5th Theater Brut fest of plays, music, art opens today at West End Arts

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The New Jersey Repertory Company is throwing a coming out party for its new West End Arts Center during the first week of October with a Theater Brut arts festival featuring 28 new short plays, plus music, poetry, art and photography events.

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

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

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

Managing Director Kevin Puvalowski (left) and Executive Producer Gabor Barabas at the West End Arts Center. (PHOTO: Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen)
Managing Director Kevin Puvalowski (left) and Executive Producer Gabor Barabas at the West End Arts Center. (PHOTO: Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen)

“We are introducing ourselves to the community,” he explained. “It’s a significant shift being here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mare Akana of the Long Branch Arts Council curated the Theater Brut art show.
Mare Akana of the Long Branch Arts Council curated the Theater Brut art show.

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

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

Wendie Malick, playwright for "The Conversation," (PHOTO: Courtesy of Wendie Malick)
Wendie Malick, playwright for “The Conversation,” (PHOTO: Courtesy of Wendie Malick)

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

Jill Eikenberry, director, and Michael Tucker, playwright, for "Pittsburgh." (PHOTO: Courtesy of Jill Eikenberry.
Jill Eikenberry, director, and Michael Tucker, playwright, for “Pittsburgh.”
(PHOTO: Courtesy of Jill Eikenberry.

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

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

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

The “All About Eve” festival will be held at the West End Arts Center, 132 West End Ave., Long Branch. For more information, call 732-229-3166. Visit www.njrep.org/plays/allabouteve.htm for details about the festival.

Home of the West End Arts Center at West End Avenue and Sairs Avenue in Long Branch. (PHOTO: Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen)
Home of the West End Arts Center at West End Avenue and Sairs Avenue in Long Branch. (PHOTO: Gretchen C. Van Benthuysen)


Session One – 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 1: “Blood Sausage” by John Biguenet, “Breaking in the New Boss” by Gino DiIorio, “Love is a Train” by R.N. Sandberg, “The Naming” by Constance Marse

Session Two – 8 p.m., Sunday,  Oct. 1:“Deliver Us” by Ian August, “Ful Nabit” by J. Thalia Cunningham, “How My Grandparents Fell in Love” by Cary Gitter, “This Year’s Model” by Donna Hoke

Session Three – 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6: “After You” by Lee Blessing, “Australia’s Oldest Woman”  by Kieran Carroll, “Eve in the Hot Seat by” Brian Richard Mori, “Stepping Into Fire” (musical) by Jonathan Brielle and Tom Coash

Session Four – 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7: “The Conversation” by Wendie Malick, “Her Place in the World” by D.W. Gregory, “The Outside Edge of a Full Circle” by Matthew Harrington, “Something About Eve” by Lynne Halliday.

Session Five – 8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7: “Barroom Sonata” by Jack Canfora, “Miss Mary Edwards” by Elaine Smith, “New York City Girls Will Kill You” by Graham Techler, “Snake Eggs” by Lauren Waters

Session Six – 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8: “Cubs Win!” by Marisa Smith, “Eviction” by Nancy Cooper Frank, “Pittsburgh” by Michael Tucker, “The Late Shift” by Willow Martin

Session Seven 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8: A Few Good PB&J’s” by Jeremy Kehoe, “Exhibit A”  by L.H. Grant, “Mountaineer” by Ken Weitzman, “Performance Review”  by Nedra Pezold Roberts

Tickets to individual Sessions $50 each.

Art & Photography

Reception: Oct. 4, 6 – 8 p.m., includes Jimmy Leslie, Amy Faris, Mary Phillips, Kate Wilts, Lizzi Shippert, Sven Widen, Janelle Wilson, Mare Akana, Lori Lee Sperling, Suzanne Osterweil Weber, Nicole Hymowitz. Free.

Live Music Night

8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, plus after each Theatre Brut session. Performers include Bobby Jackson, Olympia’s Daughters, Jackson Pines, Homeless Apians, Bone and Marrow, Accidental Seabirds, Gary Mayer, Matt & Cody, Jazz Arts. Tickets $15.

Poetry Night

 7 p.m. Tuesday Oct. 3: Sharon Baller, David Briggs, Eloise Bruce, Joe Bisicchia, Gregg G. Brown, Warren Cooper, Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta, Emanuel di Pasquale, Juditha Dowd, Frank Finale, Ellen Foos, Lois Marie Harrod, Penny Harter, Flora Higgins, Evelyn Hampton, Lainey Johnson, Victoria Kaloss, Charles H. Johnson, Lois LaPointe Kiely, Lynn Levin, Joanne Leva, Mihaela Moscaliuc, Judy Michaels, Bernadette McBride, Linda Muhlhausen, Susan Martin, Louis Nappen, Sharon Olson, Sue Sherrill, Hillary Ann Smith, Jennifer Stahl, Mathew Spano, Maxine Susman, Bob Rosenbloom, Karen Topham, Frank Valentino, Rosemary Wright, Carol Wich. Tickets $15.

Festival Pass including all the events is $300.

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