The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – County Players

Review by Teresa Gasparini

Hilarious. H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S. Hilarious.

Caution: Actors at play.
How many times do we say to ourselves “Oh, to be a kid again.”? The thought of it is often appealing when you think back on your carefree childhood with low stress and fun around every corner, at least as it compares to our adult stressors. Most of us are not likely to be able to be a child at play again, but for a few fortunate and talented actors that chance comes when they find themselves cast in the laugh-out-loud production, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Six pre-pubescent adolescents (all played by adults) compete in a county spelling bee, run by three idiosyncratic grown-ups. A school gym is set to host the finals and this leads to “a very nice beginning” as we meet the local winners and are introduced to the unique and exceptional qualities of the characters as brought to life by each of the players. 

One by one, each contestant (including a few unexpecting audience members) are quizzed, challenged, and tested on a litany of words given, defined and used in a sentence by the adult moderators. And, one by one, we learn the background stories of each participant, some purely comedic and others with a bit more substance, before we say goodbye as, one by one, spellers are eliminated.  

Chloe Kramer as Schwartzy

Spelling Bee is marvelously cast and is directed with great skill by Jeff Wilson. Wilson’s direction lets the actors take full charge of their characters, presenting them as uninhibited youth with thoroughly entertaining exuberance and heart. Special note should be made of musical director, Karen Sheehy, whose talent was highlighted by the cast with their flawless harmonies backed by an on-point pit. Sheehy pulled triple duty as musical director, pit conductor and keyboardist, and juggled this seamlessly. The musical numbers were pleasing to both ear and eye,  thanks to the delightful and light-hearted choreography by Denise Wornell.

We are first introduced to Rona Lisa Peretti played wonderfully by Amy Schaffer (who also doubled as Olive’s Mom), and we soon find out that she is a former spelling bee champion with passion for both the bee itself and for the participants. Schaffer did not disappoint with the skilled singing voice she is known for, as she had several ballads and gorgeous harmonies to undertake. She is joined by two other adults, one being comedic master Jeff Sculley as Vice Principal Douglas Panch. Sculley embraces this role with all the humor and fun it deserves. Listening to Sculley’s delivery of his character’s responses to “Can you use the word in a sentence?” is worth the ticket price alone (it is suspected Sculley, an improv actor, may come up with some of those sentences himself!). Rounding out the adults is the always entertaining Glen Macken as Mitch Mahoney – a reformed convict there to be a comfort counselor to those eliminated from the spelling bee. Every departure is a delight with his “good bye” song and hugs that are as burly and strong as you can expect from a tough guy handing out juice boxes. Macken also impresses with his ability to go from Mitch Mahoney to the flamboyant Dan Dad and once again flip into the distant father of Olive. Between Schaffer, Sculley, and Macken, being an adult never looked so fun! 

The Spellers are a mixed bag of adolescents that add to the “pandemonium” of this show. Irving Zuniga brings to life the boy scout with an unfortunate problem (no spoilers here!), Chip Tolentino. An early eliminated participant, Zuniga pops up in unexpected ways and at unexpected times as he too takes on more than one role. He does this with vigor and truly finds the humor in his character. Zuniga makes his debut at County Players along with Chloe Kramer playing the strong-willed Logainne Schwaztandgrubenniere (affectionately called Schwartzy). Kramer is a big personality on stage and draws the audience’s eye (in a good way!) with her comedic line delivery and facial expressions. Jontae Walters takes on the role of Marcy Park with such seriousness that you would think her character should be the adult in this spelling bee, reminiscent of the super-serious participants in these real-life competitions. It is a delightful twist when Walters is able to let loose with her song “I Speak Six Languages” as we see a playful and free side of Marcy Park. 

Thomas O’Leary as Leaf Coneybear

New to County Players is Thomas O’Leary who takes on the role of Leaf Coneybear with such conviction that he is absolutely irresistible on stage. His wide eyed and youthful expressions and mannerisms only add to this eccentric character. O’Leary will have you in full belly laughs between his characterization and simply from moments such as falling out of his chair out of nowhere. Also making her County Players debut is Lisa Delia who plays Olive Ostrovsky – a shy, timid character who absolutely steals the hearts of the audience. Her performance in “The I Love You Song” (along with Macken and Shaffer) is wonderfully moving and is a poignant moment that takes a break from the comedy, and gives the audience the aforementioned substance. Delia is a wonderful addition to the County Players’ line up. Rounding out the cast is a County Players favorite, Dylan Parkin in the role of William Morris Barfee (pronounced “Bar-fay”!). Having seen Parkin in several roles, he once again indubitably shows off his acting chops with another wildly entertaining performance in this role. 

Following The Drowsy Chaperone earlier this year, Wilson has assembled another impressive ensemble to give County Players and their audience an amusing and simply delightful night out. There are just two more weekends to catch this comedic romp, so be sure to reserve your tickets before the final performance on September 28th. Visit www.CountyPlayers.org to reserve your tickets and get ready to laugh uninhibitedly just like when you were a kid! 

Teresa Gasparini

Teresa Gasparini is a co-founder and contributing writer for Hudson Valley Ovation. She serves as the Artistic Director for Clove Creek Dinner Theater in Fishkill, NY and a founder as well as Executive Director of The New Deal Creative Arts Center in Hyde Park, NY.

The cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Boiler Room Girls – A Regional Premiere at The Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck

A Kennedy Myth & Mystery, Through The Eyes of The Women In The Eye Of The Storm

“Boiler Room Girls.”
The nickname was not hard to come by. The windowless work area in the basement of Senator Robert Kennedy’s Washington, DC campaign offices did, indeed, double as the building’s boiler room. And the “girls” to whom it referred? Well, in 1968, it was equally inevitable, despite the fact that every one of them was in their twenties.

During Bobby’s ill-fated run for the presidency, these women coordinated one of the most important aspects of any campaign. They monitored and coordinated all communications from the six regions of the country into which the nation had been divided for purposes of the campaign process, and it was through them that the executive team and Kennedy himself perceived the mood of the voters during this critical chapter of American political history.

In 1968, the six Boiler Room Girls ranged in age from 23 to 28. Among them, the oldest, Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, died a year later in the infamous Chappaquiddick incident. The other five, Esther Newberg, Susan Tannenbaum, Rosemary “Cricket” Keough, and sisters Nance and Mary Ellen Lyons, all testified in the highly charged hearings on Chappaquiddick in the aftermath of Kopechne’s tragic death.

Despite their integral role in one of the most high-profile presidential campaigns in history, and the opinion of those who knew them that they were “frighteningly intelligent, politically astute, capable as all get-out,” (described in a McCall’s article by Vivian Cadden), this new musical is the first treatment of their story from the perspective of the women themselves. Why? 

The cast of Boiler Room Girls in rehearsal

“Come see the play to find out,” says Cheryl B. Engelhardt, the show’s lyricist, composer and musical director. The musical, according to its authors, seeks to do more than tell the story. It looks to provide some insight into the cultural, and cultic, factors which explain why the story has become essentially a footnote. Book writer, director and choreographer Kevin Archambault observes, “as a society we are fed history through our media outlets, and that becomes ‘the truth.’” Archambault thinks the result, and perhaps even the intentional desire of both media and the public, is that we can “believe that our political heroes are above human error.”

The repression of the contributions of women and minorities in every aspect of history is a well-known phenomenon against which many, especially in the arts, have pushed back in recent years. Neat classifications of the “white hats” and the “black hats” among our leaders can be appealing. We want to boo or cheer, so to speak. The result, when we determine someone is a villain, can be a wholesale destruction of their image in life, or their legacy in death. But, Archambault notes, our desire to have unblemished cultural icons has dangerous repercussions as well. Remembering our heroes as spotless can allow us a false sense that we’ve come farther than we really have in our treatment of women and minorities. Bluntly, Engelhardt and Archambault posit, in Archambault’s words, “we haven’t come far at all.”

There are added layers to the question of the Boiler Room Girls’ relative anonymity, however, which make this show intriguing. First, it must be noted that part of that low profile is the result of the nearly total silence of the surviving women since the tragic ending of the Bobby Kennedy campaign and the Chappaquiddick affair. Second, and possibly inexorably linked to this silence, is the question of the magnetism of the Kennedys both during their lifetimes and as an American cultural phenomenon. All of these women appear to have been fiercely pro-Kennedy when John and Bobby were alive, notable given the fact that they were certainly privy to their personal character flaws to an extent the general public was not, until decades later. And, even after Teddy’s reprehensible behavior at Chappaquiddick became relatively well-known, the women have not sought to betray the Kennedy mystique during the several decades that have elapsed since. Was this because they were afraid of potentially dangerous repercussions of breaking ranks? Or did they, like so many, simply consider the more idealistic aspects of the Kennedy platform to outweigh the benefits of such disclosures?

Archambault’s first inclination to write the play was borne of this very Kennedy mystique. Growing up in a Catholic household, JFK’s magic had a central focus in his home.  He confesses a “crazy obsession with the Kennedy curse” from his earliest consciousness of their story.  When the creative team first began to explore the possibility of a musical treatment of the subject, they thought the Chappaquiddick story itself would be the focal point of the piece. The more research they did, the more they were convinced that the Boiler Room Girls had to be the vehicle.

Kevin Archambault

“What happened, surrounding the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the death of one of their own, that would cause these women to form an unbreakable bond that has lasted their lifetimes?” Archambault asks. Archambault and Engelhardt set out to paint that picture.

The two met in 2013 when Engelhardt appeared in a musical Archambault was directing at the Rhinebeck Center for Performing Arts. In ensuing collaborations, Engelhardt has served as musical director in Archambault-directed pieces, and out of the friendship, they developed a mutual interest in an original project. By 2014, they had committed to the Boiler Room Girls’ story. Progress was slow at first, as both delved deep into the innumerable wormholes down which the Kennedy story can often lead. About eighteen months ago, Engelhardt encouraged accelerating the process by setting dates for its live premiere. “Yep,” she quips. “I realized that I work best under a deadline, and at some point we had to give ourselves a date to work toward.” That’s when the script and the music being presented to audiences in this month’s production really started to take shape.

Both come to endeavor with significant pedigree to recommend the quality of the work. Archambault is a director and choreographer out of NYC. He spent years on the road as an actor, dancer and singer, and now calls the Hudson Valley his permanent home. His list of directorial credits is vast, and when he appears as an actor, he is widely regarded as one of the region’s finest. He also serves as the Assistant Artistic & Managing Director at The CENTER for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck and is an adjunct professor at SUNY Dutchess. 

Engelhardt is a prolific composer and singer/songwriter with dozens of film and ad score credits, 4 piano-pop albums, 20 tours, and 40+ TV placements on her resume. She began her career in a hip-hop recording studio in NYC and went on to work at a post-production house, which led her to her stint as a jingle composer before starting to tour with her band. Also a Hudson Valley resident, Engelhardt says the music is largely pop-inspired, “…we did not want to be bound to trying to write a 60’s soundtrack,” she says. The story, Archambault and Engelhardt agree, is important in its own right, and there is no need to date its music stylistically. While the production will emulate the style of the times in its costuming and set design, the piece is not an homage to the top forty hits of the era.

Cheryl B. Engelhardt

The duo is very excited about the cast they’ve assembled to present the material in its debut. Cast members Chris Backofen, Joseph Bongiorno, Tom Bunker, Bryelle Burgus, Mark Colvson, Michelle George, Victoria Howland, Rachel Karashay, PJ Kraus, Natasha Lende, Kiah Saxe, Wendell Scherer, Cheyenne See, Jordan Stroly & Elaine Young, are all experienced stage performers, and all were eager to be a part of telling the story.

The hope and expectation for the piece is that this premiere will lead to insights about the strengths of the project which will allow for even more tightening of the product for presentation in other theater workshops, festivals and venues regionally and nationally. And both of its creators are clear in the ultimate hope for the project. “The goal,” they say, “is Broadway.”

Having spent time with the creative team and gained some familiarity with the script, the music, and the underlying story, there is no reason to believe the work will not have a long and fruitful future. The compelling nature of the Kennedy myth, combined with the little-told story, distinguishes it from the Kennedy “white-noise” – there should be an appetite for the story given its newness, and both Archambault and Engelhardt have the experience and the talent to stage the story with audience appeal. The opportunity to see the show in its premiere production is a unique chance, therefore, to observe the organic development of such a project and indeed, to be a part of how it evolves. If the piece gets the legs it will no doubt deserve, its Rhinebeck audience may have the chance to look back on this intimate opening after they see it again under the bright lights in its future.

The show runs one weekend only, September 20th– 22nd. Tickets are available online and at the door, but online purchase is encouraged, as the buzz for this project may make box office purchase a risky venture. The project also has its own web and social media presences, as does Engelhardt’s musical library. All links are provided below.

Tickets: http://www.centerforperformingarts.org/all-shows-sp-1131460608/item/boiler-room-girls

Boiler Room Girls Website: https://www.boilerroomgirls.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/631512180714447/

Instagram: https://instagram.com/boilerroomgirls?igshid=1wdhkxxz9qa6c

Cheryl B. Engelhardt’s Musical Library: www.CBEmusic.com

REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar – Castaway Players

A Vision Worth Reviving

Review by Joe Eriole

Castaway Productions’ presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Sean Matthew Whiteford, accomplishes something notable in any revival of a well-known and oft-performed show: it offers the audience something more than they expected. 

Superstar began its life as  a 1970 rock opera album based on the last week of the life of Jesus, with intriguing and modestly controversial perspectives on the thoughts and motivations of history’s most famous protagonist, his loving followers, and his iconic antagonist, Judas. The musical debuted the next year. 
The compositions, while identifiable in the genre of epic rock anthems and glam rock, hold up exceptionally well. So much is asked of the vocalists, and so much musicianship is possible for the musicians, that in the hands of performers who are up to the task, the result is always an impressive aural experience. 

In Whiteford’s production, everyone on stage can really sing, and every cast member brings style and energy to their performance, such that audiences will find themselves watching more than just the leads as they survey the stage.  Likewise, all the players in the pit have real chops on their instruments, are on stage throughout the show, and now and then double as actors. 

If this production was your introduction to the show, the strength of the cast and the band would be enough to commend it. Its real triumph, however, might be among the large number of audience members who already know the show well. Because familiarity can make revivals seem tedious, and indeed, recent stagings of Superstar, even on the Great White Way have lacked the energy and power the show has the potential to deliver. This production is a terrific theater experience.

Whiteford’s director’s notes emphasize his desire to pay homage to the show’s origins as a concept album, and alerts the audience to the notion that the show will seek to capture the energy of the music in it’s raw, organic power. It is unabashedly as much a concert as a play, but that emphasis does nothing to diminish the production as a total sensory experience. The costuming is casual, gritty, and stylish, the set spare but purposeful, and the lighting reminiscent of an intimate music hall concert show; bright, alive and in motion like the cast, but never a distraction.

Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s concept has done much to shape modern popular culture’s view of it’s central characters, Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene. Focusing, as it does, on Jesus’ life, rather than taking a position on the theology he later inspired, allows the play to work as a very poignant human drama whatever your faith perspective may be, so long as the heavy water of the Jesus, Joseph, Magdalene triangle can be carried by the performers. Here, Whiteford, as Jesus, Henry George Staats III as Judas, and Jasha Woodall as Magdalene, give us that to be sure.

Jesus and Judas are exceptionally challenging vocal parts, and the show can frankly be unwatchable if these two key roles are not filled by actors who can own every note. Whiteford and Staats are each more than up to task. They are engrossing on stage together. Whiteford’s Jesus is equal parts empathy and passion; Staats’ Judas is full of pathos and rage, and both exude the pain that renders the human story tragic.

As Magdalene, Woodall delivers a performance best described as beautiful. She is a joy to listen to, and an emotive actress throughout, whose plaintive cries at the end the play, in a unique and agonizing take on the final tragedy, are inspired both in concept and delivery. One of the play’s signature songs, I Don’t Know How to Love Him, is strongly performed by Woodard with heartfelt sincerity.

Woodard and PJ Kraus, as Peter, deliver one of the most moving performances of the show on Could We Start Again, Please. this song, during which Kraus plays guitar and and Woodard plays piano, was not on the original studio album, but became part of the lexicon of the show early in its life as a stage and film event. The deep poignancy of the song and delicacy of their performance are a strong counterpoint to the relentless race to the tragic denouement of the play.

Other notable performances are turned in by Dean DiMarzo and Logan Callahan as Caiphas and Annas, respectively, who match the distinctive vocal notes of those characters while also accompanying with menacing guitar.
The two magistrates who passed on Jesus’ fate, Herod and Pontius Pilate, are played by Briana DeVol Cermak and AnnChris Warren respectively, who each give star-turns in their roles. Warren’s Pilate rages and pleads with riveting fervor, and Cermak’s Herod, while sharply offering lyrics no less insightful than any other character in the play, also gives us a welcomed dose of brilliant comedic relief. 

There is a wonderfully staged saxophone duel performed at the highest tier of the set scaffolding by ensemble members Dara Looney and Erin Hebert, which adds tremendous energy to one of the show’s strongest ensemble pieces. The ensemble is nearly always on stage, unfailing in their energy, sharp in their choreography, and powerful in their supporting vocals.
This is a well-wrought and finely performed production. It runs through Sunday September 15 at The Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck. Tickets are extremely limited and advanced purchase is highly recommended for the closing weekend.

REVIEW: I Hate Hamlet – Clove Creek Dinner Theater

Clove Creek’s Comedic Production of I Hate Hamlet is “Not to Be” Missed!

Review by Louisa Vilardi

In Clove Creek Dinner Theater’s I Hate Hamlet, director Brandon Patterson has assembled a cast full of wit and energy that will leave you with a belly full of delicious food and laughs. 

Andrew Rally’s (Steven Bendler) agent has persuaded him to play the role of Hamlet in New York City’s production of Shakespeare in the Park. Rally must battle his hate of Hamlet with his love of the craft of acting, which leaves him indecisive and unsettled. Rally moves to the City to play the role, and is met by Felicia Dantine (Amber Loija Mason), a real estate agent full of gusto, who is excited to show Rally his new place. The property is distinguished by having once belonged to the late John Barrymore (Patrick Spaulding), whose quintessential portrayal of Hamlet years ago set the bar for any actor who followed him.

Laurel Riley-Brown, Tamara Cacchione and Steven Bendler in I Hate Hamlet

Although the apartment is too grand and gothic for Rally’s taste, his agent (Laurel Riley-Brown) compels him to stay in the apartment for the selfish reason that it is the site where she once carried on an affair with Barrymore. Rally is further moved to take the place by his girlfriend, Deirdre McDavey (Tamara Cacchione). McDavey, while modestly saving herself for marriage, thinks the knowledge of the talented Barrymore’s having been resident there might inspire Rally’s performance, and with it, her libido, such that she might have the impetus to finally sleep with him.

Once in the new space, the ghost of Barrymore appears, and assists Rally in battling his demons while Barrymore himself is challenged by a ghost and Gary (Brandon Patterson), a vivacious Hollywood producer. Against these storylines, we are treated to a seance, swordplay, and Shakespearean citations in a side-splitting play.  

The ghost of legendary John Barrymore is played by standout actor and handsome charmer, Patrick Spaulding who has an impressive bravado that fills the theater. Spaulding is a natural, precise in his comedic timing while also leaving the audience welling up in tears during more emotional moments.  

Patrick Spaulding and Steven Bendler in I Hate Hamlet

Steven Bendler’s portrayal of Andrew Rally is stellar and spot-on and he plays Rally as he should, a rambler, a self-doubter, and a true TV actor whose claims to fame are his role on LA Medical and his popular but embarrassing commercial, where he kisses a chipmunk hand puppet on the head. Bendler is a gift on stage and is full of depth and presence as Rally. He succeeds in delivering a true range of emotions as what could have been a very static character. From outstanding comedic chops to emotional poignancy, Bendler shines.

Tamara Cacchione is a pure dream to watch on stage as she plays the flighty Dierdre. She is a true artist and talented actress who evokes a good mix of desperation, sincerity, passion and enchantment. She is melodic and simply flawless in this production.

Laurel Riley-Brown plays German agent Lillian Troy, and is a perfect blend of absurdity and emotion. Riley-Brown plays an older woman with an emphysemic cough who delivers some of the funniest one-liners of the play. The most moving scene of the play is when she reunites with Barrymore and they reminisce about being young lovers, which triggers the audience to remember simpler times in life when a romantic stillness was enough. It’s a credit to the chemistry and performance of Riley-Brown and Spaulding that one wishes this scene lasted much longer.

Amber Loija Mason in I Hate Hamlet

Amber Loija Mason delivers energy and zeal to the stage as Felicia Dantine. Her facial expressions and physicality, especially during the seance, evoke humor which sets the tone of the play from the start. She provides us with comic relief which balances out some of the more emotional moments between other characters on stage. 

Brandon Patterson, who also directed this production, plays Gary Lefkowitz, a slimy Hollywood producer who tries to convince Rally that his time would be better spent on screen rather than on stage. Patterson is BIG from the moment he enters to the last breath of each exit.

Steven Bendler & Brandon Patterson in I Hate Hamlet

Patterson’s direction gives us a production which is sharp, funny, and gritty, with clever staging.

I Hate Hamlet runs through September 22, 2019 at Clove Creek Dinner Theater in Fishkill, NY. For tickets and more information, please visit www.CloveCreekDinnerTheater.com 

Tamara Cacchione & Patrick Spaulding in
I Hate Hamlet
Louisa Vilardi

Louisa Vilardi is a writer and theater director who lives in the Hudson Valley.  Her writing has been featured in The Huffington Post, Today Parenting Team, and Scary Mommy.  More at www.LouisaVilardi.com

Steven Bendler and Patrick Spaulding in I Hate Hamlet

County Players Presents the Tony Award-Winning Musical Comedy THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE – OPENING September 13th!

Six middle school misfits are thrown into a cutthroat, high-stakes competition, and P-A-N-D-E-M-O-N-I-U-M takes first place.

Welcome to the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, where eccentric adolescents (all played by adults!) get their chance to shine as they vie to prove they are worthy of a shot at “Nationals.” A touching and irreverent coming-of-age comedy with a high-spirited, improvised spelling bee, this Tony Award-winning musical is a laugh-out-loud. The cast features the local talents of Lisa Delia, Chole Kramer, Glen Macken. Thomas O’Leary. Dylan Parkin. Amy Schaffer. Jeff Sculley. Jontae Walters, and Irving Zuniga. Director Jeff Wilson says: “Come meet these lovable misfits as they compete for the county spelling bee championship.  Along the way, they share their challenges and joys, deal with the pressures of competing and learn about friendship, family, and self-confidence.  Some audience members may even get the chance to compete in the bee themselves.”

Performances will be Friday & Saturday September 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28 8:00p.m. with a matinee on Sunday, September 22 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for seniors/children under 12. Call the Box Office at 845-298-1491 for reservations or order your tickets online at  www.countyplayers.org. Visa, MasterCard, and Discover are accepted. County Players Falls Theatre is located at 2681 W. Main, Wappingers Falls, NY.
Note: the show contains some mild adult humor.

The production is supported by Gold Sponsor is A&R Security. County Players 62nd season is generously sponsored by Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union.

County Players is one of the longest running community theatre companies in our area, County Players is an all-volunteer organization which has presented more than 200 productions and has served thousands of theatergoers since 1958. Located in the Village of Wappingers Falls they acquired the Academy Theatre, then renamed County Players Falls Theatre, their home since 1977.

Accessibility:

If you require wheelchair accessibility, please contact our Box Office at 845-298-1491.

Contacts: Jeff Wilson, Director, cell: 914-474-7869   email: wilsonjd@yahoo.com

Joseph Pettignano, Publicity Chair, cell: 845-489-3086 email: jpettignano@gmail.com

PHOTO: The cast of County Players’ 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee CREDIT: Harold Bonacquist

Catskill’s Bridge Street Theatre Presents the World Premiere of Michelle Carter’s BETTER September 12 – 22, 2019

A shooting. A séance. Fondue.

In the tradition of Kieron Barry’s THE OFFICIAL ADVENTURES OF KIERON AND JADE, Bridge Street presents the world premiere of yet another brand-new comedy – this one by Michelle Carter, whose HOW TO PRAY was a big audience favorite during BST’s 2017 Season. In Carter’s new play BETTER, coming to BST for eight performances only September 12-22, 20-year-old Emily’s life is turned upside down when her mother commits a shockingly violent act. She leaves school, takes a job at a fondue restaurant, consults a medium, and, like the good student she’s always been, searches for answers. How will she be able to endure her pain? What might she be capable of? Does she deserve happiness? And will things ever get better?

This quirky comedy on serious subjects will be directed by Sara Lampert Hoover (BST’s “Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune”), and features actors Montana Lampert Hoover as Emily, Brian Linden as Emily’s dad Ben, Lori Evans as Medium Molly (a down-to-earth clairvoyant), Carla Lewis-Ruig as Luisa (Emily’s co-worker at The Melting Pot Fondue Restaurant), and Eric Fleising as Emily’s boyfriend Michael. The production will also feature an original musical score composed by Catskill’s Rodney Alan Greenblat! Sets and lighting will be designed by Bridge Street Artistic Director John Sowle, with costumes by Michelle Rogers, and sound by Carmen Borgia. Production Stage Manager is Joshua Martin. Production costs for this world premiere have been underwritten in part by a generous gift from Rachel Lampert.

“Michelle Carter’s plays remind me so much of those unconventional, off-beat streaming comedy series so many of us binge on,” says Bridge Street Theatre Artistic Director John Sowle. “She takes on serious subjects (the aftermath of a school shooting, in this case) and deals with them in such a light-handed, humanizing way that it utterly disarms audiences, helps them let their guards down, and opens their hearts. You never see the violence that drives this play onstage – you merely witness the affect it has on the family the perpetrator leaves behind. And what a privilege to have Michelle here during the rehearsal process and for the first few public performances! We’ll even be holding an onstage Q&A session with her following our ‘Pay What You Will’ performance on Thursday September 12. Folks who saw Michelle’s ‘How To Pray’ at our theatre back in 2017 will need no encouragement to visit her world again.”
BST co-founder Steven Patterson concurs. “Not only is this a terrific new play, but the production has turned out to be a real family affair. We’ve got the great Sara Lampert Hoover, who helmed our production of Terrence McNally’s ‘Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune’ so brilliantly back in 2018, in the director’s chair. When we saw her daughter Montana Lampert Hoover at the NY Fringe last year in ‘The F#@%ing Wright Brothers’ by David Zellnik (whose ‘The Letters’ we premiered earlier this year), we immediately knew she’d be ideal casting as Emily – and she is, she is. And, since we want to make sure we do this incredible new play justice, we’ve hired a larger than usual complement of Equity actors, and THAT was made possible by a welcome donation, specifically for that purpose, from Sara’s sister (and Montana’s aunt) Rachel Lampert, who only recently retired after 20 years as the Artistic Director of the adventurous Kitchen Theatre in Ithaca, NY. Our audiences will also recognize Lori Evans from her performance here as Marjory/Mallory in ‘The Moors’. The three remaining cast members will all be making their Bridge Street Theatre debuts, though we’ve known and loved Brian Linden’s work since our San Francisco days. And to have Rodney Alan Greenblat creating an original score for us is simply the cherry on top of the sundae.”

“Better” is recommended for audiences ages 13+ and plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm from September 12 – 22, 2019 on the Bridge Street Theatre Mainstage, located at 44 West Bridge Street, in Catskill, NY, just a block and a half west of Main Street across the Uncle Sam Bridge, which spans Catskill Creek. Eight performances only. General Admission is $25, Students 21 and under are only $10. Discounted advance tickets are available at better.brownpapertickets.com or by calling 800-838-3006. Tickets will also be sold at the door one half hour prior to each performance on a space available basis. “Pay What You Will” performances will be held on Thursday evening September 12 and Sunday afternoon September 15 (“Pay What You Will” tickets are available only at the door one half hour prior to those performances  For more information, visit the theatre online at BridgeSt.org/better/. Don’t pass up the chance to experience this eye- and heart-opening new comedy in its world premiere!

Events at Bridge Street Theatre are supported in part by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and by Public Funds from the Greene County Legislature through the Cultural Fund administered in Greene County by the Greene County Council on the Arts.


Performance Calendar:

Bridge Street Theatre presents
The World Premiere of
BETTER
by Michelle Carter
with Montana Lampert Hoover*, Carla Lewis*, Brian Linden*, Lori Evans, and Eric Fleising
Directed by Sara Lampert Hoover
Sets and Lighting by John Sowle
Costumes by Michelle Rogers
Original Score by Rodney Alan Greenblat
Sound by Carmen Borgia
Production Stage Manager: Joshua Martin
September 12 – 22, 2019
Bridge Street Theatre Mainstage
44 West Bridge Street, Catskill, NY

Thursday September 12 @ 7:30pm (“Pay What You Will” preview, with a Q&A with the playwright immediately following the performance)
Friday September 13 @ 7:30pm (Opening Night, with reception to follow)
Saturday September 14 @ 7:30pm
Sunday September 15 @ 2:00pm (“Pay What You Will” performance)
Thursday September 19 @ 7:30pm
Friday September 20 @ 7:30pm
Saturday September 21 @ 7:30pm
Sunday September 22 @ 2:00pm (Closing performance)

Tickets:
Advance tickets available at http://better.brownpapertickets.com or by calling 800-838-3006
General Admission $22, $10 for students ages 21 and under
Tickets can also be purchased at the door prior to each performance (on a space available basis) for $25, $10 for Students ages 21 & under.
“Pay What You Will” tickets are available only on the day of performance and go on sale at the door one half hour before curtain time.

Photo Credit: John Sowle

New Deal Creative Arts Center to Hold Free Public Reading of Louisa Vilardi’s New Play

The New Deal Creative Arts Center is proud to present a free public reading of Tough Love, a new play written by playwright Louisa Vilardi. Tough Love is a mix of comedy and drama that explores how much it takes to give up or give in when it comes to marriage and family. 

Louisa Vilardi

Louisa is a writer and theater director originally from Northern New Jersey where she taught high school English and Creative Writing for over a decade before moving to the Hudson Valley. She is also a contributing writer for The Huffington Post, Today Parenting Team and Scary Mommy and is a proud member of The Dramatists Guild of America.

This free public reading will be presented at Clove Creek Dinner Theater in Fishkill, NY on Sunday, September 29th at 7:30pm. This reading features Steven Bendler, Austin Lightning Carrothers, Joseph Eriole, Teresa Gasparini, David Perez-Ribada, and Laurel Riley-Brown. Join us for the world premiere reading of the play, light refreshments and a talk back following the reading. Tickets are free, but reservations are required. This play is intended for mature audiences only.

For free tickets, please visit: newdeal-toughlove.eventbrite.com