Category Archives: NJ Theater

Michael Tucker’s comedy ‘Fern Hill’ explores aging friends and their foibles

Jill Eikenberry and John Glover in a scene from "Fern Hill." (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)
Jill Eikenberry and John Glover in a scene from “Fern Hill.” (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)

An amazing display of top notch acting by six very talented theater pros is on display in the world premiere of “Fern Hill” at the New Jersey Repertory Theater in Long Branch, N.J., through Sept. 9.

These are the kind of actors we see on TV (“Law and Order,” “Elementary,” “The Sinner,” “Veep”),   in movies (“The Birdcage,” “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Flags of our Fathers”),  perhaps in a featured or recurring role, who take these gigs so they can support their theater habit. 

The two-hour play features Tony Award-winner John Glover (“Love! Valour! Compassion!); three-time Tony nominee for best actress in a musical Dee Hoty (“Footloose,” “The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public,” “The Will Rogers Follies”); Drama Desk Award nominee for Outstanding Feature Actress in a Musical Jill Eikenberry (plus five Emmy Award nominations for “L.A. Law”); Tony nominee Tom McGowan (“La Bête”); David Rasche (seven Broadway shows) and Jodi Long (five Broadway shows). Continue reading Michael Tucker’s comedy ‘Fern Hill’ explores aging friends and their foibles

‘Songbird’ soars for fans of boot-stomping, honky-tonk version of ‘Seagull’

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A new honky-tonk musical based on an Anton Chekhov play is stomping the stage at the Two River Theater through July 1. 

Set in a small Nashville bar where whisky is a food group, music on the out-of-tune piano is more rhythm than melody and dead keys a must, plus the ability to dance the two-step is required, 10 real good friends and relatives are trying to sort out their lives — badly.  Continue reading ‘Songbird’ soars for fans of boot-stomping, honky-tonk version of ‘Seagull’

Christopher Durang’s newest comedy opens Saturday in Princeton

The Cast: (clockwise from top left) Jenn Harris, Rachel Nicks, Kristine Nielsen, Robert Sella, Nicholas Podany, and John Pankow.
The cast (clockwise from top left) Jenn Harris, Rachel Nicks, Kristine Nielsen, Robert Sella, Nicholas Podany and John Pankow.

Christopher Durang’s newest comedy, “Turning Off the Morning News,” is in preview at McCarter Theatre in Princeton. It’s the playwright’s third play commissioned by McCarter and closes the 2017/18 season. Opening night is May 12.

His last work here, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” moved to Broadway, resulting in his first Tony Award for Best Play in 2013. Really? It took that long?

It was directed by McCarter’s artistic director and resident playwright Emily Mann who also helms this play, described as “a decidedly dark and daring comedy taking hilarious aim at today’s absurd and dangerous world.” Continue reading Christopher Durang’s newest comedy opens Saturday in Princeton

God’s mercy, a priest’s responsibility at center of new NJ Rep play

Ames Adamson (left) and Jared Michael Delaney in "The Calling," a world premiere by Joel Stone playing at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Brand, NJ, through February 4, 2018. (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)
Ames Adamson (left) and Jared Michael Delaney in “The Calling,” a world premiere by Joel Stone playing at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Brand, NJ, through February 4, 2018. (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)

Two men. One, an aging priest whose belief that God is merciful and Jesus is his savior, has never wavered. The other, a middle-aged lapsed Catholic who’s an ICU nurse ministering to very sick people, who agonizes over what kind of God let’s good souls suffer.

Both men are passionate about helping people. Both are deeply concerned about human life and death. Both come to drastically different conclusions about God’s purpose in all of this. And both believe he is right.

That’s the premise of Joel Stone’s interesting two-hander “The Calling,” receiving its world premiere through Feb. 4 at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. Continue reading God’s mercy, a priest’s responsibility at center of new NJ Rep play

Two River Theater’s staging of ‘Earnest’ is absolutely delightful

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It’s always amazed me how insults delivered with an upper-class English accent don’t sound so harsh.

For instance, “I never saw anybody take so long to dress, and with such little result,” which appears in Act II of the laugh-a-minute  comedy “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde.

Yes, Wilde was Irish, not English, and not upper class. As one of the best-known personalities of his day and one of the greatest wits of all time, his words held up a mirror to the rigid and, at times , severe class system of late Victorian England while writing one of the funniest plays ever. Continue reading Two River Theater’s staging of ‘Earnest’ is absolutely delightful

Kathleen Turner stars in comedy ‘Act of God’ at George Street Playhouse

Tickets now are on sale for Kathleen Turner’s performance as God in the George Street Playhouse production of “An Act of God” in New Brunswick, N.J.,  Nov. 28 through Dec. 23.

Kathleen Turner, an Academy Award and Tony Award nominee, plays the title role in "An Act of God."
Kathleen Turner, an Academy Award and Tony Award nominee, plays the title role in “An Act of God.”

Yeah, really. That Kathleen Turner. The Academy Award nominee, Tony Award nominee, and multiple Golden Globe winner. She’s  appeared in nearly three dozen films, including “The War of the Roses”, “Prizzi’s Honor” (Golden Globe Winner), “Romancing the Stone” (my favorite), “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “Marley and Me.”  She received an Academy Award nomination for her starring role in “Peggy Sue Got Married.”

A star of the Broadway stage as well, Turner received Tony Award nominations for her performances in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  She also starred as Mrs. Robinson in the Broadway and West End productions of “The Graduate.”  Her television appearances include “Nip/Tuck,” “Friends” and “Californication.”  Turner’s distinctive husky voice can be heard on TV episodes including “Family Guy,” “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill.”

“We could not be more thrilled to have one of the most revered film and Broadway stars of our time playing God,” said GSP artistic director David Saint who also directs “An Act of God.”  “God has a lot to say in this incredibly funny modern comedy, and Ms. Turner has just the right amount of chutzpah to bring us Her words.”

Performances begin Nov. 28 and continue through Dec. 23.

Tickets start at $85 for all performances.  “Heavenly Seating,” the first three rows of the theater, that enable patrons to be close to God (or should that be Goddess?) are $100.

For more information, visit the George Street Playhouse website at www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org where you also can purchases a seat. Tickets also available at the box office and by calling 732-246-7717.

In the 90-minute comedy by David Javerbaum, God takes human form and doesn’t hold back about what She’s seen and heard.  God, along with two archangels (casting TBA), answer many of the deepest (and not so deep) questions that have plagued mankind since Creation. Javerbaum’s play is based on his book “The Last Testament: A Memoir by God” and his Twitter feed.

Jim Parsons played the title road in the original 2015 Broadway production. It returned to Broadway in 2016 starring Sean Hayes.  The New York Times called “An Act of God” “a gut-busting-funny riff on the never-ending folly of mankind’s attempts to fathom God’s wishes … It’s an hour and a half of comedy heaven … .”

Javerbaum has 13 Emmy Awards, a Grammy Award and three Peabody Awards for his work on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”  Javerbaum is the co-creator of the Netflix sitcom “Disjointed” starring Kathy Bates and worked on “The Late Late Show with James Corden” and “The Colbert Report.”

While the new performing arts center that will serve as George Street Playhouse’s future home in downtown New Brunswick is being built, the company is in residence in the former New Jersey Museum of Agriculture at 103 College Farm Road on Rutgers University’s Cook Campus off Route 1 for its 2018-19 season.

George Street Playhouse is expected to return downtown to the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center in time for its 2019-20 season. A former museum exhibit area is being transformed into an intimate, mainstage theatre space.

The interim venue features expansive lobby spaces, an outdoor patio and free nearby parking. The entrance into the building and to all areas of the theatre are barrier-free. For directions to George Street Playhouse, visit the GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org and click on “Directions” on the homepage.

‘Honeymooners’ musical begins world premiere tonite at Paper Mill

Not many Americans are alive today who watched the original broadcast of “The Honeymooners,” the iconic TV show created by Jackie Gleason that has morphed into a limited run world premiere musical  (after two previous attempts) that begins performances today (Sept. 28) at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey and probably is Broadway bound.

It’s based on the 1950s CBS television series that featured Gleason as bus driver Ralph Kramden;  Audrey Meadows his as faithful but sharp-tongued wife Alice,  Art Carney as his best friend Ed Norton, a sewer worker, and his wife Joyce Randolph and best friend to Alice.

Publicity shot of Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden with Audrey Meadows as Alice, circa 1955
Publicity shot of Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden with Audrey Meadows as Alice, circa 1955

Coming full circle, Gleason’s skits about working-class married couples in a gritty Brooklyn apartment originally  were broadcast live in front of a theater audience on the DuMont network’s variety series “Cavalcade of Stars,” which Gleason hosted, and subsequently on the CBS network’s “The Jackie Gleason Show” (1951–55).

Continue reading ‘Honeymooners’ musical begins world premiere tonite at Paper Mill

‘A Raisin in the Sun’ cast deliver performances in a play not to be missed

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“You people,” says the man from the all-white Clybourne Park Welcoming Committee — repeatedly —to the Younger family living in a one-bedroom rundown apartment on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s.

He’s so polite that the Younger family, at first, believe Mr. Lindner (Nat DeWolf) is sincere until it becomes clear he’s not. He’s there to offer them more money than the purchase price of their new three-bedroom house so that their neighborhood won’t be sullied by black people.

The dream of leaving a cramped cockroach invested apartment where the shared bathroom is down the hall, for an airy suburban home with a yard waiting for a garden, is so visceral it took them a few minutes to realize his visit was about race, not open arms.

Continue reading ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ cast deliver performances in a play not to be missed

NFL player rails against head injuries in new play ‘Halftime With Don’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first was published in the June 22-29, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times. 

 NEW JERSEY REPERTORY COMPANY

179 Broadway, Long Branch

Performances 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through July 30. 

Tickets are $46 and available at 732-229-3166 or online at njrep.org.

As part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, following the production of “Halftime with Don”  at NJ Rep, the play will be performed at B Street Theater in Sacramento, CA.,  and Phoenix Theater in Indianapolis, IN.

 

Last weekend to catch Two River Theater’s ‘Women of Padilla’

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Tony Meneses new play, “The Women of Padilla,” is about eight women who are married to eight brothers who are away fighting an unknown war for an unknown cause that seems never-ending.

The title refers to the family’s last name and seven of the women spend hours together daily talking, eating, arguing, and laughing in a series of short scenes during the 90-minute play featuring an all-Latina cast. Continue reading Last weekend to catch Two River Theater’s ‘Women of Padilla’