning writer John Weidman.

The festival is the first event led by Bay Street’s new artistic director Scott Schwartz, who has voiced his dedication to giving a stage to promising playwrights. Bauer, Brickman and Metzler, are “very exciting writers,” Mr. Schwartz, who is currently out of the country, said in February.

Playwright Molly Smith Metzler. Photo courtesy of Bay Street Theatre.

Playwright Molly Smith Metzler. Photo courtesy of Bay Street Theatre.

In discussing his vision for his inaugural season at Bay Street, Mr. Schwartz and the team at Bay Street have a “deep commitment to new work and developing new plays and musicals at the theater.”

Bay Street Executive Director Tracy Mitchell reiterated that sentiment on Monday.

“When Scott came to us as our new artistic director, one of the first things we talked about was really wanting to go back to trying to include — well, first of all,  — extending our season into the shoulder seasons by helping artists with their new work. It’s something that we wanted to do for a long time and with his help, we’ve been able to implement it,” Ms. Mitchell said.

The festival is being produced in association with SPACE on Ryder Farm, a non-profit artist residency program on the grounds of Ryder Farm in Brewster, New York, “another organization that helps people develop new work,” according to Ms. Mitchell. Led by founding executive director Emily Ryder Simoness, SPACE provides writers and theater companies with residencies.

Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Simoness together decided on the plays to be featured in the festival and cast them using Bay Street’s equity actors.

“Fight Call” by Jess Brickman, a graduate of the Juilliard School’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program, will be read on Friday, April 25 at 8 p.m. The backstage comedy about the theater world explores the boundaries of trust between an up-and-coming young actor and a seasoned veteran after one threatens to commit an act of violence on stage during their performance.

Playwright Jess Brickman. Photo courtesy of Bay Street Theatre.

Playwright Jess Brickman. Photo courtesy of Bay Street Theatre.

In addition to plays, Ms. Brickman has written essays, articles, screenplays and for television and web series. After premiering at Lincoln Center, her films, “The Five Stages of Grief” and “I Am Not a Moose” were selected at the Hamptons Film Festival and several other festivals for the 2013 circuit.

On April 26, the second day of the festival will begin with the panel discussion at 4 p.m., followed by a cocktail reception. Led by John Weidman, the panel will allow audience members to ask questions of the playwrights, Mr. Weidman and Mr. Schwartz.

Mr. Weidman won a Tony Award for Best Musical Revival for “Assassins,” and has written the books for a variety of musicals, many with scores by Stephen Sondheim.

“This is someone who obviously reached the pinnacle in our world as a playwright,” Ms. Mitchell said.

Following the discussion will be a reading at 8 p.m. of “The Orchard Play” by P. Seth Bauer of Philadelphia.

“It’s a contemporary re-imagining of Chekhov’s ‘Cherry Orchard’,” Mr. Bauer said Tuesday. Old family farms near Mr. Bauer’s home in Pennsylvania, “facing incredible hardships financially,” were offered “enormous sums of money” by oil companies interested in drilling for natural gas through “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing.

“The paradox was that these farmers, they sold their mineral rights, they ended up decimating their land and drinking water — getting money but perpetuating their own demise,” he said.

“There seemed to be an interesting if painful parallel to be drawn here, so I chose the Chekhov play as my inspiration…is it inevitable, I’m not sure, and it’s not for me to say. I just wanted to humanize the problem and write about people who had a deep and complex love for their home, their legacy and their land,” he added.

Playwright P. Seth Bauer. Photo courtesy of Bay Street Theatre.

Playwright P. Seth Bauer. Photo courtesy of Bay Street Theatre.

The festival ends Sunday at 2 p.m. with a reading of “The May Queen” by Molly Smith Metzler, which will premiere at the Chautauqua Theatre Company in July. The comedy centers on the obsessive love of Mike Petracca for his high school flame, former May Queen Jennifer Nash, and the realities of their reunion versus his high expectations, revealing the strange roles people play — often unknowingly — in each other’s lives.

As the audience learns the backdrop of the creative process through the interactive dialogues, how a play develops from reading to workshop to — ideally — Broadway, the playwrights will be able to bounce their work off the audience.

“The audience is the finishing part of the play,” said Mr. Bauer. “It doesn’t exist without the audience. I can have an idea in my head, but the real test is — does an audience connect with that idea or no.”

The New Works Festival is April 25 to 27 at Bay Street Theatre, 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.