Bridge Street Theatre presents The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

An UNCONVENTIONAL Musical

Bridge Street Theatre’s First Summer Musical, THE SHAGGS, Coming July 11-21

Coming this summer to Catskill’s adventurous Bridge Street Theatre – its first attempt at producing a full-scale summer musical! But, true to form, it’s a pretty off-beat one: Joy Gregory and Gunnar Madsen’s acclaimed Off-Broadway hit The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World. It is based on the true story of three sisters from rural New Hampshire whose father forced them to form a rock band, and who recorded an album back in 1969 which has since become a cult classic. “The Shaggs” will play for eight performances only, Thursdays through Sundays July 11-21, in BST’s intimate 84-seat Mainstage.

Featured in the cast are Steven Patterson as Austin Wiggin, Molly Parker Myers as his wife, Annie, and Julian Broughton as Mr. Wilson/Floyd/Russ/ Exeter Talent Show Host/Hank. Also starring in the production are five students from the Catskill Central School District – Alexa Powell, Amara Wilson, and Meeghan Darling as The Shaggs themselves – Dot, Betty, and Helen – Magnus Bush as Kyle Nelson, and Edward Donahue as Charley Dreyer/Bobby/Lenny Smalls. John Sowle directs and designs, assisted by Musical Director Michelle Storrs, Choreographer Marcus McGregor, Costumer Michelle Rogers, Sound Consultant Carmen Borgia, and Production Stage Manager Joshua Martin.

“I’ve been involved with, and loved, this incredible show virtually from its inception,” says actor Steven Patterson. “I was lucky enough to be cast as Austin in an early developmental reading at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto (which recently received the 2019 Regional Theatre Tony Award). That led to Joy and Gunnar requesting that I play the role in the 2003 world premiere in Los Angeles, and to the director of that production, John Langs, casting me without an audition. The L.A. production scooped up fistfuls of year-end honors including 3 Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Awards, 6 Backstage West Garland Awards, 4 LA Weekly Awards, and an Ovation Award as ‘World Premiere Musical’ of the Year. It’s probably the greatest role I’ve ever had in my career in musical theater – sort of like having to play Mama Rose in ‘Gypsy’ and King Lear on the same night – and I can’t wait to revisit it with this cast.”

At the beginning of the current century, The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World received developmental readings, workshops and productions at The Powerhouse in Los Angeles; LookingGlass Theatre in Chicago; NY Musical Theatre Festival (in New York); GEVA in Rochester; TheatreWorks in Palo Alto; and The Manhattan Theatre Club (New York again).  All of these led to the acclaimed Off-Broadway New York Theatre Workshop/Playwrights Horizons co-production in 2011. While the production in Catskill will be the first since the play’s 2011 Off-Broadway run, book writer and co-lyricist Joy Gregory (“Madam Secretary”) and composer and co-lyricist Gunnar Madsen (“The Bobs”) have recently been working closely with Producer/Director Ken Kwapis (“The Office”) to bring The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World to the screen.  In the upcoming film version, the Wiggin family will be played by Steve Zahn (“Dallas Buyers Club”) as Austin, Allison Tolman (the FX television series “Fargo”) as Annie, Elsie Fisher (“Eighth Grad”) as Dot, Sydney Lucas (“Fun Home”) as Betty, and Elena Kampouris (NBC’s “American Odyssey“) as Helen. Come experience it live on stage before the film hits the screen!

Director John Sowle says, “The Shaggs were outsider artists before that term was even invented. They literally came out of nowhere. Depending on whom you ask, they were either the best or the worst band of all time. Among their fans were Kurt Cobain and Frank Zappa, who considered them to be ‘better than the Beatles.’ But, in the words of one of their detractors, ‘I would walk across the desert while eating charcoal briquettes soaked in Tabasco for forty days and forty nights not to ever have to listen to anything Shagg-related ever again.’ But against all odds, Joy Gregory and Gunnar Madsen have managed to fashion their weird, off-kilter story into a vastly entertaining and tuneful musical. I’m especially excited that we’ve been able to cast actual high school students as – actual high school students. There’s a raw, do-it-yourself edge both to this show and to The Shaggs’ music itself, and I think these kids will bring a sense of freshness, honesty, and earnestness to the material that works far better than a more ‘slick’ rendition would.”

The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World is recommended for audiences ages 13+ and plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm from July 11 – 21, 2019 at Bridge Street Theatre, 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 shaggs.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 July 11 and Sunday July 14 (“Pay What You Will” tickets are available only at the door one half hour prior to those performances). Schedule your summer vacation around this one – book your lodgings now!  For more information, visit the theatre online at BridgeSt.org.

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.

The Secret Garden – Rhinebeck Theatre Society

Review by Tamara Cacchione

Rhinebeck Theatre Society’s production of The Secret Garden hits all the right notes.  Infusing heartache and optimism, the cast and crew take the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions in a short time thanks in no small part to beautiful blocking and strong stage and musical direction, transformative sets, and ethereal lighting and costumes.  

A young girl is orphaned and sent to an old estate in the English countryside to live with her reclusive uncle.  This estate is no ordinary place – the halls and gardens are inhabited by spirits.  While everything seems hopeless when Mary Lenox first arrives, she meets a cast of rabble rousers who help her find hope and joy in a place which has suffered long from pain and loss.  It likely does not require a spoiler alert to divulge here that Mary finds a secret garden. With her new friends, she works to bring back to life the long neglected sanctuary.

            As a theater-goer, there is nothing more satisfying than an immersive experience; a respite that never tempts the audience  to step outside of the production and analyze what might have been a stronger or more effective choice.  As a sense experience, this production is so perfectly crafted and performed that the time flies and one is transported into the real and imagined worlds of Mary Lenox. 

The production’s success in this regard owes much to a talented cast, full of strong voices and impeccable character choices, who show us great yet subtle transitions throughout the musical.  When this production first came to Broadway, the young lady playing Mary Lenox (Daisy Eagen) won a Tony, becoming the youngest female to win in her category.  The role requires an old soul in a young lady. In RTS’s production, the gifted Jane Langan perfectly embodies the spirit of a young girl who has seen great suffering but retains the indomitable spirit of youthful hope.  She is flawless here; touching, and inspiring from beginning to end, showing us the growth and development of her character with each scene, as her character’s heart opened a bit more with each new blossom opening in her garden.

            Joshuah Patriarco, as Mary Lenox’s anguished uncle Archibald, delivers a masterful performance.  The character of Archibald can tempt an actor to fall into a one-note litany of brooding throughout the piece, but Patriarco instantly and deftly had the audience rooting for him, as he weaved in subtlety which render Archibald a complete character. The audience is drawn into Archibald’s poignant desire to escape the suffering he has endured after the loss of his wife Lily.  As important as a strong Mary is for The Secret Garden, the show suffers without a compassionate, relatable, Archibald, and Patriarco’s skill is at once bold and nuanced.

            Elizabeth Thomas, as Archibald’s late wife Lily and Mary Lenox’s aunt, is simply a delight to watch on stage.  Her grace and voice perfectly encapsulated the celestial spirit of Lily that floats through the lives of the living.  Thomas’ portrayal makes it easy to see why Archibald fell desperately in love with her.  Their chemistry on stage was palpable and a delight to watch, leaving the audience cheering for their romance. 

To that point, many characters in this play are no longer among the living – not an easy feat to portray seamlessly.  Thanks to the talent and voices of the residents of Colonial India in 1906, the estate never seems as empty as it is.  Keli Snyder as Rose Lenox (Mary’s mother) and Dennis Wakemen as Captain Albert Lennox (Mary’s father) are always present in Mary’s memories as we see flashbacks, or perhaps visits, from them throughout.  The audience is invited to speculate as to whether they are real or imagined, and it is a testament to the direction that the line between the real and imagined seems, somehow, unimportant.

            Director Dorothy Luongo and Assistant Director Wendy Urban-Mead have staged this production with space and room for joy and hope to emerge within the walls of the theater.  Scenes and transitions move quickly as members of the cast might be singing or hauntingly dancing, such as Monika Gupta (Fakir) and Shreya Gupta (Ayah) jumping rope as they sing a child’s rhyme.  Dan Foster as Lieutenant Wright and Doug Woolever as Major Holmes craft one of the most poignant moments in the play in relaying the only real revelation we get about Mary’s father. Lisa Delia and Geneva Turner, both graceful stage presences with rich voices, flesh out both the world of 1906 India and the hauntingly effective world Mary has created.

            The transition from feeling deep sadnese for Mary’s many losses, to the joy and optimism of finding a new family, is vividly executed by the cast of Misselthwaite Manor.  Katie-Beth Anspach is our first breath of fresh delight and she doesn’t stop thrilling until the final bow. Anspach’s Martha, as a maid in the Manor, is a gutsy tour-de-force that starts Mary on her journey outside of bedroom to which she has been relegated.  Anspach’s strong clear voice delivers a rousing song in the second half (“Hold On”), when all hope seems lost, that is inspiring and thrilling. One finds it hard to take their eyes off of her, as she lives so realistically in her charming character; it is lovely to watch her choices she makes.

            Equally charming is the captivating Josh Lococo as her merry brother Dickon.  Lococo’s Dickon represents something magical in his rendition, which is clear from the first dulcet tones of his voice in “Winter’s on the Wing”.

            David Foster achieves a wonderfully faulty doctor Neville Craven (Archibald’s sinister brother), who attempts to stop Mary from touching everything that she is helping to blossom.  Foster dances between being completely malevolent and merely misguided, leaving the audience to make their own decision as to what his true intentions are.  

            Misselthwaite’s population is rounded out in exemplary fashion which help develop Mary Lenox’s new world.  Sean Patrick Mahoney as young Colin Craven is funny, real, and a pleasure to watch. Joe Beem as gardener Ben Weatherstaff is superb – ably navigating his role in connecting the past to the future of the garden. Linda Roper as Mrs. Medlock expertly takes on the difficult task of creating a likeable and relatable character from a woman who just doesn’t seem to be able to give Mary the love and support she is searching for when she arrives. Rounding out the staff, Grace Foster as Betsy and Nicole Murphy as Jane add layers of life to the world.

            Ann Davies brings her unique charm and talent to the story. As Mrs. Winthrop, the headmistress of prestigious boarding school pursuing Mary’s attendance, Davies flourishes as the shocked, prim and proper Winthrop, bringing humor and fun to the role.

            Rounding out the cast is the talented children’s ensemble: Anshuman Chaudhary, Harriet Luongo, and Willa Wainwright. Their energy and precision add the haunting element for which the mystical piece cries out.  

On a fundamental level this is a play about coping with grief, but it’s triumph is in the way it portrays the struggle to find hope in the darkest of times.  The superb musical direction and orchestration by Paul and Joanne Schubert was a delight, with a live band to fully flesh out the enchanting melodies and vivacious songs. Scenic Designer/Artist Harley Putzer and Set Constructor/Lighting Designer Andy Weintraub created a massive and enchanting world, including a resplendent garden, flowers crawling up the wings and in the rafters.  Watching the development of the garden, through mixed medias, allowed the audience to see the progression of the improvements to Misselthwaite and the secret garden hidden behind ivy-covered walls. Heidi Johnson, assisted by Lobsang Comacho, Jan Brooks, and Tory Elvin, created costumes from 1906 India and England, highlighting the intangible ghosts and helping both worlds come to life.

The Secret Garden is a moving piece, with beautiful music, strong acting, and dazzling and magnificent scenic design. The show runs Fri-Sun through July 14th at the CENTER for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck. 

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.