Visit Us on Facebook Visit Us on Youtube Visit Us on Instagram Visit Us on Twitter Visit Us on Pinterest Visit Us on Foursquare

Press Articles 2017

Careful what you wish for: "Mutual Philanthropy" at NJ Rep

Scene on Stage, by Philip Dorian

October 24, 2017

We like to think we can size up strangers in a first meeting, but we really can't. Everyone is guarded for a while, with deep feelings and values held in check, at least until the atmosphere is safe.

That's why I'm always amazed when I go into a new play knowing nothing at all about the characters and come out with insights into their behaviors, desires, fears, motivations, the whole package. In the case of Karen Rizzo's "Mutual Philanthropy," it took a mere ninety minutes. As well-acted as it is written, the play's east coast premiere runs through November 19 at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

When struggling sculptor Lee (Joseph Carlson) and his working-to-support-them wife Esther (Vivia Font) are invited to dinner at the lavish home of wealthy investment banker Charles (James Macdonald) and his neglected wife Michelle (Laurel Casillo), it is with the expectation that the hosts plan to purchase Lee's 'Reclining Man' sculpture for a few much-needed thousand bucks. (The couples' children attend the same grammar school in the gentrifying Los Angeles area neighborhood where they all live – in contrasting digs.)

Esther (Vivia Font) and Charles (James Macdonald) share a quiet moment

What Charles and Michelle do have in mind involves a lot more money and an arrangement that is less titillating than what you might be thinking, but is no less demanding. The proposal, in fact, leaves Lee and Esther agape. Details emerge in the course of a boozy cocktail hour, during which privacy is discarded, relationships are strained and emotion reigns.

Not revealing many more plot points is not being coy (or lazy); it's just more fun to find things out along with the characters. And for all its serious content, "Mutual Philanthropy" is fun. Mentioning the food fight is more teaser than spoiler, and the underlying sexual tension across the marriages is obvious early on. (On that front, one scene, which includes a reference to the title, is discomfiting; if it isn't, you haven't been paying attention.)

The party gets going and Lee (Joseph Carlson) gets showing…to Michelle (Laurel Casillo) and Charles (James Macdonald

The acting is like a tight string quartet. Each of the four is a singular individual while also establishing distinct relationships with the other three. Evan Bergman has directed them with just the right blend of freedom and restraint. That the play is so incisive doesn't make it easier, but does enhance the clarity. "Why are we paying the high-school age baby-sitter $12 an hour?" asks Esther before they enter the house. "Her dad's out of work," Lee replies. Need to know any more about him? "We want more than what we need," Charles says later. "And when we get more," he goes on, "the more becomes the need." Hedge fund mantra, anyone?

A routine dinner party: Laurel Casillo, James Macdonald, Joseph Carlson, Vivia Font

The wives are complex women, and Casillo and Font both peel back their layers one-by-one as needed. What causes Michelle to break down crying might not move you to tears, but Casillo leaves no doubt that Michelle's are genuine. Esther is playwright Rizzo's deepest character. At any given moment she knows more than she lets on, a quality that Font conveys ever so subtly.

The technical aspects are all a playwright could wish for. Jessica Parks's set design bespeaks luxury and spaciousness (How does she do that on the relatively small stage?), and the lighting (Jill Nagle) sets the mood perfectly. The costumes are just right, with Ms. Casillo owing a special thanks to designer Patricia E. Doherty for Michelle's tastefully slinky hostess item.

Laurel Casillo

The ending of Ms. Rizzo's play is especially well crafted. A nearly off-hand exchange between the women speaks volumes, and how the men might adjust (or not) to each other and to the situation could go any number of ways. It's hardly a fixed resolution, but a play that creatively poses thorny questions can be much more interesting than one that purports to answer them. "Mutual Philanthropy" accomplishes the former.

'Mutual Philanthropy': Mismatched couples get together for dinner and fireworks


From left, Joseph Carlson, Laurel Casillo, Vivia Font and James Macdonald co-star in "Mutual Philanthropy," which is at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Nov. 19

"Everything is a deal," says Charles, one of the four characters in "Mutual Philanthropy," which is currently playing at NJ Rep in Long Branch. It's a Trumpian thing to say, and "Mutual Philanthropy" is, in many ways, very fitting for life in the Time of Trump.

I'm not the first to say this, but money is the last taboo. People who will casually share every last detail of their sex lives, the medical procedures they've recently undergone and the state of their bowels wouldn't dream of discussing how much money they have in the bank, how much debt they're in, or the large inheritance they expect to receive.

One of the things I liked most about "Mutual Philanthropy" is the way money looms, as the elephant in the room, for so many of these characters' interactions. With the gap in society between the haves and the have-nots growing so huge — and creating an underlying layer of tension that, in many cases, previously didn't exist — "Mutual Philanthropy" seems very timely.

You see, Charles (played by James Macdonald), a successful investment banker, and his stay-at-home-mom wife Michelle (Laurel Casillo), are haves. And they have invited over, for dinner, a pair of have-nots: Lee (Joseph Carlson), a struggling artist, and his wife Esther (Vivia Font), an aspiring chef. All the scenes take place at Charles and Michelle's expensive, tastefully decorated home in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The two couple's children go to the same school, and Charles and Michelle admire Lee's art. But the differences in their lifestyles are vast.

When Michelle casually mentions the expensive vacation she and Charles took, it doesn't seem to occur to her that Lee and Esther couldn't dream of such an indulgence. And when Esther offers "prosperity" as a toast, it's extremely awkward. Charles and Michelle, after all, already have what she is wishing for.

Written by Karen Rizzo and directed by Evan Bergman, and making its East Coast premiere here, "Mutual Philanthropy" is in the explosive tradition of plays such as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and, more recently, "God of Carnage" and "Disgraced": A couple with problems of its own is thrown together with another couple and, with alcohol inevitably involved, all hell breaks loose.

What's different, and intriguing, about "Mutual Philanthropy" (and this is also why the play's title is so perfect) is the idea of transactions: Everyone is looking to get something from someone else. The rich feel entitled. The poor look to be saved. Deals are bluntly proposed or subtly suggested, then pondered and, sometimes, resented. (And no, it's not just a matter of Charles and Michelle trying to add some art to their collection.). The tension never dissipates — not even in the final scene, which artfully leaves things unresolved.

BWW Review: MUTUAL PHILANTHROPY at NJ Rep is Timely and Thought-Provoking

"You have us as friends so you can go slumming without being there."
by Esther in Mutual Philanthropy

Mutual Philanthropy, written by Karen Rizzo and directed by Evan Bergman, is now making its East Coast Premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company through November 19. It is the 123rd play that has been produced by the company in their 20 seasons in Long Branch. This distinctive show depicts how socioeconomic circumstances can divide people living in the same community.

Mutual Philanthropy is set in a lavish home in Mount Washington, Los Angeles where Charles and Michelle are hosting a cozy dinner party for another married couple, Lee and Esther. The group appears to have a lot in common including their political ideas and children of the same age, but the lifestyles of the two pairs are quite different. Charles is a successful financial investor married to Michelle, a socialite type, while Lee, a struggling artist, depends on his wife Esther to support the family. After a few drinks, each member of the friendly foursome becomes less inhibited, and less polite. The gathering takes on a new tone as honesty prevails, resentments surface, and unexpected propositions are made. With humor and drama, Mutual Philanthropy conveys thought-provoking messages about class, background, and wealth.

You'll easily recognize the characters portrayed in Mutual Philanthropy. They could be your neighbors, your friends or your relatives. The company includes Joseph Carlson as Lee, Laurel Casillo as Michelle, Vivia Font as Esther, and James MacDonald as Charles. The four actors deliver the quick banter seamlessly and are completely authentic in each of their roles.

The Production Team has brought the show to life on the Long Branch stage with scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; sound design by Merek Royce Press; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty. The Assistant Director is Jared Michael Delaney; Stage Manager, Kristin Pfeifer; Assistant Stage Manager, Adam von Pier; Technical Director, Brian P. Snyder; Properties, Marisa Procopio; Casting, Judy Bowman Casting.

Mutual Philanthropy takes the dinner party scenario to a whole new level. It is a timely play that compares and contrasts personal values. NJ Rep's Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas and Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas are continuing their successful season by making this new show available to New Jersey audiences.

Review: Philanthropy has its price tag at NJ Rep


A scene from "Mutual Philanthropy" at NJ Rep. (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)

Although it involves a millionaire who invites an unsuspecting couple to his home, for a purpose that's not immediately made clear, and although it technically opens with a little murder, there's nothing of the stuffy drawing-room mystery to "Mutual Philanthropy."

The play by Karen Rizzo, making its East Coast debut at NJ Rep in Long Branch, is set in the cleanly contemporary confines of an upper-class Los Angeles suburb. The lord and lady of the manor — investment banker Charles and his socially active wife Michelle — offer what could be described as an unorthodox business opportunity.

Into this realm of $2,000 bottles of whiskey and insanely overvalued paintings come Lee and Esther, the financially struggling parents of a young child, who somehow happens to attend the same birthday parties as the son of their dinner party hosts.

Lee is an aspiring sculptor who strives to find a buyer for his creations. Esther is a working mom who hails from the Latino community of pre-gentrified Boyle Heights — and whose own dreams of opening her own culinary business take a back seat to real-world worries, like an extra $3 promised to the babysitter.

In her 2016 script, the LA-based Rizzo writes with authority of private-school social circles, the ever-widening chasm of wealth imbalance, and the kind of community transformation that's become a ripped-from-the-headlines flashpoint.

Laurel Casillo in a scene from "Mutual Philanthropy." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)

The playwright lends a new perspective to the whole notion of "philanthropy," and deftly delineates the difference between the concepts of "hunger" and "appetite." She's also savvy enough to steer the proceedings away from any obvious comparisons to the four-hander "God of Carnage," on her way to conjuring a parlor game that's light on rigorous rules, heavy with psychological baggage and fueled to an alarming extent by pricey potables.

As the banker-host, Jim Macdonald reprises the role that he originated during the play's world premiere at LA's Ensemble Studio Theatre — and it's a characterization that he owns like a scrupulously tailored suit of clothes, casual flip-flops notwithstanding.

This is a man for whom "everything is a deal," who's never known a world in which he can't get what he wants.

As Esther, Vivia Font makes a formidable foil to the controlling "Charles in Charge," a "font" of wisdom, conscience and lacerating wit.

As the man-bunned and bearded Lee, Joseph Carlson cuts a lower-key figure whose nice-guy attributes are tempered by an apparent inability to hold his liquor, and an unfortunate tendency toward some impulsively off-the-chart behaviors.

Completing the cast as socialite mom Michelle, Laurel Casillo presents a woman whose infectious laugh and new-money nonchalance mask a deep-seated unhappiness, and some shrewdly devastating observations.

Joseph Carlson, Laurel Casillo, Vivia Font and James Macdonald in "Mutual Philanthropy" at NJ Rep. (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)

While all four of these excellent players are new to the Long Branch stage, they work here under the guidance of the prolific Evan Bergman, whose numerous projects for NJ Rep have shown a genuine feel for the various ways in which people behave badly in social situations, particularly when wine, money, sex and status are involved.

As the party transitions from awkward small talk into wholly uncharted territory, the director maintains a pace that keeps the characters' interactions believable, even when things threaten to veer toward the outlandish.

There's the sense that these people are paying attention, probing each other's weaknesses and engaging in a dangerous conversation, rather than merely bouncing lines off each other. And when nature plays its hand, there's just no containing the wildness that sits beneath the planned and redeveloped communities of the play's SoCal setting.

This short (there is no intermission) and not-so-sweet play has something to say about material pursuits, status symbols and the things we do for love or money.

Out IN Jersey

"Mutual Philanthropy" is thought-provoking drama at its best

"Mutual Philanthropy" with Vivia Font, Joseph Carlson, Laurel Casillo, and James Macdonald

By Allen Neuner

The New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch has, for the past two decades, been pioneers and champions of new plays, providing opportunities for playwrights to have their works produced. Under the leadership of the company's executive producer, Gabor Barabas, and artistic director, SuzAnne Barabas, they have presented a long string of gripping, thought-provoking productions, cementing the reputation of NJ Rep among New Jersey's leading theatrical organizations.

With their latest offering, Mutual Philanthropy, one is privileged to see a new play so powerful that it will be discussed for days, even weeks, after seeing it.

Playwright Karen Rizzo has crafted a spare, gripping piece exploring class divides in present-day society. We meet Lee and Esther, a struggling working class couple — he's a sculptor, she's a small-scale baker — as they come to dinner at the home of their wealthier friends Charles and Michelle in northeast Los Angeles. (Their children, best friends, attend the same school.) The evening starts off with pleasant small talk, but takes an unexpected turn when Charles and Michelle propose giving Lee and Esther half a million dollars as a philanthropic investment, claiming to expect nothing in return.

The evening descends into suspicions of Charles and Michelle's motives in making such an offer, with alcohol and sexual innuendo fueling the discussion. The play rises to an abrupt, shocking climax that leaves the final results of this dinner party to the audience's speculations.

The cast, skillfully helmed by director Evan Bergman, is outstanding. Joseph Carlson is Lee, proud of his artistic work, unwilling to take money being offered with nothing being asked in return. Vivia Font's Esther is initially dazzled by the offer, seeing in it a way to expand her baking business, yet later voicing the strongest suspicions of her friends' true motives. Laurel Casillo's Michelle is a study in over-the-top behavior, at times overly emotional, at others almost blatant in her innuendos — or is it all fueled by her alcohol consumption?

Finally, James Macdonald is a study in thinly-disguised power and influence as Charles, a man used to having everyone eventually say "yes" to him. The four actors skillfully navigate the depths of this play, and director Bergman has them relating to each other through the strange events of this one evening as only friends of long standing could.

This is a powerful play that deserves to be seen, especially in a time when class divisions are a largely undiscussed and misunderstood part of the larger society. I cannot more strongly recommend going to see Mutual Philanthropy.

NJ Rep presents 'Mutual Philanthropy'


Lauren Casillo, Joseph Carlson, Vivia Font and Jim MacDonald are having some kind of a party in "Mutual Philanthropy," the Karen Rizzo play at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.. (Photo: Courtesy of ANDREA PHOX)

Ever since that bloody Banquo-haunted banquet given by Macbeth and his wife, the Dinner Party has been a staple setting for various dramatic characters to air their grievances, confront their demons, let loose a lifetime of pent-up frustrations and jealousies, or simply play some dangerous parlor games — often aided by copious cocktails and punctuated by flying fine china.

As Karen Rizzo tells it, her play "Mutual Philanthropy" was sparked by a perfectly civilized dinnertime conversation with a friend — that, and a child's birthday bash in Pasadena.

"It was at one of those huge old estates; a mansion with a big pool, tennis courts, clubhouse," recalls the native New Yorker who transplanted to Los Angeles more than 20 years ago. "Other than the fact that our children attended the same school, these were people who we'd otherwise never have anything to do with socially...the ones whose lives just existed on another level."

After "a bunch more of those situations" — and the aforementioned chat with her friend, actor Jim MacDonald — Rizzo felt a play coming on, one that examined the effects of wealth disparity and gentrification on a community's geography, psyche and social order. It's a topic about which the award-winning fiction writer and essayist (L.A. Times, Salon, Publishers Weekly) is particularly sensitive, since the Highland Park neighborhood where she and her family make their home has been rather ominously branded one of the "hippest" up and coming places on the map.

Playwright Karen Rizzo joins Rachel Sherman, author of the viral NY Times op-ed "What the Rich Won't Tell You," for a special discussion following the Oct. 20 preview performance of "Mutual Philanthropy." (Photo: COURTESY OF KAREN RIZZO)


In "Mutual Philanthropy," the four-character play that makes its East Coast debut this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, a wealthy investment banker and his socialite wife invite the parents of their young child's classmate — he's a struggling artist looking for a sale; she's a working-class breadwinner of Latina heritage — to an intimate get-together that "starts off all about business, and then morphs into something else," as the playwright teases.

"Sometimes philanthropy only looks like philanthropy," Rizzo explains when asked about the play's title. "There are different aspects underpinning it ... status, power, competition with someone else who's seeking those same things."

"He expects to give something ... and then to get something," she says of her banker — a character played by MacDonald, the friend who helped Rizzo conjure the idea for the show into being.

The actor, who originated the role in the play's 2016 world premiere run at L.A.'s Ensemble Studio Theatre, has "been in on it" since the first reading of the script that became a semi-finalist at the Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference. He makes the cross-continent trip to reprise the role in Long Branch, joined in the cast by Joseph Carlson, Laurel Casillo and Vivia Font.

While all four players are new to the NJ Repertory stage, they're working here under the direction of Rep regular Evan Bergman, whose dozen or so previous projects for the professional company have included "A View of the Mountains" by Pulitzer nominee Lee Blessing.

BWW Interview: Playwright Karen Rizzo and MUTUAL PHILANTHROPY at NJ Rep

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) presents the East Coast premiere of Karen Rizzo's Mutual Philanthropy directed by Evan Bergman. The cast includes Joe Carlson, Laurel Casillo, and Jim MacDonald. The play is a comedy that blows the neighborhood watch whistle on the power plays and prejudices seething secretly beneath the California cool of a community transitioning from working class to billionaire bohemian.

Lee, a struggling and gifted artist, and his breadwinning wife, Esther, live in the ethnically diverse East Los Angeles enclave of Mount Washington, where Esther grew up. So do their friends Charles and Michelle, more recent arrivals with big plans and big money for making the neo-hip neighborhood even 'nicer.' Both couples' kids attend the same top public school; they shop at the same Trader Joe's; they share similar views on social issues and a passion for contemporary art. In fact, Lee is near certain that Charles is about to buy one of his large sculptures. With so much in common, what could go wrong over a cozy home dinner hosted by Charles and Michelle? Pretty much everything, once the one difference they all like to pretend does not matter is pried open wide by manipulation, temptation, resentment, and too much to drink. had the pleasure of interviewing playwright Karen Rizzo about her career and Mutual Philanthropy.

Karen Rizzo's stories and essays (one of which garnered a Western Publishing Association's MAGGIE award for Best Essay) have been featured in numerous publications including The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Publishers Weekly, Beatrice, a couple Random House anthologies of women's humor, on NPR and at L.A.'s ongoing reading series Literary Death Match, Vermin on The Mount, Personal Space and True Stories. She is the author of the Los Angeles Times summer reading pick Famous Baby and Things to Bring, S#!t to Do..., a BookSense non-fiction pick of the year. Her plays have been performed at NYC's Ensemble Studio Theatre, Samuel Beckett Theatre, Playwrights Horizon's Theatre School, and in Los Angeles at Arcade and Ensemble Studio Theatre/L.A. Mutual Philanthropy was a semi-finalist for the Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference and had its West Coast premiere at EST/L.A. Karen lives with her husband and two children in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.

When did you first start writing?

Started writing as a teen, mostly very bad teen-angst stuff, but then I wrote my first play in college, even though I knew I was going to be an actor. So I wound up in NYC in my twenties, pursuing an acting career, and of course I did the requisite little plays and classes and showcases and soon found my way to Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST), where I became a member, still as an actor. I wound up in a kick-ass "writing class for actors creating their own work" taught by Leslie Ayvazian, where I wrote a mini one-woman show that I performed at EST. Then I wrote a short play that I was also in, and then another (again, for me), and then I wound up here, in Los Angeles-my then-boyfriend and I drove out for a three month visit...20 years ago.

Tell us a little bit about your education and how it influenced your work.

I didn't have TV writing on my mind (unfortunately, perhaps), instead I wrote a short story that was published by the first place I sent it to-it appeared in a Random House anthology of women's humor-so that spurred me on. I married the boyfriend and had my first kid, an event which became the biggest influence on my writing. I delved into the personal essay genre and wrote several very long pieces for the LA Times-all of which featured my son or our old and tiny home or a girlfriend or my spouse as central characters. I had another kid and settled solidly into personal essay writing. I sold a book based on lists and Short Personal essays, and then I sold a novel. When my kids were a bit older I was able to get back involved with EST, this time in Los Angeles, where I started writing theatre pieces again, which is also where I workshopped Mutual Philanthropy.

What inspired Mutual Philanthropy?

Mutual Philanthropy came about through experiences with having kids in local schools. It actually started out, in part, as a personal essay, but in talking to my husband one night we came up with a "what if" scenario involving two couples brought together by their young kids being best friends. It made us laugh, because we delved into a completely absurdist version (fueled by some cheap red wine), but then the next day I couldn't stop thinking about the concept and I started writing scenes for a play. And I kept working on it. Eventually EST-LA opened its fall 2016 season with it.

How do you like working with NJ Rep?

New Jersey Rep is, like, the dream destination. Everyone, from SuzAnne and Gabe-the artistic directors-to my director Evan Bergman, to the whole artistic team and playhouse staff, is so smart and chill and supportive. It really is like a family. It doesn't hurt that the company house is walking distance to the Jersey shore.

Anything else, absolutely anything you would like our readers to know.

It ought not go without saying that we found the perfect cast (thanks to casting director Judy Bowman), but I should also mention that said husband happened to originate-and is currently featured in-the role of Charles...playing against type, of course.

For more information on Karen Rizzo, visit her web site at

NJ Rep by the Sea

Amanda Brown

By Jay Lustig

It's a chilly Saturday in March -- opening night for a monthlong run of the play "Multiple Family Dwelling" at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. The theater's executive producer, Gabe Barabas, addresses the full house, as he usually does, before the play begins.

"We just became international," he says, beaming. "Lucky Me," a comedy that premiered at NJ Rep (as the theater is commonly known) in 2014, has just opened in Estonia, he says.

But then comes an even bigger announcement. The theater's new building, purchased in 2015, has finally opened and is also offering classes in acting, playwriting and other forms of art.

Barabas and his wife SuzAnne, who is NJ Rep's artistic director, have big plans for the space, which formerly housed Long Branch's West End Elementary School. It's a 27,000-square-foot structure, on 2 1/2 acres of land, with parking for 100, just a few blocks from the beach. The Barabases -- who co-founded NJ Rep 20 years ago -- hope to turn it into a bustling performing arts center, with two theaters, artist residences and studios, an art cinema, arts-related museum and a rooftop cafe.

They bought the school for $2.25 million. Gabe Barabas tells the audience that a capital campaign to complete the transformation would be underway soon; he wasn't ready to say how much they hoped to raise, but assures the crowd "the numbers are quite striking -- not what we're used to."

"We have one excuse," he adds. "We've always lived, for 20 years, in the realm of fantasy. ... We have a conviction that somehow we'll pull it off."

They are not taking the easy road to get there. "Multiple Family Dwelling" -- an explosive drama about two couples coming to terms with the realities of their relationships, somewhat along the lines of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" -- was, like all of the 111 plays NJ Rep had previously produced, new.

The emphasis on new work separates NJ Rep from most other theaters in New Jersey and, indeed, the world.

"It's a bad business model," admits Gabe Barabas. It's easier, of course, to convince people to buy tickets when they are paying for known, dependably entertaining works. As a business owner, you don't want to ask patrons to take a chance every time they step into your building.

Over the years, offerings at NJ Rep have ranged from "Octet" (an experimental play in which the actors communicate with each other primarily through musical instruments) to "Adult Fiction" (a two-character play set in a porn shop), "Broomstick" (a one-woman play about a witch, written in iambic pentameter) and "Butler" (a Civil War drama that NJ Rep later produced off-Broadway). Some well-known actors -- including Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker, Wendie Malick, Gary Cole and Dan Lauria -- have come to Long Branch, to be the first to bring all kinds of characters to life.

"We don't cater to one particular type of play," says SuzAnne Barabas. "We're not political, so to speak, but if a good play came along that was politically interesting, we'd choose that one. Really, the plays just have to speak to us, in some way. There has to be something unique about them: something that's a little different, or a little twist."

NJ Rep, which has a full-time staff of five (including the Barabases), finds the six or seven plays it produces each year from approximately 500 submissions. "We don't necessarily look at, 'Will this be a hit?' " says Gabe Barabas. "That doesn't even factor into it. We choose plays based on, do we think it covers important territory? We want to champion the voice of the playwright who, maybe, has been neglected, and we think they need someone to champion that work."

Plans call for the new theaters to sit 150 and 99, respectively. NJ Rep's current theater, which holds 67, will stay open, as well. Having three spaces will make it easier for other theaters and arts organizations to guest-produce plays and concerts, Gabe Barabas says.

Even with three rooms, NJ Rep will stick to its policy of showcasing new works, perhaps with an occasional exception.

"We're thinking of maybe doing a season of repeats, at some point down the line," says SuzAnne Barabas. "But right now, there are so many new plays and not that many theaters that will take chances on new works."

The Barabases are unlikely theater impresarios. A native of Hungary, Gabe fled with his parents during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, when he was 8, and ended up in Waterbury, Conn., and then Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, he met SuzAnne when they were both teenagers.

Gabe got into the pre-med program at New York Universtiy; SuzAnne studied theater at Brooklyn College. Gabe trained at the University of Cincinnati and then the University of Pennsylvania in pediatric neurology, and practiced for 30 years as a pediatric neurologist.

"Because I was married to SuzAnne, it kind of got me involved in her world," he says. "When we were in Cincinnati, and then in Philadelphia during my training, we founded theaters in both those cities. And that's where we began to learn about how to produce plays."

After settling in New Jersey, SuzAnne remained involved in theater, while Gabe focused on his medical practice. But eventually, they felt the urge, again, to open their own theater. They called it a "repertory company" -- implying a theater that has a core group of rotating plays, and uses the same actors for them -- even though that's not exactly how it operates.

"In the strictest sense, of course, we do not produce in repertory," says Gabe Barabas. "When we began, we were potentially conceiving that there may be some elements of a repertory acting company. But we're much more open. In fact, we're totally open in casting, but we've retained the name."

One of the biggest challenges that NJ Rep faced was surviving Hurricane Sandy,in 2012.

"It was a devastating blow to us," says Gabe Barabas. "When the hurricane hit, first of all, we were in the midst of a play and we lost three weeks, which, essentially, erodes everything we invested in that play. Then we also had to do repairs and so on, and deal with insurance companies. But we survived. Various individuals came to our assistance and provided donations. Foundations that don't even give to theater came forward, to help us out."

And NJ Rep's audience, of course, came back once the theater was ready to go again. A theater like this can work only if it has a devoted core of patrons, and NJ Rep has developed that, with more than 800 subscribers.

About 80 percent of attendees, says Gabe Barabas, live at least an hour away, meaning they are looking for something on the NJ Rep stage -- the excitement of the new -- that they can't always get closer to home. "They've come to trust what we do over the years," says SuzAnne Barabas. "They don't care what (the play is) about, or what the title is. They will come and see it, and judge for themselves."

NJ Rep presents 'All About Eve' festival


Actor-playwrights Michael Tucker, Wendie Malick and Dan Lauria are among the creative talents represented at NJ Rep's "All About Eve" arts festival. (Photo: Courtesy of SUZANNE BARABAS)

Fasten your seatbelts — it's going to be an exhilarating, illuminating, tantalizing, energizing and anything-but-tranquilizing ride.

Beginning on the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 1 — and continuing over eight days and nights through Oct. 8 — the people of New Jersey Repertory Company will launch the most eagerly anticipated project in the 20-year history of the celebrated Long Branch-based professional stage troupe.

Organized around the theme "All About Eve," it's the latest in an intermittent series of "Theater Brut" festivals; one that brings an ambitious slate of new short plays, live music, visual art and spoken poetry to the performance spaces of a venue that's a star attraction in its own right.

The site in question is the all-new West End Arts Center, the reborn former primary school that occupies a full block of real estate in the city's West End neighborhood. As reported earlier in this space, the company purchased the spacious, two-story complex with an eye toward its eventual transformation into a state-of-the-art destination for plays, concerts, dance, screening events, gallery exhibitions and educational uses.

Even in its "raw" state, the building's repurposed classrooms, corridors and multi-purpose facilities promise to be a comfortable fit for what NJ Rep co-founder and artistic director SuzAnne Barabas calls "our own little Woodstock here in Long Branch."

While the participating playwrights were free to form their own interpretations of "All About Eve," the prevailing theme doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the Bette Davis classic of the same name, nor even (in most instances) with the biblical tale of Adam and Eve.

As Barabas explains, the running thread is one that explores "the power of women ... how women influence things, whether positively or negatively."

It's a theme that continues into the coming mainstage season at the company's downtown Long Branch playhouse. This motif extends as well to the visual arts component of the festival through the ongoing exhibit "Shine: 100" — photographer Andrea Phox's collection of images "featuring 100 extraordinary women who have made a difference in Long Branch."

The assembled short plays at the heart of the festival — a total of 28 never before seen works; spread across the extended week in seven "sessions" of four plays each — range from broad comedies to sober dramas — and even an original mini-musical.

The collection was culled from more than 450 entries, and submitted by playwrights that ranged from Pulitzer-nominated professionals to, in one case, a local teenager (Willow Martin of Red Bank Regional High School, whose one-act "The Late Shift" will be performed on the afternoon of Sept. 8).

Notable among the contributing scribes are a couple of well-known actors (and NJ Repertory veterans) familiar to TV audiences, including Wendie Malick ("Just Shoot Me," "Hot in Cleveland") and Michael Tucker ("L.A. Law").

Frequent NJ Rep collaborators taking part are Jack Canfora, Gino DiIorio, D.W. Gregory, and Tony nominee Lee Blessing, as well as Dan Lauria of "The Wonder Years" and Jill Eikenberry of "L.A. Law."

"All of our friends from over the years are pitching in to help with this project," says Barabas, who will also serve as director for several of the featured plays. "We hope it's just the beginning, of what can grow into a yearly festival with an international scope.

"It's also a great way to introduce new audiences to what we do," the director explains, adding that the 28 featured one-acts have been collected into a published "Theater Brut Festival Anthology" that will be available for purchase during the course of the event. "The feeling is kind of like a little theater in old Greenwich Village ... but clean, warm, friendly!"

There's much more in store for arts-curious audiences over the course of the festival's eight days, including the "Shine: 100" photo exhibit, a free opening reception at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4. Also opening that evening in the building's newly renovated gallery space will be a group show (curated by participating artist Mare Akana) of works that "celebrate women, the female experience and the feminine form" in various media. The art will remain on display through October.


by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

October 2, 2017

"All About Eve," a Theatre Brut at New Jersey Repertory Company, will feature music, poetry and art, in addition to short plays, Oct. 1- 8.

THE NEW JERSEY Repertory Company is throwing a coming out party for its new West End Arts Center during the first week in October with a Theatre Brut arts festival featuring 28 new short plays, plus music, poetry, art and photography events.

This is the fifth Theatre Brut for the professional, non-profit theater founded in 1997 and the most ambitious since it acquired the 28,000-square-foot former grammar school in the West End section of Long Branch as a second space.

Theatre Brut's stated goal is to foster the "creative impulse unfettered by social and artistic convention." That objective also could be applied to the founders, artistic director SuzAnne Barabas and executive producer Gabor Barabas.

Instead of going the traditional route of first raising money to fund a complete renovation before opening the doors to the public – which could take years, not counting building a cinema arts theater and apartments for visiting artists as well – the decision was made to create programming and invite the public in as soon as possible.

"We are introducing ourselves to the community," Gabor Barabas explained. "It's a significant shift being here.

"It's not only an expansion of our performing arts program, it's also a community development project that embraces all the arts – music, poetry, visual arts – with the goal of creating an environment where all the arts can thrive year round," he said.

"The previous festivals have been on weekends. This is much more of an event," SuzAnne Barabas said. "We're very excited to take this journey and move to the next level."

The theme for this year's Theatre Brut is "All About Eve" with its interpretation left to the artists' imagination. (Theatre Brut is a takeoff of Art Brut and used to refer to a range of art forms outside conventional dictates of the art world.)

"Playwrights were told to feel free to experiment," Gabor said. "In everything we do, we always want to intrigue the public at large. We want to entertain audiences and inspire them to talk about it after."

By May 30, the company had received 450 scripts for this year's event. A team of eight read every play, which was to run no more than 15 minutes with a cast of no more than four, including musicians.

The list was whittled down to semi-finalists, to finalists, to the final 28.

"They included comedies, dramas, a musical, and ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime," SuzAnne said. "Everyone had a favorite, but not all of the favorites got in."

Half of the playwrights are women and almost all of the directors are women, she said, adding she would never say no to a playwright based on gender, but she reached out to women first and got a "tremendous response."

"The plays, including one musical, will be held in four mini theaters (converted classrooms) that seat about 50 or so," she explained. "Audiences will move from room to room for each play."

Four plays will be performed at each of the eight sessions with performances Oct. 1, 6, 7 and 8. Also scheduled: Poetry Night Oct. 3, arranged by Gregg Glory, editor of Blast Press, and Emanual DiPasquale, poet laureate of Long Branch; an Art Gallery opening reception Oct. 4, curated by Mare Akana of the Long Branch Arts Council; and Live Music Night Oct. 5, arranged by local musicians Gary Mayer and Brian Snyder. Live music also follows each theater session.

The Art Gallery also features images by Long Branch photographer Andrea Phox's "Shine: 100 Women of Long Branch," a series of images of women who have made a difference in the city.

Self portrait by Nicole Hymowitz, photo on metal.

Some of the playwrights will attend, but not actress Wendie Malick whose play "The Conversation" looks at the assumptions we make about ourselves and each other. She's in the world premiere of Ken Ludwig's "Big Night" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in California. Her play is directed by TV and stage actor Dan Lauria, who performed opposite Malick in "Love Letters," a fundraiser at NJ Rep's theater on lower Broadway. Self portrait by Nicole Hymowitz, photo on metal.

"Pittsburgh" by actor Michael Tucker, best known for the TV series "L.A. Law," concerns a young couple whose lives change when he gets a big promotion. It is scheduled to be performed on the same bill as Red Bank Regional High School creative writing major Willow Martin's "The Late Shift," about three women condemned to work the late shift in a toy factory in Shenzhen, China.

From the founding of NJ Rep 20 years ago, the goal is to promote new works and expand the scope of theater, Gabor said.

"Theater is a living entity that is evolving constantly in the way plays are presented. We want to respond to the new ways of expression and influences and visual changes," he said. "We are not a political theater. We are open to possibilities. Brut means raw art and we want to provide playwrights with a range of possibilities."


Red Bank Regional senior Willow Martin of Little Silver will have her short play "Late Shift" performed by the professional actors of New Jersey Repertory Company October 8.

When New Jersey Repertory, the acclaimed professional stage company in Long Branch, inaugurates its new West End Arts Center facility in October, it will be with a multi-media Theater and Arts Festival organized around the theme "All About Eve." At the heart of the eight-day festival will be the world premieres of 28 short plays — a select group winnowed from over 450 submissions — and a collection that includes a one-act drama authored by a 16 year old high school senior who attends the Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Red Bank Regional.

As the only minor whose work was selected, Willow Martin of Little Silver joins a select group that also includes a Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright (Lee Blessing), a pair of Emmy nominated performers from favorite television shows (Michael Tucker of L.A. Law; Wendie Malick of Just Shoot Me), and numerous veteran dramatists who have had their work produced on the New York stage and around the world. Her play entitled "Late Shift" will be presented as a part of a program that begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 8.

Adapted from her poem "Blood and Bleach," which she wrote during her sophomore year at RBR, "The Late Shift" is set inside about a sweat shop toy factory in Shenzhen, China, where three female factory workers protest their treatment by a belligerent foreman; challenging the authority of their male overseer. A cast of professional players (Patricia Cancio, Lia Chang, Karl Josef Co, Virginia Wing) will perform the young playwright's words, under the direction of Broadway character actor Nick Corley.

As part of an arts festival that celebrates the power of women to effect change, Willow's play relates to the theme of Eve on different levels, including the fact that the dreaded late shift occurs during the dark hours on the eve of a new day. During her junior year, Willow and her fellow students were informed by their Creative Writing teacher Dr. Gretna Wilkinson that the founders of "NJ Rep" were encouraging student playwrights to submit scripts to the company's "Theater Brut" Competition. The submission requirements included a performance time of no more than 15 minutes, with each of the writers allowed to interpret the theme "All About Eve" in their own way.

Willow was visiting colleges in Boston, and hadn't checked her emails for a few days, when Dr. Wilkinson tracked her down and informed her that New Jersey Repertory Company had been attempting to notify her.

As Dr. Wilkinson explains, "When they found out she was only 16, they were so surprised and then discovered they needed her parents' permission to perform her work."

She adds, "Willow gives credence to the Samuel Ullman quote, 'Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind,' because she has the ability to access her creativity on a level that is unusual in someone so young."

Willow Martin is an exceptional young person on many levels. She has made the high honor roll every semester since freshman year. She is the president of the Italian National Honor Society, a member of the National Math Honor Society, competes for RBR in the math and science leagues, and participates in the mock trial club. She is currently interning for Congressman Frank Pallone, and is a co-captain of the RBR girls cross country team.

Although she intends to major in college in something totally different than creative writing — physics or astrophysics to be precise, with the hope of becoming a researcher in the field of plasma physics/ fusion energy — she is overwhelmingly happy with her decision to concentrate on creative writing at VPA, and feels very fortunate to be in her academy.

"This program has meant everything to me at RBR," Willow explains. "It has provided me with a wonderful support system among brilliant minds in a free environment with a great family dynamic."

Adding that Dr. Wilkinson "has really changed my perspective on writing and the world, and has been like a second mother to me," the RBR senior gives credit as well to the fact that the class conducts large group critiques, with her peers playing an important role in helping to develop one another's pieces.

"The entire class is to thank for the success of this play," she states. I wouldn't be half the writer I am without them all….I believe it is the entire class's victory that this play was chosen."

BWW Interview: Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry and the NJ Rep ALL ABOUT EVE FESTIVAL

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will present a week-long arts event, the ALL ABOUT EVE Festival of the Arts from October 1st to October 8th. The festival will be inaugurating their new West End Arts Center at 132 West End Avenue in Long Branch and will feature Theatre Brut with 28 short plays, live music, poetry, art, and photography. The festival is also a benefit for the Company's Center. had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, the real-life married couple, who have a renowned background in acting and the arts. They spoke to us about their collaboration on the play, Pittsburgh that is a part of the Theatre Brut festival. Written by Tucker and directed by Eikenberry, Pittsburgh will be performed in Session Six on Sunday, October 8th at 2:00 pm along with Cubs Win! By Marisa Smith, Eviction by Nancy Cooper Frank, and The Late Shift by Willow Martin.

Michael Tucker is an actor, author and playwright. His first play, The M Spot debuted at The New Jersey Repertory Company in 2015 and his second play, Assisted Living, was chosen to be a part of this summer's Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference in Waterford, Connecticut. He has written three memoirs and a novel, "After Annie." He has acted over the last fifty years in theater, TV and films, most recently in "Wallace Shawn's Evening at the Talk House" at The New Group.

Eikenberry has a long and distinguished career - on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in Film and TV. Along with her husband, Michael she appeared in the long-running TV Series "L.A. Law" for which she received five Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe Award. She has also appeared regionally, notably at The New Jersey Repertory Company two years ago in her husband's play, The M Spot. Directed by Evan Bergman, the play, which received critical acclaim, starred Jill, Michael and Phoenix Vaughn.

In Michael Tucker's new play, Pittsburgh, a young couple experiences life changes when the male partner gets a big promotion. But the changes are not necessarily what they were hoping for. The play deals with the tenuous nature of trust, the unconscious pull to play traditional male and female roles and the mystery and delicacy of love. Pittsburgh will mark Jill's directing debut.

Michael told us that it was a challenge to write a 10-minute play. "It's hard to have a beginning, middle and end and develop the characters in such a short time. Jill came up with the idea for the story and I turned it into a play. Eleanor Handley and Michael Satow, wonderful young actors, and a married couple also, will be performing Pittsburgh."

Jill commented about the plot of Pittsburgh, "It's a play about an intimate relationship. Because of individual agendas, we don't always understand what it's like for the other person."

Jill also told us that their son, Max Tucker, who is a composer and musician, has created the music for Pittsburgh.

Because Jill is such an accomplished actor, we wanted to know how she felt about her role as a director. "I enjoy acting and I may enjoy this too. It's new to me. We've had a couple rehearsals and I'm having a great time."

Both Jill and Michael said that they are honored to be a part of the ALL ABOUT EVE Festival of the Arts along with so many wonderful writers, actors and directors. Michael commented about NJ Rep's Producing Director, Gabriel Barabas and Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas. "Gabe and SuzAnne are incredible. Their vision for theatre, the arts and their mission to produce new plays is pure."

Jill added, "We love Gabe and SuzAnne. At this point, we have such a good relationship with them that they trust us to do the right thing and that kind of trust sparks creative juices."

In addition to the upcoming production of Pittsburgh, Michael Tucker's newest play, Assisted Living, which debuted at the Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference in Connecticut has received a lot of buzz. Both Michael and Jill are confident that Assisted Living has a great future ahead.

At NJ Rep festival, Jersey writer's brief play speaks volumes

One-act about grandparents' meeting evokes specter of Shoa, immigration issues

Eli Gelb and Lucy DeVito, who will reprise their roles in "How My Grandparents Fell in Love" at the NJ Repertory Company, from the Ensemble Studio Theater Production.

by Abby Meth Kanter
NJJN Managing Editor
September 18, 2017
The plot can be summed up in a few sentences: A young man goes into a hat shop and hits on the young woman behind the counter. They banter for a while. She offers some resistance, but eventually appears to succumb to his come-on.

But brief as it is, the play speaks volumes.

For the young man is a Polish Jew who immigrated to America but has returned to the Old Country in the hope of finding a wife; the young woman is Jewish but has no plans or desire to emigrate; and the year is 1933.

Originally presented in New York by the Ensemble Studio Theatre (EST) — and a New York Times Critic's Pick as part of EST's 36th Marathon of One-Act Plays — "How My Grandparents Fell in Love" by New Jersey native Cary Gitter will be part of the "All About Eve" festival at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch (see sidebar).

Gitter, a New York-based member since 2015 of EST's Obie Award-winning Youngblood playwrights' group, is a much-lauded, multi-awarded, young (he just turned 30) artist whose already impressive roster of works includes several whose themes — and sometimes targets — are Jewish culture and characters (he was a finalist in the international Jewish Playwriting Contest). He's even set some of his works in the suburban Jewish milieu of River Hill, N.J., a fictionalized version of his hometown of Leonia.

Why, when so many of his writer peers steer clear of Jewish tropes, as Gitter observed in a phone call with NJJN, is he drawn to them?

It is because it is in Jewish life, he said, that he finds "so much culture and humor and contradiction and really fertile dramatic material." As a writer, Gitter said, "I feel I have special authority to write about Jewish stuff — something that's my own."

He acknowledged that "in a way it's a throwback, an anachronism" that he focuses on such themes — but a throwback to an estimable literary tradition. "I worship the mid-20th-century Jewish writers," he said. "I discovered Philip Roth in college, first through his [novel] 'American Pastoral,' and was so taken with his portrait of Jewish Newark in the '40s and '50s." That era as depicted in Roth's work echoed Gitter's own late father's upbringing in Jersey City, and the writer found in it a compelling creative introduction to the rich cultural legacy of the Jews.

"How My Grandparents," however, is something more, based as it is on Gitter's grandparents' actual experience.

His father's father, a shoemaker like the play's Charlie, did indeed immigrate to America, did return to Poland to fulfill a shidduch that did not work out, and did meet a feisty hat store salesgirl. He was, said Gitter, "bumbling and absent-minded" like Charlie, and his grandmother — like the play's Chava — "was shrewd and sophisticated, with aspirations to get an education and make something of herself." And they did ultimately form the "unlikely bond" of which Gitter is the second-generation result.

The tone of the play is humorous and light — reinforced by dialogue in the 21st-century vernacular, "f" word and all — after all, its characters don't know what we know. Charlie has his suspicions — he'd like to take all the Jews out of Poland. But Chava is dismissive; when Charlie warns of Hitler's designs on the Jews, Chava says, "He's an idiot. Have you seen how he talks? And moves his arms? He's a f---ing clown…. He's not really gonna do any of that stuff."

What hovers over the play is the tragic enormity that befell virtually the entire Jewish population of Gitter's grandmother's hometown of Rovno, Poland: some 25,000 souls, including her entire family, brutally murdered.

The play resonates with other disturbing realities.

When Gitter was asked to submit a play last spring for an EST/Youngbloods immigration-themed theater event, he decided to use his grandparents' long-ago story, recognizing that "parallels exist to the experience of immigrants today." He wanted contemporary young people — hence the use of the language of the millennials — to see those parallels, even the potential harmfulness of a leader perceived as a "clown, a figure of fun, a buffoon."

His brief play was intended to capture, he said, the "timelessness of people trying to live their lives, fall in love, against a backdrop of fear and oppression… about romance and youth and humor in a time of fear and anxiety and impending disaster. It's about how small pockets of humanity are alive and beautiful, ridiculous and human, even in the darkest times."

It is also "a tribute to two young people, not knowing what lies ahead, and to any others who went through — or are going through — that kind of experience."

Gitter credits the success of the first run to having developed the play under the "brilliant guidance of my director and frequent collaborator, Colette Robert," and to the "great talent and great chemistry between Eli Gelb [Gitter wrote the play with him in mind] and Lucy DeVito [Danny DeVito's and Rhea Perlman's daughter]."

The two actors, who, Gitter said, were "so enchanting, just incredible," full of "deeply moving humanity," will reprise their roles at NJ Rep.

Festival 'all about women's empowerment'

"HOW MY GRANDPARENTS Fell in Love" will be shown with other one-acts on the opening night of New Jersey Repertory Company's "All About Eve" festival, Sunday, Oct. 1, 8 p.m.

The week-long event — at the company's new location, 132 West End Ave. in Long Branch — will feature food and spirits, Poetry Night with over 40 poets, Live Music Night, art and photography exhibitions, and 28 short plays.

The festival is also a benefit, said artistic director SuzAnne Barabas, that will give her and her husband and executive producer, Gabor, an opportunity to show visitors their plans to turn the 28,000-square-foot unused school building into the West End Arts Center — to include two theaters, an art cinema, a rooftop cafe, classrooms, and studios — "and begin our capital campaign to bring those plans to fruition."

The company's current home, at 179 Broadway, was donated in 1997 by Margaret and David Lumia.

The mission of the professional, nonprofit theater, said Barabas, is to develop and produce new plays, nurture the work of writers from diverse backgrounds with the aim of building diverse audiences, and serve as a catalyst in the revitalization of the community.

The festival theme, Gabor said, conjures up the eponymous 1951 movie starring Bette Davis as a strong-willed theater actress as well as images of the Garden of Eden; to her it is "all about women's empowerment." Each writer of the company's signature "Theatre Brut" rotation of 28 short plays — selected from more than 400 submissions from around the world — "interpreted the theme in their own way, so the plays run the gambit," she said.

The festival will also feature "Shine: 100," an exhibit by noted photographer Andrea Phox of pictures of "100 extraordinary local women who have made a difference."

"How My Grandparents Fell in Love" could be seen as another example of one of the Barabases' core commitments. Both, she and her husband said, "were brought up in observant Jewish households, Gabor is the child of survivors, and we have always had a place in our hearts for Jewish-themed plays." Over the years, they have produced several that, above all, "speak to everyone."

She noted that next May, the company is slated to produce "5 From Ferber," plays based on the short stories of American-Jewish writer Edna Ferber, author of, among other works, the novel "Show Boat" on which the musical was based.

Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang, Virginia Wing, Patricia Cancio and Karl Josef Co Set for Willow Martin's THE LATE SHIFT in All About Eve Festival of the Arts Theatre Brut Session 6 on October 8

I am delighted to be appearing inThe Late Shift, a new short play by Willow Martin with Virginia Wing, Patricia Cancio, and Karl Josef Co, on Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 2:00PM in the All About Eve Festival of the Arts Theatre Brut Session 6, presented by New Jersey Repertory Company at West End Arts Center, 132 West End Avenue, Long Branch, NJ. Nick Corley directs.

  Playwright Willow Martin, Patricia Cancio, Virginia Wing, director Nick Corley and Lia Chang (not pictured Karl Josef Co)

Synopsis: Three women condemned to work the late shift in a toy factory in Shenzhen, China, bemoan their fate. The youngest of whom arrives late because she attended a protest rally picketing against inhumane labor conditions. When she arrives, excited and enthusiastic about the prospects for change, she is confronted by their tyrannical boss, and the three band together in an act of defiance.

Karl Josef Co

Willow Martin Willow Martin Willow Martin is a senior Creative Writing Major at Red Bank Regional High School. She lives in Little Silver, NJ. In addition to plays, she enjoys writing poetry and short stories, many of which have earned regional and national accolades from Scholastic Art and Writing Awards (the highest of which being a National Silver Medal). The Late Shift is the first play Martin has written to be produced by a professional company. Martin's writing style has been influenced by both her studies and extracurricular activities. But most importantly, the brilliant Dr. Gretna Wilkinson is to thank for igniting and kindling Martin's passion for the arts.

Willow Martin

The other short plays in Theatre Brut's Session 6 bill include Michael Tucker's Pittsburgh, directed by Jill Eikenberry and starring Eleanor Handley and Michael Satow; Nancy Cooper Frank's Eviction, directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga and starring Wendy Peace, Cara Ganski, and Hunter Hoffman; and Marisa Smith's Cubs Win!, directed by Melody Brooks and starring Carol Todd, Susan Barrett, Anja Lee, and Amie Bermowitz.

Pittsburgh: A young couple's life changes when he gets a big promotion but the changes are not necessarily what they were hoping for. Pittsburgh deals with the tenuous nature of trust, the unconscious pull to play traditional male and female roles and the mystery and delicacy of love.

Michael Tucker is an actor, author and playwright. His first play, The M Spot debuted at NJ Rep in 2015 and his second play, Assisted Living, was chosen to be a part of the 2017 Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference in Connecticut. Writer of three memoirs and a novel, After Annie, Tucker has acted in theater, television and films over the last fifty years.

Eviction: A too-good-to-be-true apartment, a control-freak landlord, a sketchy super … This is the story of the first ever eviction, as told by Eve to her daughter.

Nancy Cooper Frank's plays include: Anna and the Blackbird (The Blank Theatre's Living Room Series); The Plumber (San Francisco Fringe, Best of Fringe Award; Arundel Theatre Trail, UK); Daniil Kharms: A Life in One Act and Several Dozen Eggs (Virago Theatre Co. New Works Series; Great Plains Theatre Conference PlayLab). Nancy is a two-time winner in the Onstage Female Playwrights project. Her current project is The Trouble with Catherine, about the bumpy friendship between Catherine the Great and Catherine Dashkova, who helped her seize the throne and became the first female director of a national science academy. Nancy lives in San Francisco.

Cubs Win!: The Chicago Cubs finally win the World Series after 108 years, but there are some devastating consequences for the women in one Chicago book group … and for one man.

Marisa Smith is an award-winning playwright. Full-length plays include: Saving Kitty (W.H.A.T, NJ Rep and the Nora Theater Company; Eliot Norton award for Jennifer Coolidge Best Actress and Clauder winner), and Mad Love (Northern Stage, NJ Rep, O'Neill finalist, Clauder winner, and Kilroy list). Mad Love is also an audio drama produced by Wondery called The Defenestrator. Next spring Marisa's comedy Sex and Other Disturbances will be produced by Portland Stage in Maine, directed by award-winning Australian film and theater director, Nadia Tass. Marisa's10-Minute plays have been produced in the Boston Marathon of 10- Minute Plays, Barrington Stage and in many other theaters around the country and include Heideman finalist Total Expression. Screenplays: Second Wind and Surprise Engagement for producer/director Andrew Silver starring English actors June Brown, Harriet Walter and Tamzin Merchant, and Tamzin Outhwaite. A graduate of Wesleyan University, Marisa is also the co-Publisher and owner of Smith and Kraus Publishers.

Edison writer's play opening in Long Branch

Photo by Joel Stone

Laura is worried. James, her husband of many years, has been missing. The village in England where they live is not large. He couldn't have gone far — could he?

Sure enough, James does turn up. But what he describes makes Laura even more anxious. James has just had a conversation with a man, and James needs to talk with Laura about it. The man's name: Jesus.

That enigmatic scenario begins "The Outside Edge of a Full Circle." The one-act play by Matthew Harrington of Edison will receive its world premiere on Saturday, Oct. 7, at the West End Arts Center in Long Branch.

The performance is part of the weeklong All About Eve Festival of the Arts, sponsored by New Jersey Repertory Co. (also known as New Jersey Rep)

The festival, running Oct. 1 through 8, includes 28 one-act plays, as well as art and photography exhibits, poetry readings, and musical performances.

Harrington's play was chosen from about 400 submissions from around the world. The selections include works by established authors and newcomers; one of this year's plays is by a high school student.

"To be part of the All About Eve Festival is a brilliant thing in my life," Harrington said. "I have a day job (working as tech support for a law firm), but I get to pursue my dream as a writer."

Harrington, who was born in Brazil and who lived in several countries in South America and Europe before moving to New Jersey, conceived the idea for "The Outside Edge of a Full Circle" from an experience he had in London.

"I was visiting Speakers' Corner (in Hyde Park), and there was a man there who said he was Jesus," Harrington said. "I never forgot that."

Harrington has written several plays for The Bakery, a theater company in Manhattan. He characterized those works as "high-gear comedies. This one is different. It's quieter."

That quality is what attracted the organizers of the All About Eve Festival of the Arts. "There's a sort of poetry to it," said Joel Stone, who is directing the performance. "There's a touch of mystery and a bit of religion to it.

"It's an intimate two-character piece," Stone added. "It has an ending that leaves things open. I felt that this was a voice that should be heard. The fact that it's a New Jersey playwright is even better."

"We were immediately taken with Matthew's play," said SuzAnne Barabas, artistic director of New Jersey Rep. "To me, it's a spiritual play, not a religious play."

Barabas said she also appreciated the fact that the characters are mature. "It's great to see someone writing roles for actors over 60,' she said.

The cast in Long Branch consists of Mary Francina Golden as Laura and Joe Gioco as James.

Mary Francina Golden (left) and Joe Gioco rehearse Mary Francina Golden (left) and Joe Gioco rehearse a scene as spouses Laura and James in "The Outside Edge of a Full Circle" by Edison author Matthew Harrington of Edison. The one-act work is one of 28 short plays about strong female figures that will be performed from Oct. 1 through 8 at the New Jersey Repertory Co. in Long Branch. Photo by Joel Stone

Fastening your seatbelts

Harrington's play was also chosen for the key role it gives to the character of Laura. All the works — the plays, the art, the music —in the All About Eve Festival deal with strong female figures.

The festival derives its name from Hollywood, not the Bible. "All About Eve" (as cinephiles know) was an award-winning 1950 movie starring two competing actresses memorably played by Bette Davis and Anne Baxter.

Since 2004, New Jersey Rep has sponsored an annual arts event under the umbrella name Theatre Brut. (The name alludes to "art brut," or "raw art," a term coined to refer to art created without concern for constraints or conventions.)

In 2013, a new format for Theatre Brut was instituted, with all the plays centering on a specific theme. Past years' themes have included baseball, sacrifice, and cowboys. The 2016 festival was based around the seven deadly sins.

Barabas said the theme of All About Eve came about this past November.

"It was after the election, and we were thinking that, in this climate, we wanted women's voices to be heard," she said.

However, Barabas stressed works about women did not need to be by women. The plays were selected based on blind submission.

James, played by Joe Gioco, has an unusual encounter James, played by Joe Gioco, has an unusual encounter in Michael Harrington's "The Outside Edge of a Full Circle." The one-act work by the Edison writer Matthew will be performed during the All About Eve Festival of the Arts by the New Jersey Repertory Co. in Long Branch on Saturday, Oct. 7. . Photo by Joel Stone

"We didn't look at the gender of the playwright," Barabas said.

Several of the plays (including "The Outside Edge of a Full Circle") are by men. One play has no female characters on stage, though the female presence is a factor in the plot.

The All About Eve Festival drew submissions from well-known names. Another play that will be performed Oct. 6 is "The Conversation" by Wendie Malick, the writer-actress who appeared on the TV shows "Just Shoot Me" and "Frasier."

Another selection (which will be presented on Sunday, Oct. 8) is "Pittsburgh," written by veteran actor Michael Tucker, known for his role. on "L. A. Law."

The performers who will bring the 28 plays in the All About Eve Festival are drawn from the worlds of stage and screen, including Dan Lauria, Jill Eikenberry, and Priscilla Lopez.

Debuting a new home

The All About Eve Festival will mark the first time that Theatre Brut will be conducted in New Jersey Rep's new home at the West End Arts Center. The building, the former West End School, has been undergoing renovations for nearly two years.

"We're looking forward to it," SuzAnne Barabas said. "New Jersey Rep has been around for 20 years, and this is the next step in our growth."

The fact that New Jersey Rep selected "The Outside Edge of a Full Circle" to be performed in the festival deeply gratifies Harrington.

"New Jersey Rep is one of my favorite theaters," he said. "It's so intimate, and their shows are always really well-done. I always walk out of a play there feeling something that I hadn't felt before."

Joel Stone said that he has been in contact with Harrington during the rehearsals for "The Outside Edge of a Full Circle." "I've spoken with him about it at length," Stone said. "He's so excited. I want to do this play justice."

The immediacy of theater speaks to Harrington as both an audience member and as a writer. "The stage is live, and that's what makes it exciting and also makes it dangerous," he said.

"Companies like New Jersey Rep validate life," Harrington added. "They reflect us. I want my audience to enjoy (the play) and forget that they're in a theater. I want them to be absorbed in the story."

JOURNAL Publications - Navesink

RBR Senior's Play Selected for Performance by New Jersey Repertory Company

Red Bank Regional (RBR) Visual & Performing Arts Academy (VPA) student Willow Martin of Little Silver recently learned that her short play was selected for performance by the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, New Jersey. Her work was one of only 28 plays selected out of 450 submissions from playwrights all over the world. Of these 28, Willow was the only minor whose work was selected. (She is 16 years old.) Her play will be performed on Sunday, October 8, at 2 pm, at the New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch, NJ. The play will be performed by guild actors.

Willow's play was adapted from her poem "Blood and Bleach," which she wrote her sophomore year about a Chinese sweat shop. During her junior year, her Creative Writing teacher Dr. Gretna Wilkinson informed Willow and her classmates about the Theatre Brut Competition, encouraging the students to submit. Willow then expanded her poem into a play. The submission requirements included a performance time of no more than 15 minutes and a theme "all about Eve," which was up to playwright's interpretation.

Willow's play entitled, "The Late Shift," is about three female factory workers in China protesting a belligerent foreman. Several devices are employed that relate to the theme of Eve, as the shift takes place at night on the eve of the new day. Additionally, the females challenge and end the authority of their male overseer.

Willow was visiting colleges in Boston when her creative writing teacher tracked her down. She hadn't checked her emails so her teacher's assistance was sought by the Repertory Company to notify her.

Dr. Wilkinson explains, "When they found out she was only 16, they were so surprised and then discovered they needed her parents' permission to perform her work. She adds, "Willow gives credence to the Samuel Ullman quote, 'Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind…" because she has the ability to access her creativity on a level that is unusual in someone so young."

Willow Martin is an exceptional young person on many levels. She has made the high honor roll every semester since freshman year. She is the president of the Italian National Honor Society, a member of the National Math Honor Society, competes for RBR in the math and science leagues and participates in the mock trial club. She is currently interning for Congressman Frank Pallone and is a co-captain of the RBR girls cross country team.

Although she intends to major in college in something totally different than creative writing (physics or astrophysics to be precise, with the hope of becoming a researcher in the field of plasma physics/ fusion energy) she is overwhelmingly happy with her decision to concentrate on creative writing at the RBR VPA and feels very fortunate to be in her academy.

As she explains, "Whatever endeavor you undertake in life, it is imperative that you be able to communicate it effectively." She adds, "This program has meant everything to me at RBR. It has provided me with a wonderful support system among brilliant minds in a free environment with a great family dynamic. Dr. Wilkinson has really changed my perspective on writing and the world, and has been like a second mother to me."

Before the students finalize their work, Willow explains that the class conducts large group critiques. Her peers constantly collaborate, developing and maturing one another's pieces.

"The entire class is to thank for the success of this play. I wouldn't be half the writer I am without them all. I love and am indebted to each and every one of them. I believe it is the entire class's victory that this play was chosen," she states.

Out IN Jersey

"All About Eve" benefits new arts center in Long Branch

New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch presents "All About Eve"

By Allen Neuner

All About Eve, the title and theme of a week-long arts festival benefitting the West End Arts Center, will be held in Long Branch from October 1-7, 2017.

The New Jersey Repertory Company purchased an unused school building in Long Branch and is in the process of converting the 28,000 square foot space into a multi-faceted arts center. The new West End Arts Center will include spaces for two intimate theatres, along with an art cinema, an art museum, a rooftop café, classrooms, and studios, as well as living spaces for actors, directors, and playwrights who will be working at the Center.

The scheduled festival features "Theatre Brut", presenting 28 plays — four each night — written especially for the festival and selected from over 400 submissions from around the world, presented in four different performance spaces at the West End Arts Center. Throughout the festival, there will also be an art gallery show and sale plus a photography exhibition.

Special events being held during the week include: Poetry Night on October 3, with over 40 poets presenting their work, as well as an open mic session; a gala reception for the art and photography exhibitions on October 4; and Music Night on October 5, featuring live performances.

The Two River Times: F THEORY

by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

September 1, 2017

Megan Loughran and Alex Trow star in "F Theory" at New Jersey Repertory Company through Sept. 24

Today's BFF's aside, having a best friend forever is a rare thing. These women read each other's minds, finish each other's sentences, talk every single day, love doing the same things and are always there for each other – until they're not.

The "breakup" may be precipitated by a marriage or money or change in location. Whatever. Can the relationship be repaired? Should it?

In the world premiere of "F Theory," currently on stage at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Sept. 24, such a relationship is deeply explored in this frequently funny and sensitive work that runs just under two hours without intermission.

Playwrights Megan Loughran and Alex Trow also do an excellent job portraying their two main characters – best friends Ellie and Marianne, respectively – as well as an assortment of minor characters.

Ellie and Marianne meet in college as random roommates. We meet them as Ellie struggles to understand the abstract concept of the F theory in a class they both are taking. Maybe it's about family, Ellie ponders. Or friends. Maybe she should just drop the class.

They are young, unconcerned about acting silly, have developed a rapport that includes clapping their hands twice – in unison – when what they say or do really hits the mark. They also tap dance and sing during study breaks. (Note: Loughran and Trow both are Yale University grads. Just saying.)

Marianne is the more serious of the two while Ellie is somewhat laid-back. A former child star on the TV sitcom "Crazy Kids Club," she was raised by her widowed father who travels the world with a female companion on the money she made, which doesn't seem to bother her as much as it should.

When her laptop, named Stella, crashes, she bellows out – well, you know. Marianne immediately orders another laptop online for her roomie. Her family is rich. One of the school's buildings is named after Marianne's mother's family. They own lots of shopping malls. (Given today's severe financial downturn of brick-and-mortar retail stores, the playwrights might want to rethink that.)

What's the use of having money if you can't spend it on your friends, Marianne explains. It happens again post-university. After being roommates for three years in a condo Marianne's family owns, she is leaving to marry her college boyfriend. But Ellie won't have to find a roommate to help with the rent. The family is happy someone they know is looking after it for them.

But we know, one day, it will be a problem.

Life goes on. At least it does for Marianne. After marriage, there is a child. Then time in China studying interactions between primates for her doctorate degree. Then a theory about humans and their interactions in what becomes a New York Times best-selling book.

Ellie, meanwhile, flounders a bit. Doesn't marry. Doesn't have a kid. Takes up the ukulele and songwriting. They Skype to keep in touch and make a pact to tell each other three mundane things they did each time they talk.

When Marianne returns from China with a theory about dependency on friends becoming self-fulfilling and harmful, Ellie meets her at the airport. The more Marianne explains her theory and applies it to Ellie, the cracks in the friendship appear and soon turn into a crevasse when money is mentioned.

Loughran and Trow have written a play about how hard it can be for a constantly changing contemporary friendship between two mature women to thrive and survive. Then they give nuanced performances that make it even better.

Plays by and about women have come under scrutiny lately. Pulitzer Prize winners Lynn Nottage and Paula Vogel, for instance, didn't get their work on Broadway until this past season with "Sweat" and "Indecent," respectively.

Behind-the-scene jobs for woman also are scarce in commercial theaters where money and reputations are to be made.

The New Jersey Repertory Company, a not- for-profit theater, bucks that trend. The next main stage play is Karen Rizzo's new "Mutual Philanthropy" in October. Of the six plays scheduled so far in 2018, three are by women. Meanwhile, the All About Eve: Festival of the Arts planned for Oct. 1- 8 at NJ Rep's new West End Arts Center in Long Branch features 28 short plays, 12 of them by women.

The backstage crew for "F Theory" includes Jessica Parks, scene designer; Jill Nagle, lighting designer; Patricia E. Doherty, costume designer and Marisa Porcopio, properties design. All their efforts enhanced the show greatly. Kristin Pfeifer is the stage manager for this production.

Director Ethan Heard's deft touch pulled it all together nicely.

BWW Review: F THEORY at NJ Rep Shines Bright with Humor and Heart

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) is now presenting the World Premiere of F Theory from August 17 through September 24. The play is co-written by Megan Loughran and Alex Trow and enjoys superb direction by Ethan Heard. Loughran and Trow also star in this outstanding two-hander. Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas and Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas are once again making a top-notch new show available for metro area audiences.

In F Theory, Marianne and Ellie first meet as college roommates. Even though their backgrounds and interests seem worlds apart, they share a sincere friendship. Over time, Marianne gets married, has a child, and develops her anthropological research while Ellie leads a solo life, deals with family issues and builds a career as a songwriter and musician. There is a charming and intimate sisterhood between the women, as they come together regularly to discuss life with its inevitable changes. Yet, that supportive relationship is threatened when Marianne seems to exploit their friendship in her best selling book, "Friend Hoax." F Theory portrays the complexities of human bonds with both humor and heart. Whatever friendships you have in your life, you will recognize the situations and sentiments so well depicted in this engaging show.

Megan Loughran as Ellie and Alex Trow as Marianne deserve high praise for their impeccably crafted play and their spot-on performances. Their characters are dynamic and the actors are so authentic in their roles, you feel as though you are experiencing life's changes right along with them. To round out the story, the Loughran and Trow deftly assume multiple parts. From September 15 to September 17, Phoenix Vaughn will be performing as Marianne.

The design team has done a wonderful job of bringing F Theory to life with scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; sound design by Merek Royce Press, properties design by Marisa Procopio. The Production Stage Manager is Kristin Pfeifer; the Webmaster is Merek Royce Press; the Technical Director is Brian P. Snyder; the Company Manager is Adam von Pier. F Theory is a smart, moving story of a lifelong friendship with all of its ups and downs. Invite a friend, or several, and see it while it is on the Long Branch stage.

The bonds of friendship get tested in NJ Rep's excellent 'F Theory': review

Megan Loughran and Alex Trow star in "F Theory," a world premiere play that they also wrote, now playing at New Jersey Repertory Theatre (SuzAnne Barabas)

By Patrick Maley
For NJ Advance Media

Quandaries about friendship, love, and duty find no clear resolution in "F Theory," a delicate two-hander written by and starring Megan Loughran and Alex Trow now having its world premiere at Long Branch's New Jersey Repertory Company.

But of course resolution is not the goal here: the play chooses instead to dwell in the thorny complexities of its subject matter. That choice serves "F Theory" well, for although the script may at times seem uneven or contrived, the play nonetheless succeeds in creating compelling portraits of two intertwined lives.

Opening in the dorm room shared by Marianne (Trow) and Ellie (Loughran), the play follows the development of the women's friendship from ebullient college students through at-times turbulent voyages of maturity. The two share an apartment after college, plan a wedding together, celebrate each other's successes and console their losses.

As seems clear from the play's opening moments, however, a rocky future looms for this blissful friendship. The inevitable divergence of personal and professional lives tests the strength of commitments and dependencies as the play investigates the bonds of friendship.

This trope of following friends through generations is familiar (Toni Morrison's short story "Recitatif" is a fine example), and "F Theory" also adds some cliched odd-couple flavor (Marianne is a clinically left-brained researcher, while Ellie is an at-times flighty artist). But Loughran and Trow do well in finding room for depth in their characters and relationship. The play gains strength as it progresses, and the two women must start to define themselves uniquely while drifting away from their best friend.

Loughran's Ellie proves defiantly complex despite Marianne's efforts to pigeon-hole her, and Trow slowly reveals cracks in Marianne's life that frequently seems so neatly put together. The play's best scene is in fact its most subdued, as the two women come together for drinks after having spent some time apart. Long gone are the bright-eyed and buoyant college students of scene one. In their places are older adults showing clear scars of life's challenges.

Along with director Ethan Heard, Loughran and Trow impress with their ability to create viable pictures of these characters as the play stretches through snapshots of such disparate times in their lives. The bouncy college students may feel a bit forced, but from there on out we see clear pictures of Marianne and Ellie at markedly different points in their lives (Trow and Loughran are also regularly called on to play other small parts, a consistently funny gag). Jessica Parks's set embraces the NJ Rep's small space by being both versatile and constricting, features that enhance the drama as it becomes clear that there is little either of these women can do to escape the other's orbit.

Ultimately, the theory of friendship advanced by this play may be one that argues for caution and diligence when managing bonds with close friends lest that bond proves to be less reliable precisely when it is most necessary.

'F Theory' explores mysteries of friendship with humor and poignancy


Megan Loughran, left, and Alex Trow co-star in "F Theory" at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Sept. 24.

The F in "F Theory" — a new comedy being presented by New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Sept. 24 — stands for "Friendship." One character, Marianne (played by Alex Trow), is a social scientist who studies it as coldly and clinically as if she were attempting to understand a new strain of malaria. But the nature of friendship — like the nature of that other form of human attachment that is more commonly the subject of plays (i.e., love) — remains elusive. And "F Theory" is, ultimately, a warm and winning salute to its mysteries.

Trow co-wrote the play (which is receiving its world premiere at NJ Rep) with Megan Loughran, who plays Marianne's best friend, Ellie. At the start of the play, Marianne are Ellie are bubbly but also somewhat insecure 18-year-old college roommates, and the play follows them through adulthood, marriage, motherhood and — most poignantly — old age.

After college, they live together in New York, and progress from takeout pizza to takeout Indian food. But even when they decide, finally, to live apart from each other, they still talk on the phone all the time, or skype. Even if the subject matter is meaningless, they still want to talk.

The intellectually inclined Marianne, whose family is rich, has a much easier time finding her way in life — both romantically and professionally — than the artistic and, often, financially struggling Ellie. Marianne writes a best-selling book about friendship that gives Ellie's floundering musical career a boost, but also — in a twist that's unexpectedly dark, given the breeziness of the play's early scenes — strains the relationship.

Trow and Loughran are the only actresses in the play, though there are a number of other small roles, both male and female, that they also take on, after leaving the stage and returning in a different costume. There are some good opportunities for comic relief in these segments, as well as another kind of relief: The introduction of some different voices, which helps keep the play from being too relentingly focused on the Marianne/Ellie relationship.

Between scenes, portions of songs about friendship — The White Stripes' "We're Going to Be Friends," Carole King's "You've Got a Friend," Randy Newman's "You've Got a Friend in Me," The Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" and so on — are heard. Just like it's more common for playwrights to write about love than friendship, there are a lot more songs about that subject, too. But maybe — when you think about it — more about friendship than you would expect.

The LINK News

Theater Review: Fabulous F Theory friendship focus forges fantastic fun

By Madeline Schulman


Alex Trow and Megan Loughran in F Theory (SuzAnne Barabas photo)

Long Branch — The first mention of "F" during F Theory is as part of a logic problem Ellie (Megan Loughran) and Marianne (Alex Trow) have for homework as college freshman roommates. However, the important "F" in F Theory is Friendship. Along the way there are nods to Family, Female Firefighters, Fat in the Food Pyramid, and Franklin (Benjamin), but Friendship is paramount, as the audience follows Ellie and Marianne through many decades and across the globe.

Sometimes their journey is very funny, and sometimes it is poignant. Sometimes the bonds that hold them together are strong, and sometimes they are frayed, but the theme is always their friendship.

Ellie is a former child television star whose sleazy father has squandered her money, while Marianne's family owns several shopping malls. Ellie gravitates toward music and Marianne toward the social sciences. In spite of all differences, a force even stronger than their love of Shania Twain unites them.

The word that best describes the play starts with a C, not an F: Clever! Megan Loughran and Alex Trow are as clever as they are beautiful and talented, because they wrote F Theory themselves, and no other playwright could have showcased their talents so expertly. They tap dance! They sing (their own songs, I believe)! Ms. Loughran plays the ukulele like a Hawaiian angel.

Jessica Parks has designed a supremely clever set. A few modular pieces and some images projected on the screens in back of the state change the scene from a college dorm to a New York apartment to a luxury honeymoon cottage and many other locales.

There is a clever solution to presenting more than two characters in a play with only two actors, and another clever solution to the many quick costume changes needed. Even the songs played between scenes are cleverly chosen to illustrate the theme of Friendship. Giving details would prevent theatergoers from discovering the charms of the script, and of Ethan Heard's direction, for themselves. F Theory is fun, but at its heart are thoughts of the role of Friendship which are not Frivolous.


"F Theory" explores the nature of friendship

By Allen Neuner

Scene from "F Theory"

It's unusual in theater-going to see two powerful, well-written new plays back to back. It is rarer still to see them performed by the same producing group. The New Jersey Repertory Co. in Long Branch has pulled off this feat, first with Halftime With Don in July and now with the world premiere of F Theory.

Playwrights Megan Loughran and Alex Trow have written a piece that examines the nature of friendship: How it can start from the most unlikely of pairings, be sustained through major changes in both friends' lives, and mean more—and less—than family or lovers. We meet Marianne and Ellie as college roommates from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds, seemingly with little in common, yet each finding in the other something of value that they lack in themselves. As the years progress, the friends follow different paths —Marianne as a globe-trotting anthropologist with a husband and daughter, and Ellie forging a career in music while staying single. Their evolving views on what true friendship entails test the relationship they've forged, leading to a surprising yet touching denouement.

Scene from "F Theory"

In case you're inclined to think that casting the playwrights in their own work is a publicity stunt, think again. It's clear from the start that Loughran and Trow are perfectly cast as Ellie and Marianne, respectively. With only changes of costume, hair, and voice, they seamlessly portray the time-wrought changes in their characters. Working with director Ethan Heard, the actresses create a celebration of two people forging a relationship that can transcend time and space, touching on universal themes and cultural references, amazingly without once descending into cliché.

On the technical side, credit must be given to Jessica Parks' set design, which cleverly utilizes pull-out curtain screens for quick costume changes. The infinitely re-arrangeable contemporary furniture designed by Marisa Procopio takes us from a college dorm room to a sophisticated restaurant, from a couples resort to television talk show studios. Patricia E. Doherty is also to be commended for her costume designs, always faithful to the characters' identities and circumstances at any given time.

F Theory is a magnificent new play that many contemporary actresses will doubtless jump at the chance to perform. Artistic Director SuzAnne Barabas and Executive Producer Gabor Barabas have once again come through with a powerful, provocative, and deeply human play, keeping faith with their company's mission to nurture new plays and new playwrights.

For anyone who has a special friendship in his or her life, for anyone who is passionate about creating and preserving human interactions, for anyone who cares about outstanding theater, I strongly recommend seeing F Theory.

BWW Interview: Megan Loughran and F THEORY at NJ Rep 8/17 to 9/24

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) presents the world premiere of F Theory, a funny, poignant, and uniquely thought-provoking play about the power and complexity of lifelong friendship. The show will be on the Long Branch Stage from August 17 through September 24. Directed by Ethan Heard, the play is co-written by, and starring Megan Loughran and Alex Trow.

In F Theory, Marianne and Ellie are bright, charming college roommates prone to break out in spontaneous tap dance routines in the middle of study sessions, when we first meet them. They come from very different backgrounds and are headed into very different futures-wealth, marriage, and anthropological adventures for one; family troubles, solo living, and a career as a musician for the other. But the bond they forged on meeting is that rare sort that transcends all circumstance and thrives across all time; even across several continents in their case. Or does it? What happens when you realize the friendship you have valued on the merit of its fortitude through everything for decades means something else entirely to the person on the other end? F Theory gives center stage to friendship, a relationship so often sidelined in both art and life to family, romance, marriage, though it is often stronger than them all.

Megan Loughran and Alex Trow are actors and writers based in New York City. They met at Yale University, from which they both graduated, as did director Ethan Heard. Also featured in the cast is Pheonix Vaughn, a regular at NJ Rep, who will be performing the role of "Marianne", September 15 - 17. had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Loughran about the upcoming production of F Theory.

Loughran is an actor, singer and writer based in New York City. As an improviser, she performed with the Chicago City Limits National Touring Company, after training at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Megan performed in the ensemble of Sweeney Todd with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, starring Emma Thompson. As a cabaret artist, she was a 2015 Fellow in the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's Cabaret Conference, under the artistic direction of John McDaniel, and is the winner of the Champions' Edition of NYC's Cabaret Showdown. Megan wrote the online sketch "Resting Bitch Body", featured on Elizabeth Banks' comedy website,, in which she co-stars with Alex Trow. Graduate of Yale University.

How long have you been working on the F Theory project?

Alex and I started working on F THEORY about a year and a half ago, in February of 2016. We first sat down together at a restaurant in Manhattan called Annabel, and made notes over red wine and kale pizza. We wrote on cocktail napkins because that seemed far more exciting than paper.

Tell me a little more about the collaborative process with Alex.

When we first started writing, we mapped out an eight-scene structure, and alternated who wrote each scene. Initially we gave each other feedback and edited our scenes independently, but at some point any "rules" melted away and now we both have our hands in everything at all times, kind of like when there's only one cheese platter at a big party.

What are some of the challenges of co-authoring a theater piece?

It would be difficult to co-author a play if we were two people who disagreed often, but luckily we're pretty simpatico! In the instances where we do have differing opinions, we have a try-it-both-ways policy. That way, no one feels her ideas have been shut down, and we can make decisions together based on evidence from a trial run. We keep a running tally of who was right on a big chalkboard that says "Who Is Better?"

How does it feel to bring your own writing to life on stage?

What a thrill! We've spent a good amount of time imagining the world of this play in our heads, and now we get to inhabit that world as actors. It's an incredible feeling. We're very lucky to be collaborating with our ridiculously talented director, Ethan Heard, and NJ Rep's excellent designers, as we transform F THEORY from notes on a napkin into a premiere production!

Why do you think metro area audiences will enjoy the show?

We hope you'll laugh (it's a comedy!) but we also hope you'll ponder a question or two about the essential part of the human experience that is friendship. Bring your friends!

How do you like working with NJ Rep.

We're so grateful to NJ Rep for welcoming us, and giving us such a dreamy artistic summer home! We've had the ultimate opportunity to refine the play as writers, and rehearse it as actors, feeling supported at every turn by the amazing artists and designers who make up the NJ Rep team.

For more information on Megan Loughran, visit:

The Two River Times: 'HALFTIME WITH DON'

by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

July 5, 2017

Dan McVey and Malachy Cleary in "Halftime with Don" at the NJ Rep in Long Branch. Courtesy Suzanne Barabas

DON DEVERS, A retired NFL player and widower, who now lives alone in a sparsely furnished apartment sleeping in an upholstered recliner and living on Pringles and Gatorade, is at the center of Ken Weitzman's "Halftime With Don," the latest world premiere play to be staged by the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

Devers, wonderfully played by Malachy Cleary, has chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease found in people who have taken repeated blows to the head. He can't really know this for sure because he needs to be dead before his brain can be studied.

His symptoms include disorientation, memory loss, social instability, erratic behavior, and poor judgment – but don't get the idea this two-act play that continues through July 30 is a downer. You might find yourself getting a little misty-eyed at times, but there are plenty of laughs and by the end you'll be smiling.

Devers says football is not a contact sport, it's a collision sport. Although his mother forbade him to play, he did anyway, in secret. Not a marquee player, he was known for helping players he knocked down get back up – and warned them he'd do it again if they got in his way.

Yet every single day he misses playing ball and would do it all again. And that can make it hard to sympathize with his illness, at first. But who among us hasn't made choices that aren't good for us and we ultimately pay the piper?

Lori Vega and Susan Maris play Don's daughter and wife in "Halftime with Don." Courtesy Suzanne Barabas

Like King Lear railing against the storm, Don rails against the loss of his mind, his deteriorating body and erratic rages, and decides enough is enough. He comes up with a plan for the approaching Super Bowl Sunday.

His self-imposed isolation from the world is broken by Ed Ryan (Dan McVey) who comes knocking at his door eager to meet Devers, his idol and substitute father figure from childhood. Having recently lost his job, he's hoping Devers will give him the ol' inspiring half-time locker room speech that gets him back in the "game."

Lori Vega is making a superb NJ Rep debut as Devers' potty- mouth daughter Stephanie, an accountant with attitude, who is heavily pregnant by a married football player with a family he intends to keep.

Stephanie moved her father into an apartment closer to her and hired the nurses he refuses to let in to take care of him. Nor does he want to see his daughter. But not for the reason she thinks.

Rounding out the cast is Susan Maris, who plays Ed's wife Sarah. She, too, is pregnant and the two women bond immediately. But Ed and Sarah? Communication has been a bit rough recently.

A little bit more info from the playwright on how Don and Stephanie got along before their estrangement, and why Sarah and Ed don't seem to click as well as a couple would be helpful.

Nicely directed by Kent Nicholson (including the best use of Post-It notes I've seen on stage), the two-hour play moves along on the small two-level set designed by Jessica Parker and lit by Jill Nagle. Patricia E. Doherty designed the costumes.

Halftime With Don

NJ Stage

Retired NFL player Don Devers is a man who has had more surgeries than he can count, experiences violent outbursts, and relies on Post-It notes to offset his struggle with traumatic brain injury. Just when things seem their darkest, a desperate longtime fan arrives at his doorstep. But when devoted fan, Ed Ryan, appears at his doorstep, a series of events are put in motion that just may bring Don out of his self-imposed isolation and salvage his life.

That's the premise behind Ken Weitzman's play, Halftime With Don, which has its World Premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch from June 22 to July 30. The production is a National New Play Network Rolling Premiere that will travel to The Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis and the B Street Theatre in Sacramento, CA.

Directed by Kent Nicholson, the cast includes Malachy Cleary, Susan Maris, Daniel McVey, and Lori Vega. Halftime with Don is a play that does more than regale a player's greatest game, it delves into an issue that has moved to the forefront of sports in the past decade - concussions and the permanent damage inflicted on the body. It examines that and more.

"It's about the physical and mental toll playing a collision (not just a contact) sport can bring about," explained Weitzman. "It's also about the collateral damage it causes for the players' loved ones, in this case the player's daughter."

Weitzman spoke to former players and read extensively on the subject. "I felt it very important to get it right, to truly capture the experience," he said.

The National Football League settled a lawsuit over head injuries to former players for $1 billion in 2015 and League executives have publicly acknowledged a link between football and brain damage. Football has always been a violent game since the days players wore leather helmets, but the League has steadily introduced rules thatremove some of the most violent aspects and better protect the players. In doing so, the NFL has raised the ire of some fans who complain that these rules have made the game "soft." Weitzman strongly disagrees and takes issue with those who think that football players are protected too much.

"I'm a long-time football fan, but I don't think the game's gotten soft." said Weitzman. "The players are so much bigger and so much faster than they used to be which means the collisions have exponentially more g-force. Those brains are rattling violently inside their skulls. On the other hand, I don't think the rule changes do all that much to make football safer. Sub-concussions--which can happen with just a defensive and offensive lineman hitting each other--are cumulative. It's not just the sensational, high-speed collisions that cause lasting damage."

Theatrical plays about sports have a checkered past. Successful ones include works like Golden Boy, Damn Yankees, That Championship Season, and Lombardi. The number of failures greatly outweigh the successes. In fact, in 2012 The New Yorker examined the difficulties of bringing sports on stage in a piece entitled, "Why Can't Broadway Make A Good Sports Play?" Yet Weitzman sees sports as an opportunity for him and for good reason. Prior to playwriting, he wrote and produced sports documentaries and narratives for television and new media for the National Basketball Association Entertainment, Speedvision, Emerald City, and CybrCard. He has written plays about basketball (Spin Moves), baseball (The Catch), football (Get Thorpe, Stadium 360) and has a play in progress (Sacrifice) about sexual abuse in a big-time college sports program.

"I do think it's a niche," said Weitzman. "Plays with sports content or theme are obviously far more prevalent in film because in films it's easier to depict the playing of the sport itself. But theatre affords a different view - an in-depth look at character and an in-depth look at the way sports impacts and has impacted American culture, American history, and even the founding metaphors of this country."

Pointing out some of his favorite works about sports, he says, "A colleague, Mat Smart, a die-hard Cubs fan, has a terrific play called Tinkers to Evers to Chance. I like Lee Blessing's work and he has several plays with sports in the foreground or background. In terms of films I love (among many others) The Natural, Hoosiers, and Jerry Maguire."

Weitzman hopes the play attracts both sports fans and non-sports fans. The play is every bit about relationships and the issues of growing older as it is about football.

"Yes, sports are part of it but I don't call it a 'sports play,'" he said. "It's a human interest story with sports as the lens through which we look at it. In the past my plays have drawn a wide audience. I've loved that some in the audience had never seen a play but came because they were drawn to a story with sports as a crucial part of it - that it was finally a play that spoke to them and their interests. I've also loved that frequent theatre goers found they didn't need any sports knowledge or even sports interest to be captivated by the story and the characters. They still had an exciting, fun, and profound experience."

The National New Play Network is an alliance of nonprofit theaters like NJ Rep who champion the development, production, and continued life of new plays. During one of their Rolling World Premieres, the organization provides production support to the playwright and the partnering theaters, including assistance with the creation and the contracting of the premiere agreement, collaborative interactions between the theaters, and travel and housing funds for the playwright to further develop the play in each city. It is an excellent opportunity for theatres and playwrights to establish new relationships and further the development of the plays.

"It's very important to the playwright, that I can tell you for sure," said Weitzman. "The innovative organization, NNPN, the National New Play Network that incentivizes these rolling world premieres, knows that many theatres only want to do the world premiere of a play which makes subsequent productions very hard to get. I'll learn so much from having three productions at three theatres and by being in conversation with three different communities. I'll know the play and its impact far better after that."

Prior to this stage, Halftime with Don had about eight staged readings, including one with Premiere Stages in Union, NJ. Weitzman says the play has changed immensely from the first draft to this World Premiere and the various readings were instrumental in the process.

"Having 10-20 hours in a room with good actors, directors, and dramaturgs and then reading the play in front of an audience is invaluable," explained the playwright. "By the start of this rehearsal process the play was already in good shape."

This play marks Weitzman's first time working with NJ Rep and it's been a very good experience. He says he gets very involved with the premieres of his plays, playing a role in everything from casting to rehearsals - even making revisions in the rehearsal stage to tailor the work to the actors and the theatre space.

"Gabe and SuzAnne who run the theatre, are devoted to new plays," said Weitzman. "The two of them are invested in the play in such a pure way; they want it to have a long life and have many productions after this one. I'm also very impressed with the way they've cultivated an audience that is wonderfully engaged, excited, and supportive of new work. Overall they've created a supportive, generous home for playwrights, theatre artists, and audiences. I'm very fond of them and feel lucky to be working with them."


"Halftime With Don" is a strongly written and powerfully delivered drama

By Allen Neuner

Scene from "Haltime with Don" with Dan McVey and Malachy Cleary in photo by SuzAnne Barabas

One of the perks of writing theater reviews is that on rare occasions, one is privileged to watch the birth of a powerful new drama. Such a drama is Halftime With Don, currently being presented by the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

Playwright Ken Weitzman's play centers on Don Devers, a pro football lineman who became an attorney when his playing days were over. Although retaining much of his youthful strength, Don's body is ravaged by injuries obtained during his sports career. Even worse, he has suffered brain damage from playing football, which is increasingly robbing him of his memory and his self-control.

Scene from "Haltime with Don" featuring Lori Vega and Susan Maris in photo by SuzAnne Barabas

Having become a recluse, Don has even refused to see his pregnant daughter, Stephanie. Into his life comes Ed, his biggest fan, who has looked up to Dan his whole life for his strength and sportsmanship on the field. The relationship formed between Ed and Don affect both their lives in ways they could not have imagined.

Weitzman is a gifted writer, one whose works deserve production and appreciation, and he has crafted a solid play. He depicts the tragedy of mental decline from the point of view of the sufferer, aware of his decline and terrified of the inevitable. He shows the effect of memory loss and the onset of dementia, without descending into mawkishness or cliché, on the people closest to the sufferer. This is blended with the protective nature of parents — Stephanie for her unborn child; Ed and his wife, Sara, who are expecting their firstborn; and even Don for Stephanie — and the creation of family based on mutual love, respect, and caring. Added into this mixture is earthy, raunchy humor that is never out of place and never forced.

Another scene from "Haltime with Don" featuring Dan McVey and Malachy Cleary in file photo by SuzAnne Barabas

The value of this script has been fully realized by director Kent Nicholson, who draws outstanding ensemble work and strong individual performances from the cast of four. Lori Vega crackles as Stephanie, who makes a last-ditch effort to pull her father from his self-imposed isolation by instigating the meeting between him and his biggest fan. Susan Maris, who plays Ed's wife, Sara, shows her humanity in her loving support of her husband and her camaraderie with Stephanie, while discovering some new pleasures for herself in a short, hilarious scene. Dan McVey ably conveys Ed's emotional journey from starry-eyed hero worship to a more adult respect of the man, the flawed human being, who was his role model through a lonely childhood.

"Outstanding" does not begin to convey the magnitude of Malachy Cleary's performance as Don. With Weitzman's script, under Nicholson's direction. Cleary creates a fully fleshed, living, breathing human being. His performance shows us this proud man, remembering the triumphs of his careers in sports and in the law; all too aware of the physical toll playing football has cost; and resolved to make one last gesture to give meaning to his life. The clear insight Cleary gives us into Don's inner mental turmoil through his split-second emotional changes and dangerous use of his physical strength leave a powerful impression on the audience, creating a memorable performance.


by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

July 10, 2017

The future home of the West End Arts Center at West End Avenue and Sairs Avenue in Long Branch. Photo by G. Van Benthuysen

LONG BRANCH – Gabor and SuzAnne Barabas, the husband-and-wife team that founded the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch 20 years ago, were driving along Second Avenue in the city in April 2015 when she suddenly yelled 'Stop!' and he slammed on the brakes.

"I'm thinking I might have hit a squirrel," he said.

Gabor Barabas looked over at his wife and she was looking out the window at a For Sale sign on the fence surrounding the closed West End School.

"Suzie turned around and looked at me and said, 'This is our moment. How can we purchase this?' "

After placing the winning bid, they closed in May 2016 on the building they now are calling West End Arts at Sairs and West End avenues.

When they launched New Jersey Rep in 1997, Gabor Barabas had been a pediatric neurologist for children and young adults for 30 years. SuzAnne Barabas was an actress-turned-director.

When she decided to start a theater company he joined her to build a nonprofit, professional theater on lower Broadway in Long Branch, a blighted area with little foot traffic, no restaurants, that was really dark at night. People thought they were crazy.

In addition, New Jersey Rep's mission was to develop and produce new plays by mostly unknown playwrights.

No Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. No Neil Simon comedies. No audience, right?

Twenty years later the 67-seat theater averages six to eight productions a year. It has 850 subscribers. It's annual budget is about $800,000. Donors include the Geraldine R. Dodge and the Shubert foundations, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, plus Joan and Robert Rechnitz, another married couple who founded the Two River Theater in Red Bank in 1994.

That's one reason why Robert Goodman, assistant director of the Office of Community and Economic Development for Long Branch, believes the Barabas' have another hit on their hands with West End Arts in the famously funky section of town.

"They are known for developing a successful business on Broadway, and now they are taking that vision and broadening it," Goodman explained. "They did not just go up one rung on the ladder, they went up five rungs."

The 28,000 square-foot former West End School sits on 2.5 acres less than three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. It's being reconfigured to include a 165-seat proscenium theater, a 100-seat black box theater and a rehearsal space for upcoming NJ Repertory shows that will continue to be produced at the Broadway-based theater.

SuzAnne Barabas is the artistic director and Gabor Barabas is the executive producer at both facilities.

"We want to be a catalyst for artists, galleries, and other arts organizations," Gabor Barabas said during a recent walk-through of the elementary school built in stages beginning in the 1940s.

"We will have an art gallery, a new arts cinema, rooftop cafe, and residences for out-of town-actors, and 125 parking spaces on site," Barabas said. "The plan is to be a comprehensive center for the performing arts, visual arts, poetry, dance and music."

Three anonymous donors paid the $2.25 million purchase price. A capital campaign to renovate and improve the property will be launched in phases. Meanwhile Barabas is meeting with potential donors and people interested in the project he estimates will cost between $25-$30 million.

Not wasting any time, classes for adults, including acting, playwriting and visual arts were offered this spring. Tickets now are on sale now for a coming-out benefit event Oct. 1-8 with the theme "All About Eve." More than 400 short plays were submitted and 28 were selected. A gallery show is included.

It was up to the artists to interpret what the theme meant.

  Managing Director Kevin Puvalowski, left, and Executive Producer Gabor Barabas at the West End Arts Center. Photo by G. Van Benthuysen


"For many of the submissions you have to kind of connect the dots to get the meaning, which is what we wanted," Barabas said.

Each day four plays will be performed simultaneously in four separate micro theaters (former classrooms). The audience, divided into four groups, will move from room to room to view the plays.

A music night and poetry night are planned at $15 each. Theater sessions are $50 each and include refreshments, and to attend all the events costs $300. For more information, visit or call 732-229-3166.

"The core idea is that this is not just a performance arts center, it's much more expansive in its concept with educational programs and visual arts," Barabas said. "It's a work in progress.

"As we begin to gather steam and raise funds, we're going to have to decide how we're going to phase it in," he explained. "Of course, the flagship of this project is to get that first theater up and running." "A lot of people didn't think Gabe could do what he did on Broadway, but he was able to leverage relations and he has a excellent board," said Goodman, adding Community and Economic Development supports businesses with promotions and government grants.

Barabas is very likable and is an established member of the business community, Goodman said. People want to work with a successful business, especially one that will provide restaurants, bars and shops with more customers.

Business partners Michael Bienz and Sam Nativo have owned Mix Lounge and Food Bar, 17 Brighton Ave., for 17 years. They were ecstatic the Barabas' bought the school. They've also noticed an uptick in the sale of local properties, vacancy signs taken down and empty lots being developed.

"We held a fundraiser for Gabe at our restaurant so the business people, theater people, and folks with deep pockets could meet," Bienz said. "The opening of the West End Arts center will mark the 'before' and 'after' moment on the timeline. This type of facility will be huge, a regional attraction."

Barabas recognizes this is a pivotable time and caution is needed to control growth. At an age when most people are retiring, this West Long Branch couple, that will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next February, are taking on a major project. So why do it?

"It's been the dream to have a real impact on the community," he explained. "So the way I view it, we've been given this in trust and the trust is we're going to create something to serve generations to come and enrich the community.

"Also, it has to do with faith in the importance of having an arena where you can truly explore the human condition, give people the opportunity to express themselves creatively," he said. "You can't even envision what will happen. All you can do is create the environment where anything is possible."

So, are Gabor and SuzAnne Barabas crazy?

"Crazy is a very relative term," Gabor Barabas said with a smile. "I think we had the idea all along that if we survived, the time may come when we will want to spread our wings a bit more."

The LINK News

Theater Review: A thought-provoking look at the price paid for football

By Madeline Schulman


Lori Vega, Dan McVey and Susan Maris in a scene from Ken Weitzman's "Halftime with Don," a National New Play Network World Premiere at NJ Rep

Long Branch – "Mamma don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys," says the country song. Apparently, don't let them grow up to be professional football players, either. No mamma should want to after seeing the new play by Ken Weitzman, Halftime with Don, now playing at NJ Rep.

The center of the play is Don Devers (Malachy Cleary), a former NFL tackle. In his prime, he was known for his courtesy to opponents, helping them up after knocking them down. He was also intelligent enough to become a successful lawyer when his football career ended.

But in the present he is a physical, mental and emotional wreck, unable to walk comfortably, and on a regimen of several pills a day. His life has become so isolated that his recliner is the only seating space in his living room. As fits the center, Don is always onstage, sleeping in the recliner when he is not part of the action.

Orbiting around Don are his estranged, very pregnant, unmarried daughter Stephanie (Lori Vega), and his greatest fan, Ed Ryan (Dan McVey). When Ed was a fat, fatherless, stuttering kid, he was cheered by a post-it from his hero, Don Devers, telling him "Your best days are ahead of you."

Now Ed's wife Sarah (Susan Maris), who is also pregnant, and Stephanie have collaborated to give Ed a wonderful 40th birthday present, the chance to meet his idol in person. Ed is out of work and unable to pay rent. Sarah's work as a freelance graphic artist just pays for groceries. Meeting Don is a rare bright spot in a dismal life.

One symptom of Don's brain damage is mood swings. Ed never knows whether he will find Mr. Hyde, throwing a walker at Ed or threatening him with a taser, or Dr. Jekyll, inviting Ed to visit him every day for a week, until they conclude with viewing the Super Bowl together. Stephanie is thrilled that her father is responding to Ed, and Ed and Sarah are happy at the thought of a possible Tuesdays with Morrie style bestseller.

However, Don's thoughts are not inspirational. His advice to young football players is, "Don't play football." His joke is "In what way are football players and prostitutes the same? They both ruin their bodies for the pleasure of strangers." Don says football is not a contact sport, but a collision sport.

For a man with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Don has amazing flashes of insight, but they are rare and Don is sorrowfully aware the bright times won't last.

There is humor, chiefly provided by Stephanie and Sarah, who have some fairly salacious discussions which lighten the tone of every scene the women share.

Where there are babies, there is hope for the future, but the question is whether there is hope for Dan and other football players. I know very little about football. If I am in the room while the game is on and I glance at the screen, I see men being helped or carried off the field as often as I see them playing the game. Halftime with Don is a challenging, thought-provoking look at the price paid for our entertainment.

Review: NJ Rep's 'Halftime With Don'


Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney at NJ Rep
Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 8pm

Let's be clear about one thing, despite the title and poster art, Don Weitzman's world premiere now onstage at New Jersey Rep is only peripherally about sports. It's about a lot of things, but football is definitely on the sidelines of what proves to be a very crowded, but ultimately satisfying, narrative.

Meeting one's childhood idols can have life-changing consequences, as superfan Ed finds out when his wife Sarah grants him his 40th birthday wish – to meet his favorite football player Don Devers. Sarah has struck up an online friendship with the player's daughter Stephanie, who brokers the meeting with her now reclusive father. Due to a game-related brain injury, long-retired Don has retreated into a solitary world of Pringles, Post-its, and prescription meds. Ed is elated when Don invites him to spend a whole week with him, culminating in watching the Super Bowl together. He even gives the part-time amateur blogger free reign to write about their week together, which they both hope will culminate in something akin to TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE. When Don reveals darker intentions, Ed begins to question the whole endeavor.

As usual, NJ Rep has assembled a terrific cast led by Broadway veteran Malachy Cleary as Don (photo). The character is a complex one, facing a harrowing crossroads in his life. Cleary infuses Devers with enough nuance and range to keep things compelling from curtain to curtain. Dan McVey is excellent as Ed, Don's biggest fan, a man whose home life is changing due to the imminent birth of his first child while he is still coping with the realities of Don's current condition. His earnest wife Sarah is played with straightforward sincerity by Susan Maris. The acerbic Stephanie is in the capable hands of Lori Vega, who makes Don's sharp-tongued daughter palatable and – at times – even somewhat likable.

HALFTIME WITH DON is a 'rolling world premiere' kicking off in Long Branch and continuing on to two other theatres. This will give playwright Weitzman a chance to hone the text, which in its current state seems to occasionally wander from its main attraction – the unique dynamic of Don and Ed. At times, Sarah and Stephanie (both very pregnant) seem to be in another play entirely. Their conversation strays to frank (and curse-laden) chatter about vibrators and birthing techniques making their scenes seem like something by David Mamet, while Don and Ed play out a psychodrama by Marsha Norman. Even the NJ Rep's usually dependable scenic design fumbles the ball. The tarnished copper pipes lining the playing area probably have some sort of symbolic significance, but in such a topical play, there's scant time to consider what it might be. However, when Don and Ed are tackling their fears (and each other) head on, the play scores a theatrical touchdown.

With this show NJ Rep marks its 115th production, nearly all premieres of new plays. Each one is lavished with the care and passion of producer Gabor Barabas and his wife, artistic director SuzAnne Barabas – people who deeply care about the nurturing of the American theatre and have contributed immeasurably to its growth during the last two decades. Toward that end, they have embarked on the creation of a brand new arts center in Long Branch, hoping to broaden their reach and foster future artists here in New Jersey and beyond. With community support, NJ Rep can score big and become the Super Bowl of NJ Arts. In the meantime, there's an entertaining HALFTIME show.

Michael T. Mooney

BWW Review: HALFTIME WITH DON is a Timely and Outstanding Theatrical Experience

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) is now presenting the World Premiere of Halftime with Don through July 30. Written by Ken Weitzman and directed by Kent Nicholson, this captivating show features excellent staging and an outstanding cast. The play portrays a serious subject with just the right touches of humor and heart.

In Halftime with Don, Don Devers was a well-respected NFL player who became a practicing attorney after retiring from the game. But the years have taken a harsh toll on his body and mind. Hardly able to walk after multiple surgeries and suffering from traumatic brain damage, Don has become reclusive, spending most of his time in his barcalounger, eating Pringles, popping pills and making notes on post-its. Don adamantly rejects having visitors including his pregnant daughter, Lori. Enter Ed Ryan, a longtime fan, who is down on his luck and expecting his first child with his wife, Sarah. The meeting of the men was arranged between Lori and Sarah as a gift for Ed's birthday. But Ed doesn't find the inspiration from his childhood hero that he hoped for. Don is moody and at times, threatening. While Lori hopes that Ed will have a positive effect on her father, it becomes clear that Don Devers is suffering even more than anyone realizes. This topical story portrays people who deal with some of life's most critical issues. Yet it shows how hope, love and determination can define and even create a family.

The cast includes Malachy Cleary as Don Devers; Dan McVey as Ed Ryan; Lori Vega as Stephanie Devers; and Susan Maris as Sarah Ryan. These four thespians seamlessly deliver the superbly crafted dialogue and capture the personalities of each of the characters. They bring this riveting story to life before your eyes.

The Creative Team has done a great job of bringing Halftime with Don to the stage with scenic design by Jessica Parks, lighting design by Jill Nagle; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; sound design by Merek Royce Press. The Productions Stage Manager is Kristin Pfeifer; Assistant Stage Manager is Adam von Pier; Casting by Judy Bowman; Webmaster is Merek Royce Press; Technical Director, Brian P. Snyder.

Bravo to NJ Rep's Executive Producer Gabor Barabas and Artistic Director Suzanne Barabas for making another exciting play available to metro area audiences. Make a day of it in the Long Branch area. Plan a trip to the shore, have dinner and top it off with Halftime with Don. It is a theatrical experience you will truly relish.

Front Row Center
Posted By Raphael Badagliacca on Jul 21, 2017


So it's "Halftime with Don" — the newest play at NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch. Time to review the game plan, and consider the players. If there is a reflective moment in an undertaking as intensely physical as football, halftime is it.

Don Devers (Malachy Cleary) is a well-known NFL player now living in self-imposed obscurity. Ed Ryan (Dan McVey) is an out-of-work aspiring sports writer as well as a fan of Devers who cannot believe the stroke of good fortune that has brought him into the life of his football idol.

Ed's wife, Sarah (Susan Maris), is about to become a mother for the first time, struggling with the dual challenges of bringing a child into the world and maintaining her husband's fragile self esteem. Don's brash daughter, Stephanie (Lori Vega), is also pregnant, by a married football player who is AWOL from her life.

Through a series of machinations arranged by the two women for different purposes, Ed enters Don's lair, where he finds his idol in serious decline due to the countless hits he has taken in his career. He is living on junk food and pain medication. He is full of regrets. His personality is vibrant, charming at times, comedic at times, insightful, and prone to violent outbursts. He is lucid about his circumstances except when he "precipitously" loses control. Following football, he had a successful career as an attorney and he uses the word "precipitously" with lawyer-like accuracy. The first career has ruined the second one, and left the man in ruins. But he has a plan, and once Ed wins his trust he enlists the younger man in making it happen.

His daughter also has a plan. The married couple are two innocents compared to the father and daughter. The obvious pregnancy of the two young women, announces to us that life is full of transitional roles, sometimes thrust upon us. The women will shortly become mothers with all that entails. Ed will take on the long-term responsibility of fatherhood of which he is barely conscious, plus he is faced with the mind-altering, immediate directive to transform the image of one of his heroes. And Don Devers is fraught with transition, including one he has not yet negotiated.

This is a moving piece of work, and you don't have to be a sports fan to be moved.

'Halftime With Don' tackles some serious issues


Malachy Cleary, at top of photo, and Dan McVey co-star in "Halftime With Don," which is at NJ Rep in Long Branch through July 30.

The summer might seem like an odd time to mount a play about football. But the timing works well with "Halftime With Don," a new play by Ken Weitzman that is currently playing at NJ Rep in Long Branch, because watching it isn't going to increase your enthusiasm for the sport. You may, in fact, find yourself vowing never to watch another game.

Its title character, played by Malachy Cleary, is a former NFL lineman who is now middle-aged and dealing with the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease that is known to afflict athletes who have endured too many blows to the head. Memory loss, mood swings, erratic and sometimes violent behavior … these have become major issues for Don, who needs a walker to get around and lives alone in a condo. He lives, largely, on a diet of Pringles and Gatorade, and covers his furniture with Post-it notes in a vain attempt to help him remember things.

Enter Ed (Dan McVey), who grew up idolizing Don and is hoping that the fondly remembered hero of his youth will inspire him again. Ed is unemployed and in the doldrums; his pregnant wife Sarah (Susan Maris) set up the meeting as a present.

And so they meet. It doesn't go well. But it leads to another meeting, and another, and so on.

From left, Lori Vega, Dan McVey and Susan Maris in "Halftime With Don."

Don is, of course, not the gridiron god that Ed remembers. Yet he is still able to dispense some wisdom, in his coherent moments. And he seeks to educate Ed about the brutality of football, offering shocking statistics and horrifying stories about real football players (fans will recognize their names) who have suffered from CTE.

When Ed asks him for the one thing he would tell young players, he responds, "Easy. Don't play football, you dimwit."

As the relationship grows, Ed is thrilled. An aspiring writer, he even fantasizes about documenting their talks with a "Tuesdays With Morrie"-type essay that will change his life.

Cleary is particularly good as Don, giving glimpses of his former upbeat persona even as his life is collapsing all around him. And Lori Vega has some nice moments as Don's pregnant daughter, Stephanie, whose sharply sarcastic sense of humor adds some laughs to what is, overall, a pretty dark and serious work. A subplot finds Stephanie and the more straitlaced Sarah striking up a friendship as the two men bond and battle.

"Halftime With Don" took a while to grab me. I was bothered by some implausibilities in the plot, and the scenes with just Stephanie and Sarah didn't seem to add much.

But, to borrow a football term, it rallied in the fourth quarter — with a genuinely surprising twist, and an emotionally wrenching final scene.

Theater: NJ Rep presents 'Halftime with Don'

Susan Maris (left), Lori Vega and Dan McVey co-star in "Halftime with Don." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)


There's the impulse to craft an issue-driven play that's "ripped screaming" from the headlines — and then there's the real creative dilemma of making a screamingly serious issue speak in its "indoor" voice, by showing how it impacts one particular household.

In "Halftime with Don," the new play debuting this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, playwright Ken Weitzman and director Kent Nicholson have charged themselves with the task of creating compelling drama from an issue that's too often internalized, isolated and misunderstood: the traumatic brain injuries experienced by football players and other athletes.

Malachy Cleary (seated) and Dan McVey co-star in "Halftime with Don." (Photo: photos COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)

It's a hot topic that was addressed, without much commercial success, by Will Smith in "Concussion" — but while that 2015 film concentrated on the struggles of real-life Dr. Bennet Omalu to identify and raise awareness of the condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), here the playwright points out that "the focus is on the character of the player, and on the aftermath of his playing career."

The "Don" of the play's title is Don Dever (Broadway veteran Malachy Cleary), a former NFL tackle known as much for his hard-hitting style of play, as for a rare charitable streak that would find him helping his knocked-down opponents get back on their feet.

Long retired from the gridiron (and having subsequently become an attorney), the onetime standout is encountered here as an increasingly reclusive figure, dealing with the creeping signs of dementia and memory loss through a regimen of "Pringles, pills and Post-It notes."

While endeavoring to keep his concerned and very pregnant daughter Stephanie (Lori Vega) at arm's length, however, Don must deal with the intrusions of longtime fan and "wannabe journalist" Ed Ryan (Dan McVey) and his wife (Susan Maris) — as this thrown-together group arrives at some different outlooks on hope, inspiration and humanity, seen through the lens of an old hero's rapid decline.

Weitzman was himself inspired by the story of the late Pittsburgh Steelers star Mike Webster — the Hall of Famer turned homeless person, who he describes as "Patient Zero" in the battle for CTE awareness — and even interviewed Dr. Omalu in preparation for this project. But both playwright and director maintain that the play has "more to do with human nature," with Nicholson adding that "there are many parallels here between life and death...CTE is only really diagnosed after death, after things reach an extreme, and at the same time the two women in the play are about to give birth."

One of a series of "rolling world premieres," presented by NJ Rep and other professional stage troupes through the National New Play Network, "Halftime with Don" is a first-ever collaboration with the company for Weitzman, a maker of sports documentaries, and Nicholson, a former employee of the Washington Redskins.

Weitzman said "no knowledge or even love of sports is necessary" to appreciate this story, with Nicholson adding that audiences should find the play "surprisingly funny."

"For such a serious subject matter, it's a breezy evening," the director observes. "You have to find the humor in the situation... otherwise you go crazy."

BWW Interview: Playwright Ken Weitzman and HALFTIME WITH DON at NJ Rep 6/22 to 7/30

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) presents the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Halftime with Don written by Ken Weitzman and directed by Kent Nicholson. The production will be performed on the Long Branch stage from June 22 to July 30.

In the show, Don Devers may not have been the biggest name in the NFL, but his heart and his charisma were once unrivaled on the field. Known for helping every opponent he knocked down to get back onto their feet, Don has been brought to his knees by the cruel legacy of his high-impact heyday. Ed Ryan, a demoralized fan who has idolized Don all of his life, arrives at his door searching for inspiration. Instead, Ed finds his hero shut off from the world, attempting to stave off the encroaching offensive of traumatic brain damage with Pringles, pills and Post-It notes. Stephanie, Don's pregnant, tough-as-nails daughter, is sure she knows why he refuses to see even her. But she's wrong. What she discovers, what they all discover through the mirror of Don's decline, is an unpredictable, remarkable perspective on hope and strength in the clinch of being merely human.

The cast includes Malachy Cleary as Don Devers; Susan Maris as Sarah Ryan; Lori Vega as Stephanie Devers and Dan McVey as Ed Ryan. had the pleasure of interviewing playwright Ken Weitzman about his career and Halftime with Don at NJ Rep.

Weitzman's play, Halftime with Don is also slated for productions at B Street Theatre and the Phoenix Theatre as part of the National New Play Network's Rolling World Premiere. Previous productions include, among others, The Catch (The Denver Center Theatre Company), Fire in the Garden (Indiana Repertory Theatre), The As If Body Loop (Humana Festival), Arrangements (Atlantic Theatre Company). Hominid (Out of Hand Theatre/Theatre Emory/Oerol Festival Netherlands. Plays-in- progress include Reclamation (O'Neill National Playwrights Conference), Spin Moves (New Harmony Project, Theatre Lab), and seal boy (Keen Company, Lark, Playwrights Center). National Awards include The L. Arnold Weissberger Award for Playwriting for Arrangements, TCG Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award for The Catch, the Fratti/Newman Political Play Contest Award for Fire in the Garden, and South Coast Repertory's Elizabeth George Commission for an Outstanding Emerging Playwright. Organizations who have commissioned Ken's work include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Arena Stage, the ALLIANCE THEATRE, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Theatre Emory, Out of Hand Theatre, and South Coast Repertory Theatre. Ken's is a Core Writer at the Playwrights Center of Minneapolis, a former Writer-in- Residence for Out of Hand Theatre Company, and served as a board member for The New Harmony Project. Ken's plays have been published by Samuel French and Playscripts. Ken received his MFA from University of California, San Diego and has taught at UCSD, Emory University, Indiana University (head of MFA in Playwriting) and, currently, at Stony Brook University.

When did you first realize your penchant for writing?

As with many writers, acting was my gateway drug for theatre. I primarily acted in college at the University of Michigan but the summer before my senior I saw Spalding Gray and Eric Bogosian develop their solo work at PS 122 and was captivated, so I wrote a one-person. I quickly realized the writing part was far more satisfying and compelling to me.

Was there anyone who encouraged your career as a playwright?

Certainly my wife, Amy. In general, theatre was a part of my family life growing up - my parents took us to theatre, discussed it, and encouraged my pursuits. My brother, a fine writer, showed me by example what it was to rewrite, which is really my favorite part, playing with the puzzle of the first draft, playing with plot, form, and character - making major alterations.

What inspired "Halftime with Don?"

I have a background in sports, having worked on sports documentaries and production in my early working days. I follow stories in particular that speak to larger issues in American Culture. In 2009, when articles came out about Mike Webster as patient zero in the discovery of CTE, I was shocked by his condition, the decimation of both his body and brain, the collateral damage it causes for family and friends, and it's connection to the warrior mentality - its costs, as well as what is says about whom we revere. There's a joke in the play that Don (the retiRed Football player) tells which is equal parts funny and tragic: "In what way are football players and prostitutes the same? They both ruin their bodies for the pleasure of strangers."

How does teaching complement your career as a playwright?

Being a professor feeds me. I'm not someone who can sit down alone and write all day. I'd go crazy. Getting to read my students plays, having to articulate the craft in simple, clear terms to them, and generally being inspired by their passion and creativity. I love teaching and it's profoundly connected to my work and my belief in the transformative power of theatre and writing.

Tell us a little about working with NJ Rep.

What a wonderful place SuzAnne and Gabor have created ad what a wonderful, smart, supportive audience they've cultivated that engages passionately with new work. SuzAnne and Gabor's kindness, inclusivity, and love of new plays permeates the entire place.

What would you like NJ area audiences to know about the show?

It's not a polemic in any way. It's funny, it's heartfelt, and tells a full story.

What is in the works that you'd like us know about?

I have two plays I'm currently working on that are being workshopped around the country. One is connected to sports. It's called Spin Moves and deals with a teenager who's escaped the Bosnian war and her obsession with basketball and how she must overcome her panic attacks to play. The play takes place during the inaugural year of the WNBA. The other play, Seal Boy, deals with the fetishization of motherhood and parenting and the difficulty of raising a difficult child - who happens to be a seal. Naturally.

Anything, absolutely anything you want BWW readers to know!

I greatly, greatly appreciate their interest in theatre.

BWW Review: The World Premiere of & JULIET at NJ Rep is Intriguing

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) is now presenting & Juliet through June 4th. The World Premiere play is written by Robert Caisley and superbly directed by Marc Geller. Caisley has cleverly embedded parallels to Shakespeare's works in this show about conflict in academia. Once again, Producing Artistic Director Gabor Barabas and Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas are presenting the metro audience with a new play that will enthrall theatergoers.

& Juliet, is set at a small, conservative rural college. Charlie Vaughn is a young director who has just taken a position in the theater department. As he settles into his office, Dr. David Hughes, an older, tenured faculty member and a traditional drama professor, offers an insincere welcome. Vaughan is excited to stage the college's production of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Elizabethan style, with an all-male cast. Enter Annie, a senior and an African-American drama student who believes that she deserves to play the role of Juliet. She has trained for the role, working closely with Dr. Hughes to prepare to audition. To complicate matters, Annie is persistent, contentious, and has a history of problematic behavior. Tension and jealousy take center stage as Dr. Hughes and Annie threaten to undermine Charlie Vaughn's new position at the college.

The cast of & Juliet possess a mastery of their roles. The three-person company includes John FitzGibbons as David Hughes, Jacob A. Ware as Charlie Vaughn, and Nadia Brown as Annie. You will be drawn into every scene as they impeccably deliver the well-crafted dialogue.

NJ Rep's production team impresses with set design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; sound design by Merek Royce Press; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; properties by Marisa Procopio. Brian Snyder is the Technical Director; Kristin Pfeifer is the Stage Manager; Adam von Pier is the Assistant Stage Manager. & Juliet is a smart production that that will resonate broad audience. Gather your group and see this contemporary drama while it is on the Long Branch stage.

The LINK News

Theater Review: & Juliet full of fascinating intrigue and drama

By Madeline Schulman


Jacob A. Ware and Nadia Brown in & Juliet at NJ Rep. (SuzAnne Barabas photo)

Long Branch — Robert Caisley, the author of "& Juliet," having its world premiere at NJ Rep, probably knows all about University Drama Departments, as well as what makes compelling drama. I hope that real life Drama Departments are not as full of dispute, intrigue, and violent anger bubbling below the surface as the one at the unnamed University at which the play is set. However, we can all agree that drama can't exist without conflict, and the three characters in & Juliet have plenty of that.

Charlie (Jacob A. Ware), David (John FitzGibbon), and Annie (Nadia Brown) all want something very badly.

Charlie wants to do well as the new Drama Department member with his radical production of Romeo and Juliet. David wants the direction of the play handed back to him. He has worked at the University for thirty years, and does not like being shoved aside for a whippersnapper with no doctorate. Both men want the beautiful corner office with the spectacular view of the campus which Charlie has been awarded.

David assures Charlie, in a honeyed purr (and I have never heard a more honeyed purr than Mr. FitzGibbon's), that he is fine with Charlie occupying the office, but David also keeps paraphrasing Teyve, singing "If I Were a Jealous Man."

Nobody wants anything as badly as Annie wants to play Juliet. Already a senior, she has never advanced beyond maids and spear carriers, and she is not to be fobbed off with offers to paint scenery or be Assistant Director (which she sees as a glorified gofer). David, with whom she is suspiciously close, seems to have promised her the part (why else would she be so certain it is hers, since several other girls would certainly be lined up for it?).

Charlie has other ideas. Annie does not fit his idea of Juliet. He is not rejecting her because of her race, which is black, but because of her gender. His radical idea is to stage Shakespeare with all male actors, as in Elizabethan times, and he has chosen a fourteen year old high school boy for Juliet. The part is spoken for, in spite of Annie's frantic assertion that auditions aren't until Sunday.

Neither David nor Annie care for Charlie's scheme. The school is in a small, conservative town, and the sight of two boys kissing as Romeo and Juliet will not be greeted well.

When it is clear that not everyone can get what he or she wants, matters deteriorate. Unwise text messages are sent, even more unwise secrets are confided, and dangerously sharp weapons are brandished.

Nadia Brown is full of passionate intensity, and nicely delineates Annie as herself and Annie as Juliet. Her male co-stars are equally good.

Jessica Parks's ingenious set looks at first like the back of a plain wooden box marked Romeo & Juliet (a set within a set), but swivels to reveal the beautiful contested corner office.

To sum up, people quietly resolving their differences is good in real life, but people arguing, fighting and maneuvering makes for exciting theater.

As for lessons learned, guard your e-mail password, don't keep sharp knives in your office, and if you want to put on an all-male production of Shakespeare, know your audience.

A Look at "& Juliet" at NJ Rep

NJ Stage

(LONG BRANCH, NJ) -- & Juliet by Robert Caisley is the latest World Premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep). The play, which runs May 4 thru June 4, involves Charlie Vaughn, an idealistic young director comes to a small conservative college eager to stage a production of Romeo & Juliet.

When Vaughn announces his decision to cast a fourteen-year-old boy in the role of Juliet, as was the Elizabethan custom, he challenges the "old school" sensibilities of the campus community and invites the wrath of a young actress who feels her time is due. As a result, Charlie turns to his new colleague – a thirty-year veteran of the drama department – for advice on how to handle the student's challenge to his authority.

Front Row Center
Posted By Raphael Badagliacca on Apr 28, 2017


"Love Letters" is a love letter to letters themselves, the kind we used to send, ink on paper, folded twice and neatly fit into an envelope. We sent them, received them, but mostly we anticipated them.

Dan Lauria and Wendie Malick, seated at their separate writing desks, render the handwritten voices of their iconic characters, Andrew Makepeace Ladd the Third, and Melissa Gardner, with subtlety, humor, and honesty.

The actors generously donated their time on three successive nights in a benefit for New Jersey Repertory Company to help raise funds for the acquisition of additional, larger space in the same town of Long Branch. Known for its many world premieres that go places, NJ Rep enlisted a theater tradition this time in the often-staged "Love Letters" to which these two actors paid homage with the excellence of their performances.

Malick gives us the playfully rebellious Melissa Gardner in all her colors: appealing, witty, seductive, coy, painfully wise, reluctant, prescient, confident, unraveling.

Lauria is a perfectly honest Andy, unafraid to take pleasure in small things, possessed by his longing, obedient, devoted, emotional, ambitious in expected ways, expressing his unknowing genius through his Parker 51 fountain pen.

Andy says it best: "This is just me, the way I write, the way my writing is, the way I want to be to you, giving myself to you across a distance not keeping or retaining any part of it for myself, giving this piece of myself to you totally, and you can tear me up and throw me out, or keep me, and read me today."

Together they find and lose each other through the passages of life and across the pages of a 50-year correspondence.

It's hard to imagine it being done better. The audience was brought to the edge of tears.

BWW Interview: Playwright Robert Caisley of & JULIET at NJ Rep

The new play, & Juliet, written by Robert Caisley and directed by Marc Geller will have its premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) from May 4th to June 6th. & Juliet is Caisley's 3rd play for the company. Previous productions were Happy and Lucky Me, both of which received subsequent regional productions throughout the United States. Lucky Me had its European premiere at the Vana Baskini Teater in Tallinn, Estonia.

In the story of & Juliet, Charlie Vaughn is an idealistic young director who comes to a small conservative college campus to stage a production of Romeo & Juliet. When he announces his decision to cast a fourteen year-old boy in the role of Juliet, as was the Elizabethan custom, he challenges the "old school" sensibilities of the campus community and invites the wrath of a young black actress who feels her time is due. As a result, Charlie turns to his new colleague, a thirty-year veteran of the Drama Department, for advice on how to handle the student's challenge to his authority. had the opportunity to interview Robert Caisley about his career and his upcoming play & Juliet at NJ Rep.

Robert Caisley was born in Rotherham, England. His plays have been performed across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom and translated into Italian, French and Estonian. He currently serves as Head of Dramatic Writing at the University of Idaho, and is a Fellow in the Performing Arts from the Idaho Commission on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. In the past year he has had two new plays premiered at the Clarence Brown Theatre (The Open Hand) and B Street Theatre in Sacramento, CA (A Masterpiece of Comic ... Timing!), both of which have been recently published by Samuel French, Inc. Past productions at NJ Rep include Happy (2014) and Lucky Me (2015.)

What was your earliest interest in writing and theatre?

There are as many paths to becoming a writer as there are writers, and mine is not unique. But when the conscious thought first entered my imagination, "I want to write," the obvious form that writing took was the form most available to me in my childhood home. My father was, and still is, an actor-and his scripts, replete with marginal notes recording his character's intentions and blocking (in that secret argot we use in the theatre) 'Enter UR, cross to DL bar, pour whiskey, X to Center for mono. Exit R on blackout.') were a tantalizing goldmine. I greedily read his plays, and then attended as many productions as I could. I grew up in the UK, and in those days English class was a lot of memorization and reciting, a steady diet of Shakespeare, the Romantic poets, Oscar Wilde. I had one teacher who loved Shaw. I still have a vivid memory of seeing my father in a production of Hellman's The Little Foxes. I could only have been about 9 or 10 years old, but I can still picture the details of the set and costumes. It had a hypnotic effect on me even at that young age.

Tell us about a few of your mentors?

Since it was my father who first introduced me to the theatre, he is my first and most influential mentor. I've seen him in some wonderful roles over the years-Prospero being one of my favorites. I've also had a chance to direct him as well, which is always a treat-getting to boss the old man around a bit for a couple hours each day! He was most recently in productions of Proof and The Cherry Orchard that I directed. I owe my fledgling interest in the theatre to him.

However, the most important professional mentor I've had over the years is Jere Hodgin. Jere was the long-time Artistic Director of Mill Mountain Theatre. He was an early champion of my work, and has worked on more of my plays than any other director. He is the first person to whom I send early drafts of new work for comment. In fact, I sometimes send Jere a few pages at a time, or a fragment of a scene (which must be very annoying now I think about it) and he responds in ways both critical and encouraging that can make the difference between focusing intensely on one idea and scrapping another. It's great when he directs one of my plays, because we don't have to waste a lot of time talking about intention: he understand the intention implicitly because he was usually there at the very moment I created the scene. I trust his judgement completely. I'm sure every artist can think of that one person to whom they credit their initial faith in their own abilities. For me, it's Jere Hodgin.

I also have learned so much about my own aesthetic by working closely over many years with Randy Reinholz and Jean Bruce Scott. They are the artistic director and executive producer, respectively, of Native Voices Theatre Co-a company dedicated exclusively to the production and development of new plays by Native and First Nations playwrights. Their contribution to this field is without comparison. I have read scripts for them for years, and served as a consultant, dramaturg and occasionally as a director. Being exposed to a different kind of storytelling, an entirely different aesthetic, plays with such distinctive structures and conventions, has had a profound effect on my own writing. They also happen to be two of the most enthusiastic, talented and energetic people I know in the theatre, and just knowing them has been one of the great boons to my own life and career. Randy's own play Off The Rails opens at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this summer.

Tell us about your teaching and inspiration for & Juliet.

The idea for & Juliet came to me about five years ago, although I didn't know it at the time. I was preparing to teach a graduate seminar at the University of Idaho on the work of the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. I encountered for the first time one of his lesser known plays called The Public, which was only published posthumously. The play is wildly experimental, surreal, and while stylistically it's nothing like & Juliet, at the heart of Lorca's play is the story of a theatre director who stages such a daring and audacious version of Romeo & Juliet that the audience literally revolts. I wasn't sure how I wanted to adapt Lorca's idea, until about a year later when I started working on a new play about the petty jealousies and treacheries of academic life. Since I had been teaching in theater departments at that point for over a decade, I had decided to set the action in one. I was calling the play Drama (not a great title) which was a dialogue between an old professor and a young one, and had more to do with the histrionics taking place off-stage in the offices and hallways of the department than on-stage where it should belong. The play was about deception and professional rivalry. At some point these two ideas conjoined in my imagination, and I started afresh, with a new title and a third character.

We love to know a little about your experience working with NJ Rep.

This is the third world premiere of one of my plays at NJ Rep, so it's become a real theatrical home for me. The other two are Happy and Lucky Me, which gone on to publication, productions around the country, and translation into foreign languages. In addition to producing my plays, NJ Rep has also hosted important readings of some of my other plays-The Open Hand, Winter and this play. Writing plays is a solitary practice, but getting them out there into the world requires a group effort. Having spent so much time at the writing desk, alone with your thoughts and only the characters for company, I can't tell you how important it is to be able to pick up the phone and know there is a theatre company eagerly awaiting to read your next play. You'd be surprised to hear how so few theatres operate this way. SuzAnne and Gabor have been a real life-line to so many playwrights.

The producers of professional theatre around the country are, by and large, a timid breed. Their timidity stems from assuming their audiences do not want to assume the challenge and risk of a new, untested play. Gabor Barabas and Suzanne Barabas at NJ Rep have discovered the exact opposite to be true. Their audiences really celebrate the arrival of a new play to the stage, because they've recognized what a rich experience it can be to see something unfold before your eyes for the very first time, to be part of the very first group of people witness to the birth of a new American play. I really enjoy attending one of my plays at NJ Rep as much I enjoy the thrill of having it performed. The audiences here, having been treated to such a wide variety of styles and subject matter, give off a kind of anticipatory energy that's so useful for a playwright to experience first-hand. When I see one of my plays done here for the first time, I am carefully listening to the audience's moment-to-moment antiphonal response to a particular line, a moment, a scene, a particular character's response. The audiences here are generous, but discerning, adventurous and perceptive. I rely on their judgement in making final revisions to the play.


by Mary Ann Bourbeau

April 19, 2017

Broadway and TV veteran Dan Lauria stars in a special benefit performance of "Love Letters" at NJ Repertory Company April 22-24. –Courtesy NJ Rep

LONG BRANCH – Many people know Dan Lauria as the father in the Emmy Award-winning television show, "The Wonder Years." Others recognize him from TV's "Pitch" or "Sullivan & Son," or the more than 175 acting credits he has on both the big and small screen.

But what Lauria really wants to be known for is his support of regional theaters, and one of those is New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

He returns on April 22, 23 and 24 for three special benefit performances of A.R. Gurney's play, "Love Letters," along with Wendie Malick, who is best known for her starring roles on the television shows, "Dream On," "Just Shoot Me" and "Hot in Cleveland."

"I like NJ Rep because they only do new plays," Lauria said. "They don't do plays by old, dead, white guys. There are too many good, young writers out there who never get a chance."

Wendie Malick, Golden Globe and Emmy nominee, stars with Lauria as childhood friends with a lifelong correspondence in "Love Letters." –Courtesy NJ Rep

In the two-person show, Lauria stars as Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Malick is Melissa Gardner. They are childhood friends who were born to wealth and position. Their lifelong correspondence begins with birthday party thank-you notes and summer camp postcards, and runs the course of their lives. It's a touching yet funny theater piece that is bound to provoke more than a few tears. It has been performed across the country, each time with a different cast, most notably on Broadway with Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, and later with Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow.

"It's easy for a theater to do," Lauria said. "They always get two celebrities, and when you see it with two different people, it automatically changes. Bring your handkerchief. By the end of the play, you'll be crying your eyes out."

Lauria is no stranger to the stage. In addition to appearing at NJ Rep numerous times over the past 20 years, he has performed, written or directed more than 50 professional stage productions. In 2014, "Dinner with the Boys," which he wrote and starred in, had its world premiere at NJ Rep and later moved off-Broadway. His Broadway credits include "Lombardi," in which he starred as legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, and the Tony Award-nominated musical "A Christmas Story."

"When my manager told me they wanted me for a Broadway musical, I laughed," he said. "I can't sing a note. I don't even sound good in the shower."

But Lauria was perfect as the show's narrator.

"When you make a play out of a classic movie, you better make sure you top it," he said.

Lauria and Malick have been close friends for 20 years and have performed "Love Letters" together many times, raising money for regional theaters across the country.

"Wendie is one of the few actresses who has been in three successful TV series in three different decades," Lauria said. "But she's as strong a dramatic actress as any. You need the stage to flex those muscles. When you do one-line jokes, you can get stale."

Now as NJ Rep gears up for a major expansion, Lauria and Malick do what they can to help the theater continue to present new and creative pieces instead of rehashing productions that are safe, as many theaters tend to do.

"I can bring them new plays with stars," Lauria said. "That's how they keep making money. Every year, NJ Rep's audience grows. They're not spending time and effort trying to hold onto an old audience. They're trying to build a new audience."

The Brooklyn native, who now lives in California, said he and Malick are even paying their own airfare to New Jersey because they respect the work done at NJ Rep by executive producer Gabor Barabas and artistic director Suzanne Barabas.

"I love Gabe and SuzAnne," Lauria said. "They're the best."

Tickets for the benefit are $100 each, with a dessert and wine reception to follow. Lauria and Malick are also having dinner with the first 10 donors contributing $500 or more, which includes admission to one of the performances. All proceeds benefit New Jersey Repertory Company and are tax-deductible.

"Donald Trump has already announced cuts to the NEA," Lauria said. "It's important that we get out there and do fundraisers now while people can still write off their donations."

The world-class cultural experience New Jerseyans don't even know they have!

NEW JERSEY - 101.5 

This place deserves attention, and it's not getting enough. So I'm about to change it. It's a Jewel in our own backyard called the NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch.

New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch is an award-winning, nonprofit professional theater company, which develops new works for the American Stage. And this is no sloppy community theatre for bored housewives. An amazing selection of World premieres and broadway tryouts happen here and it's just around the corner!

Ken Jaworowski of The New York Times wrote an article about the theatre, "The NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch is a godsend to audiences and, especially, playwrights — a skillful, professional ensemble dedicated solely to performing new works. It is nearly impossible to overpraise the importance importance of its mission at a time when play-it-safe productions are the norm."

And that's just it: It's important. Especially in times like these where arts programs generally get the shaft or get pushed aside to fund less creative endeavors. So how do you not know about it?

And now for the even better news: This is a moment that a lot of people in Monmouth County have waited for (And New Jerseyans who don't know about it are about to be pleasantly surprised.) Their highly anticipated West End Arts Center is open at 132 West End Avenue in Long Branch.

The 1920s structure was the old west end school and is slated for a huge expansion into a major cultural arts center. It's up and running with a newly announced array of classes for adults in acting, playwriting, visual arts, jewelry making, and tapestry weaving.

NJ Rep has assembled an exciting roster of instructors for the 6 to 8 week sessions that start April 4th, with classes geared to beginners as well as more advanced students. This is a another great improvement to the cultural landscape in NJ and (full disclosure here-this is my town!) an amazing shot in the arm to the West End Area of Long Branch.

We don't have enough places to explore our creativity here in New Jersey and this one is going to be huge.

Call 732-229-3166 for further information or visit (Early registration is encouraged for all classes are designed with limited enrollment.) Classes: Improvisation, Actors Gymnasium, Acting Basics, Playwriting for Beginners, Advanced Playwriting, The Pleasure of Drawing: Learning to See and Draw as an Artist, Water Media & Collage, Metal Clay Jewelry Workshop, and Tapestry Weaving.

I'm looking forward to hearing more about what's going on at the "New" NJ Rep and will keep you posted!

NJ Rep just premiered a terrific new play -- see it while you can

Maria Couch and Dustin Charles star in James Hindmann's "Multiple Family Dwelling," now playing at NJ Rep in Long Branch (Photo by SuzAnne Barabas)

By Patrick Maley | For NJ Advance Media

Take two couples, each beset by a large dose of anxiety and tension, add copious alcohol, and watch as destruction looms.

Edward Albee concocted the recipe for this theatrical cocktail with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," but James Hindman's world-premiere play, "Multiple Family Dwelling," now playing at New Jersey Repertory Company, does the form good service. This is a smart, compelling play that should have a long life after this production.

Kelly (Maria Couch) and husband James (Dustin Charles) own a house with an attached apartment that they plan to rent to Kelly's longtime best friend, Tia (Dana Brooke), and her new finance, Stuart (Jared Michael Delaney). Kelly and James need the money, while Tia and Stuart need a place to live: win-win! The play opens on a drunken evening (the late-night adult afterparty following Kelly and James's eight-year-old daughter's birthday) that turns abruptly from revelry and comradery to tenuous strife as revelations from the past leech out into the open.

The rest of the play takes its cue from this party gone awry, as each character learns more surprising details about the others --and perhaps about themselves.

The production finds its strength in the development of these characters by Hindman and the cast. Rather than just repositories of jealousy or anxiety, each of the four figures reveals unique depth. Under the steady hand of director Alan Souza, each performer locates the fears driving his or her character.

Delaney is a particular standout, not only because of his strong performance, but also for the range he shows from his last appearance at NJ Rep. In "Mad Love" he was funny as a joke-cracking, dirty-sweats-wearing, beer-and-nacho kind of guy with surprising complexity. Here that complexity comes along with real danger. Stuart is the new guy in the group, so nobody truly understands him or his capabilities. Delaney makes it clear that Stuart's demons are neither to be silenced nor underestimated.

Delaney's fellow cast members also excel: Brooke's Tia has a long history of being a mess, and clearly frets over the fact that she just can't seem to stop digging herself deeper. Kelly seems to hold herself together longest, but Couch makes clear that her composure may not be as solid as appears.

In James, a character who seems to have life figured out pretty well, Charles finds room to explore a wealth of conflicts. Throughout, director Souza's guidance seems important and insightful, as he and each cast member must find the correct pace of each character's developing struggle.

All this plays out on Jessica Parks's set that makes creative and effective use of NJ Rep's small space, while also striking just the right level of comfort: the house is nice, but these people are struggling to make ends meet, so it's not too nice.

In a taught and tense 100 minutes, the play is impressive in its ability to craft compelling characters in pitiable situations. This crew might not be as fractured and haunted as Albee's George and Martha, but "Multiple Family Dwelling" does fine work in following its great predecessors lead into the depths of fraught psyches.

BWW Review: MULTIPLE FAMILY DWELLING at NJ Rep is Intriguing Drama

"People see what they want to see."
-Multiple Family Dwelling

The World Premiere of Multiple Family Dwelling is now onstage at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) through April 9th. This intriguing, affecting play is written by James Hindman with superb direction by Alan Souza, and features a stellar cast. It is an up-close and personal depiction of two couples and the twists and turns of their relationships. Bravo to NJ Rep's Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas and Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas for bringing another excellent show to the stage. The theater is celebrating its 20th Anniversary season and Multiple Family Dwelling is their 112th production.

Multiple Family Dwelling is set in the present in Mt. Clement, Michigan where James, a schoolteacher and his wife Kelly, a stay at home mom, reside in a two-family home in a difficult neighborhood with their 8 year-old daughter, Olivia. They plan to rent their upstairs unit to Kelly's longtime friend, Tia and her fiancé, Stuart, but the couple unexpectedly pulls out of the deal. This seemingly friendly group is dealing with real issues. Tia's flirtatious behavior provokes Stuart's jealousy and anger. Kelly is unhappy living in a dangerous area and wants better schooling for her daughter while James defends their purchase of the multi-family house as a long-term investment. Tensions rise and the situation becomes complex as secrets from the past emerge and betrayal takes center stage. The show has elements of surprise that will keep you wondering what will happen next.

NJ Rep has assembled the ideal cast for Multiple Family Dwelling. They master the play's fast-paced, well-crafted dialogue and deliver completely authentic portrayals of their characters. The company includes Dana Brooke as Tia, Jared Michael Delaney as Stuart, Maria Couch as Kelly, and Dustin Charles as James.

The Creative Team has done a fantastic job of bringing Multiple Family Dwelling to life on the Long Branch Stage. The Team includes scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; sound design by Merek Royce Press and properties by Marisa Procopio. Kristin Pfeifer is the Production Stage Manager; Adam von Pier is the Assistant Stage Manager and the Webmaster is Merek Royce Press.

See Multiple Family Dwelling while it is being performed at NJ Rep and experience this outstanding drama. This is a show that will go far.

REVIEW: Multiple Family Dwelling: It's a Bed Of Lies

NJ Stage, by Gary Wien

(LONG BRANCH, NJ) — Multiple Family Dwelling by James Hindman takes place in the present day in Mt. Clemens, Michigan - a rather downtrodden neighborhood where Kelly and James own a house they live in and rent upstairs. They have just gotten rid of their current tenant and plan on having their friend Tia move in with her fiance Stuart. It's the latest World Premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company and one that examines which is worse: telling a lie or living with one.

Directed by Alan Souza, the play stars Maria Couch (as Kelly), Dustin Charles (James), Dana Brooke (Tia), and Jared Michael Delaney (Stuart).

The play begins long after a birthday party for Kelly and James' daughter has ended, and the two couples remain drinking and playing games. Tia and Stuart are excited to be moving in upstairs and Kelly is happy her best friend will be living in the same house. The couples begin removing the Disney party favors and cleaning up while the booze flows.

"There is nothing more fun than getting drunk at an 8 year-old's birthday party!" exclaims Tia who rapidly runs through her hopes of getting pregnant and having a daughter just like Kelly's.

It's a roller coaster opening as the inebriated adults talk about their hopes and dreams and dig into their fears. The conversations range from light-hearted to disturbingly serious. At one point James reveals the nightmares he has of seeing his daughter on top of a very large building - something like the Empire State Building - and watching her fall, unable to catch her.

Things take a strange turn when Tia and Kelly start reminiscing about a boy everyone liked in high school. The name sounds familiar to Stuart and he is certain it's the name of someone who called the other day. As his jealousy moves to the forefront, we learn that his first wife cheated on him and that he has severe anger management issues. James comes to Tia's rescue by saying that he was the one who called. He merely disguised his voice and gave a false name because he was getting a golf club for Tia to give Stuart as a wedding gift. She explained that they were soon going to get many wedding presents mostly for the wife, so she wanted to make sure he had something nice too.

Stuart doesn't buy the story at all. When he and Tia abruptly leave, James and Kelly are in shock. Part of them wonders if they still have new tenants moving in; part of them hopes they don't.

The ride home is about as tense and scary as one could imagine. Tia tries to talk to Stuart, but he remains stone-faced and doesn't say a word.

"Couples are going to fight Stuart," she says. "If you don't fight, you end up on Dr. Phil."

Stuart brings the car to a sudden stop on the side of the road and begins forcing himself on her.

In my opinion, this would have been a great place to end Act One, but as with many plays these days, Multiple Family Dwelling is one long act (90 minutes) without intermission. It's a shame because a pause at this point would have peaked the audience's curiosity over what was going to happen to the two couples. Instead, we quickly move to the next day when Tia tells Kelly that they won't be moving in after all. They're moving into an apartment over Stuart's parents' garage. And before we know it, we're at that apartment for a barbecue where all hell breaks loose aided once again by large amounts of alcohol.

The play is like a modern day version of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. It's a difficult play to love because none of the characters are worth rooting for and the subject matter is very disturbing. It's also a difficult play to pan because the playwright does a good job of diving into the choices we make, the actions we think are best kept secret, and the lies people tell. The actual plot could seem like a soap opera, but the play never feels like one. While some scenes have dialogue that feels a bit forced, others sounds spot on. As with most World Premieres, there are places that can be touched up to make the play better. The potential is there.

Leaving the theatre, I wondered what was it that made Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf such a classic. None of the characters in that play are innocent. In both plays, you're simply a fly on the wall, watching four people tear their worlds apart. Maybe Virginia Woolf shocked people because television at that time did not have daytime shows like Jerry Springer and Dr. Phil where we see deep, dark secrets exposed, destroying couples every week. If you're a fan of that drama, this play will definitely entertain you. If not, it will pose some serious questions and it might make you feel a little better about your relationship. It's not a feel good kind of play, but it's a "at least my life isn't as screwed up as their lives" kind. Many people believe theatre is supposed to be dangerous, raise disturbing questions, and make the audience a bit uncomfortable. This play certainly does that.



"When the lights go up on MULTIPLE FAMILY DWELLING, James Hindman's new play at New Jersey Rep, the audience is plunged full-swing into party mode. Don't let the "Little Mermaid" party favors fool you. The eight-year old celebrant has long toddled off(stage) to bed leaving the grown-ups to enjoy each other's company – along with a liberal supply of adult beverages. It's all great fun – until someone's gaze strays in the wrong direction and what was once festive turns fierce - and fast. From then on, we're witness to a four person game of truth or dare, where truth seems in short supply.

The audience fights the urge to reach for their car keys due to director Alan Souza's brilliant cast; an attractive, witty, foursome of thirty-somethings. Even on opening night this tight ensemble was firing on all cylinders. Dustin Charles (James) and Maria Couch (Kelly) are the married MFD's landlords and Jared Michael Delaney (Stuart) and Dana Brooke (Tia) are their engaged besties and possible tenants. Charles and Couch do a terrific job of embodying a settled couple with a hint of discontent beneath the surface. Delaney and Brooke have genuine chemistry, the sort that impulsively puts physical attraction ahead of common sense. Brooke has the play's toughest agenda: balancing her character's tipsy party girl presence while sensitively alluding to (and avoiding) her troubled past. Fascinatingly, Brooke makes it all work.

MULTIPLE FAMILY DWELLING really covers no new ground in the age-old mating game, but Hindman and Souza do it in a consistently engaging way. Let's face it, if people were honest with each other from the start, there'd be no play, so we need to explore the highways and by-ways of cat-and-mouse deception in a way that sheds some light on human nature. Hindman does so in a direct, realistic way that also proves thought-provoking.

In his narrative of twisted home truths, the playwright has incorporated a subplot about gentrification; how troubled neighborhoods are reborn to profit the rich and drive out the poor. Like the persistent pet smell from the apartment upstairs or the closeted gay neighbor next door, it is a minor distraction in the 90-minute character study's narrative flow.

As a teen, I wore out my cast album of the Broadway musical ON THE 20th CENTURY. One song lyric goes "All those windows! All those people! All those lives!" For some inexplicable reason I initially heard the word "lies" instead of "lives." Long after I learned that my ears had deceived me, I still had trouble accepting the true lyric. That pretty much sums up a visit to this MULTIPLE FAMILY DWELLING: windows – people - lies. And once you hear a lie, it's often difficult to trust the truth.

Michael T. Mooney

The LINK News

Theater Review: Multiple Family Dwelling a multi-leveled joy

By Madeline Schulman


Multiple Family Dwelling, the new play by James Hindman now playing at NJ Rep, is a compelling play that teaches us multiple life lessons. First, celebrating an 8 year old's birthday party by getting drunk is inappropriate.

Maria Couch and Dustin Charles in a scene from the world premiere of James Hindman's "Multiple Family Dwelling" playing March 9 thru April 9 at NJ Rep, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. For information call 732-229-3166 or visit (SuzAnne Barabas photo )

Kelly (Maria Couch), her husband James (Dustin Charles), her childhood friend Tia (Dana Brooke) and Tia's fiance Stuart (James Michael Delaney) are all very merry three hours after the end of Kelly and James's daughter Olivia's party. Everyone is happy because Tia and Stuart have rented the upstairs apartment of the house into which Kelly and James have poured their entire savings.

Tia and Stuart will live above friends and Kelly and James will get money to take Olivia out of the sub par local public school and enroll her in Catholic school. The happiness does not last long.

Too much merriment loosens Tia's tongue and inhibitions. She terrifies James with a recitation of all the horrors that can befall a child, causing him to relive nightmares of being unable to save Olivia from a fall.

After Tia taunts Kelly for her "chicken legs," Kelly brings up Tia's teenage romance with a boy named David Shaw, leading to unexpected drama. Jealous, hot-tempered Stuart recently took a phone call for Tia from a "David Shaw". Is it the same person, trying to get back into Tia's life, and worse, into her bed?

James tries to help with the world's most awkward lie, claiming that he was "David Shaw," disguising his voice and giving a phony name to conceal Tia's surprise gift of a golf club. This solves nothing, and teaches a second life lesson. Smelly messes are hard to cover up.

Later, Tia complains, after Kelly tries to clean up the previous tenant's pet odors with a pine scented cleaner, that now the apartment smells as though a dog urinated in a forest and was then hit by a tree. James's lie helps in the same degree.

Unsurprisingly, the night ends badly, and the next few days are no better. Lesson three is that once we start pulling up (metaphorical) floorboards, we might not like what we find. Quarrels in the present lead to secrets from the past, which threaten both the friendship between the two couples and the bonds within the couples.

The acting is uniformly excellent, but to me Dana Brooke has the most chance to make an impression as sad, sexy Tia, unreliable narrator of her own story. Tia reminds me of Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," always turning to men, with a hint of desperation, for love and validation. And James Michael Delaney makes opening a bag of pretzels seem like a declaration of war.

The set by Jessica Parks holds one nifty surprise. The play's revelations also hold surprises, some easier to foretell than others, and you will be waiting with anticipation for the next layer of lies to peel away to the truth below.

BWW Interview: Playwright James Hindman of MULTIPLE FAMILY DWELLING at NJ Rep

The World Premiere of Multiple Family Dwelling will be produced by New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) from March 9th to April 9th. Written by James Hindman, and directed by Alan Souza, it stars Dana Brooke, Dustin Charles, Maria Couch and Jared Michael Delaney.

In Multiple Family Dwelling, secrets from long ago that are best left buried are revealed when Kelly's friend from childhood rent the upstairs apartment that is owned by she and her husband. The two couples find themselves entangled in multiple deceits and betrayals, past and present and no one is truly innocent. had the pleasure of interviewing playwright James Hindman about his career and Multiple Family Dwelling at NJ Rep.

Hindman's writing credits include POPCORN FALLS (Theatre Nova) Off Broadway; PETE 'N' KEELY (Outer Critics Award nomination, two Drama Desk nominations, Pub. Samuel French); A CHRISTMAS SURVIVAL GUIDE (Pub. Samuel French); THE AUDIENCE (Transport Group, Drama Desk nomination); BEING AUDREY (Transport Group, NEA Grant recipient) and THE GORGES MOTEL (NYFringe Festival 2016, Pub. Dramatist Play Service), THE Drama Department (Terrence McNally Award finalist, Pub. DPC), THE BIKINIS! (Goodspeed Musicals, Meadowbrook Theatre), HEAVEN HELP US (Denver Center, Carbonell Award nomination). He is a member of the Dramatist Guild of America. As an actor his credits include B'way and tours: MARY POPPINS, The Scarlet Pimpernel, 1776, City of Angels, A Grand Night for Singing, Once Upon a Mattress, Falsettos, Dancing at Lughnasa. In television and film Hindman has had recurring roles on "Public Morals", "Madam Secretary", "Forever", "Believe", "Person of Interest", "Hostages", "House Of Cards", "Unforgettable", "Henry's Crime", "The Sopranos", "Law and Order, SVU, CI", "Rescue Me", "The Blacklist" and the upcoming "Iron Fist". interviewed James Hindman about his fascinating career and Multiple Family Dwelling at NJ Rep.

When did you first realize your penchant for writing and acting?

I actually got into theatre by accident. I was fifteen. I missed the bus home from high school and a friend said she would give me a ride if I would help her paint the set for a play. While I was covering a plywood gravestone with gray paint, the drama teacher asked if I wanted to be a toy soldier in The Nutcracker. That's all it took. The next summer I was Don Quixote in the community theatre production of Man Of La Mancha and I haven't stopped working since! As I writer, the first show I wrote was called PETE 'N' KEELY. I wrote it as a showcase for myself and my friend, Ann Brown. Ann and I never ended up doing the show, but a couple years later it moved Off Broadway with costumes by Bob Mackie and got some great reviews. Now PETE 'N' KEELY gets done around the country and will soon be opening in London!

Do you have a favorite playwright/author that has inspired you?

This is so funny, I was just wondering that myself...who inspires me. The answer I came up with...I am inspired every time I see a good play! There is nothing better than sitting back and watching a good story. So, I guess the answer is...I am inspired by everyone!

What advice do you have for young people who are interested in the theatre arts?

Do well in school!!! So many students say, 'I don't care about history...or chemistry... I want to be an actor!' I'm here to tell you, you use ALL that knowledge when you enter the theatre! You need to know a little bit about everything so study hard! I've never met a successful actor who is not smart! Another huge lesson... be yourself. That's a hard one when we are so programed to fit in. But that is what is going to make you interesting on stage - the more you can be your own person.

How does being both an actor and a playwright compliment your work?

When I act, I try to think 'What was the writer going for? What is the tempo they wanted? How does this character fit in the larger picture?' If I can figure that out, it helps with the choices I make as an actor. When I write, I'm just letting the characters act in my head. They improv in my imagination and I write down what they say. Being an actor helps me write because I've learned what will make people laugh or how long a character needs to be off stage in order to change their costume. All sorts of stuff.

What was your inspiration for Multiple Family Dwelling?

The play takes place in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, a town I grew up in that is very much like Asbury Park, NJ. I have a house in Bradley Beach and have watched Asbury Park transform over the last fifteen years the same way Mt. Clemens did a few years earlier. I am fascinated by the gentrification of an area and how that affects the people who live there. Good and bad. That is the backdrop for the play. For the plot itself, the play is about the lies we tell ourselves and each other in order to move forward in life. Do we ever really tell the whole truth? Do we always really want to know the entire truth? We can only take in as much truth as we think we can handle.

Tell us a little about working with NJ Rep.

Working with NJ Rep has been an amazing experience. What SuzAnne and Gabe do is nothing short of astonishing. There are so few theatres interested in doing new plays....and that's all NJ Rep does! I don't think there is another theatre like them in the country. And because they've worked on so many plays, they really have a great instinct about what works. Their input has been tremendously helpful. Alan Souza, the director has worked there a lot and he has been a godsend!

Anything else, absolutely anything you want BWW readers to know.

The first show I had produced in the Long Branch area was called THE BIKINIS and was produced in Asbury Park at the old carousel building on the beach. That show has gone on to have many productions around the country and we hope to bring it back this summer!

I also have two other shows in the works. I'm excited to say LOVELAND SKI LODGE will have a reading at New Jersey Rep on Monday, March 13th. I'm really excited about this one because we've never heard it before and I think the audience will really enjoy the comedy. The other play, POPCORN FALLS, I wrote with my friend Christian Borle, just had a production in Ann Arbor, Michigan and will have a reading in New York this June.

For more information on James Hindman and Miracle or 2 Theatrical Licensing visit


Upper WET Side - March 10, 2017 
Left to right: Dustin Charles, Maria Couch, Dana Brooke and Jared Michael Delaney share space in "Multiple Family Dwelling," the James Hindman play that premieres this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photos by SUZANNE BARABAS

It's a play that's ostensibly set in its author's hometown of Mount Clemens, Michigan — but as James Hindman tells it, "Multiple Family Dwelling" was directly inspired by frontier tales of gentrification here on the Jersey Shore, specifically his own experiences house hunting in and around Asbury Park around the turn of the century.

"I was standing out front of an old house in Asbury, and just as the real estate agent was putting her key in the front door, a team of police in full militarized riot gear pulled up to the house next door, and surrounded the place with assault rifles," the playwright recalls. "Without missing a beat, the realtor says, 'See? The neighborhood's cleaning up nicely!'"

While he eventually settled upon Bradley Beach as his down-the-shore base of operations, Hindman would make Asbury Park's landmark Carousel House the 2010 premiere venue for "The Bikinis," a jukebox-musical study of a (not always harmoniously) reunited 1960s girl group that's gone on to more than 50 productions around the country. For his return to the Shore area stage, the writer and actor whose credits range from Broadway's "Mary Poppins," to a recurring role on Marvel Studios' forthcoming Netflix series "Iron Fist" expanded a ten-minute playlet into the full length "Dwelling," which opens this weekend as the latest in a long line of world premieres at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

The comedy-laced drama details the events that unfold when young parents and first-time homeowners Kelly and James invite Kelly's old friend and her fiancee Stuart to rent the second floor of the somewhat old house they've purchased as a hopeful investment in what could only be characterized as "a neighborhood that's not changing as fast as the characters would like." What seems like a good idea at first begins to unravel during the child's party, when "a little white lie finds its way out, and opens up the floodgates of all sorts of long-buried secrets from their past history."

If anything, Hindman points out that "Multiple Family Dwelling" is situated in the landscape of lies — both the little fibs that get us comfortably through the day, and the colossal constructs that make life itself a bearable thing. With the very nature of truth, trust and facts an uncommonly newsworthy topic of discussion these days, the playwright found in his short work — one that originally ended on an unsettlingly vague note — the makings of a meditation on "the kind of lies we live with."

"When does 'harmless' end, and 'hurtful' begin?" muses Hindman. "Does the truth kill us, or help us? At some point all of us have to figure out where the truth resides…or else your head will blow up!"

Bringing the script to life are a pair of NJ Repertory returnees, Maria Couch (the Dorothy Parker musicalization "The Little Hours") and Jared Michael Delaney (the recent "Mad Love"). They're joined in the cast by Dana Brooks and Dustin Charles (both of whom have worked with Hindman on past projects) under the direction of another Rep veteran, Alan Souza, for the project that first came to the Long Branch playhouse as a staged reading in 2014.

"Working with these people is just phenomenal," says Hindman of his experience with the Repertory team. "Their input, the care they take with the plays they produce, is invaluable…I mean, how special is this place?"

BWW Review: THE JAG at NJ Rep through 2/12-A Must-See Production

"The Jaguar has a logic all its own."
by Carla from The Jag

NJ Rep is currently presenting the World Premiere of The Jag written by Gino Dilorio and directed by Brendan Burke. The show has a captivating plot with excellent acting and the superb staging. This must-see production will be on the Long Branch stage through February 12th.

In The Jag "Chick" Chicarella is a cantankerous seventy year-old man who owns a body shop where he keeps his prized 1967 Jaguar Mark 10, a car that requires a lot of repair. Chick's son, "Bone" is in need of cash to pay off his debts and wants to fix up the automobile to sell it for $20,000.00. Enter Carla, an expert in Jaguars, but a young woman who lacks conventional social skills. A complex family history and deep resentments surface as the two men can't agree on anything. And it is Carla who is caught in the crosshairs of their conflicts while she makes it her mission to restore the Jaguar. This drama has just the right touches of humor and heart and takes some unexpected twists and turns as the story unfolds.

The finely crafted dialogue in The Jag is delivered with impeccable timing by the show's talented cast. Dan Grimaldi as Leo "Chick" Chicarella captures the role of the irritable, elderly mechanic who also must deal with his failing eyesight, personal prejudices and frustration with his son. Christopher Daftsios is ideal as the discontented, restless young man Donald "Bone" Chicarella who can't seem to get his life in order. Estelle Bajou brings the role of Carla Carr to life, a quirky young woman with sincere charm.

Bravo to the Creative and Production Team. The NJ Rep stage has been transformed into an authentic body shop complete with the Jaguar Mark 10 taking center stage. The team includes scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty and sound design by Merek Royce Press. Rose Riccardi is the Stage Manager; Adam von Pier is the Assistant Stage Manager; Brian P. Snyder is the Technical Director; Merek Royce Press is the Webmaster and Marisa Procopio handles Properties. Gabor Barabas is NJ Rep's Executive Producer and Suzanne Barabas is the Company's Artistic Director.

The Jag is everything a play should be. It has a rich plot that entertains, yet informs. It is a show that will be appreciated by automotive enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys great theater. Gather your group and see it while it is on the NJ Rep Stage.

'The Jag' Gives Audiences a Good Ride

  Let's Go To The Theater

A car can play a very important role in a family's life. It can be the vehicle that takes them places such as their daily work and errands or it can represent their opportunities to go to new places such as a family vacation. In a new play titled The Jag, a white 1967 Jaguar sedan is such a vehicle. However, what is represents to the Chicarella family is much more than transportation. This play that premiered at the New Jersey Repertory Company last weekend tells the story of the family's hidden past and present struggles with each other. It uses a car as its focus to unravel the secrets held for years. The Jag has a well written script filled with great dialog, acting by a fine cast, and a real life, full-sized Jaguar on the stage to add lots of atmosphere to an old garage in which it is parked.

The Jag was written by Gino Dilario. Mr. Dilario is an award-winning playwright whose body of work includes several plays that were premiered at the NJ Rep including Release Point, Apostasy, Winterizing the Summer House and Dead Ringer. His plays have also been seen at numerous locations throughout the U.S. In March, 2017, his new play, Sam and Dede, will have its New York premiere at the 59 East 59 Theatre. Mr. Dilario's play The Jag skillfully develops its story through a step-by- step revelation of who the story's characters truly are. The dialog between the three characters is crisp and quick flowing as it brings out who these people really are. From my viewpoint, the character I liked in the beginning of the story was not the one I ended up caring up about at the end and the one I didn't like in the beginning became the winner in the end. That's how carefully the development is in this script. For those who like to watch personality evolution on stage, this play is for you.

The Jag is directed by Brendan Burke and stars Dan Grimaldi, known to many as the identical twin mobsters Patsy and Philly Parisi of The Sopranos, Christopher Daftsios and Estelle Bajou. The script is in fine hands with this cast acting jout the roles of Leo "Chick" Chicarella (Grimaldi), Donald "Bone" Chicarella ( Daftsios), and Carla Carr (Bajou).

Grimaldi plays Chick hard-nosed to open the play as he talks with his son, Donald, about the family car in need of repairs. The Jaguar has been sitting around Chick's garage needing refurbishing for years. The garage was the business Chick ran but can no longer do because he is nearly blind. But we learn later in the play that the car belonged to Chick's other son who is dead. Daftsios plays his part as Donald very firmly in the beginning trying to aid his father to try to get the car into good enough shape to sell. Chick can't seem to let go of the car and Donald desperately wants to see it leave the garage. A third character, Carla, enters as someone who gets hired by Donald to complete the repairs needed so he can make good on a fine offer he has from someone who wants to buy the car. Carla's character is the tipping point of the play. Bajou play Carla in a most delightful way as someone who is a bit naïve about life, but who knows everything there is to know about Jaguars. Her repair and refurbish skills are legendary and she comes through for the Chicarella family's Jaguar. All is going well until the car's refurbishing is nearly complete. And then, stories unravel, and all three characters need to decide how involved they can stay in this project. The end is a bit of a surprise, one that theater goers will have to decide whether they like or not because it represents a strong dose of reality that could likely occur with the dysfunctions of such a family.

The other "star" of this show is the Jaguar itself that is fully intact at all times on the stage. It is a beautiful car to see and in many ways, it just doesn't seem to fit in the setting it is in. Maybe that's a clue to those coming to see this play. The ill fit of the car will give you clues as to what the outcome is. The Jag is well worth coming to see.

REVIEW: The Jag at NJ Rep

NJ Stage, by Gary Wien

(LONG BRANCH, NJ) — Have you ever seen a car take a curtain call? You will if you see The Jag at New Jersey Repertory Company, and the curtain call is definitely earned. While the cast of three actors does a superb job telling the story, it is the car (a 1967 Jaguar) that plays the role of the character who is not seen that ties the story together.

The Jag is the latest play by Gino DiIorio to make its debut at NJ Rep. It involves an aging mechanic named "Chick" Chicarella who is nearly blind from macular degeneration, his son Donald (known as "Bone"), and a female mechanic named Carla.

Chick was an excellent mechanic in his day. Bone never had the skills, the patience, or the artistry of his father or his brother Dave - known as "Head" (put together the kids are called Bone Head). The play opens with the two of them inside the car and his father criticizing his son's work at restoring the Jag. He knows his son takes short cuts, which he doesn't believe in. Exiting the car, Chick grabs a beer and some brandy — something he does quite often. Bone tells him he's an alcoholic.

"I'm not an alcoholic, I'm a drunk," replies Chick. "Alcoholics go to meetings."

When Bone first told him he was moving in to help fix up the Jag, his father knew something was wrong. Bone has been something of a screw-up his whole life, often facing huge gambling debts. He tells Chick he has found a buyer for the Jag (a guy named Jake The Snake) and his father instantly knows that Bone must be in deep once again.

Chick isn't interested in selling the car until he hears that Jake is willing to pay twenty grand for the car if they get it to mint condition and the car can run. He tells his son that he needs to hire someone to fix up the car because he cannot do it anymore.

Enter Carla. She is a top notch Jaguar mechanic who comes highly recommended, but is a cross between a kid with ADD kid and someone bi-polar who has Tourettes's. She's also a lesbian - something that is a bit foreign to Chick's world.

"I didn't save this car for years so some fruit cake could come in and mess it up… Hey Sybil," says Chick.

He gives her a test to see how much she knows about Jaguar cars. She not only passes the test, but impresses Chick. As he watches her work, he soon realizes she knows much more than Bone and reminds him of his other son.

"Geez, you're good," says Chick. "Almost better than me and I am the best… was the best."

Dan Grimaldi is excellent as Chick. He's like Archie Bunker as a blind mechanic and utterly comfortable in his own skin. He says whatever he feels and has no filter at all. There is nice chemistry between Dan and Estelle Bajou who is hilarious as Carla. At times, Estelle reminded me of a young Goldie Hawn circa the Laugh-In era. Chick uses a myriad of expressions, which Carla doesn't understand, but the two quickly establish a friendship out of their mutual respect and love for cars. They joke about her being a lesbian and he teaches her how to dance the jitterbug, but she never gets the hang of how to make coffee.

Christopher Dafstios is very strong in a challenging role. He is off stage for a lot of the play, but has several intense and emotional scenes. Christopher has to play the bad guy and the person riding an emotional roller coaster, and he pulls it off extremely well. Through his character, we learn that the Jag was originally intended to be a birthday present for his brother — the son who was the father's favorite, but who died young. He has lived his life basically in his brother's shadow and has to relive those feelings while watching Chick and Carla work together like his brother and father once did.

"That girl's a few fries short of a happy meal, but she knows her cars," says Chick.

As the car is restored more and more, Chick has less and less interest in selling it. He never truly wanted to sell it in the first place, but the offer of twenty grand sounded good. Meanwhile, Bone sets a deadline for the project. He wants the car sold and needs his share of the money. Bone refuses to tell his father why he is in such a rush, but Chick knows it has to be a gambling debt.

"You're so full of shit, your eyes are brown," he tells his son.

Over the years, the car became more than just a member of the family — it was a stand-in for a member of the family. One of the most difficult aspects of staging this play is the necessity of having the car on stage. It is an enormous challenge getting the vehicle through the doors of most theatres, but the play absolutely needs the car. I'm not saying it steals the show, but it definitely earns its curtain call.

The Jag is highly recommended. It is a touching story with plenty of laughs and truly wonderful acting and Brendan Burke's direction keeps everything moving at a great pace. Performed without an intermission, the entire play takes place in a beautifully designed set by Jessica Parks, who has turned NJ Rep's stage into an actual garage complete with everything from tools to hockey sticks and ice melt.

The Jag is running at New Jersey Repertory Company (179 Broadway) in Long Branch now through February 12.



Scene on Stage, by Mary Ann Bourbeau

January 5, 2017

Dan Grimaldi plays "Chick" Chicarella, owner of a beloved Jaguar, in "Jag" at NJ Repertory Company.

LONG BRANCH – When Gino DiIorio was growing up, his father, who worked as an auto body repairman, had a 1966 Jaguar sedan in the garage that he was forever working on.

"We used to joke about that thing, like it was a member of our family," DiIorio said. "It was in the garage for 35 years. Whenever my father had a heart attack, he would say, 'I can't die. I've got to finish the Jaguar.'"

DiIorio, a professor of theater at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., has had several of his original works produced at NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch, including "Release Point," "Apostasy" and "Dead Ringer."

His latest, "The Jag," runs from Jan. 12 to Feb. 12. The story is about – you guessed it – a family with an old Jaguar in the garage that is in desperate need of repair.

"The play is about how an object can become a member of the family," DiIorio said. "Sometimes we have to let it go, like a family member."

DiIorio received an arts grant that allowed him to purchase an old Jaguar, which had to be dismantled in order to get it into the theater, then reassembled on the stage.

"I always knew when I did this show that I would put a car in the theater, but I didn't believe it until I saw it," he said. "I could have done the play without it, but not as well."

In the show, the Jaguar is the prized possession of 70-year-old "Chick" Chicarella. When his son, "Bone," suggests that they finish the car and sell it off, old family wounds and failures rise to the surface. Unable to complete the task by themselves, they hire Carla, who is an expert in Jaguars, but woefully lacking in social skills. Together, the three learn some hard lessons about repairing cars and smoothing out life's jagged edges.

All three main actors are seasoned performers. Chick is played by Dan Grimaldi, who portrayed identical twin mobsters Patsy and Philly Parisi on HBO's "The Sopranos." His son Bone is Christopher Daftsios, who has an impressive body of work in regional theater, including NJ Rep. Estelle Bajou plays the role of Carla, a Jag expert with Asperger's syndrome. Bajou appeared in the musical "Once" on Broadway.

"There's a really good chemistry between the three actors," said DiIorio.

As the curmudgeonly father, Grimaldi's relationship with his stage son is often challenged. When Carla comes to help with the car, they are forced to understand someone else's point of view, someone who sees life in a different way that they do.

"It's a family drama but it's unique," said DiIorio. "The family is a little dysfunctional and eccentric. It's very funny. It has a lot of laughs. And who knows, you might even see your own family up there."

No matter what childhood memories might emerge from this play, DiIorio admits he does not own or have any intention of ever owning a Jaguar.

"When my father finally sold his after 35 years, it still needed work," he said. "They're very touchy cars. Some don't run when it rains. The joke about Jaguars is that you need one to run and one to keep in the repair shop. I would love one but I don't dare. I need a car to be reliable. I have model Jags instead."

Front Row Center
Posted By Raphael Badagliacca on Feb 6, 2017


Some objects have lives of their own. Some have the power to take hold of our lives. For Americans, no object has taken greater hold than the automobile, especially cars distinct enough to have the personality of the Jaguar.

So begins our story on a set magically transformed into a garage. In this garage, stands before us a full size, real Jaguar, stubbornly immobile, while the actors move in and out and all around it, preparing it for a sale that will take it out of their lives which may or may not happen. In the process, a family history unfolds, revealing secrets.

"Chick" Chicarella (Dan Grimaldi) had two sons, but now he only has one. To our ears, he doesn't think much of "Bone" (Christopher Daftsios) — the son he still has. Nor does he think much at first of the mechanic his son has hired, "an expert in Jaguars," to help with the task of readying the car; for starters, Carla (Estelle Bajou) is, well, a girl.

Carla is a special girl. Her body language clearly sets her apart as socially awkward, mildly Asperger-like with the extreme attention to detail in a narrow focus that syndrome brings. Her focus is the Jaguar. She admits she doesn't even know anything about any other type of car. But she knows everything about the Jaguar. Bajou keeps her character completely consistent throughout. She also makes her appealing. In Bajou's hands, despite the character's lack of social skills, she becomes the center and the heart of the play.

We feel that Chick, in his seventies, senses Carla's attractiveness. He has no choice but to sense it. He's blind. This is the second time Dan Grimaldi has played a blind man on the NJ Repertory stage, although in "Lucky Me" we were never sure if his character was actually blind or faking blindness, which makes his blindness performance even more impressive. After "The Jag" he shared this with me: "Yeah, I'm the resident blind guy."

Grimaldi's performance is passionate and completely believable in every way. The best compliment you can give any actor is that in what you just experienced you forgot you were watching acting. This observation extends to the entire cast and to Gino DiLorio's script which makes the conflict feel so real.

This is the third time I have seen Daftsios on the NJ Rep stage. First in the inimitable "Swimming at the Ritz" as Pamela Harriman's Italian valet and confidant, and then as the husband in "Substance of Bliss." In the latter and in "The Jag" he excels at giving us a character who is the harbinger of an uncomfortable truth, guiding everything he does and says.

Chick is blind to this truth. He develops affection for Carla as she does for him. She has the qualities he values in the idealized vision of his favorite son – expertise and hard work – and he inches her out of her shell. Truth may be elusive, but it is sensed, yet to have real impact it has to be spoken aloud, a task which falls to the other brother, second in every way, except this one.

The Jag itself, is of course, the main character. It takes on the shape of whatever car occupies that place in your mind. Give this show a spin. It's a great ride.

The LINK News

Theater Review: Incredible actors, equally incredible set make The Jag a thrill ride

By Madeline Schulman


Did W.C. Fields say, "Never work with children or animals," or should the quote be marked with an asterisk as apocryphal? In either case, we can add "or vintage cars," because as talented as the three excellent actors in Gino Dilorio's Jag are, they are constantly upstaged by the beautiful Jaguar which gives the play its title.

Estelle Bajou and Dan Grimaldi in a scene from the "The Jag" playing thru February 12 at New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. (SuzAnne Barabas photo)

The car is the centerpiece of set designer Jessica Park's meticulously recreated garage, and is the physical and emotional bond holding the three characters together.

Leo "Chick" Chicarelli (Don Grimaldi) suffers from macular degeneration, and cannot see to restore the Jaguar. His son, Donald "Bone" Chicarelli (Christopher Daftsios), is an out of work, failed gambler, living under the shadow of his dead brother David, Chick's openly acknowledged favorite. Chick and Bone are at odds over the fate of the Jaguar. Bone wants to sell it. He has a buyer who will pay $20,000 for the car if it is in mint condition and drivable by his deadline. Chick wants to keep the car, because tangible reminders of the past are hard to let go of.

Chick cannot restore the car, and he does not trust Bone, so enter Carla Carr (Estelle Bajou), an intriguing bundle of quirks. Carla is a lesbian who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. She takes everything literally. Again and again, Chick has to explain that a metaphor or simile is a "figure of expression." She doesn't understand how to hold a conversation, answering a request for what she would like for lunch with a long dissertation on microwaving frozen pizza. With all her idiosyncrasies, this "fruitcake" is a genius of Jaguar, with an encyclopedic knowledge and an intuitive understanding of what the car needs and how to fix it.

A rapport between Chick and Carla grows into friendship, leaving Bone more of an embittered outsider than ever. We are interested in learning the characters' histories and seeing whether Chick and Bone can ever resolve their differences. But we are equally, if not more interested, in seeing whether the mechanical hero (Carla insists the Jag is masculine) will roar into life and flash its headlights for us.

The Jaguar was bought in Maryland, transported by truck to New Jersey, disassembled at a local garage, transported by pieces through the narrow doors of NJ Rep, and reassembled under the eyes of Jessica Parks and technical director Brian Snyder. If Mr. Dilorio or any other playwright is interested, I would willingly watch a play about that!

A CurtainUp New Jersey Review - The Jag

  By Simon Saltzman

Dan Grimaldi and Estelle Bajou (SuzAnne Barabas)

Oh, I XKE. Proud, significant automobile. Very fine. Savage.—fine, fine, fine—automobiles. Iconic automobile. Coupe, convertible, V6, V8, V12love Jaguars. Love the Jaguar, Worked on many…many jaguars? Uh, XJ6, XF, XJR, XKR, S Type, E Type! XKE! Love the — Jaguars have a logic all their own. — Carla

Probably not since the stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has a car been made the primary object of interest for a show's characters. But unlike that fantastical car that flies, the 1967 Jaguar 420 "Saloon" in Gino

DiIorio's entertaining new play remains stationary. But in its stillness, The Jag is able to move the hearts and change the minds of a septuagenarian father, his estranged son and a young woman mechanic equipped with Tourette-tinged Aspergers. DiLorio works his theatrical magic in a garage/bodyshop in Providence Rhode Island and where dispirited prodigal son Donald "Bone" (Christopher Daftsios) has returned to work on the restoration of the The Jag with his long embittered and virtually blind father Leo "Chick" Chicarella (Dan Grimaldi.)

A widower, "Chick's dream of having a family business were dashed years ago with the tragic death of Bone's brother whose artistry as a mechanic apparently didn't rub off on his less gifted sibling. A wheeler-dealer and burdened with a gambling debt, Bone has returned home determined to finally complete the restoration and sell the Jag that he originally purchased for the favored brother in partnership with his father.

Because of Bone's limited skills he hires a young woman mechanic Carla Car (Estelle Bajou.) Carla is severely lacking in social skills but she has an acute knowledge of Jags. Her entrance as she sees the Jag for the first time and caresses its "bonnet" is as close to a passionate love scene as we are likely to see in this play.

DiIorio makes good use of coarse vernacular the kind that makes sparks fly between Chick and Bone. Their "figures of expression" are a constant puzzlement and source of humor for Carla. Tightly structured and intense, the interaction of the three characters is beautifully developed for us to see how three needy people learn to test drive their disparate disabilities and dysfunctional behavior under the same roof. What we see under that roof, and awesomely created by set designer Jessica Parks, is a detailed, fully functional, completely out-fitted body shop.

The three principals, under the fine direction of Brendan Burke, keep the dramatic stakes high. Grimaldi, who is probably best known for playing the twin gangster brother on the HBO series The Sopranos, pushes the rage and regrets pedal to the floor as the hard-drinking Chick ("I'm not an alcoholic, I'm a drunk) but reveals his ability to mellow his cantankerous nature in the light of Carla's handicapping naivete.

Ms. Bajou is giving one of the most poignantly exhilarating performances I've seen this year as the highly-strung but intensely-focused Carla. A highlight is seeing her reluctantly coming out of her comfort zone to jitterbug with Chick.

Although Bone is fueled by resentment, Daftios finds a path for us to make us his ally. A resolve with a nice twist in the relationships brings the play to a very satisfying conclusion.

In its world premiere engagement, The Jag marks an auspicious beginning to the New Jersey Repertory Company's 20th anniversary season. It's a good bet for a healthy life in regional theaters and beyond. The audience at the performance I attended was vocal in its approval and responded with prolonged applause at the curtain calls.

Review: THE JAG...a satisfying theatrical joy ride at NJ Rep


Estelle Bajou and Dan Grimaldi

THE JAG by Gino Dilorio
Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney at
New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch NJ,
Friday, January 13, 2017 at 8 pm

Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room. In this case, the elephant is a car and the room is the 18' x 25' stage of NJ Rep. Yes, readers, the current world premier now playing on the tiny Long Branch stage features an actual 1967 Jaguar automobile. It's a tribute to the Rep's typically excellent production values that this remarkable feat was possible. It's also a tribute to Gino Dilorio's typically high caliber writing that the the car doesn't upstage the play itself. Having a real car on stage may be a first for the the Rep, but it has been done before. Alan Ayckbourn's Just Between Ourselves (1976) also had a garaged automobile as the center of its narrative and in Richard Dresser's Rounding Third (2002) a passenger van served as refuge for two middle-aged little league coaches, just to name two.

If you're thinking that the much-coveted car is more dramatic symbol than status symbol, you'd be correct. In this case, the Jag represents those bucket list projects that keep many of us going. The play is set in a suburban garage where Leo (nicknamed Chick) and his son Donald (dubbed Bone), work to restore the car with local jobber Carla. Irascible Chick has lost his sight from macular degeneration and must rely upon Bone and Carla to help him finish the project he started with his now-deceased favorite son, David. Bone is eager to finally sell the car to pay off some serious gambling debts.

As you might guess, the fuel this JAG runs on is a tankful of high test friction between Chick and Bone. Although some might say that the car is the play's fourth character, it is actually dead David who's presence looms large in the garage, completing the mechanics quartet. If this were a farce, it might facetiously be titled "My Brother the Car," but it's not that sort of play. That's not to say it isn't funny, (Chick: "I'm not an alcoholic, I'm a drunk. Alcoholics go to meetings.") but THE JAG is more a well-written character study with revealing spurts of wry humor than an out-and-out comedy.

Driving THE JAG (forgive the pun) is veteran director Brendan Burke, who has assembled a fine cast. As Chick, Dan Grimaldi is convincingly blind as well as convincingly gruff. Christopher Daftsios' Bone offers a nice mix of quiet sensitivity and masculine (Italian-American) pride.

But it is Estelle Bajou as Carla who is the play's most enigmatic and delightful creation. Carla is an eccentric out lesbian with a sweetly quirky personality. She hates cars, but has a passionate personal devotion for Jaguars. This is the kind of character that might derail the entire play if not properly cast. Thankfully, Bajou is absolutely perfect. She may even be a bit too perfect for the current JAG. Although Grimaldi and Daftsios' father / son conflict is truthfully portrayed, it also rings a tad familiar.

The dynamic created between Carla and Chick, however, becomes increasingly fascinating and truly unique. The brief stage time they share makes us long for a second act that further develops this odd couple. If Dilorio expands THE JAG beyond its 90-minute running time, let's hope this pair are in the front seat. As it is, THE JAG is still a satisfying theatrical joy ride.

Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney

Theater: 'Jag' coming to NJ Rep

Dan Grimaldi and Estelle Bajou in a scene from "The Jag." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)


Ask any automotive enthusiast who's ever invested their heart, soul and bank account into the restoration of a vintage Jaguar: the famously finicky and contrary classic marque has elicited as many curses in its time as pledges of allegiance, from devotees of British steel.

It's a textbook one-sided relationship; the stuff of flaring tempers and unhealthy obsessions — or, as Gino DiIorio could tell you, the makings of high drama in lowdown settings.

The New York-based playwright, whose own relationship with NJ Rep has proven to be a long and mutually beneficial one, has been looking in on preparations for the latest of his scripts to make its world premiere in Long Branch, a property by name of "The Jag."



Dan Grimaldi (left) Estelle Bajou and Christopher Daftsios in a scene from "The Jag." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)

That would be The Jag; specifically a 1967 Jaguar 420 "Saloon" that sits stationary and silent inside the garage of septuagenarian "Chick" Chicarella (award winning "Sopranos" veteran Dan Grimaldi, returning to NJ Rep following his turn in "Lucky Me") as the seemingly never-ending project of a man whose son (Christopher Daftsios, of last year's "Substance of Bliss") is intent on convincing the old man to finally finish the car and sell it off.

When their attempts at restoring the vehicle result in frustration and the re-opening of old wounds, father and son enlist the aid of Carla (Rep newcomer Estelle Bajou), a young woman who is described as "an expert in Jaguars, but woefully lacking in social skills." With the Jag acting as catalyst for some complicated interpersonal dynamics,"the three learn some hard lessons about repairing cars and smoothing out life's jagged edges."


As DiIorio sees it, "we have relationships to objects; some more than others...which is why this play is not about 'The Toyota' or 'The Honda.' It's a play with a lot of moving parts, if you'll pardon the pun.

Dan Grimaldi and Estelle Bajou in a scene from "The Jag." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)

"My dad had a '66 Jaguar sedan, which was always in the shop," adds the playwright in explaining the script's inspiration. "The kind of car that wouldn't run in the rain; that wouldn't run if you looked at it the wrong way... but he'd tell you that I can't die. I gotta finish the Jag!"

The logistics of getting a full-size car onto the modestly scaled NJ Rep stage — not just any car, but a very particular year, make and model of imported driving machine — served to keep the fully produced premiere of "The Jag" on the back-burner, even as the script saw some well-received readings in Chicago and suburban Virginia.






Dan Grimaldi (left) and Christopher Daftsios in a scene from "The Jag." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)

When a perfectly matched "wreck" was discovered in Baltimore, NJ Rep set designer Jessica Parks and her crew endeavored (at "quite a bit of expense," according to DiIorio) to transport the vehicle to Long Branch, dismantle it (to the tune of sawing it in half), and reassemble it within a detail-intensive garage setting — an undertaking of which the playwright comments,"they somehow managed to make the stage seem bigger."

Serving as director for the production is another newcomer to the NJ Rep fold — Brendan Burke, longtime artistic director of Shadowland Stages in New York's Catskills, and a DiIorio associate who's also expressed interest in taking this "Jag" on the road upstate.





Christopher Daftsios and Estelle Bajou in a scene from "The Jag." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)

Meantime, the playwright is excited to be reunited with the Long Branch-based team that's "been very good to me through the years ... They've produced things like 'Release Point' (a quiet character drama of youth baseball and convicted child molesters) knowing that they might take a bath on it. They take a lot of risks, and they'll be able to do it with even more characters when they're able to produce shows in their new space."

New Jersey Repertory Company developing West End Arts Center

Newspaper Media Group

Staff Writer

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) has purchased the old West End School on West End Avenue from the Long Branch School District for $2.25 million in order to convert the 1920s structure into a major cultural arts center.

The award-winning, nonprofit professional theater company, which develops new works for the American stage, will be expanding with a second location on the corner of West End and Sairs avenues.

The school previously served grades K-5 until its closure in June 2014, and students were moved to the new George L. Catrambone Elementary School.

The West End neighborhood in the City of Long Branch is well known for its artistic flair, original Jersey Shore music scene, quaint retail shops, restaurants, boardwalk and beaches. The local community is coming together and embracing the new West End Arts Center project with enthusiasm.

NJ Rep was founded in 1997 by Dr. Gabor Barabas, executive director, and his wife, SuzAnne Barabas, artistic director. Gabor Barabas has produced over 100 world premieres at NJ Rep. Producing plays has always been a passion of the pediatric neurosurgeon.

"The intent has always been to expand the theater to a larger, secondary location and to expand all of our programs. We are dedicated to focusing on new productions and are fortunate to attract high-profile scripts and enormous talent," said Gabor Barabas. "To expand the arts and revitalize the community are the goals of NJ Rep. The bottom line is in order for us to succeed, we need the support of the community. I am thrilled to report we have that enthusiasm in Long Branch and Monmouth County."

NJ Rep's primary mission is to develop and produce new plays and to make a lasting contribution to the American stage. In keeping with its mission, NJ Rep has produced 125 plays in 20 seasons. The theater is committed to nurturing the work of not only established writers, but new and unknown playwrights and has maintained an open submission policy, receiving over 500 scripts each year from throughout the U.S. and the world.

The West End location is ideal for a cultural arts center at the Jersey Shore.

"We have been looking to expand our operations for the last 10 years. This vision of a cultural arts center is our dream that is becoming a reality," said Gabor Barabas.

The purchase of the school closed on May 2, 2016. By December, NJ Rep had acquired all the necessary approvals from the City of Long Branch Planning Board to move forward with their beautifully designed building renovations and additions necessary for this ambitious dream to become a reality.

The West End Arts Center is a community development project and will have a tremendous impact economically with this exciting new landmark. In addition to the widespread, overwhelmingly positive community support, the project maintains strong relationships with City of Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider and Long Branch School District Superintendent Michael Salvatore.

NJ Rep has met with Salvatore to discuss partnering together for an after-school arts program. This program, along with community workshops, will greatly benefit Long Branch students.

The West End neighborhood of Long Branch is known as the traditional Bohemian section of Long Branch, with a long history of cultural undertakings. There is the well-known 1970s photo of one-time city resident Bruce Springsteen, standing on the sidewalk on Brighton Avenue within a block of the old West End School. There are many iconic local businesses that continue to enjoy success and local fame, as visitors to the area specially seek them out. These include the Ink Well, Brighton Bar, Ron's West End Pub and Richard's Deli, among others.

"I'm excited about the new arts center. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough opportunities for artists from all mediums to meet and collaborate. This is a chance to not only offer classes to students at all levels, but also to bring artists together just so they can share ideas and works," said Gino DiIorio, of Massachusetts, and playwright of the current production of "The Jag" at the Lumia Theater in Long Branch.

"For example, in music, there used to be studios like Sound City where different musicians would poke their head into this studio or that, just to hear what people were working on. I can see the arts center providing the same kind of opportunities for actors, directors, designers, playwrights, musicians — the whole ball of wax. So, this has the chance to be something very cool for artists and the community," DiIorio said.

Currently located at 179 Broadway in Long Branch, NJ Rep was established in 1997 and has produced over 100 new plays at the Lumia Theater (a 68-seat theater), generously donated by David and Margaret Lumia. NJ Rep will continue to bring intimate performances to their Broadway location in addition to the productions held at the new cultural arts center. NJ Rep currently produces six shows a year at the Lumia Theater, holds 25 readings of new plays in development and holds classes for both adults and children.

The plan for the new cultural arts center in West End will include two theaters (one with 165 seats and a second with 90 seats), one cinema with two screening rooms (150 seats and 85 seats), a rehearsal theater and a Black Box theater (90 seats). The plans also include small apartments located on site for visiting playwrights, directors and performers.

The center will also have a visual art and exhibition museum, studio and educational space for musical and theater lessons. It will also have on-site parking for 100 vehicles, a rooftop cafe and a great lawn area for outdoor performances during the summertime.

The project will include a capital campaign this spring to raise the needed $15 million for the renovations and additions. Plans are currently underway to move the administrative offices of NJ Rep and utilize the newly painted classrooms — courtesy of many community volunteers this past October — for workshops and readings this spring. Construction should take approximately 18-24 months once enough funding is available.

"If we raise funds more rapidly, we will do it all in one phase," said Gabor Barabas. "We plan to reach out to corporations, foundations, government agencies and independent donors. We will have naming rights for major donations. Once the project is underway, we expect it to take approximately one year to complete."

NJ Rep's patrons can enjoy local dinner and theater deals locally. NJ Rep partners with select local restaurants, and such dinner/theater negotiations are always expanding.

"We will be also negotiating bed and breakfast and hotel accommodation packages for the future," said Gabor Barabas.

NJ Rep plans to reuse all the existing buildings (28,000 square feet) and add an addition (20,000 square feet) that will bring the total square footage to 48,000 feet. The exterior will consist of red brick with a glass lobby. Architect Robert Blakeman has been retained as the general architect, and the Holzman Moss Boffino Company has designed the theaters.

NJ Rep's current production at the Lumia Theater on Broadway is "The Jag," a world premiere by Gino DiIorio. The plot involves 70-year-old "Chick" Chicarella who has one prized possession, a 1966 Jaguar that is in desperate need of repair. When his son suggests that they finish the car to sell it off, old family wounds and failures rise to the surface. Unable to complete the task themselves, they hire Carla, who is an expert in Jaguars, but woefully lacking in social skills. Together, the three learn some hard lessons about repairing cars and smoothing out life's jagged edges.

Dan Grimaldi is an actor in "The Jag."

"NJ Rep is one of the most delightful theaters, and they have the highest professional standards. Gabe and SuzAnne produce plays, which are admirable and pleasurable [for] their subscribing audiences. It is a pleasure for me to work here," said Grimaldi.

Robin Bleeker and Van Rhonheimer of Long Branch are longtime theater subscribers of 17 years.

"We love the fact that we do not have to travel to Manhattan to see plays of this professional caliber. We usually like to come the night before opening night, and as subscribers to the theater we just have to call to secure our seats. The new cultural arts center is sure to be good for the community, and we couldn't be happier for its successful future," said Rhonheimer.

NJ Rep Board President Marilyn Perlman is thrilled with the positive support from the local community.

"Through West End Arts, we will be [the] catalyst in the economic development and revitalization of our community and will provide a wide array of cultural opportunities for its residents and young people," said Perlman.

"This is an opportunity to make Long Branch a national destination for the arts. The arts have the ability to transform a city," said SuzAnne Barabas.