Thursday, September 18, 2014

Theresa Rebeck's 'The Understudy' next at McCarter Center in Princeton

Pulitzer Prize-finalist Theresa Rebeck, creator and producer of the NBC hit Smash, pens a backstage battle royale for the ages. Things are looking grim at the understudy rehearsal for a hit new Broadway play – a “lost masterpiece” from one of the 20thcentury’s most enigmatic writers – Franz Kafka. The set technician is high, the cocky movie star doesn’t understand the script, and the new understudy is surprised to find that the stage manager is his jilted ex-fiancĂ©e. Backstage drama steps into the spotlight in this biting comedy about art, celebrity, and the crazy things we do for the business we love.

The Understudy, which premiered at Roundabout Theatre Company on Broadway in 2009, will be performed in McCarter’s Matthews Theatre. With more than a thousand seats, McCarter’s production marks the largest space in which the work has ever been staged, featuring a scenic design by Tony and Emmy-Award winning designer Eugene Lee. Audiences will witness a production that takes full advantage of the expansive space - with action taking place onstage, at tech tables, in the back of the house, and right in the aisles.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck adds: “I’m really excited about the space at McCarter; that it will be produced in the larger theater [the Matthews]. I have never seen a production of The Understudy on a stage that size, which I think it was meant for. I’m grateful that Emily [Mann] had the vision to say, “Let’s do it.””

This production also marks the main stage directorial debut of Associate Artistic Director, Adam Immerwahr, who began his professional career in McCarter's Intern Program—a season-long educational and artistic training program dedicated to cultivating and mentoring the next generation of theater artists and artistic leaders.

According to McCarter Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann: “Over the last decade I have had the distinct joy of watching Adam, who has always been an exceptional individual, develop his craft as both a director and an institutional leader and I am proud to introduce his work to McCarter audiences.”
The cast is a trio of young talents, with Adam Green as struggling actor (and understudy) Harry; Danielle Skraasdad as stage manager Roxanne; and JD Taylor as film star Jake. Princeton audiences will well-remember Adam Green for his recent tour-de-force turn as Figaro in McCarter’s productions of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. JD Taylor will be appearing at McCarter for the first time, having appeared at numerous theatres across the country including Denver Theatre Center and Williamstown Theatre Festival among others. Danielle Skraasdad, also a McCarter newcomer, has been featured in numerous regional theatres across the country; and New York in such productions as All My Sons(Broadway), In the Wake (The Public),  and The Moundbuilders (Signature).

'Arsenic and Old Lace' next at Dover Little Theatre

Dover Little Theatre, 69 Elliott Street in Dover, NJ opens its season with Arsenic and Old Lace. The show runs September 19 – October 4Friday andSaturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

The cast includes:

Cindy Rea as Abby Brewster
Paul Diverio as Rev. Harper
Eric Parkin as Teddy Brewster
Marie Blado as Officer Brophy
Ted Nykun, Jr as Officer Klein
Kate Daly as Martha Brewster
Joanne Decarolis as Elaine Harper
Jake Zillioux as Mortimer Brewster
Anthony Micelias Dr Einstein
Dickson Lane as Mr Gibbs/Mr Witherspoon
Brian Carroll as Jonathan Brewster
Thom Florio as Officer O'Hara
Lou Cusano as Lt Rooney

Arsenic And Old Lace is Directed by Alex Oleksij and Alison Smith. Call (973) 328-9202 to reserve now!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: 'Wittenberg' stunning at STNJ

By Ruth Ross.

If you have ever wondered what a critic meant when he or she described a production as a tour de force, I suggest you run, do not walk, over to the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre in Madison to see one in the flesh. There, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has mounted the dazzling New Jersey premiere of a wickedly clever play about the Protestant Reformation (yes, theReformation, really) called Wittenberg, penned by David Davalos, and it is a production you won't want to miss. 

Davalos has likened the University of Wittenberg as akin to Berkeley in the 1960s, "a center for intellectual ferment" and "a certain amount of invention"—a perfect setting for the exhilarating verbal pyrotechnics and war of ideas that play out before our eyes.
STNJ_Wittenberg_8334Over the course of two and a half hours, Davalos manipulates time and space to provocatively debate fate, existence, doubt and belief...and tennis. 

In this contemporary riff on the "big" questions that have eternally plagued mankind, we find Hamlet, after an eye-opening summer of studying abroad, beginning his senior year at the University of Wittenberg, where he studies with Dr. John Faustus and Martin Luther, indecisively contemplates which major to declare, and plays varsity tennis. That the action occurs just weeks before Luther nails his 95 Theses to the doors of a Wittenberg church, thus rupturing the Catholic Church forever, makes the debate even more hilarious and delicious. Never mind that the philosopher Faustus is a fictional character (as is Hamlet), for the three are fully drawn characters with a great deal to say, all of it witty and much of it familiar. (Above, Anthony Marble as Dr. Faustus regales Jason Coughtry’s Hamlet with his ideas.)

In his 24th season with STNJ, Joe Discher has directed this fast-moving, shape-shifting play with fluidity and style. The characters' words swirl around the auditorium in a mad, madcap assault on one's ears and brain; just as you get one allusion to Hamlet (among other works), you're off chasing another. Far from being confusing, however, the dialogue has a certain familiarity while it plays with meaning.

STNJ_Wittenberg_8322The brilliant cast Discher has assembled delivers these lines with wry humor. Jordan Coughtry's Hamlet (right) is the quintessential collegian, caught up in the intellectual foment around him while worried about an upcoming tennis match with a player named Laertes from the University of Paris. Torn between the theology of Luther and the philosophical pronouncements of Faustus, he has wild nightmares about a bottomless abyss upon whose edge he teeters; Coughtry's recital of his dream is a wonder to behold!
But it is the two actors playing Faustus and Luther who carry the brunt of the action as they struggle for the young man's attention. Anthony Marble (below, left) is excellent as a very contemporary Faustus (he STNJ_Wittenberg_8870plays guitar in a coffeehouse called The Bunghole), a lawyer and physician who dispenses coffee and special candies that contain a drug suspiciously like marijuana as antidotes to Luther's constipation and Hamlet's emotional turmoil. He cavorts around the stage, jumping on benches and tables, a veritable whirlwind of ideas and knowledge. As Luther, Mark H. Dold (right, with Coughtry center) wrestles mightily with his bowels and his faith, while dueling with Faustus over Hamlet's fate. He despairs over the Church's sale of Indulgences, get-out-of-Purgatory passes for sins, to raise money for cathedrals, a protest that eventually got him excommunicated.
STNJ_Wittenberg_8603Rounding out this quartet of talent is Erin Partin (left, with Marble and Coughtry) as the Eternal Feminine. As Helen of Troy, she rejects Faustus' marriage proposal, but allows him to make love to her in a wild scene that accompanies a lecture given by Luther on a Biblical text. She also appears in other female incarnations, all of them different, and all of them comical. The four actors exhibit spot-on comedic timing that keep the quips coming quickly and hilariously.
Brittany Vasta's set smoothly transforms itself from exterior to interior scenes by opening and closing halves that also revolve when pushed by stagehands dressed to match the time and place. Matthew E. Adelson's lighting, Steven L. Beckel's sound (especially appropriate during the uproarious tennis match) and Hugh Hanson's witty costumes are equally superb.
I had the good fortune to attend a reading of Wittenberg last year, followed by a discussion about whether STNJ should consider producing it. That they did is a tribute to their great ability, for the staged production is even better than I could have imagined it! Shape-shifting, time-bending Wittenberg is a true intellectual and artistic tour de force—a stunning success that will keep you talking after you've left the theater. You won't want to miss it.
Wittenberg will be performed at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison through September 28. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.408.5600 or  online.
Photos © Jerry Dalia.

Acting Classes at Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre


Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre, the professional Theatre in Residence at the Oakes Center in Summit, will offer Improv, Acting and Audition classes for kids, teens and adults this fall and winter, with the first class beginning on September 20.

Improv expert Lulu French (Maplewood) will teach a 5-week Improv Comedy for Teens and Adults class, running from September 20 through October 18 on Saturdays from 12:00-2:00 pm. The class delves deep into the craft of improv with more complex games as the weeks progress. This class is great for all levels of improvisers, and also for actors who want to add another dimension to their skills. Improv is a valuable skill for countless situations such as public speaking, auditions and job interviews as well. Lulu French has long performed with and taught for Gotham City Improv in New York City, and has taught improv to theatre students at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, among many other places. The cost for this class is $200.

harry cActing Skills for Middle and High School Students will run October 25 through November 22 on Saturdays from 12:00-2:00 pm, and will be taught by Harry Patrick Christian (Montclair). In a supportive, fun environment, students will hone their talents and explore new dimensions to their acting ability. Through a variety of games and exercises, they will learn the skills they’ll need to develop characters, be great collaborators, and make active choices.

This class empowers and inspires students to acknowledge their own creative abilities and fosters collaboration and teamwork in a creative setting. Harry Patrick Christian is a member of Dreamcatcher’s acting company with a long career acting onstage and onscreen, and is an experienced teaching artist with such organizations as the Pushcart Players and Essex Youth Theatre.

The cost for this class is $200. Laura Ekstrand (Livingston), Artistic Director of Dreamcatcher, will teach Monologue Prep for College and Professional Auditions on January 3, 10 and 17, Saturdays from 12:00-2:00 pm.

This class is ideal for students preparing for college auditions or actors working on a new monologue (or brushing up a familiar one). The instructor will give the feedback and coaching needed to make the best possible impression, and to make sure the monologue communicates the particular strengths and individuality of the actor while telling a cohesive and compelling story in a matter of a few minutes.

Laura eLaura Ekstrand, a former casting director, has been coaching auditions both privately and in class settings for over twenty years, with students enrolled in such programs as NYU, Carnegie Mellon and Mason Gross School of the Arts. The cost for this class is $120.

Classes will be held at The Oakes Center, located at 120 Morris Avenue in Summit. Parking is available in the lot behind the theatre on Ashwood Avenue and at the Summit Recreation Center on Morris Avenue. The facility is wheelchair accessible. To register for the classes or for information on any of Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre's programs, visit or contact Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at The Oakes Center, 120 Morris Avenue, Summit, NJ 07901, 908-514-9654.

Dreamcatcher was founded in 1994, and is a non-profit professional ensemble of actors who build community with the audience by sharing life-affirming stories in an intimate environment. We seek to expose theatregoers to ideas and lives like and unlike their own, to awaken their imaginations and create empathy for others. The company focuses on deepening the experience of our patrons by supplementing the performances with personal contact through receptions, talkbacks, and interactive programs.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: ‘Laughter on the 23rd Floor’ hilarious at The Barn Theatre in Montville


Do you love the tv series "The Office" with the fun interaction between the coworkers?  Well, their office repartee is bush league compared to the goings-on in Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical "Laughter on the 23rd Floor."  If you have  opened your windows this past weekend to enjoy the cooler weather and live within 30 miles of the Barn Theatre in Montville, you may have heard the raucous laughter emanating from the theatre. "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" is loosely based Neil Simon's time as a young writer on  Sid Caesar's 1950's "The Show of Shows" The 90 minute live comedy show aired on NBC Saturday nights...many moons before the birth of "Saturday Night Live." Several writers, disguised slightly in the play, went on to be major contributors to television and film comedy for the next 40 years. The legends include Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, The Producers, Young Frankenstein, etc., Larry Gelbart (MASH),and Carl Reiner (Dick Van Dyke Show, etc.). 

The plot maybe a bit thin since the focus is almost totally on the antics of the staff writers trying to put-out a weekly TV variety show. Max Prince (Jonathan Rudolph) is the star of The Max Prince Show, a popular comedy-variety series with ratings that have begun to slip; Prince's show is still a major hit on the East Coast, but the network insists that it's too sophisticated for the Midwest, and urges Prince to "dumb down his act." He begins to unravel as the stress of producing a weekly show and dealing with negative contributions from NBC take its toll. He is further stressed by his opposition to Senator Joe McCarthy and McCarthy's Un-American campaign targeting writers and performers suspected of being card carrying communists with the result he turns to punching holes in the office walls in a major fit of anger.  Observing this meltdown has the staff writers in various panic modes as the possibility of  the series ending becomes more likely.

"Laughter on the 23rd Floor" is directed by Craig S. Zimmermann. This is his directing debut at The Barn. Zimmermann delivers big time with a marvelous production that wins on many counts...great impressive, set, lighting, sound , smart costumes AND a spot-on perfect cast, This may be community theater where all talent are volunteers and perform for the sheer pleasure, but the level of this performance is certainly close, if not, on a par, with professionals.

Laughter23rdFloor-01webThe fine cast includes  Rudy Basso (Lucas Brickman), Vanessa Bellardini (Helen, Max' secretary), Frank Blaeuer (Kenny Franks), Eric Heiberg (Milt Fields), Chip Prestera (Ira Stone), Jonathan Rudolph (Max Prince), Sam Salter (Brian Doyle), Les Stolarz (Val Skolsky), and Elissa Strell Kachtan (Carol Wyman). Each cast member makes terrific contributions to the laughter (heard, of course, on the 23rd Floor!). 

Rudy Basso, in particular, is a stand-out as the narrator/novice writer, Lucas Brickman a/k/a Neil Simon, Jonathan Rudolph displays major comedy talent as he convincingly presents Max with all his eccentricities. Playing the hypochondriac Ira Stone, a/k/a Mel Brooks, is one of the top comedy actors in the region, Chip Prestera. Long a favorite at both the Chatham and Summit Playhouse Presteria is making a stand-out Barn debut. 

The remaining performances of  "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" are September  19, 20, 26, 27, October 3 and 4 at 8pm; and on September   21, and 28 at 2pm. Tickets are $18 (senior/student tickets are $16 on matinees only).

The Barn Theatre is located on Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Exit 47 from Route 287. For more reservations, information or directions, call The Barn Theatre Box Office at (973) 334-9320, or visit The Barn Theatre on the web at

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio

Photo: (Left to Right): Chip Prestera (of Stirling, NJ), Vanessa Bellardini (of Montclair NJ), Frank Blaeuer (of Hewitt NJ), Jonathan Rudolph (of Parsippany NJ), Rudy Basso (of Garfield NJ), Les Stolarz (of Boonton NJ), Sam Salter (of West Milford NJ), and Elissa Strell (of Bedminster NJ)  [Photo by Tom Schopper]

Review: ‘The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife’ great fun at the Chester Theatre Group


Question: Can a play about a woman suffering deep depression, convinced she will never be more than mediocre, be fun? The answer is a big yes. The Chester Theatre Group has kicked off its 2014-15 season with the award-winning Broadway comedy The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife written by Charles Busch and directed by Roseann Ruggiero.

This VERY funny play, loaded with hilarious one line zingers, is about a middle-aged upper class (West Side) matron, Marjorie Taub (Lauri MacMillan), whose mid-life crisis centers on her passionate desire to move up the intellectual ladder.  Even though she lives comfortably with her recently retired doctor (allergist) husband, Ira (Steven Nitka), she is in constant pursuit of culture at museums, lectures, films and theatre (many in the same day!). Enhancing her feelings of inferiority is her own elderly mother, Frieda (Sharon Moran).  Frieda, yes... the mother from hell, is a master at highlighting her daughter's shortcomings while lamenting her own bowel difficulties. 

CTG_Allergist_1Meanwhile husband Ira's efforts to provide the needed emotional support falls miserably short. Ira's primary concerns in life are aiding the allergic homeless and speaking engagements. Marjorie's condition takes a major positive turn with the unexpected arrival of a somewhat mysterious childhood friend, Lee Green (Maryann Galife Post).  The flamboyant Lee Green is apparently everything Marjorie aspires to be, i.e. a globetrotter, skilled in the arts, confidant of the rich and short, she is high on the social "A" list. Here is where we have to halt with any further plot spoilers permitted. Suffice it to say the play has many laughs sprinkled with a few dark unexpected turns.  

Director Ruggiero earns high marks for both over-all direction and cast selection.  Lauri MacMillan, who impressed us in the Barn Theatre's 'God of Carnage' two seasons ago, and again last season in CTG’s ‘Moon Over The Brewery,’ beautifully handles the emotional roller coaster demands of the complex role of Marjorie. Steven Nitka, a CTG and Growing Stage favorite, is fine as the good intentioned, loving husband Ira.  Sharon Moran as Marjorie's elderly mother is beyond perfect. She has many of the best and funniest lines. Maryann Galife Post is excellent as the outrageous old friend. Also, in the cast is Rahul Sachdeva, charming as Mohammed the doorman and family friend, helpful even with odd household jobs.

A round of applause is in order for not only director Roseann Ruggiero and producer Penny Hoadley, but the production staff including; Richard Vetter (stage manager), Barbara Henderson and Bob Sackstein (stage crew), Alex Luchovich (set design), Ellen Fraker Glasscock and Jeff Knapp (sound design), Jerry Lane (sound operation), Steve Catron (set painting and decor, and Greg Smith (set construction). The handsome, well-dressed set deserves its own round of applause, as does the very appropriate, attractive costumes.

This play opened at the Barrymore Theatre on October 12, 2000 and ran for 777 performances, closing on Sept 15, 2002. Winner of the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play, Linda Lavin won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play, and Michele Lee won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress. Other awards include the 2000 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play, and the 2000 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress (Linda Lavin).

You have until September 27th to join the fun at the Black River Playhouse.

The show’s run began Friday, September 12th and continues on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm through September 27th. There will be two Sunday matinee performances on September 21st and 28th at 2 pm.

Chester Theatre Group’s Black River Playhouse is located at 54 Grove Street in downtown Chester, NJ at the corner of Grove Street and Maple Avenue. There is free parking at the theater and in the surrounding area. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for Seniors (65+) and Students (under 18 with ID). For reservations call 908-879-7304 or visit

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio

Photo: Front L-R Sharon Moran and Lauri MacMillan, Rear- Maryann Galife Post.  Photo by Tom Glasscock.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dreamcatcher and Playwrights Theatre Collaborate on production of ‘100 Years’


Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre, professional Theatre in Residence at the Oakes Center in Summit, and Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey of Madison are co-producing the premiere production of Richard Dresser’s 100 Years.  This dark comedy set sometime in the not-too-distant future has been developed on stages across the country before coming to New Jersey. 100 Years plays October 2 through 19, with talkbacks following the October 5 and 12 matinees.

In the play, Joan and Stevie prepare for what has been promised will be a transformative experience. But what will this mean for life as they know it? And what’s the deal with the strange couple next door? From the playwright of such funny and topical plays as Rounding Third, Gun-Shy and The Pursuit of Happiness, 100 Years confronts today’s most dire global crises with incisive humor and sly wisdom.

The comedy will be directed by Laura Ekstrand (Livingston), and will feature Eli Ganias (New York), Julian Gordon (Summit), Stacie Lents (Hoboken), John Pietrowski (Long Valley), and Harriett Trangucci (Summit), who is a member of Dreamcatcher’s professional Resident Acting Company.

100 Years will run at Dreamcatcher from Thursday, October 2 through Sunday, October 19.  Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m.  Tickets range from $20-$35, with special rates for subscribers and groups.  Purchase tickets online at or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006.  All tickets are $20 at theThursday, October 2 preview performance, and seniors pay only $20 on advance purchases only on Senior Sunday, the October 5 matinee.

Performances are at The Oakes Center, located at 120 Morris Avenue in Summit.  Parking is available in the lot behind the theatre on Ashwood Avenue and at the Summit Recreation Center on Morris Avenue.  The facility is wheelchair accessible.  Assistive Listening devices for the hearing impaired and advance large print scripts are available by prior arrangement.  To purchase tickets or for information on any of Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre's programs, please visit or contact Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at The Oakes Center, 120 Morris Avenue, Summit, NJ 07901, 908-514-9654. For information on any of Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey programs, please visit, or contact Playwrights Theatre of NJ, P.O. Box 1295, Madison, NJ, 07940,973-514-1787 x20.

About Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre:

Dreamcatcher was founded in 1994, and is a non-profit professional ensemble of actors who build community with the audience by sharing life-affirming stories in an intimate environment.  We seek to expose theatregoers to ideas and lives like and unlike their own, to awaken their imaginations and create empathy for others. The company focuses on deepening the experience of our patrons by supplementing the performances with personal contact through receptions, talkbacks, and interactive programs.

Dreamcatcher's core company of professional local actors performs contemporary work that entertains and challenges, and has at its heart a belief in the essential goodness of people. The company’s activities include mainstage productions, improvisational comedy and cabarets, new play readings and a variety of educational and senior outreach programs.

Dreamcatcher’s programs are funded by the New Jersey State council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Dramatist Guild Fund, The Summit Area Public Foundation, the Manley-Winser Foundation, and many other corporations, foundations and individuals.  Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre is a senior member of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.

About Playwrights Theatre:

Founded in 1986, Playwrights Theatre is a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit professional theatre and arts education institution dedicated to developing and nurturing the dramatic imagination of artists, students, and audiences. Our New Play Program creates development opportunities for professional writers through readings, workshops and productions, and invites audiences to participate in authentic feedback experiences. Our New Jersey Writers Project, Poetry Out Loud, New Jersey Young Playwrights Contest and Festival, and Creative Arts Academy programs provide a comprehensive and hands-on arts education experience to over 31,000 students, Pre-K through adult.

Writers in the New Play Program are drawn from across the country, including our affiliation with the National New Play Network, a nation-wide group of theatres dedicated to the development and production of new work. Teaching Artists in our Education Programs are professional artists working in their field in the New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia metropolitan areas. From 2003-2013, we have been designated a Major Arts Institution by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts (along with only four other theatres: The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, George Street Playhouse, McCarter Theatre Center and Paper Mill Playhouse) as “an anchor institution that contributes vitally to the quality of life in New Jersey.”

Funding for our activities comes from: the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the F.M. Kirby Foundation, Inc., Dramatist Guild Fund, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, The Shubert Foundation, Travelers, The Victoria Foundation, and many corporations, foundations and individuals.

Playwrights Theatre is a member of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, the National New Play Network, and Madison Arts & Culture Alliance.