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.

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

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. 


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

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.

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

NJ Repertory’s ‘& Juliet’ has world premiere

From left, John FitzGibbon, Jacob A. Ware and Nadia Brown in "& Juliet." (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)
From left, John FitzGibbon, Jacob A. Ware and Nadia Brown in “& Juliet.” (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)

A young, cutting-edge theater director finds himself rebooting his career at a small conservative college in a sylvan setting in the world premiere of “& Juliet” by Robert Caisley at the New Jersey Repertory Theater in Long Branch.

Charlie Vaughn (Jacob A. Ware) is moving boxes of books, theater cards and, of course Yorick’s “skull,” into his office as the new

semester begins. He soon is joined by David Hughes (John FitzGibbon), a theater professor who has taught at the college for 30 years and had expected to move into the corner office with the grand view himself. Continue reading NJ Repertory’s ‘& Juliet’ has world premiere

Reel 13 host Peña credits Paper Mill’s ‘Show Boat’ with verisimilitude

Nice, big, fat shout-out to Paper Mill Playhouse Saturday night during the Channel 13 screening of the 1951 version of “Show Boat” as part of its weekly Reel 13 classic movie feature.

At the end of “Show Boat” Prof. Richard Peña, currently the director of programming at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, talked about all the changes made to musical over the years including  downplaying the African-American characters, changing offensive lyrics, eliminating songs.

Eddie Bracken as Cap'n Andy Hawks and Rebecca Baxter as Magnolia in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of "Show Boat." It was featured on PBS' "Great Performances" series in 1989.
Eddie Bracken as Cap’n Andy Hawks and Rebecca Baxter as Magnolia in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of “Show Boat.” It was featured on PBS’ “Great Performances” series..

He noted that a live performance by the Paper Mill Playhouse was videotaped for television and shown on Great Performances on PBS  contains more of the songs (and fewer cuts) than any of the film versions. It also restored not only the original book of the 1927 Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein but other songs and dance numbers thrown away over the years, he said.

Continue reading Reel 13 host Peña credits Paper Mill’s ‘Show Boat’ with verisimilitude

‘Madame Secretary’ features Sondheim’s opener from ‘Company’

Smart TV shows don’t interrupt with commercials during the first 5+ minutes. Hook-and-keep viewers pattern. On Sunday, the first few minutes of the 7-minute opening of “Madame Secretary” was  underscored with the opening number from the original cast album of “Company.” It featured Erich Bergen’s morning routine as the character Blake, top aid to Téa Leoni‘s Elizabeth McCord’s U.S. Secretary of State.

Image of Eric Bergen
Eric Bergen

Bergen also live tweeted last night. He is best known for playing Bob Gaudio in the biographical musical drama film Jersey Boys. He attended the well-known Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Center in  New York for seven years.

Recently, the 31-year-old actor has spoken out about surviving testicular cancer.

Not the only actor on the show with stage credits, Bebe Neuwirth is a Tony Award-winning actress for roles of Nickie in the revival of Sweet Charity (1986), and Velma Kelly in the revival of Chicago (1996). Other Broadway musical roles include Morticia Addams in The Addams Family (2010), Lola in “Damn Yankees (1995) and the ensemble shows “Fosse” and revival of “Chicago.”

Patina Miller is best known for originating the role of disco diva wannabe Deloris Van Cartier in the 2009 West End and 2011 Broadway productions of Sister Act. She also starred as the Leading Player in the 2013 revival of Pippin for which she won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

Željko Ivanek, who plays Russell Jackson, has appeared in seven shows on Broadway.

Cast members of "Madame Secretary." Eric Bergen far right.
Cast members of “Madame Secretary.” Eric Bergen far right.

One more video  before you leave


‘Comet’ and Bette lead 2017 Tony Award noms

Screen Shot of 2017 Tony nominationsLet’s hope that revealing the 2017 Tony Awards  nominations at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center encourage theater lovers to spend as many hours as I did excavating the Theater on Film and Tape Archive.

The Tony Award nominations include, “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812” came out on top with 12 nominations, including Best Musical, Best Original Score for Dave Malloy, and Best Direction of a Musical for Rachel Chavkin, as well as nods for its two leads: Josh Groban and Denée Benton (both in their Broadway debuts).

Next, the woman whose LPs (look it up) I spent hours listening to in college: the great Bette Midler’s “Hello, Dolly!” earned 10 nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical and all four performance categories: Midler for Lead Actress, David Hyde Pierce for Lead Actor, Kate Baldwin for Featured Actress, and Gavin Creel for Featured Actor. I mean, was there any doubt!?

Continue reading ‘Comet’ and Bette lead 2017 Tony Award noms

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’

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

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