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.

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‘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).

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‘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

‘A Raisin in the Sun’ opens tonight at Two River Theater in Red Bank

The Younger family's hope for achieving their dreams is at the center of "A Raisin In the Sun" featuring Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger), Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger), Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger) and Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger) in at Two River Theater in Red Bank. (PHOTO) T Charles Erickson
The Younger family’s hope for achieving their dreams is at the center of “A Raisin In the Sun” featuring Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger), Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger), Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger) and Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger) in at Two River Theater in Red Bank. (PHOTO) T Charles Erickson

“Raisin in the Sun” opens tonight at the Two River Theater Company in Red Bank with a cast that would do a Broadway production proud. It includes Jasmine Batchelor (Beneatha Younger), Nat DeWolf (Karl Lindner), Crystal A. Dickinson (Ruth Younger), Brandon J. Dirden (Walter Lee Younger), Willie Dirden (Bobo), Charlie Hudson III (Joseph Asagai), Brenda Pressley (Lena Younger), Owen Tabaka (Travis Younger), and York Walker (George Murchison). Andrew Binger and David Joel Rivera play the Moving Men.

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‘What the Butler Saw’ begins tonight at NJ Shakespeare Fest

I can’t believe that Joe Orton’s last play, the once controversial farce “What The Butler Saw,” is his first work ever to be produced by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Performances begin tonight in Madison, N.J.
I would have sworn I’d seen an Orton work there … wait a minute. I’m thinking of Orton’s “Loot, staged at McCarter Theater in Princeton directed by the incredibly inventive and exciting director Daniel Fish in 2002.
That must be what’s  confusing me. Paul Mullins, another the incredibly inventive and exciting director (as well as actor), is staging the farce here. First performed in 1969,  it shocked audiences.  Nudity and extramarital affairs probably had something to do with that.

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Sam Shepard conquered both stage and screen

Sam Shepard was an American playwright, actor, author, screenwriter, and director.
Sam Shepard was an American playwright, actor, author, screenwriter, and director.

Sam Shepard’s work spanned over half a century. He wrote 44 plays,  several books of short stories, essays, and memoirs.

He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play “Buried Child.”  He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in film “The Right Stuff” (1983).

Shepard received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American dramatist in 2009. New York magazine described him as “the greatest American playwright of his generation.

Shepard’s plays are known for their bleak, poetic, often surrealist elements, black humor, and rootless characters living on the outskirts of American society. His style evolved over the years, from the absurdism of his early off-off-Broadway work to the realism of “Buried Child” and “Curse of the Starving Class” (both 1978).

Visit Shepard’s website here.

The obituaries:

Playbill.comThe Off-Broadway pioneer’s works included “Buried Child” and “Fool for Love.”

Variety: Sam Shepard, Pulitzer-Winning Playwright and Celebrated Actor, Dies at 73

New York TimesSam Shepard, Pulitzer-Winning Playwright and
Actor, Is Dead at 73

The Washington PostSam Shepard, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, dies at 73

Vanity FairSam Shepard, Prolific Playwright and Actor, Dies at 73

CNN: Sam Shepard, Pulitzer-winning playwright and actor, dead at 73

The GuardianSam Shepard, playwright and actor, dies age 73

Mandy Patinkin backs out of ‘The Comet’ following diversity criticism

Josh Groban as Pierre in Broadway's "The Great Comet." (PHOTO: Chad Batka)
Josh Groban as Pierre in Broadway’s “The Great Comet.” (PHOTO: Chad Batka)

Glad I didn’t jump online last night and order tickets when I learned Mandy Patinkin was returning to Broadway after a 17-year absence in “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.” Because today he’s not.

He pulled out after a social media storm that condemned the producers’ decision to replace black actor Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan with the white Broadway legend in an effort to sell tickets, which had fallen off with the departure of Josh Groban. His final performance was July 2.

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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.

 

TNT’s ‘Will’ debuts tonight, but will millennials check out Bard’s plays

 

Laurie Davidson, left, as William Shakespeare, with Mattias Inwood as the actor Richard Burbage and Olivia DeJonge as Alice Burbage in TNT's "Will." (PHOTO: Alex Bailey/TNT)
Laurie Davidson, left, as William Shakespeare, with Mattias Inwood as the actor Richard Burbage and Olivia DeJonge as Alice Burbage in TNT’s “Will.” (PHOTO: Alex Bailey/TNT)

TNT’s eagerly awaited (by some) rock-and-roll version of Shakespeare’s “lost years” debuts beginning at 9 tonight with two episodes of “Will.”

The lost years … the seven-year period between 1585 (when his twins were born) to 1592 (when Robert Greene called him an “upstart crow” when mentioned as part of the London theater scene. There are no historical traces that survive to show exactly where he was or why he left Stratford for London.

Although the greatest poet in the English language died 401 years ago, we are still staging his plays, talking about his impact on the world, quoting famous lines, watching new work with new interpretations of his life, including this summer’s controversy over The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Julius Caesar” with a title character that resembled President Trump.

Newcomer Laurie Davidson in the title role of “Will” on TNT, part of a 10-episode first season, the producers say.  (PHOTO: Alex Bailey/TNT)

Craig Pearce, who wrote the screenplay for Baz  Lurhmann’s  “Romeo + Juliet.” wrote the pilot and is the executive producer the the 10-episode first season, which indicates a future if the ratings are good. But will the funky approach draw millennials to live theater, or even PBS, the TV station where Shakespeare shows up most often? Don’t hold your breath. But at least they may learn a few things about Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era to make the effort worthwhile.

Read more about punk-rock Shakespeare and a look at the official trailer.

Here’s how the L.A. Times describes “Will”

“It’s 1589. Young Will Shakespeare (Laurie Davidson), provincial actor and aspiring scribe, attractively lean and hungry for fame, heads off to the bawdy big city of London, leaving wife and children behind, as the Clash’s “London Calling” plays on the soundtrack.”

The Guardian of London

Some parts of the show are thoroughly enjoyable, including a battle of pentametric wits between Shakespeare, slow to earn the respect of his thespian cohorts, and Christopher Marlowe. Here, Marlowe is reimagined as not only Shakespeare’s worthy poetic rival but an admirer, too.

But Will would be more successful had it been crafted like another vaguely biographical series, Netflix’s The Crown, with characterization, patience and restraint rather than ribaldry and maximalism.

Entertainment website

“Will” is truly the breakfast cereal commercial of Shakespeare — it’s sugary and colorful and very, very bad for you, but irresistible, especially if you’ve tasted something like this before. For anyone with even a nugget of leftover Shakespeare knowledge from high school, Will can be wicked summer fun. Really. Lines like “Seems like your play is quite the thing!” are so heinous, they’re genius.

‘Ballad of Little Jo’ opens tonite at Two River Theater in Red Bank

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Cindi Lauper is writing the songs for the upcoming “Working Girl” Broadway musical. Cher’s life and career is to be the source of a 2018 Broadway show. But long before that, another woman was making her  way in a man’s world (even if she was incognito) and her story was adapted for the stage as “The Ballad of Little Jo.”

The  musical first staged in 2000 at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company — based on a real story made into a 1993 movie of the same title written and directed by Maggie Greenwald — continues through Sunday, June 25, at the Two River Theater Company, 21 Bridge St., Red Bank, NJ.

Set in the late 19th century, “The Ballad of Little Jo” is inspired by a real-life story of American optimism, according to the press release, and infused with a score that evokes the folk ballads of pioneer America. It tells the story of a woman named Josephine Monaghan, originally from Boston and where unmarried  pregnant daughters are banished as disgraceful, makes her way to a tough Idaho mining town where she lived as a man called “Jo” for nearly 20 years.

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News and views of New Jersey's regional theaters, and bits about Broadway.

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