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"Welcome to Matteson!" – Exploring Identity, Community, and the Magic of Theater

by Gary Hook

Photo: De'Lon Grant, Cynthia Kaye McWilliams and Charlie Hudson, III


In the heart of New Jersey, a thought-provoking and humorous exploration of identity and community unfolds on the stage of NJ Rep as they proudly present the world premiere of "Welcome to Matteson!" Written by Inda Craig-Galván and directed by Dawn Monique Williams, this dark comedy promises to be an unforgettable theatrical experience. With a cast that includes MaConnia Chesser, Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, De'Lon Grant, and Charlie Hudson, III, we delved into their insights to give you a glimpse of the magic behind the scenes.

Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, known for her work in television on shows like "Average Joe" and "Bosch," returns to her theatrical roots with this production. When asked about the unique appeal of stage acting compared to on-camera work, Cynthia shared her profound love for the immediacy of live theater. "You're not waiting on reviews, and you're not at the mercy of an editor. The audience is getting what you are creating for them right there at the moment. We're experiencing something together. That is magical and fleeting and singular – and thus, even more special."

In "Welcome to Matteson!," Cynthia's character, Patricia, navigates the complex theme of intra-racial prejudice and identity. She encourages the audience to ponder questions about relationships, identity, and societal roles. "Who are we inside of a relationship? How does that differ from who we are on our own? Can we shift our identity or only our station? When we do 'move on up,' what do we leave behind? Patricia and Gerald are dealing with all these things. I have no answers for you – I only hope that the audience leaves asking themselves better questions."

Photo: MaConnia Chesser and Cynthia Kaye McWilliams


Behind the scenes, Cynthia cherishes the camaraderie among the cast, where discussions range from pop culture debates to sharing stories of subtle and not-so-subtle racism. It's clear that their chemistry enriches the production, making it a captivating journey for both the cast and the audience.

MaConnia Chesser, who plays Regina in the play, emphasized her character's confidence, autonomy, and zest for life. She explained, "Regina feels like someone who is just open to life, and it is just really such fun to play her and bring her joy for life to life." In a dark comedy like "Welcome to Matteson!," MaConnia finds the challenge of balancing complex characters and multi-layered scenes to be immensely enjoyable.

Dark comedies, with their blend of authenticity and surrealism, provide actors with opportunities to explore the absurdity of real-life situations. MaConnia expressed her delight in portraying the play's interactions and scenes, which reveal the less admirable qualities in us and the unexpected connections we can forge.

Photo: Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, MaConnia Chesser, Charlie Hudson, III and De'Lon Grant

De'Lon Grant, who graced Broadway with his presence in "Come from Away," provided insights into the difference between performing in an intimate theater like NJ Rep and the grandeur of Broadway. He emphasized the intimacy of smaller theaters, where subtler moments and non-verbal communication can shine. "A smaller theater allows for a much more intimate experience for the audience as well as the actor," he shared.

Regarding the play's themes of neighborhoods, community, and identity, De'Lon hoped that audiences would connect with the characters and empathize with their struggles. He noted that the characters live in a world not of their making, a sentiment that resonates with all of us.

As for a memorable moment from "Welcome to Matteson!," De'Lon mentioned the thought-provoking and unexpected ending, which invites the audience to reflect on a rhetorical question, leaving a lasting impression.

Charlie Hudson, III, whose experience includes Broadway as well as Off-Broadway productions like "Nollywood Dreams," discussed his approach to acting in an intimate theater setting. He stressed that the core work and dedication remain the same, regardless of the performance space. In intimate settings, actors can focus on grounding themselves in more natural, authentic performances without the need to project to the back row.

Charlie shared a personal experience that shaped his understanding of community and neighborly interactions. Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, and being actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement through his family, he learned the importance of community early on. However, a jarring experience during his time in grad school at Brown University highlighted the feeling of disconnection and isolation in a new community.

"Welcome to Matteson!" promises to be a thought-provoking and entertaining exploration of identity, community, and the human experience. With a cast that brings depth and authenticity to their roles, this dark comedy invites audiences to reflect on the complexities of life in a world where the "other" might look just like us. Don't miss the chance to experience the magic of live theater at NJ Rep and be part of this extraordinary journey into the heart of Matteson.

Front Row Center

Welcome to Matteson!

by Victoria Dammer

Just like relatives, you can't choose your neighbors, especially when they are moved from the inner-city projects to your comfy suburban neighborhood.

Welcome to Matteson! is a modern-day version of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, but with more social problems exposed during a dinner party. The story is about forced gentrification, housing equity, and interclass relationships.

In the suburbs of Chicago Gerald (De'Lon Grant) and Patricia (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams) host a dinner party for their new neighbors, Regina (MaConnia Chesser) and Corey (Charlie Hudson, III), a couple who were forcibly relocated from The Cabrini-Green Housing Projects to the tony suburb Matteson.

Patricia is uptight, struggling to communicate with her husband, and even more so with people who come from the inner city. She must drown her uncomfortableness with alcohol, which exacerbates the underlying resentment she feels towards Regina and Corey. When Regina disappears in the bathroom for too long, Patricia thinks she is robbing her house.

The chicken dinner doesn't come out well, the conversation doesn't either, and Regina suggests they play a game she invented while attending college to increase her communication skills. When the four must write 5 ideas on a card that are the most important in their lives and share, Patricia struggles with the simple project; her husband already knows who she is, but he faces her coldness even more so. Patricia has a dark secret that is soon to be revealed.

Playwright Inda Craig-Galvan isn't afraid to show the audience the discomfort of interclass racial distrust, and the real winner of the troubled evening and conversation is Regina and Corey. Yes, they are from the inner city and have hit the jackpot by moving to Matteson. But they are genuine, down to earth, and thankful to God for the life they have encountered. Gerald and Patricia, despite all they have, are complicated and empty.

There were lots of laughs in the show as well, and the audience loudly responded throughout the production. But there were several gasps, as true emotions were exposed in this in-depth look at the frailties of humankind. This is a must-see presentation.

BWW Interview: Playwright Inda Craig-Galván and WELCOME TO MATTESON! at NJ Rep 9/28 to 10/29

by Marina Kennedy
Sep 20 2023

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) is proud to end its successful season with the World Premiere of Welcome To Matteson! written by Inda Craig-Galván and directed by Dawn Monique Williams. It will begin performances on September 28 and run through October 29, 2023.

Welcome To Matteson! tells the story of a suburban couple hosting a welcome-to-the-neighborhood dinner party for their new neighbors, a couple that recently relocated from Cabrini Green, Chicago's roughest housing project. The party is anything but welcoming. This play is a dark comedy about reverse gentrification and how we deal with the "other" when the other looks just like us.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing Inda Craig-Galván about her career and the upcoming show at NJ Rep, Welcome To Matteson!

Inda Craig-Galván is a Los Angeles-based playwright and television writer, born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. Her work explores conflicts and politics within the African - American community, grounded in reality, and with a touch of magical realism. Plays include Black Super Hero Magic Mama (Geffen Playhouse world premiere), The Great Jheri Curl Debate (East West Players world premiere), a hit dog will holler (Playwrights' Arena/Skylight Theatre co-produced world premiere; Radiotopia podcast adaptation), and A Jumping - Off Point (Round House Theatre world premiere, Spring 2024). She is the recipient of the Kesselring Prize, Jeffery Melnick New Play Award, Blue Ink Prize, Jane Chambers Award, and Kennedy Center's Rosa Parks Award for plays focused on social justice and/or civil rights. Her work has been developed at the O'Neill, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Ashland New Play Festival, Ojai Playwrights Conference, JAW, OSF, Orlando Shakes, Geffen Writers Room, and CTG Writers Workshop. Inda is under commission to write new plays for The Old Globe and Round House Theatre. On the TV side, Inda is Co-Executive Producer of ABC's Will Trent and previously wrote for "The Rookie," "How to Get Away with Murder," "Happy Face," and JJ Abrams' "Demimonde". Inda is an Adjunct Professor at University of Southern California's School of Dramatic Arts, where she received her MFA in Dramatic Writing.

Who was the first person to recognize your talent for writing?

I had an undergrad professor who assigned us an essay as our final exam. I'd done horribly in undergrad up until this point, and this was my senior year. I wrote about my pet goldfish Blackie, our relationship, and how I felt when he died – I was an adult when I got Blackie, btw. This essay was the only "A" I got in four years of college, and the professor wrote on the cover of my blue book: "You should be a writer." I remember wishing someone had told me that sooner so I wouldn't have spent quite so much time screwing up in college. I still have that blue book.

Can you tell us a little about your education and how it encouraged your career?

Well, undergrad was a bust with the exception of that one fish essay. I went back to school much later in life to pursue a graduate degree in Dramatic Writing at University of Southern California's School of Dramatic Arts. I craved the structure and deadlines. I wanted to gain as much info as I could because I always felt that I'd been winging it in life. If I wanted to see myself as a professional, for me, grad school was a necessary step. I wrote a lot in that program and my professors were always encouraging. The first draft of Welcome to Matteson! was written in a class that Luis Alfaro taught. In a full-circle moment, I'm now teaching a course at USC, upon an invitation from Luis. I'm glad I can be there to encourage the MFA students in return.

Who are some of your favorite playwrights and writers?

Aleshea Harris, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Jiehae Park, Stephen King, and anybody/everybody who has ever even touched a script of the TV series Interview with the Vampire – that writing is exquisite!

As you have written for stage and television, what are some of the challenges of crafting shows for different entertainment mediums?

As a playwright, I'm used to doing my own thing. It comes from my head, my experiences, my emotions. When you're writing on someone else's show, you're writing to their vision and you're collaborating with a room of other writers. That's probably the biggest difference. Not necessarily a challenge, because the collaborative nature of having other voices in the room takes off a lot of the pressure that's felt when it's just you.

What inspired your play, Welcome to Matteson!?

Welcome to Matteson! was inspired by that darn flier. There's a flier referenced in the play that a character finds in their mailbox. In real life, around 2008/2009, Matteson, Illinois residents were finding similar fliers depicting masked bandits breaking into their homes. The message was "do you want these people moving into your neighborhood?" "These people" referred to the former residents of Chicago's Cabrini Green housing projects who were being relocated to several of the South Suburbs outside of the city when the then-mayor made a move for that valuable land. I saw one of the actual fliers and immediately assumed the creator was a racist white person – the people being relocated were Black – so who else could it be? The more I thought about that question – who else could it be? – the idea for this play came about. What if someone who looks like me created the fliers? What's her rationale? What internalized biases is she harboring? What happens when those assumptions are challenged by putting "these people" not just in her neighborhood but inside her home?

How do you like working with NJ Rep?

I've had a wonderful experience so far working with NJ Rep. Everyone has been so kind and welcoming, and they have a genuine zeal for supporting new work. It's rare to find a theatre with such a strong commitment to not just developing or doing readings of new plays, but to actually producing new plays. And it's like a family. Everyone working there is there because they love creating theatre together.

Can you tell us a little about the team that is bringing Welcome to Matteson! to the Long Branch stage?

This production is part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. Welcome to Matteson! was featured in NNPN's last showcase of new plays – plays that had received a ton of recommendations from theatre professionals on NNPN's New Play Exchange but for whatever reasons remained unproduced. As a result of the showcase, NJ Rep immediately stepped up to bring the play to the stage. The other rolling productions are with Congo Square Theatre in Chicago and Orlando Shakes. Each has a different creative and design team, but there may be some overlap. Here at NJ Rep, I'm so excited to work with Dawn Monique Williams directing. Our cast is phenomenal – Maconnia Chesser, De'Lon Grant, Charlie Hudson, III, and Cynthia Kaye McWilliams. I'm thrilled Cynthia could join us as Patricia, because it's a role she's performed in several developmental readings of this play. I guess one upside to being on strike is that actors are available to do theatre.

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

While my work is grounded in reality and the examination of social issues, it does so through magical realism. So be prepared and open to go to a slightly surprising place in the journey of this play.

To learn more about Inda Craig-Galván please visit:


The Little Theatre That Could, and Still Does

How a 68-seat cultural gem on the Jersey shore has stood the test of time for the sake of new plays.

by Alexandra Pierson

In Long Branch, N.J., 26 years ago, nearly 30 buildings were boarded up around the three-story industrial building that stands at 179 Broadway. It was then a high crime area with more drug dealing than foot traffic, despite being just a few blocks from the beach. The area retained its rough edges even as recently as 2009, when local cops mistakenly arrested Bob Dylan for vagrancy, as New Jersey Repertory Company's literary manager Joel Stone recalled with a chuckle in a recent interview.

"No one came into this neighborhood," agreed the theatre's executive producer, Gabor "Gabe" Barabas, then a local pediatric neurologist. But he came to the neighborhood, along with his wife SuzAnne, with whom he'd previously produced plays in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, in search of a theatre space. They found one when David and Margaret Lumia, the owners of a medical supply business that manufactured insulin pumps, felt they'd outgrown the building at 179 Broadway and were looking to donate the space to a nonprofit. The Lumias simply asked the Barabases to promise that they would make it work.

"I promised them," said Gabe, "knowing that you can't promise that sort of thing."

They've made it work. New Jersey Rep opened in 1997 in the 9,000-square-foot building, with a mission to develop and produce new plays by emerging and established playwrights, to make a lasting contribution to the American stage, and to act as a catalyst for the revitalization and redevelopment of their community. They started with a series of free weekly readings and gradually developed a subscription audience while aggressively seeking contributed funds from various corporate, individual, and institutional sectors.

The ground floor soon became home to a reading space as well as the 68-seat Lumia Theatre. Their first reading in May 1998 was of Joel Stone's play, Horrors of Doctor Moreau. Stone had known SuzAnne since grade school. He's been with the company ever since.

As of 2022, New Jersey Rep had a budget of more than $900,000, nearly triple what it was in 2002. In the last 26 years, the theatre has produced 140 new plays, 125 of them world premieres. About 40 percent of their mainstage shows start out as developmental readings, of which they've hosted more than 400, in addition to their various festivals. New Jersey Rep premieres have led to over 300 subsequent productions. Over the years since they started out, Gabe said, "We have found that our theatre is much bigger than our four walls. Because the other thing we bought into is that we have an obligation to promote the plays beyond our production. We've had so many partnerships, and so many subsequent productions, that we've envisioned our theatre as being as big as the realm of the imagination. We're contributing to plays that are going to be picked up by other theatres. So we can't just think about our moment, because there's moments beyond our moment."

Now a blithe philosopher with big ideas and the enthusiasm to match, Gabe worked as a pediatric neurologist for 30 years before a stroke 15 years ago led him to dedicate the next phase of his life to the arts, and to his wife, the company's artistic director and a longtime theatremaker, who studied with Lee Strasberg. SuzAnne is a warm, affectionate matriarch figure, while also being an artist of discerning taste.

"It is a true mom-and-pop organization," said playwright Michael Tucker, who's had three plays premiere at New Jersey Rep. Most recently, his two-hander A Tailor Near Me, starring James Pickens Jr. and Richard Kind, had a sold-out run. "You have the artistic director of the theatre selling every ticket, and she's in the box office. When you come to that theatre, you're handled beautifully by the people who run it. I think of them as my grandparents, although they're both younger than I am."

Indeed, while Gabe and I sat talking just beyond the lobby in the theatre's reading space, SuzAnne stepped into the box office to call some names on the waiting list and let them know that a seat had opened up for that evening's performance. It was quickly filled. New Jersey Rep doesn't need physical tickets: Audience members simply show up at the door and SuzAnne greets them, a tight list of 68 names in hand, though most are already familiar faces. Like everyone's surrogate grandmother preparing for a road trip, she kindly nudges each guest to visit the restroom before the performance, as there will be no intermission. The show starts when everyone is seated. While many theatres use a 10-foot rule to gauge the ideal distance to the audience's eyes, this theatre has a 3-foot rule, which, the designers will tell you, requires immense attention to detail.

"I love the intimacy of watching shows in that small of a space," said resident lighting designer Jill Nagle. "There's nothing like it. It's like you're in somebody's living room watching a really good production."

In addition to its homegrown atmosphere, New Jersey Rep has a crack team of resident designers. Nagle, along with costume designer Patricia E. Doherty and scenic designer Jessica Parks, have all worked for the company for the past 20 years.

"It's an artistic home," said Doherty. "The LORT theatres and so many other theatres have really gotten away from the original intent of the regional theatre resident company model." New Jersey Rep, by contrast, has retained a core company of artists who keep coming back. In this artistic playground, the designers have achieved everything from a running stream to a working stove, falling snow to a growing forest, even an entire Jaguar sedan.

Parks said her commitment to the company is driven not only by the chance to experiment in a fairly low-stakes space, but also by the ability to work with first-rate theatre artists "who have all somehow found themselves in this little gem in New Jersey."

"Gem" is a word that came up repeatedly when discussing New Jersey Rep. Actor Richard Kind's father was a jeweler in Princeton, so the analogy came naturally.

"That's what this theatre is," Kind told me before a closing performance of Tailor earlier this month. "It's not a big, honkin' theatre. It's a beautiful little gem where you can come and do really good work, work hard, and, you hope, produce a gem."

Playwright Steve Braunstein, whose play The Tangled Skirt premiered at New Jersey Rep in 2011 and recently racked up its 25th production across the country, said, "I always think of it as a jewel box theatre. It's small, but it has a lot of punch and a lot of glitter."

New Jersey Rep may be small, but it's not quaint.

"The plays we do are not necessarily the plays that at first blush would prompt a segment of the populace to seek us out," explained Gabe. "We have done plays that at various times other theatres might not touch. We have done surreal and inaccessible plays, because we felt that the playwright's voice needed to be heard, and that we would champion it and put ourselves behind it to see what happens. It's the work that speaks for us."

Up until 2019, New Jersey Rep had an open submission policy for plays, regularly receiving more than 750 scripts each year. While they've since narrowed down their criteria to full-length plays featuring four characters or less, and can only accept submissions from agents, managers, and industry professionals, this doesn't stop them from taking risks. Take John Biguenet's Broomstick from 2013, for instance, a fantastically witchy solo fairy tale with virtually no stage directions. Or Marisela Treviño Orta's Wolf at the Door from 2018, inspired by Latino folklore and mythology. Or this year's U.S. premiere of Garret John Groenveld's The Hummingbirds, a futuristic comedy about unemployment.

The ability to take these risks derives from a decades-long practice of getting to know their patrons and cultivating an open-minded audience.

"This audience has been developed over 26 years to look forward to seeing something they've never heard of, to open their minds to whatever it might be that comes their way," said Tucker. "It's a wonderful audience to play to." Tucker came to know the company through his wife, actress Jill Eikenberry, who has also performed there. Though it's more than a three-hour drive to Long Branch from their home Connecticut, Tucker said they gladly keep coming back.

Several playwrights marveled that New Jersey Rep hasn't lost its focus or exceeded its capacity. While many theatres feel the need to expand, sometimes beyond their means, Gabe and SuzAnne have intentionally stayed small. Inspired by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe's use of small spaces, SuzAnne believes that bigger isn't necessarily better in the theatre.

"It was intentional to keep it intimate, because our mission is to do new works," she said. While it's much easier to fill a large house with a well-known musical or something fresh out of a major city, New Jersey Rep employs working actors and playwrights who aren't always huge stars. "When you want to do new works, you have to reinvent the wheel every single time."

"I think they're doing something that has unfortunately become remarkable these days," said playwright Richard Dresser, "which is to be totally committed to new plays, and also to be truly supported by the community."

Dresser's play Our Shrinking, Shrinking World had its premiere at New Jersey Rep in May, and his play Closure debuted there in 2015. He recalled the experience of staying with the cast in the theatre's company house, formerly owned by the manager of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, where out-of-town artists can stay for the run of each production. Though Long Branch is about 90 minutes away from New York City, Dresser said he appreciates the distance.

"I've always found it more productive to work outside New York than in New York," Dresser said, "because when you're in New York, everyone's going home at the end of rehearsal. If you're out of town and rehearsal is over, you're going out to dinner together, you're hanging out together, and you're all there for the same reason, you're all working on this play. The play is always on the table."

While it maintains its small theatre focus, New Jersey Rep has done a bit of expanding. In 2016, the company purchased the West End Elementary School in Long Branch, which closed in 2014 upon completion of the nearby George L. Catrambone School. The $2.25 million dollar property, a 27,000-square-foot structure on two-and-a-half acres of land, was generously paid for by an anonymous donor. New Jersey Rep plans to completely transform the school into the West End Arts Center, a community landmark with an art gallery, cinema, rehearsal rooms, studios, classrooms, scenery and costume shops, artist housing, a rooftop café, and a 99-seat theatre.

The pandemic forced them to adjust their timeline and inflation to rethink the scope of their capital campaign—the Barabases estimate that the construction would cost about $30 million given the rising cost of labor and materials. While the dream of a fully renovated arts center may have to wait, the company has wasted no time making use of the space for performances, classes, studios, art and photography exhibits, and a month-long pride festival.

After the community was devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New Jersey Rep received a grant to help high school students write and present plays about their experiences weathering the storm. Joel Stone led the workshops and the resulting project, called "Shelter From the Storm," earned the theatre a Community Arts Education Leadership Award from the Monmouth County Arts Council. His wish for the West End space is that it will allow New Jersey Rep to expand its educational programming and provide more opportunities for students to get involved with the theatre.

During the pandemic lockdown, the company was able to produce some virtual programming, including readings, a virtual art gallery, a virtual poetry center based on London's Mermaid Tavern, and an outdoor short-play festival called the Fire Escape Plays during Summer 2021. When they opened The Forest in March 2022 to in-person audiences, it was especially good news for playwright Lia Romeo, as the play, originally part of a National New Play Network rolling world premiere, had had all of its other productions canceled—and in fact was about to open in 2020 at New Jersey Rep when COVID-19 intervened.

"I was so thankful that they kept the commitment to the production and ended up putting it up," Romeo said, "because they had started building the set, they'd already cast it, and they had put a lot into it before the shutdown. So after the shutdown, they were able to come back and still do it."

Given the state of the theatre industry and the economy, Gabe admits that he's torn about New Jersey Rep's current approach.

"For good or ill, and I agonize over the wisdom of this," said Gabe, "18 months ago when we came out after COVID, SuzAnne made the decision that a good defense is an all-out offense—meaning we are going at the same pace that we did, pre-COVID. With the hope that by continuing to operate that way, we will begin to attract not only some wayward subscribers, but also to cultivate new audiences. This is a very questionable bet. We're scheduling six new plays for next year. We're doing seven new plays this year."

So far he's seen the upside of this choice. "We are getting many more new faces in the theatre," Gabe said, "which is almost unprecedented. I'm hoping that that's partly the result of the fact that we just came out of the chute and we came out gangbusters."

New Jersey Rep's current production is an NNPN rolling world premiere of Inda Craig-Galván's Welcome to Matteson!, which runs Sept. 28-Oct. 29 after debuting at Chicago's Congo Square Theatre earlier this month (where it runs through Oct. 1). Set outside Chicago, the dark comedy follows two Black couples, one forcibly relocated from the Cabrini-Green housing projects, the other longtime residents of the Matteson suburb, whose preconceptions about one another come to a head at a dinner party. It is an exploration of internalized racism, classism, gentrification, and housing justice that SuzAnne said was reminiscent of both Jordan Peele and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Literary manager Joel Stone first saw the play as part of an NNPN showcase.

"What attracted me to it," Stone said, "was that it is a play about class. Since there's so much class division in this area. I was fascinated by all sorts of themes that ran through the play. I thought it was funny, dramatic, and just well written."

Craig-Galván said she was inspired to write the play after coming across a flier that had been anonymously distributed to suburban homes around the time that residents were being relocated from Cabrini-Green in the early 2000s. It asked, "Do you want these people moving into your neighborhood?" Craig-Galván initially assumed the flier had been circulated by a racist who couldn't stand to see economically challenged Black folks move to their neighborhood—but was later struck by the notion that those we judge and otherize can look like us.

Obviously, Chicago audiences at the Congo Square productions will tune into the play's specific local references, but, as Craig-Galván said, "People have been displaced everywhere, people are having housing disparity everywhere, people are judging each other and not being welcoming everywhere right now. It warms my heart to have people seeing it in Chicago, but I'm glad that people are resonating with it and are going to get a chance to experience it in other places as well."

Craig-Galván first heard about New Jersey Rep from Michael Tucker, who is not shy about sharing his enthusiasm for the company, and was impressed by its commitment to new work. While many theatres will develop new plays without the promise of a future production, she notes that the company uses a different model.

"For a theatre to not just say we support in terms of development, but to take it a step further and support in terms of an actual production is incredible," Craig-Galván said. "With theatres closing left and right, I don't know how they do it, but they do. It's a model I think other folks could look at."

While Craig-Galván has relished her collaboration with New Jersey Rep, she did note that Long Branch is a predominantly white neighborhood and the theatre's staff is mostly white. "There was apprehension on my part," Craig-Galván said, "because everything I write is extra Black Blackity Black. I wondered, are they going to understand this play? Are they going to understand the lived experiences of the play, aside from it being in a different geographical setting, are they going to get it?"

Her fears were unfounded, she said. "Everybody at New Jersey Rep has made sure that my vision for the play is what was being presented," Craig-Galván said, and she approved the choice of director, Dawn Monique Williams, as well as the cast. "They wanted to do my play without making any suggestions for any changes. I worked with managing director Dee Dee Irwin there, and with Joe Trentacosta, who handles their PR, to make sure we are marketing to have Black people in the audience and to make sure they know that they are absolutely welcome and this is for them."

A play with themes of gentrification is an apt choice for New Jersey Rep, as property values in its neighborhood have shot up since the city of Long Branch unveiled its redevelopment plan in the mid '90s. The city used eminent domain to buy up beachfront homes in order to make way for Pier Village, a mixed-use community featuring retail, restaurants, and luxury condominiums that officially opened in 2005. This was only the beginning of the lengthy, billion-dollar redevelopment process.

"In a lot of what was once the high crime area," said Joel Stone, "blocks have been totally torn down within the last 10 years. We still have blocks east of us heading toward the beach that are just empty lots of cleared away rubble. The whole place has changed a lot. More yuppies, more spendable income."

Gabe and SuzAnne see themselves as guardians of a cultural space that belongs to the community. Though they've had plenty of offers on the property from developers, they insist they're not in the real estate business.

"It does seem like a place that's still in transition," noted Jill Nagle of the surrounding neighborhood. "The funny thing is, there's New Jersey Rep, plugging away in this spot, holding ground."

Out IN Jersey

"A Tailor Near Me" charts the making of a suit — and a friendship

by Allen Neuner

'A Tailor Near Me' Richard Kind and James Pickens Jr in A Tailor Near Me. Photos by Andrea Phox


'A Tailor Near Me' Richard Kind and James Pickens Jr in A Tailor Near Me. Photos by Andrea Phox

I find it getting more and more difficult not to overuse my vocabulary of praise for the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. They have maintained their mission to foster and present new plays for some 25 years now and have earned a glowing reputation both among theatre professionals and audiences alike.

NJ Rep is currently presenting their 148th World Premiere production, A Tailor Near Me, written by actor/author/playwright Michael Tucker and starring Richard Kind and James Pickens, Jr. It is a tight, economical play, but it is as jammed with emotional and conversational detail as the tailor shop in which it takes place.

The premise is simple: Sam Zurwitz (Kind) has come into a basement tailor shop owned by Alfredo Cardozo (Pickens) in lower Manhattan, looking to have his suit pants let out in preparation for an upcoming event. Alfredo notes that the patch will not be unnoticeable and that the now-ill-fitting suit will not look good on Sam.

He persuades Sam to purchase an entirely new suit, a bespoke suit that will not only wear well but will show Sam off to his best advantage. Sam finally acquiesces and, over the ensuing five weeks in spring, meets with Alfredo for measurements and fittings.

From this ordinary-sounding premise, playwright Tucker, in collaboration with director James Glossman, creates the often funny, often conflicting points of view of Sam and Alfredo. Both Kind and Pickens, veteran stage, screen, and television actors, give tour de force performances that are textbook lessons in the fine art of bringing a character to life and in showing two people slowly and not always smoothly forming a friendship — and finding out their worlds may not be as far apart as they seem on first look.

'A Tailor Near Me' Richard Kind and James Pickens Jr in A Tailor Near Me. Photos by Andrea Phox

These are not star turns; instead, this is ensemble acting at its highest, a true acting partnership.

The show is seamless. Not only in Kind and Pickens' acting, the fine, sensitive direction, and the writing but also in the contributions of NJ Rep's technical departments, about whom I cannot rave enough. The tailor shop, looking like a long-established family business, is as detailed as a photograph yet allows more than enough room for movement. It is created with a "how does she do it with the budget she has?" flair by scenic designer Jessica Parks, with lighting design by Jill Nagel and sound design by Nick Simone.

A Tailor Near Me — and this may sound cliche — is a play that will elicit both uproarious laughter and bring you close to tears, a play that uplifts as it entertains, a play that sends you out feeling privileged to have met Sam and Alfredo.

As I said at the beginning, my praise for the works presented by the New Jersey Repertory Company puts me in danger of running out of superlatives. This is a play that deserves to be seen in the short time it has; you will be sorry if you don't. I cannot recommend it more strongly.


See James Pickens Jr. and Richard Kind in Rehearsal for A Tailor Near Me


James Pickens Jr., Richard Kind, Patricia E. Doherty, James Glossman, and Michael Tucker (Andrea Phox at CAM Studios)

Get a sneak peek at Michael Tucker's new work A Tailor Near Me with first-look rehearsal photos ahead of its world premiere. The New Jersey Repertory Company production starring Tony nominee Richard Kind (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and James Pickens, Jr. (Grey's Anatomy) begins July 27 ahead of a July 29 opening night. Performances will continue through August 27. James Glossman is at the helm. See the rehearsal photos here.

Tucker's new play centers on a man who takes a pair of pants to a local tailor only to end up commissioning a custom suit that will change both of their lives.

Interview: Playwright Michael Tucker and A TAILOR NEAR ME at NJ Rep
by Marina Kennedy

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will present A Tailor Near Me from July 27 to August 27. This world premiere comedy is written by Michael Tucker, directed by James Glossman, and stars Richard Kind and James Pickens, Jr.

In the play, a man goes to a tailor to have his suit pants let out because he's gained some weight since the last wore them. The tailor convinces him that what he really needs is a new suit, which leads to a negotiation, which leads to the making of a bespoke suit, which leads to alterations in both of their lives.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Tucker about his career and A Tailor Near Me at NJ Rep.

Michael Tucker is an actor, author and playwright. His first play, The M Spot debuted at NJ Rep as did his second play, Fern Hill. He is pleased to present the world premiere of his third play, A Tailor Near Me, at NJ Rep as well. His short plays, Pittsburgh and Zazú have been presented as part of The West End Festival of The Arts. He has also written three memoirs and a novel, After Annie. He has acted over the last fifty years in theater, TV and film, most notably in the TV Series, L.A. Law.

Tell us about the very first person to recognize your theatrical talents.

I think the very first person to realize I was an actor was me. It was lonely position for a while and then, in my freshman year of high school, my English teacher, who was to become a major influence and lifelong friend, introduced me to Shakespeare and I was off and running.

With all of your experience as an actor, author, and playwright, what advice do you have for people interested in a career in the arts?

Believe in yourself and in your talent. It's the only thing that will get you through the muck and mire of a career in the Arts.

Your playwriting has been very successful in recent years. Why do you think the genre is so important?

People go to the theater to find themselves. It's been that way since the Greeks. It's a mirror, which is not always pleasant to look into. But if we can't look at ourselves, we'll never grow; if society can't see itself, it will never improve.

Tell us a little about your experience working with NJ Rep.

This will be my third play to debut at NJ Rep. It's my home. They've been producing only new plays for the last twenty-six years and they've educated their audience to be open-minded and eager. They're the Little Engine That Could.

We'd love to know the inspiration for "A Tailor Near Me."

I had a life-long friend who was dying of cancer and I needed my suit pants let out a little so that I would be presentable at his funeral. The rest is from my imagination.

Can you tell us a little about the cast and creative team that is bringing the play to the Long Branch stage?

My wonderful director, James Glossman, is a master of casting, which many people think is the most crucial part of a director's job. In this case, we cast James Pickens, Jr and Richard Kind, and I don't think we could have done better. Our costume designer, Pat Doherty has had a particularly intricate job with this play because it all centers around the making of a bespoke suit. She's found some brilliant solutions. Jessica Parks is our set designer and she has been creating miracles on the stage at New Jersey Rep for over twenty years. We're in good hands.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

I think the less, the better. I'd like them to discover the play as it happens. But simply, a man goes to a tailor, who makes him a bespoke suit and the relationship that evolves changes both their lives.

What are some of your future plans?

First up after the show will be our son's wedding in Portland, Oregon. We're looking forward to that. After that, we hope to be harvesting our olives in Umbria during November. Unless show business somehow intervenes.

Anything else, absolutely anything you want to share with our readers!

Yes. Jill and I just celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. We're still bathing in the glow of that.

Victoria Advocate: 'The Silver Bell' at New Jersey Repertory Company inspired by love and laughter of LGBT culture

news12 New Jersey

'The Silver Bell' at New Jersey Repertory Company inspired by love and laughter of LGBT culture

Theatre inspired by the love, laughter and life of LGBT culture is on stage in Long Branch during this Pride Month. "The Silver Bell" is a love story that transcends space and time as people know it, between the characters Mico and James.

"It's the kind of story about these kinds of universal things, which are love and grief, and then it's shot through with this science fiction element. And for me that's something that I love doing. I used to teach science and math, and I enjoy that side of the world and that side of the brain," says playwright and actor Alan Flanagan.

He plays Mico. Brendan O'Rourke is James.

With a minimal set and maximum imagination, the two take the audience on a journey across alternate universes.

The Silver Bell" is one of five gay-themed plays on stage this month at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch in its Gay Pride Theatre Festival. It also includes a gallery exhibit of works by LGBT artists and a photo portrait show of members of the local LGBT community.

Tickets are currently on sale for festival programming, which runs through June 25.

Discover Jersey Arts

New Jersey Repertory Company Prepares for Pride Month Festival

The New Jersey Repertory Company, or NJ Rep, will once again host a Pride month festival in the Monmouth County community of Long Branch. The festival will consist of theater, art and photography and is just one element of a larger event taking place throughout the city. NJ Rep is the largest presenter in this event and their showcases will last the majority of the month.

NJ Rep Artistic Director Suzanne Barabas and Managing Director Dee Dee Irwin are excited to bring an entire month of Pride-themed programming back to Long Branch. Both expressed how thrilled they were to present a theater season filled with such variety while all relating to themes present in the LGBTQ+ community today.

"We wanted to be a part of the conversation and say that we were part of a world embracing everybody," Barabas said. "We want people to feel like they're welcomed." This year's festival will kick off with an art show hosted by NJ Rep showcasing the work of curator Mare Akana and a photography exhibition with pictures by Andrea Phox. Both will have an opening reception June 3 from 4 to 7 p.m. Phox said she was ecstatic to have her work shown in such a festival.

"I've been doing shows in the hallways [of NJ Rep's building] for years and for theater since 2017," Phox said. "And I got the idea to do this show, 'Out,' when they decided to do Pride at NJ Rep. I said I'm going to do a show on my own and take portraits of people who are out, and they loved it."

Additionally, there will be five plays hosted by the company and all of them will be performed at the West End Arts Center, located at 132 West End Ave. in Long Branch. Each of these plays was picked specifically for this festival. A few have performed at NJ Rep before, while others are premieres. Several of the plays were found at the Dublin Gay Theater Festival and were brought to the United States directly from Ireland. Barabas expressed how different each of these plays are and how important it is to express reality in today's LGBTQ+ world.

"We're very excited for all these plays," she said. "There are love stories, comedies and more. It's a great variety."

The first play being presented is "What Doesn't Kill You," which will run June 8-11. This play is an autobiographical story about the playwright, James Hindman. Next is "The Silver Bell," running June 8-18, and that is a gay love story of two men trying to find "love, loss and decent sausage rolls," direct from Edinburgh, Scotland. "Miss Delta Township" is third, and its performance dates are June 15-18. That play tells the story of a "typical" suburban American family living in the 1960s and beyond. Fourth is "Sister Mary's Playtime," a play in which a nun tells stories about their life. That production will run June 22-25. Also running on those dates is "Democracy Sucks," which tells the story of a gay professor teaching political philosophy. This play had a 15-minute Zoom production during COVID-19 and will make its full-length world premiere at NJ Rep.

"Democracy Sucks" playwright Monica Bauer expressed her gratitude that the full-length version would run at NJ Rep for the first time. She said that this project had been going on since 2012 and began its life as a short film. Her team, which also consists of director John FitzGibbon and actor John Fico, has waited for this moment for a long time.

"[When I started writing,] plays with gay protagonists often dealt with issues like discrimination," Bauer said. In 'Democracy Sucks', which I wrote specifically for Fico, his character is openly gay and that's not a problem. He goes on and on in class about his failed relationship with the dean of his college, and the fact that both are gay is not a problem. Being gay is just part of who Professor B is. We are all very proud about that!"

Marketing this festival will prove to be key for NJ Rep to get the word out beyond Long Branch that there are full Pride month events taking place within the city. Barabas said they are sending out postcards to the community to come join them, but Irwin also expressed other ways in which the organization is trying to alert people about these great events.

"We have signage at the location, but the city has sent out multiple emails and social media posts that we are participating in this citywide event," Irwin mentioned. "And personally, we have done the same. There are flyers all over the theater. We have announced it in many different locations and on social media as well."

Community participation is crucial for any event like this to work, and with the city of Long Branch supporting, this year's festival will prove to be a success. Because the entire month is about inclusivity and togetherness, and those values hold true for the NJ Rep organization.

"Everybody has a voice, everybody's voice is important," Irwin concluded. "But we need to really embrace everybody for the people they are and however they got there and appreciate all of these different perspectives."

Review: OUR SHRINKING, SHRINKING WORLD at NJ Rep-A Clever, New Play About Therapy and Relationships
by Marina Kennedy

"Anyone with a positive attitude doesn't understand the situation." by Dr. Lyman Hidalgo-Nyquist in Our Shrinking, Shrinking World

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJRep) is currently presenting the exciting world premiere of Our Shrinking, Shrinking World. The play is finely written by Richard Dresser, superbly directed by Joe Cacaci, and stars four outstanding actors who bring Dresser's unique, modern comedy to life. The show will be on the Long Branch stage through May 27.

Dr. Lyman Hidalgo-Nyquist is a long-time psychotherapist with a doomsday attitude and questionable therapeutic techniques. Lyman knows little or nothing about his patient Teddy who recently lost his father, has been suspended from his job as a policeman, and struggles with his relationship to his girlfriend, Katrina. There's a new, young therapist in town, Dr. Michael Carver. When Katrina decides to begin therapy with Dr. Carver, it raises the ire of Lyman. Tensions run high while revelations surface that include Dr. Lyman Hidalgo-Nyquist's professional insecurity, Katrina's reluctance to have Teddy's baby, Teddy's strange, difficult childhood, and Dr. Carver's unhappy teen years. While certain serious situations are addressed, the story is so cleverly presented that the humor just keeps on coming.

The cast includes Molly Carden as Katrina Pendergast; Kaileela Hobby as Dr. Michael Carver; Kevin O'Rourke as Dr. Lyman Hidalgo-Nyquist; and Jeff Rubino as Teddy Bucko. The four actors master the characters' distinctive personalities and they deliver Dresser's incisive dialogue with such authenticity, it seems that events are unfolding in real time. From therapy sessions, to the local bar and back to therapy again, you'll be captivated by the scenes in Our Shrinking, Shrinking World.

The production team has done a great job of creating the mood and the setting for the play. The team includes scenic design and props by Jessica Parks; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; lighting design by Jill Nagle; and sound design by Nick Simone. Kristin Pfeifer is the Production Stage Manager.

Now that the weather is nice, plan to visit to the Jersey shore and top off your day with Our Shrinking, Shrinking World at NJ Rep. It's a memorable show that we are sure our readers will enjoy.

Psychotherapy gets comedic treatment in new play 'Our Shrinking, Shrinking World'


There is a big, guffaw-generating surprise in the opening scene of "Our Shrinking, Shrinking World," Richard Dresser's consistently clever one-act comedy, which is currently making its world debut at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. And there are many more surprises to come.

"Our Shrinking, Shrinking World," which is directed by Joe Caraci, is the kind of comedy that is not just filled with funny lines, but is constantly pulling the rug out from under you, in a good way. You think you know where Dresser is going but then he goes somewhere else, adding a touch of absurdity to a play that is mainly about real people dealing with real, relatable problems.

Teddy (Jeff Rubino) is a cop who is undergoing psychotherapy because he has to, for professional reasons. His therapist, Dr. Hidalgo-Nyquist (Kevin O'Rourke), has a distinguished look and a calm, confident manner, but is treating him in an unconventional way. And Teddy's no-nonsense girlfriend Katrina (Molly Carden), who works in a hospital emergency room, suspects that Teddy isn't really getting anywhere.

They all live in a small, dead-end town where the weather always seems to be bad. The show's taped opening music is The Animals hit "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"; John Mellencamp's dour heartland anthem "Pink Houses" is heard later. The fact that all the scenes take place in a doctor's office or a bar add to the sense of stifling claustrophobia.

The recently widowed Hidalgo-Nyquist is the town's only psychotherapist. Until, that is, a rival (Dr. Carver, played by Kaileela Hobby) sets up a practice there. She seems assured and competent — at first, at least.

The show's title has to do, of course, with psychotherapy. But it also reflects Hidalgo-Nyquist's sense of existential dread, which he loves to drone on about. "Studies indicate that one out of every seven people doesn't exist anymore in a meaningful way," he says.

He denies another character's assumption that this is some kind of manifestation of his own depression. "I'm not depressed, I'm concerned," he says, referring to his belief in the impending death of mankind. "Anyone who isn't concerned is living in a sad little dream world."

To say that Hidalgo-Nyquist is stick in a rut is a major understatement. One of the play's running gags has to do with his unseen receptionist, Maggie, whom he won't fire despite her monumental incompetence.

"There's no A.C. because Maggie forgot to pay the electric bill," Hidalgo-Nyquist tells Teddy, at one point. "She just comes in for coffee and to make personal calls. She's rude, unprofessional, abusive to my patients."

"Why don't you fire her?" asks Teddy.

"Oh, I couldn't do that," says Hidalgo-Nyquist. "She's the glue that holds all this together." Indeed, all the relationships in "Our Shrinking, Shrinking World" are a little off. Teddy and Katrina love each other deeply but also have seemingly unresolvable differences that have resulted in them not marrying, despite being a couple for many years. The psychotherapists may be professional healers, but it isn't long before we find out they're in great need of help, themselves.

They also are wary of each other. "This town's not big enough for two shrinks," mutters Hidalgo-Nyquist, whose world has been turned upside down by the arrival of Dr. Carver — not just because she has destroyed his monopoly, but because she is as flighty and unpredictable as he is grim and stodgy.

Dresser shows great skill in building philosophical themes into "Our Shrinking, Shrinking World" with a light touch. There are lots of long, serious monologues and heart-to-heart exchanges in this play. But Dresser fills them with enough subtle humor and casually dropped revelations — things the characters reveal without intending to — to keep audience members on the edge of their seats.

A few scenes carry an emotional jolt, but Dresser doesn't overdo the fireworks. This is mainly a play about people who are stuck, and frustrated.

It would not be wrong to call this play a dark comedy. But like in any comedy — or in any therapy session — there is some hope. And by the end, the four characters have inched forward, gaining a small amount of understanding and compassion to help them deal with the confusion that reigns over them — and, as Dr. Hidalgo-Nyquist would argue, tediously but amusingly, over all modern life.

Out IN Jersey

"Our Shrinking, Shrinking World", or better living through therapy

by Allen Neuner

Kaileela Hobby and Kevin O'Rourke. Photo by Andrea Phox Photography.


NJ rep show builds to a verbally vivid, natural life

Jeff Rubino and Molly Carden. Photo by Andrea Phox Photography.

I don't know if it's something in the Jersey Shore water, or just serendipity, but down in Long Branch is the New Jersey Repertory Company, and they produce play after play after play of merit and interest and just plain old theatrical magic. They've done it again, with their newest play, Our Shrinking, Shrinking World by Richard Dresser, directed by Joe Cacaci.

Our Shrinking, Shrinking World takes place in a dreary Everytown where it always seems to be raining. Dr. Lyman Hidalgo-Nyquist (Kevin O"Rourke) is the town psychologist, and we first meet him during a therapy session with ex-cop Teddy Bucko (Jeff Rubino). Teddy's reinstatement on the force depends on him successfully completing therapy. Dr. Lyman sees this as a long-term mission, while Teddy's live-in girlfriend, Katrina Prendergast (Molly Carden) presses for more concrete results in less time.

Undermining Dr. Lyman's confidence is the recent arrival of another psychologist, Dr. Michael Carver (K. Hobby). The tug-of-war between Lyman and Carver leads to Teddy and Katrina expressing long-hidden truths to each other — and uncomfortable revelations about the doctors' own lives.

Playwright Dresser has written a play that surprises you at every turn. He turns cliches on their head to mine humor from events that border on the absurd while seriously addressing the need to find and hold on to hope in an ever-depressing world. His script pits world-weary cynicism against guarded optimism without having either seem like puerile attitudes. His characters come to learn that only through open communication can any of them find the redemption they all, to one degree or another, seek. Kaileela Hobby and Molly Carden on stage talking to each other Kaileela Hobby and Molly Carden.

Kaileela Hobby and Molly Carden. Photo by Andrea Phox Photography.

Joe Cacaci's solid direction polishes the play and its characters, creating a unified world that captures the audience's attention. In this he is aided by his highly skilled cast. O'Rourke's doctor is self-centered and self-assured yet vulnerable and empathetic enough to offer the hope of recovery to his patients. Rubino's Teddy and Carden's Katrina, while having a bedrock love for each other, have their own inner demons forcing them to use non-communication and deception to attempt closer connection. And Hobby's therapist, while offering recovery as a goal, has given in to the uselessness of fighting against the wrongs of the world, adopting a "live for today" philosophy to escape dealing with a perceived doomed future.

As usual, it is NJ Rep's design team that manages to raise the bar on how creative one can be on what must be a tight budget. The two-level set, showing both doctor's offices (using a subtle shift in furniture to differentiate them) and the local bar, is designed by Jessica Parks and lit by Jill Nagle, with Nick Simone's sound design adding appropriate atmospheric effects. Patricia E. Doherty's costumes, as always, visually reinforce the milieu of the characters and their town.

Our Shrinking, Shrinking World starts slow but builds to verbally vivid, natural life. It is a joy to experience and may lead some to consider their outlook on a world where new outrages occur with ever-increasing frequency. I strongly recommend you make the trip to Long Branch to see the New Jersey Repertory Company's production of Richard Dresser's flat-out funny Our Shrinking, Shrinking World.

Interview: Kevin O'Rourke in OUR SHRINKING, SHRINKING WORLD at NJ Rep from 5/4 to 5/27

by Marina Kennedy
Apr 27 2023

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJRep) in Long Branch will present Our Shrinking, Shrinking World written by Richard Dresser and directed by Joe Cacaci. The play stars Molly Carden, Kaileela Hobby, Kevin O'Rourke and Jeff Rubino. Performances run May 4 through 27 on Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 2pm.

Dr. Lyman Hidalgo-Nyquist is a psychotherapist with a climate-induced apocalyptic complex, a loose grasp of therapeutic technique, and a looser grasp of professional ethics. When his long-suffering clients decide to see a new, young therapist who's just moved to town, Lyman's professional jealousy spikes-along with his fear of losing income.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin O'Rourke who plays Dr. Lyman Hidalgo-Nyquist about his career and the upcoming show at NJ Rep.

O'Rourke has performed on Broadway in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, SPOILS OF WAR, and ALONE TOGETHER, as well as THE CITY OF CONVERSATION at Lincoln Center, OUTSIDE MULLINGAR at The White Heron, THE NIGHT ALIVE at John Drew, productions at Manhattan Theatre Club, The Public, Second Stage, Playwrights Horizons, Arena Stage, Roundabout, Long Wharf, Primary Stages, Barrington Stage, Williamstown Theatre Festival and Baltimore's Centerstage. His roles on television include MADAM SERETARY, LAW AND ORDER, THE SOPRANOS, OUTSIDERS, ELEMENTARY and VEEP. He also won a SAG Award for his role as Edward Bader on BOARDWALK EMPIRE and was nominated for his role on AMC's REMEMBER WENN. His film credits include THE IRISHMAN with Robert DiNiro and Al Pacino, AMERICAN PICKLE, VICE VERSA, THE AVIATOR, TATOO and FREEHELD. As a director, Kevin staged the NY premiere of Abi Morgan's TENDER, Jonathon Draxton's SOLDIER at HERE Arts Center, and THE PHYSICISTS at Williamstown Theatre Festival. In 2005 he founded the WILLIAMS COLLEGE SUMMER THEATRE LAB and for 10 years served as its Artistic Director.

When did you first realize your penchant for theatre and the performing arts?

I was one of 8 children and grabbing attention was a talent I developed early on. My first theatre experience was in 7th grade when I had one line in the high school play. The reaction I got made me wide-eyed and I continued from there.

Do you have a bit of advice for people hoping for a career in the entertainment field?

Get a good, well rounded education and see everything you can. Go to Opera, Dance, Museums, Music...everything. And READ! Storytelling is storytelling, Art is Art, and it will always inform your work. I think one of the reasons I continue to work is my concerted effort to learn and grow with each of the roles I play. I believe my Liberal Arts education helps me understand and appreciate the depth of the work in a way others perhaps can not. I'm lucky to have that broad based knowledge. I would encourage all emerging artists to never stop learning.

What are some of the challenges of performing in many different mediums?

TV and movies are very different than theatre, but the basics are the same. Be honest, listen and think. That said, an actor needs to adjust to the scale of the audience. Even though TV is seen by millions, the performance is tailored to a camera 4 feet away. In the same way, your performance in an intimate house like NJ Rep is very different than a Broadway house.

We'd love to know more about your role as Founder and Artistic Director for the Williams College Summer Theatre Lab.

The Williams College Summer Theatre Lab was an 8 week summer theatre program for Williams students and returning Williams graduates. Started in 2005, it was a cross-generational theatre company that nurtured new work developed by alumni, while creating opportunities for students to work with successful mid-career theatre artists. We did classes, workshops, and immersive training, and developed and produced about 15 productions with students and alumni actors like Gordon Clapp, Adam LeFevre and Michal.

How do you like working at NJRep?

NJ Rep is a terrific place to work and develop new work. We're having a blast!

Can you tell us a little about your fellow cast members and the team that is bringing "Our Shrinking, Shrinking World" to the stage?

We have an amazing cast for OUR SHRINKING, SHRINKING WORLD. Molly Carden and I worked together several years ago on what was perhaps my favorite theatrical experience-a production of Conor McPherson's play THE NIGHT ALIVE at the John Drew Theatre. She is a wonderful, honest, funny, actress and it's such a treat to once again act with her. Jeff Rubino and Kaileela Hobby are also terrific and are tackling the play with a smart understanding of Richard's twisted world. It's a fun group and we're enjoying all of it. I have worked with Joe Cacaci and Richard Dresser on numerous plays over the last 30 years and in many ways they are the reason I'm here in Long Branch. Joe is a wonderfully collaborative director, and I absolutely love Richard's work-it's funny, smart, and a joy to perform. Richard and I have been friends, neighbors, raised our sons together, and even coached little league together. Needless to say, he knows how to write for my voice.

What would you like audience members to know about the show?

Our play is a dark, heightened comedy with incredible language and characters. Think Vonnegut or Pynchon. But in many ways, this play is really about hope and how we can step forward and continue on in the face of the craziness and despair that is our current world.

Can you share with us any of your future plans?

After OSSW closes I head to Scotland for a week of golf with my wife. I love golf, but unfortunately golf doesn't always love me back. When I return from that outing I start rehearsals for OFF PEAK at The Great Barrington Public Theatre. That show opens in early July.

Anything else, absolutely anything you'd like BWW NJ readers to know.

Please support NJRep. It is a treasure.

'The Shot,' at NJ Rep, tells Katharine Graham's story with brutal honesty


Robin Gerber's one-woman play "The Shot," about longtime Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham — which is currently being presented at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch — starts with a scene showing her as a retired octogenarian, accepting a lifetime achievement award from the nonprofit organization, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. She talks a little about her career and touches on some highlights, including the Post's presidency-rocking Watergate coverage, and its publishing — along with The New York Times — of the Pentagon Papers.

"Some of you may be too young to know this," she says, "but our actions most likely contributed to the ending of the Vietnam War." She also mentions that she was the first woman to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

"But as I look back," she adds, "I find that I don't dwell on those successes."

The lights go out. And when they come back on, we are transported away from that stuffy gala dinner, and Graham, as played by Sharon Lawrence, becomes her younger self. Most of the Michelle Joyner-directed "The Shot" — a one-act, 75-minute monologue that takes place on a minimally furnished set (a desk, a couple of chairs, a door and not much more) — is concerned with Graham's life before she assumed control of the Post, in 1963, when she was in her mid-40s. It shows her, not just as the steely executive she became, but, more often, as a sometimes insecure young girl and an affluent suburban housewife with a distant, difficult mother and a complicated relationship with her husband, Philip Graham.

She is charmed by him at first, and flattered by this handsome, confident, worldly man's attention: Lawrence instantaneously transforms herself from an elder statesman into a giddy girl. But we see how cruel Philip can be when Katharine describes the first time they have sex. It's a warning sign that goes unheeded. They marry, have four children and live, by outward appearances, a fairy-tale Washington, D.C. life. Philip runs the Post and hobnobs with politicians, including John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. But he drinks heavily, is unfaithful, struggles with mental illness, and becomes physically abusive. She never stops loving him. But behind the the façade they build together, things go from bad to worse.

I expected to learn a lot about Katharine Graham from this play, and I did. But I didn't expect to be so moved by her story. And the audience at the show I saw seemed to be similarly caught up in the action, hanging on every word.

"The Shot" — which was written in 2017 and presented in a full production for the first time, last year — is based on Gerber's 2005 book, "Katharine Graham: The Leadership Journey of an American Icon." Graham also has told her life story in her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1997 autobiography, "Personal History," which earned praise for its unflinching honesty. "Kay Graham has lived in a world so circumscribed that her candor and forthrightness are all the more affecting," wrote Nora Ephron in her review of "Personal History" for The New York Times.

The same goes for this play. Lawrence, sporting Graham's signature helmet-like haircut, speaks with an air of upper-class elegance and projects a sense of calm composure, like Graham always did. But that only makes the glimpses of confusion and vulnerability she shows more heartbreaking.

Katharine Graham's father bought The Washington Post when she was a teenager, and journalism seems to run deep in her blood. She worked on student newspapers and became a professional journalist after graduating from college, before she married Philip Graham. At one point, when she is talking about The Washington Post, she says that "the first duty that it carries, to tell the truth, is my sacred trust."

The greatest thing about "The Shot" is that, in it, we see Katharine Graham extending that sacred trust to her own life, and telling the truth about it, no matter how difficult. It's painful but liberating to watch such a regal figure dive so deeply into the depths of her own suffering — and emerge from it as a wiser, more compassionate version of herself — and this makes for a unique and memorable theatrical experience.

Out IN Jersey

"The Shot" gives an in-depth view of a modern titaness

by Allen Neuner

The Shot: Sharon Lawrence performing as Katharine Graham. Photo from New Jersey Repertory Company


Katharine Graham was the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company

The Shot: Sharon Lawrence performing as Katharine Graham. Photo from New Jersey Repertory Company

When one hears the name, Katharine Graham, one thinks of the publisher of The Washington Post during the scandalous Nixon administration. Graham, facing the possibility of imprisonment and the loss of her newspaper, stood firm to protect the freedom of the press with the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

She was the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the privileged daughter of Eugene Mayer, who purchased the Post in 1933, and the glamorous wife of Phil Graham, who inherited the Post from Mayer.

In Robin Gerber's play The Shot, the curtain is pulled back to reveal Graham's years of psychological abuse, first at the hands of her mother Agnes, then increasingly coupled with physical abuse by her husband. Playwright Gerber, a biographer of Graham and historical expert on Eleanor Roosevelt, in her first play, reveals strikingly how domestic abuse and violence know no boundaries of class or wealth.

Acclaimed actress Sharon Lawrence takes on the daunting task of embodying Graham in this one-person show. While on its own, the play is good, Ms. Lawrence's virtuoso performance makes it great. She not only embodies Katharine Graham but also brings Phil Graham and Agnes Mayer, her abusers, to life. Her skill at not only portraying Phil and Agnes but also, without being overt, giving the audience cues as to the rationales behind their abuses is nothing short of amazing. The fact that Lawrence does this while transitioning smoothly in and out of Katherine's persona makes one understand why she is one of the outstanding actresses of our time.

The Shot: Sharon Lawrence performing as Katharine Graham. Photo from New Jersey Repertory Company

Lawrence is adroitly guided in her performance by the skilled and sensitive direction of Michelle Joyner. Between them, they create the intertwined worlds of Katharine Graham — the glittering high society of Washington and New York and the dark, private world of child and spousal abuse to which Graham was subjected – and present them as a seamless whole.

Lawrence's shattering performance in The Shot is triumphant, as is this play. All lovers of the theatre, including sophisticated theatre-goers, aficionados of fine acting, and especially those of us who lived through the tumultuous Nixon years, owe it to themselves, to ourselves, to see this show during its all-too-brief run. I cannot more strongly urge you to go.


Front Row Center

The Shot

by Victoria Dammer

The Shot, a new play by Robin Gerber, presents a pivotal moment that changed the course of American history and gave power to a woman who spent years under the control of an abusive husband.

Sharon Lawrence stars in the solo performance as Katharine Graham, daughter of the Washington Post owner. Her wealthy father overlooked her to become publisher of the Post and handed the company's reins to her husband, Philip. Graham then suffered years of physical and mental abuse at the hands of her husband, and she also endured his philandering until he took his own life with a shotgun.

"Power has no sex," Graham said, but back in the 60s, it did. It was a misogynist world where men held all the power. Lawrence transformed herself into the persona of Graham so well it was hard to discern she was acting; her hair, dress, mannerisms, and especially life's pain were all Graham.

Graham recollects about her life before becoming the publisher of the Washington Post with all the infamy, power, and respect she garnered upon exposing the Pentagon Papers. When she became the "new" woman instead of the "traditional" one, she was applauded as the first female Fortune 500 CEO. She successfully ran one of the most influential news publications in the country.

Graham's traditional life before fame was not an easy one. She was from a wealthy family, abandoned mainly by her socially active and verbally abusive parents; she married Harvard graduate Philip Graham. Although she stated succinctly, "I finally did something right," with the marriage, her rewards were few other than her children. The play provided glimpses of several physical waves of abuse, although not documented in Graham's autobiography, but well-known to those in her and her husband's intimate circle in Washington, D.C. The abuse ended when Philip took his own life.

Graham proposes the question often spoken by abuse victims: "Why didn't I leave?" Lawrence presents the anguish Graham lived through with her astounding talent during the 75 minutes she was on stage. The audience can relate to this situation that plagues so many women, even to this day. The #metoo movement has brought this continuing harassment to the forefront of the news, and playwright Robin Gerber stated she dreams The Shot "will play a role in holding the focus on abuse."

Lawrence held the audience breathless during the performance. After the show, an audience member questioned Lawrence if the sadness and abuse disturbed her. She said although she was never involved in this type of relationship, she couldn't help but feel pity for Graham.

"Such power and privilege, but so trapped," Lawrence said. Let's not glorify suicide for the change it made in Graham's life, for it is a severe subject not to be laughed at. The suicide is just a part of Graham's story.

During the talk back, Director Michelle Joyner shared the stage with Lawrence and agreed when she said, "We have a duty to tell stories about women." The entire audience followed with resounding applause.

Interview: Sharon Lawrence in THE SHOT at NJ Rep 4/6 to 4/23
by Marina Kennedy

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch will present The Shot for three weeks only from April 6 to April 23. The show is written by Robin Gerber, directed by Michelle Joyner, and stars Emmy nominee and SAG award winner, Sharon Lawrence. The Shot tells of Katherine Graham who protected a horrifying secret before she became the famed publisher of the Washington Post.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing Sharon Lawrence about her career and the upcoming show at NJ Rep.

Lawrence is currently starring in the Paramount+ series JOE PICKETT based on the best seller of the same name. Previously she starred opposite Kirsten Dunst in the Showtime series ON BECOMING A GOD IN CENTRAL FLORIDA, and as an elusive librarian in HOME BEFORE DARK for Apple TV. Many recurring roles include REBEL with Katey Sagal and Andy Garcia, a serial killer in CBS's CRIMINAL MINDS, Fiona's acerbic boss on Showtime's SHAMELESS, Sam Elliott's love interest in THE RANCH, and in the critically acclaimed series QUEEN SUGAR produced by Ava DuVernay. Sharon continues to be recognized from her multiple Emmy nominated and SAG Award-winning portrayals of ADA Sylvia Costas Sipowitz in the ground breaking NYPD BLUE and as Izzy's tender but ditzy Mom on GREY'S ANATOMY (for which she earned her 4th EMMY nod). Her 5th EMMY nomination came in 2021 as Lead Actress in a digital series -THE GAZE. Film work includes THE LOST HUSBAND with Leslie Bibb and Josh Duhamel, OF MIND AND MUSIC with Anjeannue Ellis and the indie hit MIDDLE OF NOWHERE directed by Ava DuVernay. An accomplished stage actress, and 2012 Lunt-Fontane Ten Chimneys Fellow, Sharon appeared in the West Coast premiere of A KID LIKE JAKE directed by Jennifer Chambers. LA theatre credits includes her acclaimed performance in THE MYSTERY OF LOVE AND SEX at the Mark Taper Forum, playing twenty different women in the LOVE, NOEL cabaret at The Wallis, at The Pasadena Playhouse she starred in Noel Coward's final play A SONG AT TWILIGHT and as Vivian Leigh in ORSON'S SHADOW for which she was nominated for an Ovation Award, and won the LA Drama Critics Circle Award. She was part of a rotating cast in Nora & Delia Ephron's Off Broadway production of LOVE, LOSS & WHAT I WORE, and starred opposite Cherry Jones in TONGUE OF A BIRD at The Public Theatre. Sharon created the role of Maureen in the premiere of Theresa Rebeck's POOR BEHAVIOR at the Mark Taper Forum and her last Broadway appearance was as Velma Kelly in CHICAGO.

We'd love to know who was the very first person to recognize your theatrical talents.

Definitely my mother was definitely the first to recognize that I had any theatrical inclination. She tells the story of passing by the nursery when was about 2 years old in my crib laying on my back, moving my legs around and reciting and original creation "I'm pointing to the left, I'm pointing to the right. I'll go up in the sky and point my toes tonight!" Ha! She wrote it right down in my baby book- so I know it's gotta be true.

Can you tell us a little about your professional training?

I'd say my earliest professional training was being cast by the play makers repertory company that is the resident lord Theatre Company based at my university UNC- Chapel Hill in re-invoragated classics and original and musicals alongside the MFA students and ACTORS EQUITY actors like Ellen Crawford and Michael Rupert, Jim Hayman, Michael Cumpsty, Katherine Misele, Wendy Barrie. It was run by the time by David Rotenberg and Gregory Boyd who had come to Carolina from Yale and we're also part of the leadership at the Williamstown Theater Festival. It was a very heady time, and I learned a lot about professional theater when I was a sophomore. I then went on to do summer stock in many companies in the Southeast. Working with professional choreographers and directors and actors allowed me to dream big.

How do you balance such a busy acting career?

I give credit to my natural curiosity and enthusiasm which makes it hard for me to say no to anything that interest me. My choices are influenced by supporting interesting stories, and particularly helping women launch their projects, like THE SHOT, mixed with content that I believe will have commercial appeal. My husband and dog are very supportive as are my professional reps and while I missing the friends in my home base, I always develop close relationships with the people I'm working with and love exploring new locations that the work takes me to like Calgary where my JOE PICKETT series on Paramount+ that shoots. What piece of advice do you have for people interested in the performing arts? Play the long game, develop your technique in equal measure with your mental, physical and spiritual discipline. As a performing artist you are your equipment and it is ever evolving. You must be the expert on your instrument.

We'd like to know some of the challenges of performing the one-woman show, "The Shot."

Challenges so far have been staying hydrated!!! I've played Kay in the summer, winter, spring and fall and the air quality is different in each environment so my system must learn what I need to make it though 75 minutes of non-stop talking. Luckily, I play multiple characters and some of can swig back a drink:)

How do you like working at NJ Rep?

The family atmosphere here is so inviting and supportive. That is just one of the reasons this theatre, created by the lovely Dr. Gabor and Suzanne Barabas over 25 years ago, has been honored with Many awards and accolades and was recommended by my colleagues.

What would you like audiences to know about "The Shot?"

The life of Katharine Graham has been lauded for her professional accomplishments. This play reveals the source of her determination, her judgment, her courage and resilience. The circumstances we explore in the play are not only relatable, but also inspiring.

Why do you think the current times are right for this show?

Women's leadership comes in many forms and as Kay grew into her role as the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company, she herself said "Once, power was considered a masculine attribute. In fact, power has no sex."

Can you share with us any of your future plans?

Since JOE PICKETT the modern western series comes out in a few months, I'll be promoting Season 2 which I'm so excited about. It's taking me back to my early days as a saloon singer!

by Marina Kennedy

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch is now presenting the world premiere of The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project through April 2nd. This engaging show is written and performed by John Jiler with musical accompaniment by clarinetist, Lee Odom. The production features superb direction by Margarett Perry.

The play tells of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's son, Robert who was orphaned after his parents were convicted for espionage and executed. At the age of six, Robert and his older brother were adopted by the Meeropol family. Abe Meeropol was a teacher who crafted poetry and wrote Billie Holiday's hit song, "Strange Fruit." The show addresses the Rosenbergs' trial, prevailing attitudes about communism, along with facts about Robert's feelings, his education, legal career, and activism.

With an impressive record of publications and performances, John Jiler proves to be a master storyteller on the NJ Rep stage. He seamlessly changes roles to bring The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project to life as he portrays young Robert Rosenberg; his mother, Ethel; the trial's presiding judge, Irving Kaufman; W.E.B. Dubois; and others. Jiler's well-crafted prose also lends insights into the social and political climate of the times. The clarinet music performed by the talented composer and band leader, Lee Odom makes the production all the more captivating. The music is perfectly placed to illuminate the story.

The Production Team has done a top job to set the overall mood for the show. The Team includes scenic design and props by Jessica Parks; costume design, Patricia E. Doherty; lighting design, Jill Nagle; and sound design, Nick Simone. Kristin Pfeifer is the Production Stage Manager; Rachael Malloy, Assistant Stage Manager; Janey Huber, Assistant Lighting Designer and Assistant Director; James Lockhart; Master Electrician; Brian Snyder; Technical Director; Donna Stiles; Scenic Design Assistant; and Blake Robinson, Props Assistant.

The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project is a gem of a production. It will appeal to people who are interested in history, social issues, and those who want to enjoy a excellent theatrical performance with outstanding music.

Out IN Jersey

"The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project" is an imaginative tour-de-force

by Allen Neuner

John Jiler and Lee Odom: Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project. Photo by Andrea Phox Photography


A one-man performance piece about the life of Robert Meeropol

John Jiler and Lee Odom: Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project. Photo by Andrea Phox Photography

Actor/playwright John Jiler's wife told him an interesting piece of history one day: the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the only Americans tried and executed for espionage during peacetime, were adopted by the man who wrote Billie Holiday's signature song, "Strange Fruit." From this seed grew The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project, a one-man performance piece about the life of Robert Meeropol, the younger son of the Rosenbergs. This flight of theatrical imagination is now on display by the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch — and it must be experienced.

Jiler has written a series of monologues which, when strung together, create a kind of dialogue or debate between those who saw the Rosenbergs as innocent pawns in a larger battle of ideologies and those who saw their political activity as a rejection, even a betrayal, of all the values post-war America stood for. Jiler, skillfully directed by Margarett Perry, portrays all the characters in the play, starting with Robert, the heartbroken six-year-old losing his parents, becoming the middle-aged man fighting for the same ideals they espoused. But Jiler also portrays Irving Kaufman, the judge who presided over the Rosenbergs' trial; both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; and Abel Meeropol, Robert's adoptive father. He is W.E.B. DuBois, the early Black rights activist, and Billie Holiday, who sang the definitive version of "Strange Fruit," a song about lynchings in the USA written by Abel Meeropol. He is Lewis Powell, a creator of the modern conservative intellectual movement before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, and Oveta Culp Hobby, the lone woman in Eisenhower's cabinet, among other characters.

Balancing Jiler's acting is the musical accompaniment of Lee Odom on clarinet and drums. Her evocative melodic choices add a richer tone to this play, making it much more than a recitation of facts or a display of warring political philosophies. Odom's music is the "second actor" in this one-man tour-de-force, providing emotional balance to intellectual points of view. The use of clarinet and drums calls forth the "outsider" cultures of Jewish-Americans and African-Americans in mid-20th century America.

John Jiler and Lee Odom: Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project. Photo by Andrea Phox Photography

As with other productions at NJ Rep, the scenery and lighting take the simplest elements and infuse them with imagination. In this case, semi-sheer full-length curtains creating a zig-zag pathway from the back to the front of the stage, a star field at the back of the set, and soft spotlights on both performers provide an almost dream-like air surrounding the re-telling of this side note of history. Kudos to scenic designer Jessica Parks and lighting designer Jill Nagle, performing the extraordinary stage magic that has come to be a hallmark of NJ Rep productions.

The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project may stir up old memories and resurrect old arguments about the guilt or innocence of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. However, it brings attention to an early 50's cause celebre and its lasting influences on the roots of today's political thinking — a strange fruit, indeed. NJ Repertory Company succeeds again in bringing powerful new plays to the attention of its audiences. This is a show that must be seen about an event that is still in living memory. I cannot more strongly encourage you to see it.

History resonates powerfully in 'The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project'


John Jiler, left, and Lee Odom co-star in "The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project" at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, through April 2.

Taking the stage at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch for "The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project," John Jiler, who wrote it and also stars in it, introduces it as "a true story, with a fanciful touch here or there."

Those fanciful touches, though, are the ones that make the play a powerful one, and one that's politically relevant for the current moment.

As you might guess, the "Rosenberg" in the title refers to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg — Jewish-American Communist Party members who were controversially executed for espionage nearly 70 years ago (June 19, 1953) — and their children. And "Strange Fruit" refers to the Civil Rights Era protest song, popularized by Billie Holiday, that was written by Abel Meeropol, who adopted (with his wife, Anne) the Rosenbergs' sons Michael and Robert, after their parents' death.

John Jiler in "The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project."

Jiler — who is joined onstage only by clarinetist and percussionist Lee Odom, in this show — makes his main character Robert Rosenberg/Meeropol, who was 6 when his parents died and later became an activist and lawyer. Jiler also plays a variety of other characters, including Judge Irving Kaufman, who presided over the Rosenbergs' trial; Oveta Culp, a Cabinet member in the Eisenhower administration who takes an interest in the case; African-American activist and author W.E.B. Du Bois; and Billie Holiday herself, with whom Robert has an imaginary discussion. Jiler signifies the character he is playing at any given time through vocal and mannerism changes, and accessories: a scarf for Culp, for instance, and a hat and cane for Du Bois.

Under the direction of Margarett Perry, most of the characters are vividly depicted. Particularly memorable are Jiler's sad-and-wise Holiday, and his Du Bois, who is portrayed with a self-confident strut and a biting wit.

"There's the stink of racism about all of it," Du Bois says of the Rosenbergs' case, "and, believe me, these old nostrils are very finely attuned to it."

Also, "I'm not saying that White America is full of ignoramuses — and I'm not saying it isn't, either."

The set design, by Jessica Parks, is simple but stylish, utilizing images that root the story in history. Odom's playing adds texture and emotion; he sticks, mostly, to clarinet, which works well because of the instrument's connection both to klezmer music, and jazz. "This is a story about two very distinct, different cultures, and this is the sound that weaves through both of them," Jiler says as part of his introduction.

The details of the Rosenbergs' lives are only lightly sketched, though a portion of the play when their goodbye letter to their sons is read is quite heartbreaking. Don't expect, though, much in the way of details about the trial, or for Jiler to linger very long over the question of whether they were guilty or innocent.

Abel Meeropol, who teaches in high school and writes poems as well as songs, is portrayed as self-deprecating, unpretentious and quite likeable. Robert is first shown as a child, and then as an adult trying to make sense of his past. An eternal optimist, he is forever working for causes he believes in and being tortured for the "real world" compromises he has to make at the law firm — run by more cynical lawyers — at which he works.

Cruel intolerance, meanwhile, is represented by Culp, a right-wing cultural warrior who pledges "We're not going anywhere," and by a political mentee of hers, who is seen giving a speech soon after her 1995 death and taking her racist and reactionary views even further. He argues, chillingly, that the most important thing in politics is not to help people, but to give them "someone to blame for it all."

And so it becomes clear that Jiler did not become interested in this story because something extraordinary happened in 1953, but because the story continues to resonate, and the political cycles that were in play in 1953 continue to repeat.


by Marina Kennedy
Mar 6 2023

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will present The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project written by John Jiler and directed by Margarett Perry. The play stars John Jiler and clarinetist, Lee Odom. Performances run March 9 through April 2.

Award-winning actor and playwright John Jiler tells the remarkable story of the youngest child of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Orphaned at six following his parents' execution for espionage, the boy was adopted by the man who wrote the song "Strange Fruit" - seared into our consciousness by Billie Holiday. Playing a gallery of rogues, heroes and saints, Jiler takes us on a journey from then 'til now...

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing John Jiler about his career and the upcoming show at NJ Rep.

Jiler is a writer of both drama and prose. He was the recipient of both the Richard Rodgers Award and the Kleban Librettists' Award for his musical Avenue X, which played in New York at Playwrights' Horizons and in some fifty cities around the world. He was a runner-up for the Weissberger Prize for his first full-length play Sour Springs. His work has been seen coast to coast, from the Eugene O'Neill National Playwright's Conference to the Kennedy Center to Seattle Rep and many places in between. His most recent book, "Sleeping With The Mayor" was named a New York Times' "Most Notable Book." His first, "Dark Wind" was called by the Village Voice "a classic." As a journalist he has also written for the NY Times, The Nation, and the Village Voice, where the stories that led to Avenue X and "Sleeping With The Mayor" first appeared. Among his current theatrical projects are Big Red Sun a World War Two era story with composer Georgia Stitt, recently seen at the NAMT Festival and shortly to appear at the York Theatre; Channel, a new play at the Labyrinth Theatre's Barn Series; and Sirocco, ink still wet. His first one-man show, Explicit Vows, was seen at both Playwrights Horizons and the Flea Theatre; his new one, Ripe, also work-shopped at Playwrights Horizons, was performed at Theatre For The New City and hailed by the New York Times as "classic." In his former life as an actor he appeared at the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Hartford Stage Company, and Chicago's Body Politic, where he won the Chicago Drama Critic's Best Actor Award. He has just completed his first novel, "North Of Here."

We'd love to know about your earliest interest in the theatrical arts and writing?

My best friend growing up was the son of a Broadway Musical Director. He would sometimes take us to work. and there we would sit---at the age of 9---and watch Ethel Merman rehearse 'Call Me Madam.' We were in the first row, and all I remember is the plush velvet seats and the size of her larynx. For some reason, it made me think "I want to be up there.."

Who were some of the first people to recognize your talents?

My very first play, African Star, was chosen by the O'Neill Playwrights Conference. It was terrifying and empowering all at once. I tried to mask it all with youthful arrogance, but it was thrilling to be among my theatre heros.

You wear many hats. How do you balance the many elements of your artistic career?

I've always had aspirations to both crafts, writing and acting, and I think one feeds the other. And at a certain point, the one-man show becomes an irresistible temptation. I've done three. The first two were highly personal (my romantic life and the death of my father) but this one allows me to widen my net, and talk about the world around me.

How do you like working with NJ Rep?

New Jersey Rep is a creative beacon in this country. Most if not all important regional theatres feel obliged to pepper their seasons with the occasional light comedy or holiday show to avoid subscriber rebellion. NJ Rep feels no such obligation. They ONLY do new plays, and as such, they are like a mountain stream feeding fresh water into the somewhat stagnant pool of American culture.

What have been some of the challenges of both writing and acting in Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project?

The sheer exhaustion of it! And the moments in rehearsal when the director says "this line is a little odd. Can I have a conference with the writer?"

This is an important play for our times. What would you like audiences to know about the show?

The polarization that we're all feeling in this country at the moment is nothing new. It was roiling us apart during the Vietnam War, twenty years before that in the McCarthy era when the Rosenbergs were executed, and frankly all the way back to the Civil War. Sometimes the warriors in these battles-with guns or words---have children. And it is those children who often pay the price, in neglect or martyrdom.

Can you tell us a little bit about the team that is bringing Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project to the Long Branch stage?

The RosenbergStrange Fruit team is one of the most exciting I've ever been a part of. Clarinetist Lee Odom, with whom I share the stage, is a consummate musician, equally at home in a gospel setting, a jazz club, or a concert hall. The clarinet is the unifying sound between the Jewish (klezmer) and Black (jazz) cultures.....a major theme of this piece.

Director Margarett Perry needs no introduction to theatre audiences. Her work has been seen everywhere; from New York, to regional theatres around the country, to the Edinburgh Festival, where she has won several Fringe First Awards....and where The Rosenberg/Strange Fruit Project will be heading in August!

What are some of your future plans?

After New Jersey Rep, the show will at some point return to Playwrights Horizons Downtown, where it was spawned as a workshop last spring. In July it will be seen at 59E59, and in August at the Edinburgh Festival. My 'day job' during all this will be finishing a screenplay, "Smoke Ring Day," an adaptation of a coming-of-age novel by Andrew Fisher, a wildly talented west coast writer.

Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know?

Support live theatre!

Out IN Jersey

Take a hilarious trip to "Popcorn Falls"

by Allen Neuner

Popcorn Falls: (L) James Hindman and (R) Tom Souhrada. Photo by Andrea Phox Photography


Popcorn Falls, a community facing bankruptcy and dissolution

Popcorn Falls: (R) James Hindman and (L) Tom Souhrada. Photo by Andrea Phox Photography

The New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch has long been known for its ambitious and well-received productions of modern dramas. Now they show they're equally adept at flat-out farce with Popcorn Falls, written by the multi-talented James Hindman and acted by Mr. Hindman and Tom Souhrada. Directed by Rose Riccardi, Hindman and Souhrada portray over 20 offbeat citizens of the small town of Popcorn Falls brilliantly. Their chameleon-like portrayals alone are reason enough to go see this truly marvelous play.

The action takes place in Popcorn Falls, a community facing bankruptcy and dissolution after the source of their main tourist attraction, a waterfall from which the town takes its name, is dammed up by a neighboring community.

The town's newly-elected mayor, Ted Trundle (Hindman), expects to get financial help from the county, only to be told that a grant from the local arts council is dependent on the town producing a play. Trundle, faced with an impossibly tight deadline, plus the fact that there is no theater in the town and no play to perform, joins forces with the town's chief handyman, Joe (Souhrada) to convince the citizenry to rise above their petty disagreements and fears and save their town.

The acting and direction are sublime. As in the best farces, the action starts slow but builds to a barely-contained whirlwind of near-catastrophe as the townsfolk race against time to write and put on their play. Hindman does fine work as Mayor Trundle, while Souhrada is a solid Joe, and both men ably portray many other characters of both genders. Together, Hindman and Souhrada, with their fluid vocal and physical talents, are a match made in comedic heaven, possessing the rare gift of portraying each of their many parts as easily recognizable individuals.

NJ Rep's fine in-house team of designers rises to the demands of the show. Chief among these are Jessica Parks, who designed the multi-purpose set; Patricia Doherty, whose clever use of accessories in her minimalist costume designs helps delineate the individuality of the many characters; and the lighting and sound designs of Jill Nagle and Nick Simone.

Popcorn Falls is a marvel — a full-blown, riotous farce that carries within it the hope of overcoming one's past mistakes and the uplifting power of a community working together. It is a beautifully, hilariously acted two-hander, skillfully and lovingly directed, and I cannot recommend it more highly. It is a gem of this or any other season, and New Jersey Repertory Company is to be praised for bringing it to us. Take a trip off the beaten path and visit the folks in Popcorn Falls!

An upstart theater troupe tries to save a small town. Apparently, it's a two-man job. | Review

By Patrick Maley | For NJ Advance Media

Charming? Check!
Funny? Check!
Inventive? Check!
Short? And check!

What more could you want out of a winter night at the theater?

"Popcorn Falls," on stage at Long Branch's New Jersey Repertory Company, hits all these desires and more as James Hindman and Tom Souhrada fly in and out of a dozen or so characters, telling the story of a plucky little town banding together to save itself from ruin. The play grows out of a space somewhere between "Parks and Rec" and "It's a Wonderful Life," having a great deal of fun while celebrating the quirky spirit of small town America.

Hindman (also the playwright) plays the new mayor of Popcorn Falls, a small town whose history stretches to colonial America but is in danger of collapsing: The waterfall that has given the town its name, its water supply and its steady stream of tourists has been thwarted by the next town upriver building a dam. Despite his best efforts, the mayor cannot convince the authorities to bail them out with a big influx of cash, and all hope seems to be lost.

But wait! There's one last hope!

If the townspeople could just come together to establish a theater and put on a play in a few days, they'll get a giant check and be saved because … well, just go with it. Popcorn Falls Actors Tom Souhrada and James Hindman in "Popcorn Falls" at Long Branch's New Jersey Repertory Company.

As playwright, Hindman is not offering dense layers of meaning and social critique framed within allegories of love and God or any of that high-minded nonsense. No. In "Popcorn Falls," Hindman has constructed a loving union of theater and Small Town USA. His characters are people like an eccentric cat lady, a gruff construction worker, a dim-witted cop and a stuffy German immigrant, but they are forced to unite around the spirit of theater for the common good. A theater man himself, Hindman welcomes his creations to the fun of putting on a show.

Adding to the joy of "Popcorn Falls" is its self-imposed limitation: Two actors must fill all these roles. For the most part, the role-shifting responsibilities fall to Souhrada, who whisks from character to character as Hindman stays mostly in the mayoral role (although he does spend time as the German immigrant, perhaps reserving the play's best joke for himself in the role).

Under the direction of Rose Riccardi, Souhrada moves deftly from character to character. A hat, apron, or glasses change giving us a visual clue of the shift before Souhrada goes to work building unique characters with his voice and affectations.

The effect adds excitement and whimsy to the proceedings, as the story of this upstart theater troupe comes alive through the work of consummate theater people: certainly Souhrada, Hindman and Riccardi, but also Jessica Parks (sets), Patricia Doherty (costumes) and the rest of the NJ Rep artistic team. This is a simple and lovely story that celebrates theater in part by relying on the full troupe to pull off the effect of making "Popcorn Falls" seem so quaint.

The NJ Rep achieves that effect expertly here, as the warm, inventive charm of "Popcorn Falls" brightens these long winter nights.

BWW Review: POPCORN FALLS at NJ Rep-A Laugh a Minute
by Marina Kennedy

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch opens their 25th Anniversary Season with the world premiere of Popcorn Falls. It's a lively, entertaining comedy that shouldn't be missed. Cleverly written by James Hindman, the two hander enjoys the finest direction by Rose Riccardi and features the acting talents of James Hindman and Tom Souhrada. Visit the renowned Long Branch theatre and enjoy a laugh a minute.

The small community of Popcorn Falls has a real dilemma. Their waterfall, a tourist attraction, has dried up and there seems to be no future for the bankrupt town and its dwindling population. With the threat of the municipality being turned into a sewage treatment plant, the new mayor plans to use money from a theatre grant to save the town. But a theatre and a play must be created to claim the grant. Time is running out and organizing a show proves challenging for an inexperienced troupe of townspeople. Can the arts save Popcorn Falls along with the hopes and dreams of its residents?

James Hindman and Tom Souhrada perform over 20 roles to convey the hilarious events that unfold in the play. The two actors don't miss a beat as they change characters and deliver the fun, fast paced dialogue. You never know who is going to pop up next. Hindman's rapid transformation from the mayor to the mortician and others couldn't be better. Souhrada captures your imagination as he portrays many characters such as the handyman, the diner's waitress, and the town's deputy. Hindman has included a host of colorful, quirky folks in the story, ones you'll long remember.

The Production Team has done a terrific job of bringing Popcorn Falls to life. They include Production Stage Manager, Rose Riccardi; scenic design and props by Jessica Parks; costume design. Patricia E. Doherty; lighting design, Jill Nagle; sound design, Nick Simone; Assistant Stage Manager, Rachael Malloy; Assistant Lighting Designer/Assistant Director, Janey Huber; Master Electrician, James Lockhart; Technical Director, Brian Snyder; Scenic Design Assistant, Donna Stiles; and Props Assistant, Blake Robinson.

Popcorn Falls is a one-of-a-kind show that promises patrons a terrific time at the theatre. It's sure to sell out so get your tickets while you can.

New Jersey Repertory Company's now has their 2023 Season subscription on sale with an exciting line-up of shows. There are many options for patrons that include the NJ Rep Annual Subscription, a Monthly Subscription, and a three-play Flex Pass. It's an opportunity to enjoy and support the top new plays that the theatre produces.

Two actors play 20 characters in frantic, funny 'Popcorn Falls'


Popcorn Falls, a fictional town with a population in the double digits, is supposed to be a sleepy place. But it also is the setting for James Hindman's play "Popcorn Falls," which hits like a whirlwind in its current production at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

The play — which debuted in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 2017, and also has been presented off-Broadway — is loaded with jokes and gags. In Long Branch, Hindman and Tom Souhrada play all the characters: There are about 20 of them, of various ages (from young child to ancient) and both genders, in this 90-minute show.

Hindman and Souhrada switch characters frequently while also making changes to the set to evoke different settings for different scenes; generating whatever sound effects are necessary; and doing things like pretending that a sweater is a cat, and stepping out of character to interact with the audience. They are in constant, almost dizzying motion and, in the show I saw, performed with great precision.

Rose Riccardi, who doubles as director and stage manager, deserves a lot of credit for helping to make all the mayhem run smoothy, and Jessica Parks, who is in charge of scenic design and props, also played a big part, since some of the jokes involve parts of the set moving in unexpected ways.

Hindman's main role is Ted Trundle, Popcorn Falls' optimistic new mayor. Souhrada's is Joe, the town's "executive custodian" (a kind of do-it-all maintenance man). At different times, both play Becky, Joe's ex and Ted's current love interest: Souhrada when she is interacting with Ted, and Hindman, when she is interacting with Joe.

The play's main plotline, though, involves the residents of Popcorn Falls banding together to save the Upstate New York town (whose dubious claim to fame is that George Washington once had a picnic lunch there), itself. As Ted learns in the play's first scene, Popcorn Falls is in danger of disappearing entirely if the county's chief executive, Mr. Doyle (played by Souhrada as a hiss-worthy villain), gets his way and demolishes the downtown area to build a sewage treatment plant.

This all may sound confusing and convoluted in print. And I know that this kind of show, in which a small number of actors portrays a large number of characters, can sometimes be frustratingly hard to follow. But I had absolutely no problem keeping everything straight. Except for Ted, Joe and Becky, all the characters in this play are pretty cartoonish, but that suits the fast pace and the two-actor cast well.

There is some bittersweet emotion in the love story, and in Ted's desire to start his nearly ruined life over again in this small town. And the play is also, in part, a love letter to the world of theater, since Ted's plot to thwart Mr. Doyle and save the town revolves around convincing everyone to come together and put on a play.

It's a desperate, long-shot effort, and getting the eccentric residents of Popcorn Falls to pool their disparate talents and rally behind it is a task akin to herding cats. But the plucky Ted — representing struggling, starry-eyed artists everywhere — perseveres.

Despite its hints of greater meaning, this is mostly a light, cheerfully silly production, more concerned with generating laughs than making big statements. Hindman fills the play with throwaway one-liners, such as when Floyd, the lumberyard owner who lost an arm in a freak accident, says, "Some cuts are on the inside. Those hurt the deepest. The ones on the outside … they just make it really hard to put on a sock."

In another scene, Mr. Doyle is told that Popcorn Falls residents like to refer to themselves as "kernels." So when he makes a speech to them, he grimaces as he begins, "Dear kernels of Popcorn …"

And when Ted learns that one of the characters' name is Mrs. Stepp, he thinks it's funny "because before you were married, you were Miss Stepp. Like 'Oh, I just made a misstep.' "

"Don't be so pedestrian," she responds. "My maiden name was Guided."

BWW Review: EDEN PRARIE 1971-An Outstanding Drama that Deftly Portrays Turmoil in the Early 70's
by Marina Kennedy

"What good is it to worry about tomorrow or yesterday?" By Mrs. Thompson in Eden Prairie 1971

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch is now presenting the National New Play Network premiere of Eden Prairie, 1971. Crafted by the award-winning playwright, Mat Smart, the story is enthralling from the first minute to the last. The play features splendid direction by the theatre's Associate Artistic Director, Evan Bergman, and a cast that masters their roles. Because of its adult themes, no one under the age of 16 will be admitted to the show. In the small town of Eden Prairie, Minnesota in 1971, the Vietnam War has dramatically affected people's lives. Pete, a draft dodger and a sensitive young man, makes the long trip from Canada by foot to see his high school classmate Rachel and deliver a message from their friend. Rachel's father is serving in the war, and she has left a promising college education to support her mother. The couple meets in Rachel's yard on the same night as the historic moon landing. Their conversation about the war, duty, family issues, and personal aspirations reveals innermost thoughts. The story is an authentic reflection of a challenging era. Audiences will find the play to be moving, yet with the right touches of humor and spirit.

The three-person cast brings Eden Prairie 1971 to life on the Long Branch stage with their remarkable acting talents. The company includes Emilio Cuesta as Pete, Oriana Lada as Rachel, and Andrea Gallo as Rachel's mother, Mrs. Thompson. Compelling scenes include Rachel's first encounter with Pete in her family's yard; Pete telling of their friend Aaron's fate in the war; Rachel speaking about the protests at Berkeley when she was in college; Rachel offering Pete clean clothing; Pete telling about the farm where he worked in Canada; Pete remembering Minnesota Twins baseball plays; Rachel and Pete discussing their high school Spanish project; Rachel imploring Pete to call his mother; Mrs. Thompson tenderly cajoling Rachel to wear her hair down; and Mrs. Thompson speaking of the ravages of war.

The production team has done a marvelous job of setting the stage for the play. The team includes the Production Stage Manager, Kristin Pfeifer; Costume Design by Patricia E. Doherty; Sound Design, Nick Simone; Scenic Design/Props, Jessica Parks; Lighting Design, Jill Nagle; Assistant Stage Manager, Rachael Malloy; Assistant Lighting Design/Assistant Director, Janey Huber; Master Electrician, James Lockhart; Technical Director, Brian Snyder; Scenic Design Assistant, Donna Stiles; and Props Assistant, Blake Robinson.

In his opening address to the audience, Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas proudly told the audience that as NJ Rep approaches its 25th anniversary the theatre has presented 150 world premieres with over 3,000 performances many of which have gone on to be seen in theatres worldwide. Eden Prairie 1971 is a shining example of the extraordinary productions that NJ Rep brings to the Garden State.

'Eden Prairie, 1971,' at NJ Rep, is a powerful new play about lives torn apart by the Vietnam War


Playwright Mat Smart has created something remarkable with "Eden Prairie, 1971," which is currently being presented at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch as part of a National New Play Network rolling world premiere. It's a profound play about the Vietnam War that takes place entirely on a 1971 night in the backyard of a home in a small Minnesota town. (That would be Eden Prairie, which is, yes, a real place, in the suburbs of Minneapolis.)

The play opens with Pete (played by Emilio Cuesta), covered with dirt, arriving in the backyard at midnight. He's a draft dodger, we later learn, now working on a farm in Canada, but has walked hundreds of miles — doing his traveling only at night, for more than two weeks, in order to stay under the radar — to talk to Rachel (Oriana Lada) after a mutual friend of theirs, Aaron, died in Vietnam. He feels a desperate need to tell Rachel something that Aaron told him.

He knocks on Rachel's window; she sees him and comes outside. He can't enter her house — nor can he visit his parents, who live nearby — because he can't risk getting caught. So he and Rachel stay in the backyard in the early hours of the morning, talking. She helps him clean up and give him some much-needed food.

As they get deeper into their conversation, a very complicated scenario unfolds.

Pete's father has lost his job as part of the backlash against his son's draft-dodging, and without that income, he and Pete's mother have found themselves in dire straits, financially.

Rachel's father is serving in the military, in what he (and Rachel) believe is a just cause, though Rachel is also sympathetic to Pete's decision to leave the country.

As far as Pete himself, he refuses to describe himself as a conscientious objector, even though he seems to be exactly that.

"I'm an ant that doesn't want to get stepped on," he argues. That is, not someone with any greater motive. But it seems like a form of modesty for him to be saying that.

Though neither Pete nor Aaron was Rachel's boyfriend in high school, they both were enamored of her. And while there are some very sweet moments between Pete and Rachel, this is not really a love story. There may be a future for them, Smart seems to suggest, but only years

There is a third character in the play: Rachel's mother, Mrs. Thompson (Andrea Gallo). Wracked with worry about her husband in Vietnam, she has passed out, drunk, at the start of the play, but later she wakes up and discovers Pete and Rachel. Sensitively played by Gallo, she, unexpectedly, becomes the heart and soul of the play.

Evan Bergman directed, helping to keep the action taut and make every conversational exchange meaningful — sometimes more through the actors' facial expressions than the actual words. Scenic designer Jessica Parks creates a very believable backyard on the small NJ Rep stage.

I wrote in the opening paragraph that this is a play about the Vietnam War. To be more precise, this is a play about three very real people — flawed in some ways but admirable in others — and the way their lives are turned upside down by it. And the way they try to deal with that. I found it very moving, and highly recommend it.

Out IN Jersey

"Eden Prairie, 1971" explores a deep divide in the country

by Allen Neuner

The New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch has done it again. They have mounted a new play, Eden Prairie, 1971, a deeply moving and thought-provoking drama by playwright Mat Smart. You must see it.

The play is set in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, on a summer night in 1971. The war in Vietnam is raging, Richard Nixon is President, and the country, watching the war on television nightly, is deeply divided between the war's supporters and detractors. We meet Pete (Emilio Cuesta), who chose to flee to Canada with two other friends when they drew low draft numbers. He enters the backyard of a former classmate, Rachel (Oriana Lada), to deliver her a message. In the course of the night, Pete seeks redemption and forgiveness while revealing his fears of capture by the police and rejection by his father. Rachel, on her part, surrounds herself in a shell of relentless rationalism, reluctant to allow herself to extend the human connection Pete fearfully craves.

Mixed into this is Rachel's mother, Mrs. Thompson (Andrea Gallo), whose husband is serving as a bomber pilot over Vietnam. Mrs. Thompson's reaction to seeing Pete in clothes given him by Rachel belonging to her husband unleashes her imagination. She encourages her daughter to be more spontaneous to Pete, abandoning the done-and-gone past and the uncertain future for the reality and possibilities of now. In this, Gallo's portrayal recalls Ruth Gordon's life-affirming performance in Harold and Maude.

The cast, skillfully and sensitively guided by director Evan Bergman, play out the events of this near-magical night supported by the amazing script of Mat Smart. Smart has managed to recreate the world of 1971 while avoiding the pitfall of endowing his characters with knowledge of events to follow. Actors, director, and playwright have distilled the essence of conflicts swirling in 1971 and present it, honestly and openly, to the audience.

Jessica Parks' imaginative scenic design is an atmospheric rendering of a small-town back yard, complete with chicken coop and working water spigot, sensitively lit by Jill Nagle to bring out both the realism and the magic in a summer's night. Nick Simone's sound design conveys everything from the soft barking of neighbor dogs to the gravelly crooning of Louis Armstrong to the insistent banging of doors and ringing of doorbells. Patricia Doherty's costumes evoke the styles of the period for the women, while creating a startlingly travel-stained, threadbare look for Pete.

The people of Eden Prairie, 1971 deal with the relationship between cowardice and courage. They convey their longings whether they try to hold onto romance or fight against creating it. They question the need for war and the morality of those who wage it – and those who oppose it. They are full of the flaws and flourishes of ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary times. Eden Prairie, 1971 is a play which will live in memory long after it is seen. And I cannot more strongly encourage you to see it at least once before its brief run finishes. It is well worth making the trip to Long Branch and the stage of the New Jersey Repertory Company, and it is well worth taking the trip back in time to Eden Prairie, 1971.

BWW Interview: Playwright Mat Smart and EDEN PRARIE 1971 at NJ Rep 10/20 to 11/20

by Marina Kennedy
Oct 13 2022

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch will present the National New Play Network premiere of "Eden Prairie, 1971" written by Mat Smart. Directed by Evan Bergman, the play stars Andrea Gallo, Oriana Lada, and Emilio Cuesta. Performances are from October 20th through November 20th.

As war churns in Vietnam, night falls over the tranquil hills and creeks of a small Midwestern town, and a young woman hears a tap at her window. On the same night Apollo 15 makes its lunar landing, a young draft-dodger steals home to Eden Prairie, after a 300-mile trek from Canada. He risks arrest to deliver an important message to his childhood friend, Rachel. Both are caught between duty to the ones they love and their own futures. In a moment of national tension that mirrors our own, the young man must defend his choices and grapple with the sacrifices he has made. Mat Smart's stark, passionate drama skillfully questions our notions of bravery and responsibility. Due to the adult nature of the play no one under 16 will be admitted.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing playwright Mat Smart about his career and Eden Prarie 1971.

Smart has written 25 full-length plays that have been produced around the country and he currently has several television and film projects in development. The Agitators, his play about the true, untold friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, has been produced at 20 different theatres from Maine to Seattle. He recently adapted The Agitators into a podcast hosted by Ashley C. Ford and produced by PRX, the National Park Service, and the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission. Select plays include: Kill Local (La Jolla Playhouse, nominated for Outstanding New Play by the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle; recently translated into Korean and produced in Seoul), The Royal Society of Antarctica (Gift Theatre, recipient of the 2015 Jeff Award for Best New Work in Chicago), Samuel J. and K. (Williamstown Theatre Festival; Steppenwolf for Young Adults), and Tinker to Evers to Chance (Geva; Merrimack Rep). An avid traveler and baseball fan, Mat has been to all of the states, all of the continents, and all of the current MLB stadiums. A native of Naperville, Illinois, he currently lives in Brooklyn. Undergrad: University of Evansville. MFA: UCSD.

Who was the very first person to recognize your talent as a writer?

In high school, I wanted to be an actor. During my senior year, my English teacher and mentor, the late great Mr. Bill Bowman, pulled me aside after class one day and told me, "You're not an actor. You're a writer." I started to object, but in no uncertain terms he said, "You have a gift: you are a writer." No one had ever said anything like to me and it made a huge impact. It gave me the courage to believe that maybe, just maybe, it could actually happen.

What bit of advice do you have for aspiring playwrights?

I don't mean to sound like a Nike commercial here, but the best advice I have is: just do it. Write a play, have a reading in your living room with friends, put it on in an empty storefront or basement or anywhere. As a playwright, you're building the boat that everyone can sail away in. As soon as you have a script, you can put on a play - whether it's in the back room of a bar or on Broadway. Just do it.

You have an obvious penchant for travel. Is there a trip that stands out in your memory?

I believe it's the playwright's job to take the audience on a journey. For me, that often means going on a journey myself first. In my travels to all of the continents, the craziest experience was being a janitor on a science base in Antarctica for three months. I've never been to such a beautiful, unique, and dangerous place in my life. There was sunlight 24 hours a day. Everyone there - the scientists and the support staff - are completely removed from their lives back home. It creates a petri dish full of the best and the worst behavior I've ever witnessed.

What inspired you to write Eden Prairie?

One of the things that terrifies me the most about the current moment is when we stop talking to one another. There's an attitude of - "if you believe this or if you voted for this person, then I don't even want to be in the same room as you." In Eden Prairie, 1971, there are two people who are on the opposite sides of the political spectrum who somehow find a way to stay in the room with each other. (Well, in the play, they find a way to stay in the backyard together.)

Also, one of my sisters is a mission controller at NASA. There are elements of the play, and also the character Rachel, that are an expression of my deep admiration for my sister and what she does everyday in the name of science and exploration.

We are impressed by NJ Rep's commitment to producing new plays. Can you tell us a little about your experience with the theatre?

In December of 2021, NJ Rep did a reading of the play. I was absolutely blown away by the richness of the post-show discussion. The audience here is so sophisticated, smart, and full of heart. I can't wait for us to share the full production.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

Nationally, attendance numbers at theatres are way down. Why not just stay at home? There's so much great television on right now. But what we're doing you can't see on tv. We are telling a 90-minute story that happens in real-time. There are no breaks in the action. No jump cuts or scene changes. This is storytelling with nowhere to hide. These three characters - who are played by three brilliant actors - are stuck in a backyard and they are irrevocably changed by what happens. We hope the audiences will be too.

Can you share some of your future plans?

I've got lots of pots and pans on the stove right now - different projects in various stages of development. I'm most excited about going back to Australia this February for three weeks. We'll see if another play comes out of that!

Anything else, absolutely anything you'd like BWW NJ Readers to know!

Come check it out - you won't regret it!

BWW Review: THE HUMMINGBIRDS at NJ Rep-A Captivating Two-Hander

The award-winning play, The Hummingbirds is making its Garden State premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep). Written by poet and playwright, Garret Jon Gronveld, the production enjoys the finest direction by the theatre's Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas. The two-hander stars Lucia Parola and Michael Irvin Pollard who bring this fascinating story to life on the Long Branch stage. Wrap up your summer beach day with a visit to NJ Rep. The show will be performed through August 28th.

The Hummingbirds is billed as "A Comedy of Menace" and indeed it is. While it has humorous moments, the futuristic story also has serious overtones. It is set in room number 347, a special section of the Unemployment Bureau where two government counselors are tasked with doling out jobs to individuals. No consideration is given about the right fit for a position. Their motto is simply, "If you can walk, you can work" and it doesn't matter if you are placed as a laborer or a stripper. The situation seems especially peculiar as the two agency employees are usually cautious and impersonal, they frequently mention the threat of local terrorism, and electronically report their whereabouts daily. The story is a cleverly crafted portrayal of a transformed society where delicate and beautiful hummingbirds are considered pests to be eradicated by workers.

Both Lucia Parola and Michael Irvin Pollard are ideally suited to their roles as the dutiful employees of the Unemployment Bureau. They deliver strong performances and master Gronveld's fast-paced, sharp dialogue. The amusing opening scene sets the story in motion as they review files and address perspective workers. Dramatic scenes ensue as the two employment agents reveal information about themselves.

We applaud the production team for creating the perfect surroundings for The Hummingbirds with its industrial style setting. They include Production Stage Manager, Rose Riccardi; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; sound design by Nick Simone; scenic design and props by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; The Assistant Stage Manger is Rachael Malloy; Assistant Lighting Designer, Janey Huber; Master Electrician, James Lockhart; Technical Director, Brian Snyder; and Props Assistant, Blake Robinson.

See The Hummingbirds. It's an ingenious thought-provoking show, superbly presented thanks to the talents of the New Jersey Repertory Company led by Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas.

Office banter is both frivolous and ominous in dystopian 'The Hummingbirds' at NJ Rep


Michael Irvin Pollard and Sophia Lucia Parola co-star in "The Hummingbirds" at NJ Rep in Long Branch.

"The Hummingbirds," a play by Garret Jon Groenveld that is currently making its United States premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, is subtitled "A Comedy of Menace."

I'm not sure about the "comedy" part: While there is certainly quite a bit of humor in it, I wouldn't ultimately classify it as a comedy. But there isn't much question about the "menace." Though the play's Act 1 sometimes makes it seem like a genial, futuristic workplace comedy, in its Act 2, Groenveld's dystopian, Orwellian vision comes sharply into focus. This is an absorbing and, ultimately, quite chilling play.

The play's only two actors, Michael Irvin Pollard and Sophia Lucia Parola, portray co-workers at Room 347 of the Unemployment Bureau, in an unnamed country. Their names are never uttered — we eventually learn that they don't even know each other's names — and while Pollard's character has a spouse, that spouse is only mentioned, by him or Parola's character, as "the spouse." Similarly, a restaurant is spoken of as an "entrée establishment" and strippers are described, euphemistically, as "a body for the people."

Sophia Lucia Parola in "The Hummingbirds."

Wearing matching gray outfits, the co-workers meet with a series of unemployed people, informing them of their new jobs, ranging from wig maker to sidewalk blood scrubber (there is a lot of terrorism in the future Groenveld creates). The unemployed people are never seen or heard: Pollard and Parola's characters do all the talking, chattering away among themselves and sometimes making silly puns on the unemployed's names. Mr. Green is told, "The outlook, for you, is verdant"; Mr. Decanter is informed, "We'll need to pore over your file."

Also, they frequently repeat, in more of a deadpan way than a cheerful one, the corporate-sounding slogan, "If you can walk, you can work."

The two actors do a great job in these sessions, peppering the unemployed with questions in a superficially friendly but also supercilious way. Despite the unsettling quality of the plot, Groenveld's writing, delivered expertly by the two actors, has a light, playful, almost musical quality that exerts a hypnotic force of its own.

During the two characters' joyless lunchtime, the bouncy "The Girl From Ipanema" plays, incongruously, in the background. They start to talk sympathetically about the unemployed but then stop themselves, worrying about "sympathy interfering with efficiency and all that."

Before going to bed in their own living spaces, they check in, by computer, with someone who is keeping tabs on virtually everything they do. (We also learn that whoever is monitoring them is about being monitored; two of the jobs that are given out, in the course of the play, are "End of Day Report Observer" and "Observer of End of Day Report Observer.") In this world, books have to be pre-approved by the government, and dancing may require a license. And two bells ring, every night, to enforce a kind of curfew. The first is a warning; by the time the second one is heard, you've got to be in bed.

Michael Irvin Pollard in "The Hummingbirds."

It becomes clear by her end-of-day reports in Act 1 that Parola's character, in addition to doing her job, is spying on Pollard's character. This leads to the more sinister developments in Act 2, though we never know for sure if her suspicions about him are justified.

These characters may have done inexcusable things. But due to the sensitivity of Groenveld's writing — as well as the sharp, subtle guidance of the play's director, SuzAnne Barabas (who is also NJ Rep's artistic director) — they never lose their humanity.

Of the play's other creative contributors, designer Jessica Parks deserves special praise for creating a set that evokes the perfect mood. The office is a kind of deep, dark cave, painted in institutional green and lined with beat-up file cabinets, but also featuring some sleek neon stripes that help make it clear that this is indeed the future, and not just some depressing representation of the present.

Though, certainly, enough of the action strikes such a real, painful chord that you can't escape the feeling that Groenveld isn't, perhaps, looking all that far into the future.

Out IN Jersey

"The Hummingbirds" at NJ Repertory is a comedy of menace

by Allen Neuner

"The Hummingbirds" photo by Andrea Phox Photography


NJ Rep presents The Hummingbirds, and it does not ask to be seen; it insists

'The Pin-Up Girls' photo by Andrea Phox Photography

Playwright Garret Jon Groenveld has created a scary, funny look at a possible future world in The Hummingbirds, having its United States premiere at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. It is a play that will disturb some, but that is part of the territory when a playwright creates a world that pulsates with its own dystopian life.

The two-person cast, Sophia Lucia Parola and Michael Irvin Pollard are co-workers in an employment agency. Society's motto is, "If you can walk, you can work," and if one has been unemployed for too long, the agency will assign you a job, whether you like it or want it or not. The authorities have so drained lives of wit and individuality that the twists and tangles required to get through a day are often hilariously absurd.

This is a world where one is actively discouraged from becoming familiar with one's co-workers. Where government employees must report their activities up the hierarchy before an immutable evening deadline daily. Where the pleasures of life must be approved or licensed.

What becomes of those forced to live like that? Could you, if you had to? Would you?

The cast is expertly directed through this nightmare future scenario by SuzAnne Barabas, Artistic Director of NJ Repertory Company. NJ Rep's design team has created a mostly gray, worn-down world in the sets by Jessica Parks and the costumes of Patricia Doherty, with stark lighting designed by Jill Nagle and an evocative, inventive soundscape created by Nick Simone.

The Hummingbirds pulls you in and refuses to let you go until the very end, the hallmark of powerful writing. It is a dark ride through a twisted, haunted future. It does not ask to be seen; it insists — forcefully — on being seen.

The Hummingbirds… Just go.

BWW Interview: Playwright Garret Jon Groenveld and HUMMINGBIRDS at NJ Rep

by Marina Kennedy
Jul 25 2022

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will present the US Premiere of The Hummingbirds written by Garret Jon Groenveld and directed by the Company's Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas. The show, that stars Michael Irvin Pollard and Sophia Lucia Parola, will be on the Long Branch Stage from August 4 to August 28.

The Hummingbirds is about two unemployment counselors in a very special office of the Unemployment Bureau. For people who have been unemployed too long, they come to this office to be assigned a job. It may not be a job that they're qualified to do, or a job that's safe for anyone to do, but they have to do it. It concerns what meaningful work is, strippers, domestic terrorism and weaponized hummingbirds.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing Garret Jon Groenveld about his fascinating career and the upcoming show at NJ Rep.

Groenveld is a poet and playwright living in San Francisco, CA with an MFA in Poetry and an MA in Playwriting from San Francisco State University. He also studied with Edward Albee at the University of Houston. He's a founding writer of PlayGround and an inaugural member of the Writers in Residence program at the Playwrights Foundation. His play Missives had well received productions in San Francisco and New York. His play, The Hummingbirds is a winner of the 2012 GAP Festival from the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley and the winner of the Internationalists Global Playwriting Prize. This prize included six presentations in six countries (including New York, Berlin and the Netherlands) and has led to productions worldwide, including an ongoing tour of Romania and an extended run in Mexico City, Mexico. The Hummingbirds had a workshop with Olympia Dukakis at the Lark and was in the Theatre Resources Unlimited (TRU) Reading Series in 2015 (with Ellen McLaughlin). His play, The Empty Nesters was in 2014's Theatre Resources Unlimited Reading series and had a production workshop in San Francisco in 2015. An open ended tour of the show premiered in San Francisco in 2016 and a tour is planned for 2019 with stops in LA, Chicago and New York.

We'd love to know when you first developed your penchant for writing.

I came into playwrighting out of poetry, I have my first masters in Poetry and so the sound of things is always really important to me. And then, about when I was almost done with the MFA in Poetry, I took a playwrighting class on the suggestion of my mentor, Frances Mayes ("Under the Tuscan Sun") - and I kind of realized I had gotten really deep into the wrong genre. So I stayed on and got a second masters degree in Playwrighting. And I don't know if writing is a penchant or a compulsion - sometimes I just have to write things. It can be something I've heard or an image I can't get out of my head, and then I have to write it out, and then I have to write what comes next, and then I have to shape it into something that we call a play.

Tell us a little about your education at San Francisco State University and how it prepared you for your writing career?

San Francisco State University in the poetry world of the 90's, was in the middle of a battle between Language Poetry and Lyrical Poetry and I really didn't want to pick a side. I just wanted to write my funky little poems that said things in a complicated way. I am more lyrically inclined, but I learned a lot from the sparseness and angularity of Language Poetry. After I moved into playwrighting, my cohorts were much more supportive and encouraging and trying to figure it out together. It was also an exciting time, as we started a theatre company together called PlayGround - which grew out of San Francisco State and is still going strong today. It was a great experience of writing quickly - get a topic on a Thursday, turn in a short play on Tuesday, and it might get picked to go up the following Monday. That quick process really helped me train my ear and figure out what worked for me.

However, San Francisco State was not very good at career preparation, just really good at the writing part. I'd still much rather write than network or submit a play. I'm working on it.

Do you have any particular advice for aspiring writers?

I used to hate the old saw, "write what you know!" But I write what I know. But not only in the "trauma that happened to me" kind of way - but in the "I see this or that in the world" kind of way. In The Hummingbirds you will see a line about one of the character's shoes; that happened to me that morning that I was writing, so I put it in the play.

I also recommend going to see plays, so you know what's happening now and how people are approaching older material. I love discovering capable and creative actors so I can write for them. I think it's important for playwrights to love actors.

When you get stuck, trick yourself. Top Four ways I trick myself: 1. Get an egg timer (mine is in the shape of a hootie owl) and don't let yourself get up until the 30 minutes have gone by. 2. Go back five pages and read what you have - this often helps you gain context to where you need to go. 3. Skip to the next spot you are clear on, often, you won't need the weird thing that isn't working. 4. Read it aloud. If possible, read it aloud while you're walking around your neighborhood. You look weird, but who cares. Just look out for cars.

Also, I still write by hand, and I never cross out anything, I just draw a box around what isn't working. Because that weird tangent is often something that should happen somewhere else in the piece. If you only write by typing, you can also do this by having a drop file open for those fragments that aren't fitting. Just remember to go back.

Lastly, the world doesn't need another Mamet or Albee or Shakespeare. We have those guys. We need a you! What can you bring to the table? What do you have to say? I can't wait to hear it.

What was your inspiration for writing "The Hummingbirds?"

I had the idea for a play about career counselors for a long time. As I was raised a protestant, immigrant kid but wanted to go into the arts, so I've always struggled balancing the work of art with a day job. In 2010, I was in Florida for the holidays with my parents and brothers and their families, and we had just visited a dolphin sanctuary that my cousin's daughter worked at, and my nephew was despairing about the environment. As we talked, we could not come up with an answer for all the problems we are facing. And I said to him, "It's good that we keep thinking about it - because this stuff is hard. And if there was an easy answer, we would have thought of it already." And that line sparked the play, and that afternoonI wrote what became most of the first scene of the play. A version of that line is in the play. The inspiration for the form is a different story, shortly before this, I had an artistic director who asked me why I had written a play about a straight married couple (my play The Empty Nesters). She thought that I should just admit that I'm a genre writer and write funny gay comedies. That enraged me, that she, as a gay woman, wanted to box me in! So I also set myself the structural challenge of writing a play that erased boundaries, and that's why the play can be performed by any two actors of any age, race or gender.

We know that "The Hummingbirds" has already been performed internationally. How was the audience reception?

The audience perception has really taken on a context of where it has been performed. And when you combine that with the casting opportunities of open age, race or gender, it has made it quite interesting. In Spain and Mexico City, the theme of meaningful work was really prominent, particularly in Spain, where at the time of the production, unemployment of the youth was over 30%. In Mexico City, it was the only cast so far that was two women, and it was not surprising that the dynamic between the two were so different and more supportive than all male casts. In Singapore - they had just had the first race riot in the country's history, between the Chinese bosses and the South Asian day laborers, so that casting was particularly rich to explore. In Romania - a country out of its communist past, but still deep in government corruption - the theme of government control was very deep. The first presentation was actually in protest of the government on the streets of Bucharest. As that production has moved on - one of the characters moved to be played by a recording - the voice of Romanian Communist Television, so it had a particularly resonant meaning for the audience.

How do you like working with New Jersey Repertory Company?

We have been circling each other for a while now. They had wanted to do the play while it was under option by some other folks for something that did not materialize. And I had many friends who had worked here, like playwright Marisella Orta Trevino (Wolf at the Door at NJRep) and director M. Graham Smith who directed Bone on Bone at NJRep. We finally had put together a reading to happen in March of 2020, and then the world shut down. I've worked with a lot of theatres, New Jersey Reps' people are very professional and all moving in the same direction. The cast is doing such brave work, the tech teams are really bringing their creativity to the project. In particular, I'm really inspired by SuzAnne's leadership and direction, she's really letting everyone bring their best stuff. I'm honored to have such a dedicated team on the US Premiere.

What would you like Long Branch audiences to know about the show?

I think Long Branch audiences should know that this show is shockingly funny - it's subtitled a Comedy of Menace for a reason. It's set in a slightly future world where you get assigned a job if you've been out of work for too long. It concerns domestic terrorism, strippers and weaponized hummingbirds. In the 12 years since I wrote it - it's only become more relevant and predictive to where our culture seems to be heading. Boy, do I wish I was wrong. Also, they should check out the production for its unique design, from set, to sound, to lighting - the team are all enjoying the creative challenges this play brings. Lastly, I'm in love with the cast and director. They're giving their hearts to the piece and I couldn't be prouder of them. I also think audience members who love actual hummingbirds will hate me for writing the play. I'm okay with that.

Can you share with us any of your future plans?

I have several other scripts I'm working on, several productions I cannot announce yet and several plays that are under option for TV and Film that I can't talk about either.

Anything else, absolutely anything you want Broadwayworld NJ readers to know.

Other than flying in and out of Newark - I've never spent any time in New Jersey. I'm really looking forward to exploring somewhere I've never been. I hear it's warm, and I live in very cold San Francisco, so I'm bringing the two pairs of shorts I own! To learn more about Garret Jon Groenveld, visit his page on the New Play Exchange at

PHOTOS from "The Hummingbirds" at NJ Rep

by John Posada, NJ Stage

(LONG BRANCH, NJ) -- New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) is currently presenting the U.S. premiere of The Hummingbirds: A Comedy of Menace by Garret Jon Groenveld. It is a comic-drama set in the future, which may be closer than you think. Performances run from August 4-28, Thursdays through Sundays. Photographer John Posada was on hand to take photos.

The Hummingbirds Synopsis: Been unemployed too long? At the Unemployment Bureau, we can place you in a job you may not be qualified for or a job that's not safe, but you will do it. Because if you can walk, you can work!

The cast includes Sophia Lucia Parola and Michael Irvin Pollard. The play is directed by SuzAnne Barabas, Artistic Director at NJ Rep.

The Hummingbirds won the 2012 Global Age Project and the 2012 Internationalists Global Playwriting Prize (7 Presentations in 7 countries - US, Romania, Spain, Mexico, The Netherlands, Germany and Singapore). It has not received an English language production, but is on tour in Romania (in Romanian) and has been produced in Spanish in Zaragoza, Spain and two acclaimed productions in Mexico City, Mexico.

The production team includes: Rose Riccardi (Production Stage Manager), Patricia E. Doherty (Costume Design), Nick Simone (Sound Design), Jessica Parks (Scenic Design/Props), Jill Nagle (Lighting Design), Rachael Malloy (Assistant Stage Manager), Janey Huber (Assistant Lighting Designer), James Lockhart (Master Electrician), Brian Snyder (Technical Director), Blake Robinson (Props Assistant).

Here are more photos from the production.

New Jersey Repertory Company is located at 179 Broadway in Long Branch, New Jersey. The company was founded in 1997 by SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas. The theater's mission is to develop and produce new plays and to make a lasting contribution to the American Stage. Over two decades NJ Rep has produced 140 plays of which 125 have been world premieres. The theater has the additional distinction of having had many of its plays produced by other theaters around the country totaling over 200 subsequent productions in the U.S. and overseas.

Out IN Jersey

"The Pin-Up Girls" is a funny, touching tribute to service members and their families

by Allen Neuner

The Pin-Up Girls' photo by Andrea Phox Photography


A WWI soldier whose accidental injuries turn into gallant battle wounds

'The Pin-Up Girls' photo by Andrea Phox Photography

Is there nothing that the New Jersey Repertory Company cannot do? I've seen them produce side-splitting comedies and emotionally gripping dramas. Now they serve up a sweet, moving musical tribute to American servicemen who have gone off to war and the loved ones left behind with The Pin-Up Girls, a revue written by James Hindman (What Doesn't Kill You) and Jeffrey Lodin.

The frame of this show is an entertainment being put on at a soon-to-be-demolished VFW Hall by four local talents. Bossy Leanne (Brittany Jeffery), flirtatious Megan (Sara Glancy), schoolteacher Dana (Pheonix Vaughn), and Leanne's brother Joel (AJ Melnick) make up The Pin-Up Girls singing group. (Joel replaces the group's fourth member, who went into labor the day before the show.) While helping clean out the VFW Hall, they discovered a trove of letters to and from service members from the Civil War to Afghanistan. The words and emotions contained in these pieces of paper inspire the group to create a show honoring all those who served in battle.

The show begins and ends with the 50's number "Please, Mr. Postman." The group performs numbers from different eras, sometimes putting a song in a setting from a different age. For example, Beyonce's "Single Ladies" is used to express feelings in a letter sent to a soldier in World War I by his girlfriend, while Irving Berlin's "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" is sung by a soldier in Afghanistan.

'The Pin-Up Girls' photo by Andrea Phox Photography

Each of the four talented performers gets their chance to shine. Melnick's Joel provides comedy in three vignettes about Wilbur, a WWI soldier whose accidental injuries turn into gallant battle wounds in his letters home. He later performs a longing version of Johnny Mercer's "P.S. I Love You." Jeffery's Leanne impersonates Bob Hope through the years in a section honoring the USO but also delivers the anguish of a mother whose son goes missing in action in the song "Letters from War." Vaughn's Dana relates her sister's story of losing a service buddy in the poignant "On a Bus to St. Cloud" by Gretchen Peters. Glancy's Megan takes a break from flirting with the audience to deliver a heartfelt version of the Gershwin classic "Someone to Watch Over Me." Deftly accompanying the cast in their musical numbers is the show's co-creator, Jeffrey Lodin, as Mr. T, the school music teacher, performing on keyboards.

I have seen bigger musicals put on by other local theaters, with larger casts and flashier sets and costumes. Yet I have not seen many who come close to the emotional honesty and power of The Pin-Up Girls. New Jersey Repertory Company is to be congratulated for mounting this original, funny, touching show. I cannot more strongly urge you to make the trip to Long Branch to see The Pin-Up Girls!

Review: THE PIN UP GIRLS at NJ Rep Shines Bright on the Long Branch Stage

"Each one of these letters has a story and a family. Will anyone remember?" By Leanne in The Pin Up Girls

Plan to visit New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) for their new musical production that has it all, The Pin Up Girls: A Musical Love Letter. The show is a wonderfully performed, timeless tribute to our armed forces. Its music and stories will captivate a broad audience. Written by James Hindman and Jeffrey Lodin, Hindman directs the production and Lodin is the Musical Director. Clever choreographies are by Eugenio Contenti and Associate Choreographer, Molly Model. Jo Lynn Burks is the show's pianist. Get your tickets while you can, as The Pin Up Girls is certain to sell out. It will be on the Long Branch stage through July 10.

In the story four women, Megan, Leanne, Dana and Sharon perform for many events at a local VFW Post as "The Pin Up Girls." When they discover a treasure trove of letters written by service men and women, they decide to create a special musical show to highlight these writings dating from WWI to the present and to keep the precious stories alive. Since Sharon cannot perform because she is in the hospital having her baby, Leann recruits her brother, Joel to complete the foursome. The show has scenes that are emotive, humorous, and meaningful.

The musical selections are outstanding and the company's vocal and acting talents shine bright. The cast members are Sara Glancy as Megan; Brittany Jeffery as Leanne; AJ Melnick as Joel; and Phoenix Vaughn as Dana.

The Pin Up Girls has a score with a total of 26 songs with sections that include The Pin Up Girls and The USO. Some of our favorite numbers are "Please Mr. Postman" by the Company; "Love Nest Built for Two" by Megan and Dana; "Single Ladies" by Megan; Sincerely Wilber-Part 1" by Joel; "Happy Birthday" by Dana; "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" by the Company; "On a Bus to Saint Cloud" by Leanne; and "These Boots are Made for Walking" by Joel.

The Production Team has done a marvelous job of setting the mood for the show. They include the Company's Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas; Production Stage Manager, Kristin Pfeifer; Assistant Stage Manager, Rachael Malloy; Costume Design by Patricia E. Doherty; Sound Design by Nick Simone; Scenic Design by Jessica Parks; Lighting Design by Jill Nagle; Assistant Lighting Design is by Janey Huber. Brian Snyder is the Technical Director and James Lockhart is the Master Electrician.

In his opening address to the audience, NJ Rep's Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas pointed out that to date, NJ Rep has produced 150 world premieres with 283 of them have gone on to be produced around the globe. We are sure that The Pin Up Girls will be one of the Company's shows that will go far. It is an ideal one to kick off your summer of entertainment.

Says Me Says Mom

The Pin-Up Girls

What: The Pin-Up Girls

Where: New Jersey Repertory Company 179 Broadway Long Branch, NJ

Who: Teens and Up

When: Through July 10. 2022

The Pin-Up Girls is a love letter to our troops throughout history. It is the story of a musical group putting on a musical revue to honor our soldiers. In the story, the songs chosen are inspired by soldiers' letters and in reality, the songs in the show were also based on actual soldiers' letters. The songs range from hits of the 1940s through hits of today and were inspired by letters from World War I to Afghanistan and every war in between.

There are humorous letters, sad ones, and heartbreaking ones as well, and the songs chosen to represent them cover a wide range of sentiments as well. Your emotions will definitely get a workout at this show. The pictures of actual soldiers that decorate the set and adorn the entryway to the theater only serve to add to the emotional punch of the evening.

The actual plot of the show is thin and light enough to keep the show from being heavy-handed without making it irreverent. The quartet of actors in the cast are delightfully fun in their roles. The singing and dancing are great too. All in all, the show is the perfect way to bridge two of our most patriotic holidays, Memorial Day and the 4th of July.

BWW Interview: Director and Co-Creator James Hindman of THE PIN-UP GIRLS at NJ Rep 6/9 to 7/10

by Marina Kennedy
May 21 2022

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will be presenting an original show this summer, The Pin Up Girls: A Musical Love Letter. Created by James Hindman and Jeffrey Lodin, the show is directed by James Hindman with musical direction by Jeffrey Lodin and choreography by Eugenio Contenti. The show stars Sara Glancy, Brittany Jeffery, AJ Melnick, and Pheonix Vaughn. From The Andrews Sisters to Hip Hop and from World War One to Afghanistan, The Pin Up Girls sing a cavalcade of hits inspired by actual letters from our troops overseas. While singing at their local VFW hall, Leanne and her friends stumble upon a huge stash of letters that go back a hundred years. Inspired by what they find - funny, romantic, and heartbreaking, the ladies put on a show that celebrates the guys and gals who fight to defend our country.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing the show's co-creator and director, James Hindman about the upcoming production at NJ Rep and the team he is working with to bring it to the Long Branch stage.

Hindman is an award-winning playwright and actor. As a writer, Off Broadway: Popcorn Falls (Dir. Christian Borle), Pete N' Keely (Outer Critics Award nomination, two Drama Desk nominations), The Audience (Drama Desk nomination), Being Audrey (NEA Grant recipient), The Gorges Motel (NYFringe Festival), What Doesn't Kill You, Multiple Family Dwelling (NJ Rep.). He is also co-creator of The Rat Pack Lounge, A Christmas Survival Guide, and The Bikinis (Goodspeed Musicals, Long Wharf Theatre). His short plays and monologues have been published in many "Best of" anthologies. He is a member of The Dramatists Guild and has taught playwrighting at The Barrow Group. As a performer: Film and Television - The Report, Ocean's 8, Marvel's Iron Fist, The Americans, recurring role on Steven Spielberg's Public Morals, Madam Secretary, Person of Interest, House of Cards, Henry's Crime, The Sopranos, Law and Order, SVU, CI, and The Blacklist. Broadway and tours: Mary Poppins, The Scarlet Pimpernell, 1776, City of Angels, A Grand Night for Singing, Once Upon A Mattress, Falsettos, and Dancing at Lughnasa.

How did you come up with the concept for The Pin-Up Girls: A Musical Love Letter.

In my bottom dresser drawer, tucked behind the clothes I wear when painting my apartment, lives a small bundle of letters written by my Uncle Bob while he was serving in the Korean War. I never knew Uncle Bob, I was just a few years old when he passed, but his letters have been passed around our family for years. No one dares to throw them out.

Then, about six months before Covid, I was approached by a producer, Claudia Stepp, who had just seen my Off-Broadway show, Popcorn Falls. The show was directed by Christian Borle and featured music by Jeffrey Lodin. Claudia was looking to commission someone to write a show and asked if I had any ideas. I immediately thought about Uncle Bob's letters, wrote a proposal and she loved the idea. We did our first production at Casa Manana Theatre in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Were there particular people that inspired ideas for the show?

My first inspiration came from letters from my Uncle Bob who fought in Korea, but there was also a man in my playwriting group who spent his life in the armed forces. I began interviewing him and his friends. It was in their stories, letters and photos where I began to find a lot of the humor. Then...I just started to talk to people, anyone, sometimes stagers, and the stories and letters revealed themselves to me.

We'd love to know a little bit about your collaboration for the show with Jeffrey Lodin.

Jeffrey Lodin has been an amazing collaborator and is a thrill to work with. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone work so fast and passionately. I'm sure he never sleeps. We only had a few months to finish the show so we met a few times a week at his house and kept cranking out ideas until we came up with the final script and song list.

What are some of the challenges you have faced staging this musical production?

When first putting the show together, we knew it would be easy to come up with the emotional sections. It is, after all, about war. The challenge was to find the humor and to make sure each number had its own look so it felt like vaudeville.

Why do you think that NJ Rep is the right venue for The Pin Up Girls?

NJ Rep is perfect for us because SuzAnne and Gabe are used to working on new shows and understand that nothing is frozen. They roll with the punches. The space is perfect for us because you actually feel like you are in a local VFW Hall.

Can you tell us a little bit about your cast and creative team?

We have an amazing cast and crew. I feel honored to work with every single one of them. The show will feature choreography by Eugenio Contenti with his associate Molly Model. Jeffrey Lodin will be our musical director. While casting, we looked for great singers who were not afraid to be their authentic selves on stage. That can be hard when most actors are used to hiding behind a character. We found four extraordinary folks: Sara Glancy, Brittany Jeffrey, and two actors who have worked at NJ Rep before, AJ Melnick and Pheonix Vaughn. As for the design team... Jessica Parks has created a beautiful immersive set so the audience will feel they are actually walking into a local VFW Hall. The set was built with Bryan Snyder. Jill Nagle (Lights), Patricia Doherty (Costumes) and Nick Simone (Sound) all did stellar work on 'What Doesn't Kill You' so I have total faith in their imaginations and craft. Our stage management team, Kristin Pfeifer and Rachael Malloy, are at the ready to keep everything moving smoothly, and Sunjay Venkatraman is an advertising and social-media guru.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

The audience should know that all these letters and stories are actually true - and that The Pin-Up Girls use songs from Beyonce to The Andrews Sisters to celebrate letters from war all the way back to WW1. We know about your recent successes including your solo piece "What Doesn't Kill You."

Can you share any more of your future plans with our readers?

Actually, I just returned from Dublin, Ireland where I performed 'What Doesn't Kill You' at The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, and it was thrilling. We received a Five Star review in The Irish Times and three Oscar Wilde Award nominations. Next up, 'Now Comes the Fun Part' - a show about turning 50, will premiere at Penguin Rep Theatre, written with Mark Waldrop, Lynne Halliday and Jeffrey Lodin. I am working with another team of writers on an evening of short plays titled, 'By The Book' and I'm in talks with a production company about my two short films, 'Finding Freddy' and 'The Exhibitionist.' Clearly, I liked to keep busy during Covid.

PHOTOS from "The Pin-Up Girls" at NJ Rep

by John Posada, NJ Stage

(LONG BRANCH, NJ) -- New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) is currently presenting The Pin-Up Girls: A Musical Love Letter now through July 10th. This is a new musical by James Hindman and Jeffrey Lodin, starring Sara Glancy, Brittany Jeffery, AJ Melnick, and Pheonix Vaughn. From The Andrews Sisters to Beyoncé! From World War One to Afghanistan. The Pin-Up Girls sing a cavalcade of hits inspired by real letters home from our troops overseas! Photographer John Posada was on hand to take photos during a preview performance.

While singing at their local VFW hall, Leanne and her friends stumble upon a huge stash of letters that go back a hundred years. Inspired by what they find - funny, romantic, heartbreaking and… sexy - the ladies put on a show that celebrate the guys and gals who fight to defend our country. The musical was written by James Hindman and Jeffrey Lodin. NJ Rep's production is directed by James Hindman, with musical direction by Jeffrey Lodin, choregraphy by Eugenio Contenti and associate choreographer Molly Model. The pianist is Jo Lynn Burks.

Here are photos from the play. 

Tickets are available for purchase online or by calling 732-229-3166.

New Jersey Repertory Company is located at 179 Broadway in Long Branch, New Jersey. The company was founded in 1997 by SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas. Its current central headquarters is the Lumia Theater located on lower Broadway in Long Branch. The theater's mission is to develop and produce new plays and to make a lasting contribution to the American Stage. Over two decades NJ Rep has produced 140 plays of which 125 have been world premieres. The theater has the additional distinction of having had many of its plays produced by other theaters around the country totaling over 200 subsequent productions in the U.S. and overseas. In 2012 and 2018 NJ Rep was the recipient of a National Theater Company Grant from the American Theater Wing that sponsors the annual Tony Awards for Broadway in recognition of its contribution to the repertoire of the American Stage. Only seven theaters have had this distinction. In addition, the theater has presented over 400 developmental readings as well as introduced 136 new works through its Theatre Brut Short-Play Festivals that focus on visionary and avant-garde works.

In May 2016, NJ Rep acquired a new property, a 28,000 square foot school situated on 2 ½ acres and located just five minutes from its Main Stage Lumia Theater and two blocks from the Jersey Shore. The theater plans on gradually transforming the school in stages into a cultural center that will house additional performance spaces, an art cinema, an art museum, a rooftop café, an arts education wing, and residences for out-of-town actors and playwrights. When completed, the center will present a wide array of programs in acting, playwriting, art, sculpture, poetry, music, and photography and will serve as a catalyst for economic development and as the foundation for the cultural renaissance of the community.

Out IN Jersey

"The Forest" is a sorrowful, humorous play about life changes

by Allen Neuner

'The Forest' Jenny O'Hara photo by


The physical production rises to NJ Rep's usual level of brilliance

'The Forest' (L) Dana Brooke and (R) Christopher Grant photo by

The New Jersey Repertory Company has never been one to shy away from plays that tackle serious subjects yet draw humor from them. One such play is their latest offering, The Forest, now playing at their theatre in Long Branch.

Playwright Lia Romeo focuses her work on a problem facing more and more families — that of a once-active elder whose mental faculties are starting to fail. The anguish of family members forced helplessly to watch the decline of a loved one is matched by the self-awareness of that loved one that not only are they declining but that the process is irreversible. Yet even from that anguish and self-awareness, there are glimmers of old personality traits and memories that hold out the illusory possibility that maybe in this one case, the inevitable decline can be halted, even reversed.

The play focuses on Pam (Jenny O'Hara), a former university professor whose awareness is flickering through the decades, causing her to believe she is at different stages of her life and confused by her present surroundings. Her daughter, Juliet (Dana Brooke), a high school teacher, is not only having to handle her mother's deteriorating state but also a very messy divorce. To act as a caretaker for Pam, Juliet hires Miguel (Armando Acevedo), a single dad and former actor. On top of all this, Juliet is mentoring a gifted student, Andrew (Christopher Grant), who is torn between nurturing his gifts at a prestigious college and what he sees as abandoning his family by moving away to school.

In one scene, Pam tells Andrew about the metaphor of the forest in fairy tales. It is a place of self-revelation and change, and no one who goes in ever comes out the same. In this play, all four of the characters enter their own private forests, and their lives and their self-images change dramatically, for better or for worse.

'The Forest' (L) Jenny O'Hara and (R) Dana Brooke photo by

The cast, directed by NJ Rep's Artistic Director SuzAnne Barabas, gives memorable performances. In particular, Jenny O'Hara comes very close to stealing the show with her comedic sensibilities and her marvelously expressive face.

Ms. O'Hara handles her character's lightning-quick changes of mood and sense of place and time seamlessly, giving us a rich portrait of a woman whose still-sharp-in-many-ways mind is starting to fail her.

The physical production rises to NJ Rep's usual level of brilliance. There is, in particular, an acoustic effect that is nothing short of delightful, appropriate, and spectacularly unexpected about which I cannot say more without spoiling one of the play's surprises.

While at times the dialog is too perfectly phrased to sound like real-life speech, this does not majorly detract from the excellence of The Forest. This is a play that will resonate with its audiences on many levels, and it takes a look both serious and humorous at a situation that is becoming more and more common. I recommend making the trip to Long Branch to get lost in The Forest before its all-too-brief run ends.

Ailing professor goes deep into the proverbial woods in powerful new play 'The Forest'


Pam, a retired professor and an expert in feminism and folklore, knows perfectly well what the forest represents: A place of danger and disorientation, lurking outside the realm of life as you normally know it. She just never thought she would wind up in one herself.

It's not a real forest, of course. But the central character of Lia Romeo's powerful new play "The Forest" — currently being presented at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, in its world premiere — finds herself increasingly lost in a symbolic one, due to her battle with dementia. The plants in Pam's home grow over the course of the play — subtly at first, and then not subtly at all — until they threaten to overwhelm her.

Vividly played by Jenny O'Hara, Pam, at first, shows only slight signs of forgetfulness, messing up one of her vegan recipes. "Do you have any baked goods that aren't disgusting?," dryly asks her well-meaning but blunt daughter Juliet (Dana Brooke), a high school social studies teacher. Pam and Juliet know things are going to get worse — there is nothing they can do to stop the inexorable slide of dementia — and things do indeed get worse. Soon, Pam is sauteing a shoe, thinking it's an eggplant. She's not always able to recognize people. She has moments of hopelessness and panic. It's heartbreaking, and it will ring very true for anyone who has watched a relative or friend go through this process.

Though Pam is the only character in this play who is experiencing the unique challenges of dementia, everyone else has major issues, too.

Juliet, who has moved in with her mother to help out, is reeling from the dissolution of her marriage and frustrated that, while entering middle age, she has not blossomed into as formidable a scholar as her mother was. The caregiver they hire, Miguel (Armando Acevedo), is divorced as well, with limited access to his own children, and makes some questionable professional decisions, regarding Pam, due to his own loneliness. Andrew (Chris Grant), a talented student of Juliet's, is grieving over a death in his family and "acting out" (as some would say), like many other confused teens his age.

There is a great scene in which Pam mistakenly thinks Andrew is a student of his, and reverts to professor mode. For a moment, she is her old eloquent, capable, authoritative self. Andrew plays along. Juliet looks on, silently, clearly delighted at a glimpse of her mother as she used to be.

Juliet then asks Andrew to pose as a student of Pam's who needs to meet with her regularly to discuss a paper. It will be healing, she thinks, for Pam. But the plan doesn't really work out. Like everything else in this play, it becomes a bit of a mess. Because everyone is lost in his or her own forest.

NJ Rep artistic director SuzAnne Barabas directed this production, and scenic designer Jessica Parks gets the credit for making the growing-plants idea work.

Some might consider the metaphor over-the-top but I thought it was effective, tying together all the storylines in a purely visual way. For me, just about everything about "The Forest" worked. The characters were colorful but not cartoonish. We saw — and felt — Pam getting worse, instead of just being told about her condition. And the play addressed her disease honestly, without stooping to melodrama or sugarcoating the worst parts of it.

BWW Review: THE FOREST at NJ Rep Brilliantly Portrays the Complex Subject of Dementia

"Some people's brains don't line up with the rest of the world." by Miguel in The Forest

The spring entertainment season is in full swing and New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch is giving you a great reason to visit their theatre. The Forest, a world premiere by Lia Romero, is being presented through April 10. With the excellent direction of NJ Rep's Artistic Director, SuzAnne Barabas and featuring an outstanding cast, the show is one that must be seen.

The Forest is a timely, poignant play that portrays the sensitive subject of dementia with humor and grace. In the story, former college professor and feminist scholar, Pam is an eccentric, charming older woman in the throes of dementia. She struggles with her memory, mood changes, and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Her loving daughter, Juliet has come to live with her while dealing with an acrimonious divorce, working as a high school teacher, and attempting to provide support for her student, Andrew. Because Pam is in need of daily assistance, Juliet hires a former actor, Miguel to be a caregiver. It is an arrangement that pleases Pam and seems to work well, at least for a while.

The extraordinary cast of The Forest portrays the evolving relationships so well that the story seem to be unfolding in real time. The company includes Jenny O'Hara as Pam, Dana Brooke as Juliet, Armando Acevedo as Miguel, and Chris Grant as Andrew. Unforgettable scenes include Pam offering Juliet vegan brownies; Pam frying a shoe; Juliet hiring Miguel as a caregiver; Andrew and Juliet meeting at the grocery store; Andrew getting drunk at his high school dance that Juliet is chaperoning; Miguel pretending to marry Pam; Pam speaking to Andrew as though he is one of her college students; and Juliet talking to Andrew about his future.

The production team has done a terrific job of bringing The Forest to the Long Branch stage. In some of the scenes, images of a forest and plants grow more and more dense, a well-placed symbol of progressive dementia. The setting of the home also becomes a classroom and with clever projections, a grocery store and high school dance. The team includes costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; sound design by Nick Simone; scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; and assistant lighting design and assistant direction by Janey Huber. James Lockhart is the Master Electrician; Brian Snyder is the Technical Director; and Rose Riccardi is the Production Stage Manager.

According to Alzeimers Disease International (ADI), the international federation of Alzheimer and dementia associations around the world, someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds and as of 2020 there were over 55 million people living with the disease worldwide. We applaud New Jersey Repertory Company for producing The Forest. It is an engaging play that shines a light on a significant issue affecting so many people.

BWW Interview: Jenny O'Hara in THE FOREST at New Jersey Repertory Company

by Marina Kennedy
Mar 10 2022

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) in Long Branch will present the world premiere of Lia Romeo's, The Forest. Directed by SuzAnne Barabas, The Forest stars veteran actor of stage, screen and television, Jenny O'Hara, along with Dana Brooke, Armando Acevedo and Christopher Grant.

What to do when life gives you lemons? - Build a forest in your living room. The Forest is a play about life, love, and fairytales. Juliet is going through a messy divorce and finds herself back home with her eccentric mother who is going through a crisis of her own. Add to the mix a single dad, who is a former actor, now a caregiver, and a senior High School student trying to find his way, and you get a play that is funny, poignant, and magical. The Forest will grow in your hearts.

Broadwayworld had the pleasure of interviewing Jenny O'Hara about her career and The Forest at NJ Rep.

O'Hara is delighted to be a part of this wonderful new play at NJ Rep. She is a veteran of both stage and film with credits spanning five decades. Some of her recent television appearances include recurring roles on Transparent, The Mindy Project and The King of Queens, as well as guest starring roles on Perry Mason, The Good Doctor, This is Us, The Kids are Alright, Chicago Fire, and American Housewife to mention a few. She has starred on Broadway in The Odd Couple (female version), The Iceman Cometh, Promises, Promises, The Kid, and The Fig Leaves are Falling. She made her Broadway debut in Dylan with Alec Guinness. Her film credits include Killing Eleanor, just released on Amazon and Apple TV+, Devil, Matchstick Men, Mystic River, Angie, Career Opportunities and Heartbeat. She is a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre in NY and Ensemble Studio Theatre LA. So far, so good!

What was the very first performing opportunity you had?

My first role as a child was as Captain Hook in my mother's Children's Theatre production of Peter Pan.

Can you tell us a little about your theatrical training?

Although I performed in several plays in High school. I had no formal training until after High School when I won a drama scholarship to Carnegie Tech (Carnegie Mellon). On the first summer break I apprenticed at the Gateway Playhouse in Somers Point NJ, got a great part, left school, and went to NY to study and returned to that theatre and got my Equity card as a company member the following year. In NY I had the good fortune to study with a number of really extraordinary teachers, John Ulmer, Lee Strasburg, Wynn Handman, and the great Allan Miller.

You have performed in a great variety of roles and venues. How has that diversity informed your career?

I have been so fortunate in being able to play such a wide range of women - funny, feisty, damaged, broken, soft, loving, fierce, and unredeemable- in plays, musicals, films and television, although I have to say, nothing can beat live theatre. I also directed on As the World Turns for two years. What a life!

How do you like working at NJ Rep?

It is a delight. It is a beautiful small space with perfect acoustics and the creative staff and artistic directors are so talented, so committed and so easy to work with.

Can you tell us a little about your role in The Forest?

She is a college professor, living with her daughter. She is a Harvard graduate with a PHD from Columbia who is sliding off into dementia. She is tough, smart and funny. and a fighter. She may break your heart, but for all the right reasons.

What would you like audiences to know about the show? Just come.

You won't forget it, or regret it.

Can you share with us any of your future plans?

When the run is over I am headed to California where I will be doing two more World Premiers, Vanished Youth by Tom Baum directed by Assad Kelada and Little Theatre by Justin Tanner, directed by the inestimable Lisa James, a NJ Rep alum.

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

I love what I do.

The Two River Times: Back on Stage NJ Rep Presents 'The Promotion'

by Mary Ann Bourbeau

Phillip Clark, Sophia Lucia Parola and John Caliendo appear in "The Promotion" at New Jersey Repertory Company Jan. 27 through Feb. 20.

The world premiere of Joe Giovannetti's play, "The Promotion," began its run at New Jersey Repertory Company March 5, 2020. Like everything else though, the show shut down shortly after it started due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The play was originally set to return in September 2021 but was pushed back once again out of safety concerns. It is finally ready to reopen Jan. 27 through Feb. 20, with most of its original cast returning to their roles.

"We started rehearsals on Jan. 11 and it was so weird," said Sophia Lucia Parola, who returns in the role of Trish. "Everything is still intact, in the exact place we left it. It feels like we were just there yesterday but it's been two years."

"The Promotion" revolves around Trish and Josh, who are coworkers and good friends. Trish is a single Black woman who is responsible for taking care of her ailing mother. Josh is a married white man who is the sole breadwinner for his family. When both of them are up for the same promotion, their competitiveness pushes them to their limits. The play ponders the notion of how far people are willing to go to get ahead. It's a comedy, albeit a slightly dark one, about surviving in the dog-eat-dog world of business.

John Caliendo, who hails from Point Pleasant, and Phillip Clark are returning to their roles, but now Anja Lee has replaced Chantal Jean-Pierre in the show, directed by Evan Bergman.

"It's like life," said Parola. "It's dark, but you find ways to laugh about it. These are the things people struggle with in real life."

"The Promotion" marks Parola's NJ Rep debut.

"It's an honor and a privilege to do theater again after everything we've been through," said Parola.

The Manasquan resident began acting at Brookdale Community College under longtime theater professor John Bukovec, whom she credits with much of her skill. "I took a theater appreciation class and then an acting class, and I fell in love with it," said Parola. "He didn't like musicals much; he wanted us to be actors. I took private lessons with him and it helped me build my résumé."

After majoring in journalism and acting at Brookdale, Parola studied radio and television and earned a degree in communications from Monmouth University. She feels honored to be among such a talented cast in a play that mirrors the issues and struggles that people face in real life.

"My character is a woman of color, but it's not just about that," said Parola. "It's about a woman in business trying to fight for equal pay and what she believes in. My character is taking care of her sick mom. I grew up taking care of my mom, who was paralyzed when I was 9. I really relate to the character's burden."

Parola is grateful to be acting again, especially at a theater that emphasizes new and original works.

"I love the energy here at NJ Rep," she said. "They really welcomed me. It feels like family. I'm honored to be among people who are so talented and make me better."

Corporate life takes ugly turn in 'The Promotion,' at NJ Rep in Long Branch


From left, Phillip Clark, John Caliendo and Sophia Parola co-star in "The Promotion" at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

In "The Promotion," playwright Joe Giovannetti uses a simple situation — two friends, who sell insurance for the same company, are vying for the same promotion, and only one can get it — to explore contemporary issues of racism, sexism, workplace harassment and corporate greed. Also timeless issues, including the nature of friendship, and temptation.

That may sound like a lot, and it is. But it works: "The Promotion," currently being presented at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, is an absorbing 90-minute play that may not say anything new or profound about all of the above, but still cuts deep, with some tension-relieving humor along the way.

"The Promotion" had its world premiere at NJ Rep in March 2020, but the run was cut short because of the pandemic. (I actually saw it then, but the cancellation was announced before I could write my review.) The same director, Evan Bergman, is at the helm, and three of the same four actors are in the cast again. Giovannetti has also made some modifications to the script.

It's hard for me to zero in on why, since that first review never was written, but the play had a bigger emotional impact on me the second time around.

Sophia Parola, left, and Anja Lee in "The Promotion."

Trish (Sophia Parola) and Josh (John Caliendo) are the two main characters. They're both competitive by nature, but value their friendship to each other as well. She's single, with an elderly mother who requires a lot of attention. He's married, with a young son. They both work hard, and feel under pressure to provide for their loved ones. (The pay at the company they work for is okay, but nothing great.)

But then the no-nonsense, high-strung office manager Lois (Anja Lee, the "new" cast member in this production) calls them in for meetings with the boss (unseen by the audience), one at a time. They are both told that the regional vice president will be retiring.

They both want this job, badly. It comes with a six-figure salary and, perhaps more importantly, would offer a certain amount of safety from being fired when the company is taken over by another, bigger one (which is rumored to be happening soon).

Both Trish and Josh are confident that they are the leading candidate. And both are aware that the other wants the job, too. It's an uncomfortable situation. But they vow to remain friends.

It may not be a fair fight, though. It turns out that the boss, in his meeting with Josh, gave him a lead on a potential new client, Hank (Phillip Clark). Hank is the CEO of a large company; if Josh can win Hank over and get his business, that could clinch the promotion for him. Trish is not told about this immediately, but eventually finds out.

John Caliendo in "The Promotion."

The possibility is brought up that Josh is being given the lead as compensation for NOT getting the promotion. But Trish thinks it's more likely that the system is simply working against her: That as a Black woman, she is not taken as seriously as the white man who shares an office with her and who is not, in any way, outperforming her.

Giovannetti wisely adds complications that keep the play from being a simple parable about oppression with a clear-cut hero and villain. Trish is the more sympathetic of the two main characters, but as the plot progresses, she makes an unethical move. (That's the way I saw it, at least; others may disagree.) Josh then over-reacts and asserts his power in a way that's really ugly.

You're rooting for them to be civil with each other. And that doesn't seem to be outside the realm of possibility. But — overstressed, underpaid, angry and impulsive — they can't manage that, and the story takes a disturbing turn.

As I said, "The Promotion" is about much more than a stupid regional vice president job, and who is lucky enough to get it.

Out IN Jersey

"The Promotion" is a black comedy of the business world

by Allen Neuner

Scene form NJ Rep's "The Promotion"


NJ Rep show has been tightened up since it was briefly presented

The finest producing company in the state—New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch—has done it again. Joe Giovannetti's play The Promotion inaugurates NJ Rep's refurbished—no, recreated—main space, serving up a play that stirs together the old stories of greed and pride destroying people and friendships with modern overlays of sexism, racism, and harassment. The result is a riveting, intermission-less 90-minutes that will shake its audience to the core.

The play revolves around Trish (Sophia Perola) and Josh (John Caliendo), the two top salespeople in their small insurance company. They maintain a friendly workplace rivalry, their competition measured in monthly and annual sales totals. Amid rumors of their company possibly being bought out by a larger one, Josh and Trish are summoned separately into the office of the owner and informed of his imminent retirement—and the possibility of one of them becoming his replacement. To Josh, the increase in salary means he can better provide for his wife and their young son. To Trish, a single Black woman, the promotion will provide both additional recognition of her worth in the business world and the funds she needs to have her aging mother properly cared for. The only question is: how far will each of them go to get the promotion?

The show has been tightened up since it was briefly presented here prior to the pandemic. The result is a quick-paced, taut play under Evan Bergman's expert direction. Actors Perola and Caliendo breathe life and complexity into their characters, and your sympathies switch from one to the other and back again as the play unfolds.

They are well supported by Phillip Clark as Hank, a potential client whose successful wooing would give a huge boost to the salesperson who lands him, and Anja Lee as Lois, the no-nonsense manager of the two protagonists who is temporarily saddled with the duties of the HR department. The interactions between and among Trish, Josh, and Lois get more raw and intense as the play moves to its shattering conclusion.

As usual, the members of the technical team at the New Jersey Repertory Company create a vibrant world without needing lavish special effects, focusing on serving the play instead of calling attention to themselves. Foremost among them in this production is Scenic Designer Jessica Parks, an 18-year veteran of NJ Rep, whose office set is just professional enough to be real and just untidy enough at the edges to let you know the company is not an industry giant. Fine contributions also come from Costume Designer Patricia E. Doherty, Sound Designers Nick Simone and Merek Royce Press, Lighting Designer Jill Nagle, and Fight Director Brad Lemons.

In a far fairer world, a show like The Promotion would be running to sold-out audiences for months, and the New Jersey Repertory Company would be the name on every serious theatre-goer's lips. Unfortunately, the world is not so fair. All I can do is encourage those interested in a new, serious, well-done play presented with love and skill and talent to get themselves down to Long Branch to see The Promotion before its all-too-brief run ends. You will regret it if you don't.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Patrick Maley | For NJ Advance Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out IN Jersey

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

by Allen Neuner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

news12 New Jersey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Marina Kennedy
Feb. 21, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What inspired you to write The Promotion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

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

Can you share with us any plans for the future?

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

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

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

By Natalie Pompilio

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


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

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

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

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

And did we mention it's a comedy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Interview with Joe Giovannetti

NJ Stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did that affect how you approached things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreamers of the Stage and Beyond

by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

Gabor and SuzAnne Barabas. Photo by Danny Sanchez

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

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

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

But that was 20 years ago.

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

And that fulfills another dream the couple had.

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

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

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

An unexpected health issue forced him to reevaluate his life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She also attended Brooklyn College and graduated from Villanova University.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Patrick Maley

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Bone on Bone' will get under your skin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LINK News

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

By Madeline Schulman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Natalie Pompilio

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Marina Kennedy
Dec. 30, 2019

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

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

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

When did you first realize your talent for writing?

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

Have you had any particular mentors?

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

Who are some of your favorite playwrights or authors?

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

What was your inspiration for Bone on Bone?

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

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

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

How do you like working at NJ Rep?

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

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

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

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

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

Can you share any of your future plans?

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

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

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

By Patrick Maley

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

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

My ten favorite productions of 2019 were…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LINK News

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

By Madeline Schulman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out IN Jersey

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

by Allen Neuner

Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"

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

Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"

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

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

Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"

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

Scene from Christopher Daftsios' "Lily"

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


The Two River Times: 'LILY' AT NJ REP

by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

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

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

You bet he can!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BWW Interview: Playwright Christopher Daftsios and LILY at NJ Rep

by Marina Kennedy
Oct. 15, 2019

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

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

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

When did you first discover your penchant for writing?

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

Who have been some of your career mentors?

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

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

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

What inspired you to write Lily?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

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

Can you share with us any of your future plans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

broadway select

Meanwhile, in Long Branch, New Jersey …

By Peter Filichia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Jersey Repertory Company is A Theater for All Seasons.


by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LINK News

Theater Review: Memoirs of a Forgotten Man an unforgettable experience

By Madeline Schulman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memorable "Memoirs of a Forgotten Man" in New Jersey

Scene on Stage, by Philip Dorian

August 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out IN Jersey

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

by Allen Neuner

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

NJ Repertory presents an interesting drama shaded with mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did you first discover your writing talents?

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

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

Are there any particular mentors who have encouraged your work?

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

Have you always been interested in history and political intrigue?

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

What would you advise people who are interested in playwriting?

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

What makes Memoirs of a Forgotten Man a standout story?

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

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

How do you like working with NJ Rep once again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LINK News

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

By Madeline Schulman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out IN Jersey

"Voyager One": two connected tales of interstellar communication

by Allen Neuner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Natalie Pompilio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Delaney embraced the challenge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us a little about your earliest interest in writing?

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

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

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

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

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

What was the inspiration for Voyager One?

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

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

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

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

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

Can you share some of your future plans?

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

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

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

Scene on Stage, by Philip Dorian

May 9, 2019

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Channeling her late uncle

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

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

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

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

By Natalie Pompilio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

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

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

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

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

And that's not all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LINK News

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

By Madeline Schulman

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

Long Branch — Ching, ching!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want some journalistic intrigue? Go to "The Source"

Scene on Stage, by Philip Dorian

March 15, 2019

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NJ Stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BWW Interview: Jack Canfora and THE SOURCE at NJ Rep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you advise aspiring playwrights about the profession?

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

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

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

The Source: an invasion of privacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


APPLE SEASON has an Outstanding World Premiere at NJ Rep

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

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

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

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

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

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


by Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LINK News

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

By Madeline Schulman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out IN Jersey

"Apple Season" explores the strong grip of the past

By Allen Neuner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Natalie Pompilio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scene on Stage, by Philip Dorian

January 16, 2019

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culture Vultures - arts weekly


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

Those are often the most powerful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that's no coincidence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did you first realize your talent for writing?

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

What playwrights have you come to admire?

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

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

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

What was the inspiration for Apple Season?

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

How do you like working with NJ Rep?

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

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

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

Can you share any of your future plans?

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

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

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

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

The LINK News

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

By Neil Schulman


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she has a good cast to work with.

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

APPLE SEASON Announced As New Jersey Repertory Company Mainstage Production

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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