Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde – The New Deal Creative Arts Center

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” – Oscar Wilde

Austin Carrothers as Oscar Wilde

Review by Michael Koegel

Oscar Wilde seems to have been quite aware that he would leave a lasting legacy regarding both his literary and public exploits, but it’s doubtful that he anticipated his role as martyr; a symbol for persecuted gay men well into the 20th century and beyond. In Moises Kaufman’s compelling play, we witness in two-and-a-half gripping hours Wilde’s two-and-a-half year ruination; from celebrated literary virtuoso to destitute pariah and unceremonious death. In New Deal Creative Arts Center’s production of the play, directed by Teresa Gasparini,  we learn the details of Wilde’s downfall with perfect historical accuracy, and with the added gift of hindsight.

The play, a cleverly compiled assortment of actual court testimony, memoirs (some never published), and snippets of media coverage, reconstructs The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. Kaufman’s extensively researched play becomes all the more engrossing because of it’s near-documentary, presentational style. The term “Playwright” when applied to Kaufman’s labors on Gross Indecency takes on the literal meaning of the word: he’s both craftsman and writer here.

Kaufman’s real skill is the way he seamlessly blends his original material with that of historical documents with such grace. Actors step in and out of character to narrate their own stories. The audience knows exactly where the primary source material comes from because the actors name their sources as they quote them.

Wilde was a poet, a writer, and an editor who lived the effete lifestyle of the Victorian Intellectual. His stance was unapologetically his own, but he seemingly existed in a bubble, mingling only with like-minded, moneyed, liberal intelligentsia, which may have skewed his understanding of the larger world. Outside of that bubble, his work, and by extension his morality, was constantly rebuked by conservative members of his society and elements of the mainstream and establishment press. Wilde responded to his critics with witty retorts and veiled invective, and treated them as if he were swatting away flies.  When he hit his stride as a playwright in the 1890’s, he was writing mildly subversive plays involving the double lives of their main characters, which was his milieu. At the same time he was mocking the hypocrisy he saw in his critics’ behavior.

Wilde’s double life (he was married with two children) was hardly a secret, and involved his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, a handsome, spoilt young man with whom Wilde was consumed. Lord Alfred’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, suspecting the worst, confronted Wilde and his son over the nature of their relationship, and eventually left his calling card (essentially Victorian Twitter) at Wilde’s club publicly calling out Wilde for “posing” as a sodomite (famously misspelled as “somdomite”). Presumably Quuensberry stopped short of accusing Wilde of being a sodomite because to do so would have required him to implocate his son as guilty of the same. Goaded on by Lord Alfred who had a particularly contentious relationship with his father, Wilde made the ill-advised move to sue the Marquess for Libel. Thus began the saga of the three trials.

It’s almost impossible to overstate the sensation these trials had on the public: think O. J. Simpson. Wilde appeared to badly underestimate the readiness of society, which celebrated him while his behavior was veiled and closeted, to tolerate it unveiled. Wilde’s martyrdom became a foregone conclusion when the sensation it created public  conjecture that such “indecencies” as Wilde was accused of might be being practiced by members of the controlling party in the Houses of Parliament and to announce it as acceptable could topple the government; an almost nostalgic reference to a time when consisting with a prostitute might actually be fatal to a politician’s career. But, while there is much in the play that will appear to modern audiences to reflect outdated Victorian morality, the real power of the play is in how much of the attitudes and hypocrisy will seem tragically current.

The Cast of Gross Indecency

In Gasparini’s production, even the entrance of the actors, all men, all dressed in dark and serious tones, is startling and dramatic. They take their positions barricaded behind various tables and desks, only Wilde (Austin Lightning Carrothers) sits vulnerably in a straight backed chair center stage, at first cockily, and then defensively folding his legs above the knee.

Carothers as Wilde is far more handsome than Wilde was, which makes it even easier to envision Wilde seeking out prostitutes not out of any desperate clandestine need for companionship or sexual gratification, but rather for thrill of the experience of youth and beauty, an extension of his view of life itself as art, which Wilde argues that it was.  Carrothers never loses his cool as Wilde, in fact he effectively conveys that Wilde is operating on a plane above that of the other characters. He is measured and composed while everyone around him seems to have their heads buried in documents while yelling double-time, a cacophony of anger and accusation, while Carrothers sits serenely in the middle of it all.

Mind you, there is plenty for the rest of the cast to be yelling about; sodomy is serious business for the other characters.  As emotions go, anger trumps compassion, and Joe Eriole, playing two different attorneys who cross-examine the star witness, succeeds in finding chinks in Wilde’s quick-witted armor, while tossing out barbed accusations of his own. Eriole is an excellent sparring partner for Carrothers.  The first act dialogue between Carrothers and Eriole, Queensberry’s attorney Sir Edward Carson, positively crackles.

Thom Webb, well cast as the loutish Marquess of Queensberry (yes, the same Queensberry after whom boxing’s Queensberry Rules are named), is a loud brute of commanding presence and little patience; passionately denouncing the very existence of his son, Lord Alfred, played soberly and engagingly by Kevin Douchkoff. He’s not someone you’d want to go a few rounds with, and it’s easy to understand his bewilderment with, and disappointment in, his son.

Unfortunately, the bile and bewilderment that propelled Queensberry in the 1890’s has survived completely intact over a century later.  Substitute any gender or demographic stereotype and bias for “somdomite,” and the Marquess’ dialogue can be heard in our public discourse today. Douchkoff and the balance of the cast, Scott Woolley, Chuck Fager, and Jared Fais combine to bring to life the material with an immediacy which makes clear that Wilde’s trials are not a mere historical artifact.

Gross Indecency is being produced by The New Deal Creative Arts Center, an organization with the mission: “Making arts accessible to a wide range of audiences (by) providing year round programming in fine, visual, literary and performing arts.”  The play’s run reflects that mission. Its opening night was presented in an art gallery at The Poughkeepsie Trolley Barn, where audience members were allowed to peruse the art before the show and during intermission. It’s remaining shows will be at the LGBTQ Center in Kingston on Saturday, June 22, and the —- in Newburgh on Friday, June 28, making it a three-county tour in spaces which are, themselves, celebrations of history, art and social justice, all during gay pride month.

There is an aspect of guerrilla theatre to this production. There is no stage lighting, no raised stage.  Instead of diminishing the experience, these spare and stark choices actually enhance it; it forces the audience into the ephemeral realm of the recorded dialogue of this “real life” courtroom drama. All that is left is a compelling theatrical experience – the actors and the audience on the same level, not just in the same space, but literally the same room. We are the jury.

Photo Credit: Louisa Vilardi

The Cast of Gross Indecency

Jerry Finnegan’s Sister – Clove Creek Dinner Theater

Clove Creek’s Comedic Production of Jerry Finnegan’s Sister Helps Us Revisit Innocence and Easier Days

Review By Louisa Vilardi

You don’t want to miss Clove Creek Dinner Theater’s entertaining production of Jerry Finnegan’s Sister. Written by Jack Neary and brilliantly directed by Anna Marie Paolercio, this production will bring you back to the early days when love was so simple.

After almost 2 decades and many failed attempts, Brian Dowd (Vinny Granata) finally musters up the courage to do what he should have done many years ago. Growing up next door to his crush and best friend’s sister, Brian is a quintessential boy next door who is his own biggest obstacle when it comes to Beth (Jasmine Canziani) who he just cannot seem to win over because he is too afraid to ask her out.

This two-character play moves quickly and draws the audience back to early childhood days and fond (or not so fond!) memories of dating, our first kiss, and never ending jealousy. The play travels through the characters’ lives starting at the age of 7 and evokes many missed opportunities in life, which audiences can relate.

Vinny Granata as Brian Dowd

Vinny Granata as Brian Dowd is impressive as he carries a heavy load of lines while also narrating the plot. He seamlessly moves through characters, ages, and moments allowing us to follow along and keep on rooting for this boy next door.

Jasmine Canziani as Beth (Jerry Finnegan’s sister) is simply luminous and shines from start to finish. Canziani dominates the stage with each entrance and fills the stage (and room) with passion and energy, making it easy for us to understand why Brian is so in love.

Jasmine Canziani as Beth Finnegan

Anna Marie Paolercio’s skillful direction is key to this production as she fills the small stage with the facades of two neighboring homes helping pull us into the intimate moments between Brian and Beth.

For a delicious meal, a heartwarming play and to see if Brian finally gets the guts to ask Beth out, go see Jerry Finnegan’s Sister running through June 23, 2019 at Clove Creek Dinner Theater in Fishkill, NY. For tickets and more information, please visit www.CloveCreekDinnerTheater.com

Louisa Vilardi

Louisa Vilardi is a writer and theater director who lives in New York with her husband and two sons.  Her writing has been featured in The Huffington Post, Today Parenting Team, and Scary Mommy. More atwww.LouisaVilardi.com

Arsenic & Old Lace – CENTERstage Productions

Review by Joe Eriole

A Class Cast put on Classic Show in Rhinebeck

You likely know the story from some afternoon “old movie day” to which you treated yourself. The 1944 classic, starring Cary Grant and directed by Frank Capra, is a must-watch for its elegant comedic treatment of the story, beautifully representative of that era’s filmmaking and acting styles.

Just in case, Ovation won’t entirely spoil the plot here. Let us say that two proper spinsters stumble upon their somewhat macabre life’s vocation, which they carry out in a lovely Victorian home while hosting afternoon teas and lovingly looking after their delusional, endearing brother. Hijinks ensure when their adored and adoring nephew drops in for a visit, and the hijinks escalate when another, markedly less adorable, nephew shows up on their doorstep with a diabolical plan of his own.

The Joseph Kesserling script lends itself to fast-paced dialogue and flamboyance, and Producer/Director Lou Trapani has clearly embraced all the hallmarks of the time in which the play was written. Patrick McGriff’s set is gorgeous. McGriff (Set and Sound Design), Scenic Artist Harley Putzer, Costume and Lighting Designer Lobsang Camacho (assisted by Heidi Johnson and Donna Letteri), and  Stage Manager Cheyenne See (assisted by Patti Smith), have created an engrossing environment which is a delightful contrast to the minimalist or industrial stage treatments which have become almost standard.

Trapani has clearly encouraged his actors to lean into the period feel of the dialogue and the comedic opportunities presented by what is essentially the farcical treatment of serial murder in a Victorian living room – over tea. None of the actors disappoint.

Our two protaganists (using the term loosely), Abby and Martha, are masterfully portrayed by Cindy Kubik and Deborah Coconis, respectively. Each have invested their characters with idiosyncrasies which go beyond the ironies inherent in their characters as written. Their command of the language and familiar use of the stage create the perfect centerpiece for the production. It is the sincerity of their relationship and their mastery of the era in which the play is set which ensure that the play is never dark, and always funny. And, so as not to mince words on this point, both Kubik and Coconis are just plain funny.

Mortimer, upon whom Abby and Martha dote, and who uncovers the dark business his aunties are about, is played by Frank McGinnis. McGinnis looks and speaks the part flawlessly. He is suave and sarcastic, and his timing, in a show which depends on it a great deal, is outstanding. Mortimer’s fiancée Elaine is played with erstwhile, and sorely tested, devotion, by Emily DePew.

The “bad guys” are unabashedly over the top. Damaged nephew Jonathan appears with his backroom surgeon and partner in crime, Dr. Einstein (yup), looking to hide a dead body and use the basement as an O.R. Jonathan is played with engrossing physicality, in effective comedic tribute to the era by Denis Silvestri. Silvestri is a striking physical presence and is perfectly cast here as a delightfully sinister antagonist.  Dr. Einstein is played by Melissa Matthews, whose performance is such that one finds oneself waiting for her to appear or speak again. Matthews moves and speaks with an ease and effortless sense of the moment which makes her a joy to watch.

Joseph Beem is a revelation as Teddy (his character believes he is Teddy Roosevelt). He looks and plays the part beautifully, and we, like Abby and Martha, cannot conceive of a Teddy deprived of his delusion. He is always endearing, but Beem also invests him with the physical dignity appropriate to his imagined status.

The show opens to afternoon tea with Reverend Harper – so there is no doubt that the spinsters are nice ladies, of course. That tone is nicely set by Patricia Franklin’s graceful portrayal of the good Reverend.

The cast is ably rounded out by Tom Starace, Jim Marinan, John Murray, Farrell Reynolds, and Monte Stone.

Trapani’s Director’s notes ought to be highlighted because of the success he and his actors have had in realizing the vision he expresses. Trapani tells us: “there’s just so much worrying I can do about all of the things which plague us in this year of our Lord 2019, hence this production wherein the actors take stage, act cheap, and exit fast. Feel free to chortle, snort, and guffaw.”  

Yes, indeed.

Arsenic and Old Lace is in its final weekend this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tickets are available online at centerforperformingarts.com, or at the door. Enjoy.

Joe Eriole

Joe Eriole is a local actor, director and artist, who has been part of the live music and theater arts community in the Hudson Valley for over 30 years. Professionally Joe is an attorney, organizational executive and management consultant. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife and has two children who are currently making the world a better place.

The Drowsy Chaperone – County Players

Review By Teresa Gasparini

County Players closes out its 61st season with The Drowsy Chaperone

Musical theater takes its share of jabs – “No one just bursts out into song like that!” Fans would agree that it is “unrealistic,” but they know that to be the point. All theater is an escape no matter how closely it seeks to portray reality; musical theater makes no pretense of the matter. The point is precisely to let the glitz and glam of the costumes, lights, song, and dance transport the audience out of “real life.” If that is indeed the point, then County Players’ 61st season’s grand finale production of The Drowsy Chaperone is right on target.

As the lights go down and the audience awaits the signature start of an overture with the crash of cymbals or the blasts of brass, we sit in the darkness for several quiet moments. The overture does not come. Just when one begins to question whether something went wrong, out of the darkness comes the hesitant yet passionate voice of Man in Chair. The opening monologue is a delight, tapping the thoughts of many a dubious theater-goer: “Oh, please let this be good … I can handle two hours, but please not a three-hour show … And for the love of God, please don’t have the actors come into the audience!” It sets the stage for the entertaining commentary throughout the show that we hear from Man in Chair as though he himself is an audience member sitting next to us, breaking the fourth wall.

Man in Chair introduces us to the fictitious 1928 musical The Drowsy Chaperone while he sits in his simple apartment adorned with show posters. It is not hard to guess Man in Chair lives the life of a recluse, finding comfort within his four walls, and in the worlds created by his records. As he sets the needle down on the show recording, the musical comes to life in his apartment, with elegant décor such as lush draperies, a glowing chandelier, and elaborate floral arrangements, followed by the eclectic cast of The Drowsy Chaperone. A betrothed couple tailed by the best man, an elderly hostess with her faithful butler, a show business producer and a brash “put me in the show!” chorus girl, two gangsters posing as pastry chefs, an overrated actor, and of course the infamous drowsy chaperone mix together to transport us back to the 1920s when musicals were carefree, lighthearted and always end in a wedding… or two… or three … or four!

Dylan Parkin as Man in Chair

Dylan Parkin captivatingly plays Man in Chair – a deceptively simple character name for the pivotal character of the show. Parkin easily engages the audience as he narrates this story safely from the confines of his chair until he can no longer be a bystander and gets in on the act himself. He acts as a perfect tour guide on this journey through the chronicle of The Drowsy Chaperone as a musical theatre lover with a heavy heart. It’s fitting that his character is nameless because Parkin makes Man in Chair so relatable that anyone in the audience can identify with him, thus placing themselves in the chair.

Janet Van de Graaf is skillfully played by Amy Schaefer, whose voice is as stunning as her performance. Of particular note is her rendition of “Show Off” which is complete with quick changes, comedic talents, a big belt at the end, followed by an encore of the song. This was accomplished with such finesse and style that Ms. Schaefer is welcome to “show off” anytime.

Glen Macken as Adolpho is a highlight of the show, and his catch phrase of “Whaaaaat?” is one of those take-away lines you say on the car ride home. His comedic timing, line delivery, and character development are instinctual skills. He plays this character with an unabashed joy which makes his every entrance amusing.

In the title character, Michele George shines as The Drowsy Chaperone. She is brassy, brazen, perpetually a bit tipsy, and everything you want out of a 1920’s diva. George owned every line, costume, and step of her character. Her performance of “As We Stumble Along” would have one wondering if the song was perhaps written specifically for her because she owned that as well.

The entertaining duo of The Gangsters played by Michael Frohnhoefer and Emily Woolever were an audience favorite. They played off each other perfectly often creating fits of hysterical laughter. Woolever’s ability to transform into different characters is remarkable; Frohnhoefer is at absolute play in this character, and together they steal every scene they are in. With their performances, a musical based solely on The Gangsters would be a box office hit.

It is wonderfully notable that County Players so often features performers making their debut with the company, and The Drowsy Chaperone is no exception. Matthew Fields playing Robert and Kevin Wadzuk playing George, are a great pair as the groom and best man respectively. Their tap dance number “Cold Feet” has an appeal that makes it impossible to watch without an ear-to-ear smile. Also making her debut is Eliana Russotti as Trix the Aviatrix whose dynamite voice makes one hopeful we will see her time and time again on stage. No stranger to the stage, but a first timer with County Players, is the lovable Frank Petruccelli. He pulls double duty as the Superintendent and several roles in the ensemble and is a wonderful addition to the company.

Michael A. Boden as the stressed Broadway producer Feldzieg (get it?) and Lora Rinaldi as Kitty, provide a lot of laughs along with some wonderful production numbers filled with bounce and vitality. Stephanie Hepburn as Mrs. Tottendale and Thomas G. Byrne as her faithful butler, Underling are enjoyable with their hot and cold relationship filled with humor and eventually love.

A production like this is only as strong as the ensemble. Rounding out the cast with energy and effervescence is Connie E. Boden, Alexis Morgan, Laura Seaman, and Lance Turner.

The cast of The Drowsy Chaperone

Kudos to the crew, both backstage and production. Jen Mille as Stage Manager, assisted by Audra Siegel, runs a bustling backstage with many scene changes, and certainly several quick costume changes. Another nod to Jen Mille and her clever set design that kept the pace of the show moving with seamless transitions. Not to give anything away here, but the use and design of the bed was one of genius! The design of the show across the board should be commended with special note being made to Kevin Barnes on lights and Mark Weglinski’s sound. Karen Ustick Eremin and Rosemeary Evaul’s costume design was as alive and vibrant as the 1920s itself.

Matthew Woolever is making a mark on the Hudson Valley theatre scene as a well- seasoned musical director. It is quipped in the show that overtures are “musical appetizers”, and with Woolever and the 12-piece orchestra giving the audience a taste of the bright, upbeat 1920s score right from the beginning, we find ourselves extremely full and satisfied by the show’s end.

Nothing beats a great production number, and nothing completes it like a great dance break. Denise Wornell makes a triumphant return to County Players as the production’s choreographer. Wornell should be applauded for her choreography that catered to the different dance skill sets among the cast. Routines were delightfully done in 1920s jazz/flapper era reminding us all how we wanted to be alive and part of that roaring time in history.

Jeff Wilson has directed a quintessential community theatre production with all the elements to make this possibly one of County Players’ best. Wilson skillfully assembled a score of highly talented individuals to make up his cast, orchestra, stage crew, and production team. His vision played out beautifully on stage. Wilson’s greatest accomplishment may very well have been to let his cast have fun. The Drowsy Chaperone is the type of show that cries out “Have fun!”, and once all the work is put in with lines, choreography, music, then it is time for the fun and too often that’s forgotten about. Not in this case! The cast so clearly enjoyed the show and each other that it seeped out into the audience, making this a real winner for Wilson.

Sure, we can agree that elements of musical theatre are unrealistic, since generally we don’t break into song and dance when emotion elevates in our lives. But, to permit yourself to suspend reality for two hours allowing a show to take you to another world, seeing how the characters will sing their way out of a situation, or just merely tapping your foot along to a show stopping number without the distraction of cell phones, emails or other interruptions of life, truly makes up the glory of musical theatre. Do yourself a favor and leave the real world behind for a bit to immerse yourself in this “musical within a comedy” expertly presented by County Players.

The Drowsy Chaperone plays through May 19th and tickets can be reserved by calling the box office at 845.298.1491 or online at countyplayers.org 

Teresa Gasparini

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

Marjorie Prime – Phoenicia Playhouse

Review By Joe Eriole

In promoting its production of Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime, the Phoenicia Playhouse asks the following question: “If you could purchase a ‘copy’ of a recently deceased loved one, would you?” The show is described as “a chilling drama about the unreliability of memory and the mystery of immortality in the age of artificial intelligence.” It is a credit to the playwright and this production that both the question and the description are accurate, but inadequate. Director Michael Koegler and his talented cast invest this beautifully devised script with such a depth of possible interpretations that no audience member can fail to connect with one or more of its poignant threads. It is further evidence of the Company’s understanding of the importance of the themes that they have invited the audience to participate in talk-backs with the cast after every show. It is difficult to imagine an audience that will not want to stay to bond further with these performers.

Marjorie Prime was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in drama in 2015. On the most basic level, the story explores a future where the image of deceased loved ones can be conjured as more than physical replicas or holograms, but as learning-enabled “Primes,” who continually process the information with which they are initially programmed in light of all they are told by the living who conjure them. We meet our first Prime when Marjorie (Prudence Garcia Renart), a woman in her eighties, in failing physical health and suffering from dementia, is engaged in reminiscing with the most dashing Prime version of her long-dead husband Walter (Austin Lightning Carrothers). Marjorie lives with her dutiful but edgy daughter, Tess (Rebecca Brown Adelman) and earnest son-in-law Jon (Phillip X Levine), whose difference of opinion about the value of the Prime provide our first, but by no means last, exploration of the play’s deepest themes. The title gives enough of a glimpse of the narrative’s next movement that it is no spoiler to mention it here: we eventually meet Marjorie Prime, after Marjorie’s death. Beyond that, it would betray the power of seeing this beautiful piece to divulge more about the storyline: this is a play that should be seen.

Suffice it to say the storyline allows us the opportunity to see Primes perform their function without the context of what their “character” was like when living, and also to see them after we’ve gotten to know them during their lifetime. This dynamic, coupled with the ordinary limitations of our memory, our natural desire to remember things as better or worse than they were in order to help process where we find ourselves now, and the fact that all of our relationships are viewed through individual lenses which include biases, lies, truths and pretenses, longings, and  joys, work together to create a simmering intensity of feeling in which the audience is a full and willing participant.

Weighty questions are stirred up from the first moment to the last.  Which version of our loved ones would we imagine, and what purpose would we want them to serve? Is it enough to say that we miss them and want them around to talk with us? Or, do we want them to say something in particular, even if they might never have said it while they were alive? And, if our living loved ones brought us back as Primes, what memories of our relationship would we discover were most important to them? Perhaps most fundamental, would access to such possibilities be good or bad for us? 

There is also a not-so-subtle subtext which derives from the element of Marjorie’s dementia, and from the debate of Tess and Jon over how to “program” the Prime: even without access to the “Prime” technology contrived by the playwright, we do, to some extent, live in imagined worlds all the time,  as we strive to fill gaps in relationships, interpret what we’ve done, or motivate and justify what we intend to do. The Prime technology, for the time being, is science fiction; but the play is not.

The cast is clearly attuned to these elements, and one need not wait until the post-show talk-back to confirm. From its opening moments, the depth of connection between each actor and their role is evident.

The set of Marjorie Prime

In the role of Marjorie, Ms. Garcia Renart commands attention. She is at once the mischievous Marjorie of her youth and the muddled Marjorie of her last years; we have no problem seeing her as the Marjorie of her daughter’s mind’s eye, or as the Marjorie her spouse’s Prime is programmed to reflect – a programming in which she herself, participates. And her transformation when she is her own Prime, is exceptionally effective.   

Adelman Brown is gripping as Tess. The performance is filled with a palpable sense of dangerously controlled anger and longing; her mastery of Tess’s caustic and colorful personality is mesmerizing. Brown’s powerful presence is the fulcrum on which the other characters, both real and imagined, balance.

Levine imbues Jon with a painfully appealing longing of his own; the desire that both his mother-in-law and his wife should be happy, that they surround themselves with their best reality, is played with such sincerity, that our last glimpse of him on stage – unable to create that same illusion for himself – becomes one of the most powerful moments in the play.

Carrothers gives a haunting performance as Walter, who is never known to us in life; we only meet him though the bruised, battered and often wishful memories of those who knew him. The strength of his performance in this mode of forced temperance does as much as anything else in the show to make us question what Prime technology would really mean to us.

Garcia Renart and
Austin Carrothers

The show is wonderfully directed by Michael Koegel, whose light but decisive touch reveal a trust in the actors and in the importance of the material which is refreshing. It leads to a show that is engrossing, not heavy or ponderous, despite its often weighty and emotional themes. The show is eminently watchable, sharply paced, and beautifully presented.

Phoenicia Playhouse is commended for putting on such an interesting piece when local playhouses are under such pressure to showcase bigger shows with better-known titles. But, of course, no commendation will do as much to ensure more work of this quality than to have audiences see the show. Local theater-goers could not make a better choice this season than to spend their entertainment time and resources on this compelling and masterfully performed show.
Marjorie Prime runs through Sun, May 19, 2019; Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2, Tickets: $20 and $18 (Seniors & Students) Tickets are available online at https://phoeniciaplayhouse.com/productions or oat the door

Joe Eriole is a local actor, director and artist, who has been part of the live music and theater arts community in the Hudson Valley for over 30 years. Professionally Joe is an attorney, organizational executive and management consultant. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife and has two children who are currently making the world a better place.

Newsies – Up in One Productions

Review By Caitlin Connelly

EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!!!

“Newsies stop the world!” is a signature statement of this exuberant musical, and for the next two weekends, they’re doing just that at The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck. The cast and crew of Up in One’s Newsies give a foot stomping performance at The Center.

Newsies: The Musical is adapted and based on the 1992 film. The show features a Tony Award- winning score by Alan Menken (music) and Jack Feldman (lyrics) and a book by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein. The captivating story line is drawn from real-life events that took place in New York City during the Newsboy Strike of 1899 before New York State child labor laws provided the protections they do today. Many underprivileged children living in New York City would sell newspapers on the streets in order to survive. Their epic, self-organized strike, in which they took on newspaper tycoons such as Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World, and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal, made headlines and changed history. The story of their fight for a living wage continues to resonate, unfortunately, today.

The show opens true to its historical roots – the year is 1899 and the early morning light is shining down upon the rooftops of New York City. This production’s set is a magnificent feat. Three stories high in faux-steel perfection, with beautifully painted backdrops, and dressed with ladders, landings, clotheslines, ragged Newsies’ garments, and often the ragged Newsies themselves, it gives the audience a complete and engrossing visual experience. The action utilizes every inch of the stage and set, both vertically and horizontally, and it draws the audience into the City in which the Newsies action plays out. The aesthetic achieved is a credit to Andy Weintraub (Set Design), Wil Cornell (Set Construction), Keli Marie Snyder (Scenic Artist), and Harley Putzer (Scenic Artist).

Cast members of Newsies

The image is further enhanced by the authentic costuming of Lobsang Camacho (Costume Design, Lighting Design, Projections), and the technical team support the production ably through the efforts of Brion Carolan (Sound Design), and Joe Beem, Jan Brooks, and Heidi Johnson (Spot Operators).

The band performs the entire show in full, but unobtrusive view of the audience, perched on the second level of the impressive scaffolded set, and amidst the constant action of the choreography. It is conducted by talented pianist and musical director Cheryl B. Engelhardt, and the band backs the production with the energy and depth of sound of an entire pit orchestra.

The protagonist of this story is Jack Kelly (Deitz Farcher), the charismatic leader of the Manhattan Newsies. His smart-mouthed charm and street smarts are balanced by his genuine altruism and care for his fellow Newsies, which creates a rich, compelling dynamic in our hero’s intentions and personality. Farcher embodies Kelly with an easy command of characterization and voice, which draw you to his performance just as the Newsies are drawn to his leadership. He opens the show singing the prologue “Sante Fe” with his friend Crutchie, a fellow Newsie with a bum leg, whose character is sweetly and humorously captured by Terrence Boyer. Farcher’s and Boyer’s harmonies sell the show right from the beginning.

As the Newsies line up to buy their daily “papes” the deuteragonists of the story, Davey Jacobs (Wendell Sherer) and his little brother Les are introduced. The Jacobs boys differ from the rest of the Newsies. Unlike the orphaned, independent Newsies who live in boarding houses or on the streets, the Jacobs have a family, and a home to sleep in at night. When their father, who was hurt on the job, gets well again, they will return to school. They are only selling papers to help their family get by.  But, Jack points out that the injustice of their father’s circumstance as an unrepresented worker, aligns their situations more closely than they first imagined, and the boys quickly become allies.

Sherer’s tight laced, practical, honest, and more formally educated Davey has a sort of knowledge which is crucial to the Newsies’ cause. What Jacobs lacks in magnetism, he makes up for in organizational skill, and together, they become the necessary pieces to this puzzle. Sherer’s voice is a noticeably strong addition to the strength of the musical score, and both Farcher and Sherer bring acting chops to their performances which elevate the show.

One of the most impressive performances is that of Brayden Gianelli, who portrayed Les Jacobs, Davey’s ten-year old brother. Les’ personality is a bit more akin to that of Jack, who immediately takes him under his wing. Jack’s intention is to use Les’ young age to their advantage when selling papers. Les Davey’s character demands tremendous enthusiasm and comedic timing, traits Gianelli nailed to perfection. Without serious acting instincts, the actor could rest satisfactorily on being adorable, but Gianelli adds to that a real depth of character.

Cast members of Newsies

The boys soon meet one of their key allies in the cause, Medda Larkin, who “owns the mortgage” on a Burlesque House in the Bowery, where Jack Kelly is discovered to be a talented painter and scenic artist. A powerful, funny, and sensual performance is given by Jody Satriani in the role, in the number “That’s Rich.”

The character of Katherine Plummer is a welcomed addition to Newsies (The Musical). Her character did not exist in the 1992 Disney musical movie. The choice to rewrite Jack Kelly‘s love interest for the musical gives a voice to woman’s rights, which during the turn of the century, was also a hot topic on the forefront of change. The creation of this character strengthens the storyline and adds an interesting surprise twist near the end of the show. Katherine’s character is one of great wit, sass, sarcasm, self-respect, and high moral standing, making it easy to see why her and Jack Kelly would be drawn to one another. Ms. Plummer is perfectly portrayed by Maria Coppola. Her vocal performance of “Watch What Happens” resonated. Coppola is not only a talented vocalist, but an accomplished dancer as well. During an impressive tap number, Coppola teases the audience with a tidbit of what she’s capable of as a dancer, before later throwing down and stealing a scene.

Newsies is a masterpiece of movement. The choreography, designed by the show’s director Kevin Archambault and captained by Katelyn Shoemaker (Dance Captain), is impeccable. The classic jumps seen in the Broadway version of the show are all here, along with many other new touches and visual surprises, such as an incredible backflip, perfectly landed by the Newsie Finch, portrayed by Jacob Anspach. Every Newsie and ensemble member holds their own in the demanding dancing required for this show. A musical of this size is only as impressive as the ensemble backbone because their support is crucial to the energy delivered throughout the performance. The energy was indeed upheld at all times, and every cast member brought their characters to life with unique flourishes, while also being aware of and working the other players throughout every music and dance number.

The tyranny of Joseph Pulitzer must be captured effectively in this story for it to work. A mustache twisting, coin purse tightening, typical tycoon of his era. The nemesis of the Newsies who diabolically raises the cost of the newspapers that are bought and sold by them, without any regard for their quality of life, is brilliantly captured by Mark Grunblatt.  Pulitzer’s “Team” is rounded out by Joe Felece (Bunsen), Thom Whebb (Seitz), Erin Herbert (Hannah), and Ken Thomson (Nunzio/ Teddy Roosevelt), along with his evil goons, aka “the bad guys,” performed by Howie Riggs (Wiesel), Chris Backofen (Morris Delancey), Jordan Castro (Olive Delancey), and Dan Delpriore (Snyder). All are equally and effectively, distasteful. It should be mentioned that Teddy Roosevelt, ably performed by Ken Thompson, also makes a memorable appearance as governor in this show. You’ll have to see the show to find out how the street urchin Jack Kelly made the Governor’s acquaintance.

Cast of members of Newsies

Director/ Choreographer, Kevin Archambault and Producer, Diana DiGrandi both boast impressive resumes when it comes to making magic happen at The Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, and they have done nothing to lower the bar here. Their level of expertise and professionalism in utilizing the space is evident. Archambault’s shows once again an ability to get the best out of whomever he is directing.

Hats off to Linda Herzlinger (Stage Manager) and Tina Reilly (Assistant Stage Manager) and the crew. The demands of a show this big in the intimate space of the Center are considerable.

A powerful performance by all, Newsies has the energy, zeal, and abounding talent that an audience yearns for. This show is an exceptional theatre collaboration and it is clear that as a cast and crew were in it to “Seize the Day!” Newsies has the potential to connect a twenty-first century audience to the hopes and dreams of its nineteenth century characters. Mission accomplished.

Don’t just read about it in the papers, folks! Reserve your tickets now – this show is bound to sell out soon! Newsies plays through Sunday, May 12th. Performances at 8pm Friday and Saturday. Sunday matinees at 3pm. Appropriate for all ages. Call the box office: (845) 876-3080 or buy online: http://www.centerforperformingarts.org

Caitlin Connelly

Caitlin Connelly is an actor, vocalist, and artist living in the Hudson Valley. She is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Bard College at Simon’s Rock, from where she holds degrees in Vocal Jazz/ Music Performance, Accessories Design, and Performing Arts. She is an avid performing artist and through it hopes to create the change she would like to see in the world.

The CENTER for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization which is dedicated, through its arts and education programs, to providing arts experiences for people of all ages.

The Letters – Bridge Street Theatre

Review By Teresa Gasparini

“What is irreplaceable nowadays?” A sentimental mug you bought in Germany when you were living abroad? No, if that breaks you can just go online and order it from the tiny shop on the corner in Berlin. Letters? Perhaps, but with technology these days you can always scan them to preserve their legacy. Love? Well, maybe. In a simple and almost mindless way, you can replace one person’s love with another. But what about the person who gave you that love? Now, that’s irreplaceable. 

“What is irreplaceable nowadays?” is the gripping question asked within the first few lines of David Zellnik’s The Letters, and it sets the course for the powerful and emotional world premiere of this work at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, NY.

The Letters opens in 2014, as we follow 34-year-old Rajiv on an impromptu and much needed day off from work. He is processing the news of the death of his college roommate, Henry. Rajiv finds solace in the company of a co-worker (Laura), who didn’t know Henry, making her perfect company. Rajiv feels liberated (and at times exposed) as he reminisces about the letters Henry wrote to Rajiv over the course of their 20 year friendship. 

Rajiv and Laura’s art museum rendezvous and roof top conversations recrudesce between scenes from 2002, when Henry and Rajiv are post grads living in Berlin, at an age when mistakes are considered learning experiences. Their third roommate, Rachel, completes a convoluted love triangle, and together they navigate a complex world of love, friendship, and uncertain futures.

The transitions between 2014 and 2002 effectively shape and move this story in unanticipated directions, keeping the audience enthralled and longing for answers from the first line to the last.

Shivantha Singer as Rajiv, Sara Parcesepe as Rachel, and
Christopher Joel Onken as Henry (Photo: John Sowle)

The small cast of four, all making their debuts at Bridge Street Theatre, are under the brilliant direction of John Sowle. Mr. Sowle’s resume is impressive, and it was evident this performance was guided by a skillful hand. Special note should be made of Sowle’s minimalistic and resourceful design, including projections on a brick wall, which served not only to set the scene, but to denote the time periods to and from which we were transported.

Shivantha Singer’s stand out performance as Rajiv is invested with pathos, charm, and humor. Singer flawlessly transforms between the carefree 22-year-old Rajiv of 2002, and the regretful, unsatisfied 34-year-old of 2014, typically with mere moments to make the transition. Singer portrays his character’s sense of having a “cross to bear” in such a palpable way the audience carries the weight with him. To achieve this sort of response is the work of a highly committed and engaged actor.

Sara Parcesepe’s energetic performance as Rachel adds an interesting complication to the story. Parcesepe bounds on stage with keenness and enthusiasm which she carries through the entire show, infusing the performance with subtle differences in expression as she, like Rajiv, evolves across the span of the two time periods, while questioning her relationship and future with Rajiv.

Laura is played by the capable Alexis Cofield, who provides a steady anchor to the 2014 Rajiv. Her raw honesty keeps Rajiv “in check”, and Cofield is able to do this with a coolness and humor that makes her extremely likable on stage.

Christopher Joel Onken as Henry is a marvel on stage and his performance is unforgettable. Throughout Act I, he comes alive talking about his character’s passion for languages, but for the better part of the Act, Henry acts an observant bystander; watching Rajiv and Rachel’s love story unfold. Even in this passive role, Onken is fully present and engrossed in every moment of every scene and draws the audience to his presence in a way which connects us to Rajiv’s grief at his loss. In Act II, Onken’s performance explodes with a level of authenticity and emotion that leaves the audience in captivated silence, hanging on his every word and action, as we learn the story of Henry’s fate.

Shivantha Singer as Rajiv and Alexis Cofield at Laura
(Photo: John Sowle)

Award winning playwright David Zellnik has penned a story perfect for our times, specifically singing out to the newly named Xennial Generation (a micro-generation stuck between GenX and Millenials). Xennials grew up in an analog world but are now living as adults in a digital world, and this provides an intriguing backdrop for the story. Zellnik explores whether our words free us or imprison us, whether love is rare or everywhere around us, and whether we are, or even want to be, smaller and smaller in a big world. The script captures the audience’s attention and will remain in their thoughts long after the show is over.

“What is irreplaceable nowadays?” There are moments in The Letters which suggest an answer to that incisive question. Performances such as this, which touch the audience in a meaningful way, set in a welcoming, unique, and intimate house, allow us to leave the real world behind and truly participate in an art form. An experience like that? That is irreplaceable.

The Letters plays through May 5th at the Bridge Street Theater in Catskill, NY. For tickets or further information visit www.bridgest.org or call 518.943.3006.

Teresa Gasparini

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