Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Enchanting ‘South Pacific’ at the Paper Mill Playhouse

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Reviewed by Ruth Ross  April 13, 2014:
Opening night of South Pacific at the Paper Mill Playhouse was truly "some enchanted evening" as Richard Rodgers' lush melodies and Oscar Hammerstein's clever and affecting lyrics, sung by attractive and talented actors, enveloped the playhouse's cavernous auditorium, transporting the audience to the South Pacific Ocean where Americans battled the Japanese in the 1940's.

Using James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific, Rodgers and Hammerstein cobbled together several of the books sketches to create a tale of love and loss. Somewhere on one of the distant Solomon Islands, a group of Seabees wait for the war to come their way. At the officer's club, Ensign Nellie Forbush, a nurse, has caught the eye of suave French planter Emile de Becque. As their romance blossoms, it is paralleled by that of Lt. Joseph Cable, sent to the island to find a way to spy on the Japanese and attack them when they least expect it, and the beautiful Tonkingese maiden, Liat. These couplings are unorthodox at the time, for they both involve a mixing of the races and cause Nellie and Cable much anguish. But all is not gloomy and sad; the frisky Seabees hilariously pine for "dames," stage a Thanksgiving extravaganza and, one of them at least, the wily Luther Billis, tries to find way to get to the mysterious island of Bali H'ai to witness exotic rituals involving boars' teeth and find the virginal maidens the natives have hidden away from the horny Yanks.

Director Rob Ruggiero, choreographer Ralph Perkins and music director Brad Haak give us a production worthy of Broadway. The cast they have assembled is talented, energetic, attractive and have no trouble carrying both the music and the dance steps. Erin Mackey is a lovely Nellie, not so far removed from Little Rock, Arkansas, that she's lost her Southern twang. Her clear soprano soars as she reveals she's a cockeyed optimist who's in love with a wonderful guy whom she later wants to wash right outta her hair! As Emile de Becque, Mike McGowan conveys the man's gravity while letting us see how besotted he is with Nellie. He is very handsome, and his baritone bowls us over as he sings of that enchanted evening when he first spied Nellie. As Nellie slips through his fingers, he sings "This Nearly Was Mine" so poignantly that it brings a tear to the eye.

Doug Carpenter, as Lt. Joseph Cable, conveys the yearning of a young man far from home who falls in love with a native girl, winsomely played by Jessica Wu. She may not have any dialogue, but her body English tells us all she'd want to say. Carpenter's tenor is especially suited to the song that Oscar Hammerstein wrote that sums up the play in a nutshell (and caused quite a stir when it was sung at the premiere), "You've Got to Be Taught." Tally Sessions' Luther Billis is a real operator, but one who can sing and dance, kicking up his heels as he leads the Seabees in their lament "There is Nothin' Like a Dame" or as Honeybun at the camp variety show. And Loretta Ables Sayre brings down the house as the conniving and profane Bloody Mary; her rendition of "Bali H'ai" will not be forgotten.

These stellar actors are aided and abetted by a handsome group of Seabees and a bevy of lovely nurses who add to the hijinks. Youngsters Gabby Gutierrrez as Ngana and Bonale Fambrini as Jerome, Emile's children, are darling; no wonder Nellie falls in love with them!

The set designed by Michael Yeargan evokes the God-forsaken island, complete with the blue South Pacific, palm trees and an elegant planter's villa. John Lasiter's lighting, Randy Hansen's sound and Catherine Zuber's costumes (with the assistance of Leon Dobkowski and Leah J. Loukas) complete the effect.

This sublime example of American Musical Theater reminds us of how much we have missed with the passing of two musical geniuses. A big thank you goes to the Paper Mill Playhouse for reviving South Pacific just in time for its 65th anniversary. When it opened in 1949, starring Broadway's darling Mary Martin and opera great Ezio Pinza, its themes were edgy and the war had been over for just a half decade. That it has stood the test of time is testament to its brilliance and, yes, to the fact that racial prejudice is still with us. And, it is a prime example of the heights to which the Paper Mill Playhouse will go to entertain us.

Note: You can take children ages 10 and up to see this show. The little boy behind me sat quietly through the entire play, but burst into tears learning of Cable's demise! And I heard other patrons burbling about how this could be just the show to introduce kids to the theater. There are no special effects, cartoon figures brought to life or jukebox melodies; what there is onstage is what the American theater does best: musical theater in all its glory.
South Pacific will be performed at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, through May 4th. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.376.4343 or visit online at
Top Photo: From left to right: Grace Wales, Caitlin Maloney, Erin Mackey (Nellie Forbush), Meggie Cansler, Paige Sommerer and Samantha Joy Pearlman.(Photo by Jerry Dalia)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

‘Hoodwinked’ a new documentary-style drama by Emily Mann in Princeton reading



The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University is partnering with McCarter Theatre to present a workshop reading and symposium on Hoodwinked, a new documentary-style drama by acclaimed playwright Emily Mann, on Saturday, April 26 from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. at the James M. Stewart ’32 Theater at 185 Nassau Street.  The event is free and open to the public.

Hoodwinked begins from the 2009 shooting on an Army base at Fort Hood, Texas, and goes on to explore the global implications of radical Islam in various political contexts.  The play was created by McCarter Theatre's Artistic Director Emily Mann from interviews, transcripts, and other primary sources.  Inspired by questions, confusion, and misinformation that circulated in the media after the Fort Hood massacre,Hoodwinked explores radical Islam/Islamism and the dangers this extremist ideology can pose not only to western nations but also to moderate/traditional Muslims around the world.  The play uses an experimental dramatic structure to weave together scenes inspired by real conversations, speeches, video, and performance of primary text and is designed to be a catalyst for discussion and political action.

The workshop reading will be performed by professional actors and directed by Mann.

The symposium after the reading will include a keynote address by British-Pakistani activist Maajid Nawaz, Executive Director of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank. A panel responding to Nawaz’s remarks and to the issues the play raises about radical Islamism, hate speech, and related global issues  will include  Ambassador Barbara Bodine of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, who spent 30 years in diplomacy around the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf region; Professor Amos Guiora of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah and author of Tolerating Intolerance:  The Price of Protecting Extremism(Oxford University Press, 2014); and Usaama al-Azami, a graduate student in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton. 

The day will conclude with a panel discussion on political theater with artists and critics includingMann; playwright and performer Heather Raffo (author of 9 Parts of Desire); playwright Dominique Morisseau (author of Sunset Baby and Detroit ’67); and Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director of Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington, D.C. The panel will be moderated by Jill Dolan, Annan Professor in English, Professor of Theater, and Director of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton. Throughout the day’s events, moderators will encourage interactive discussion with the audience.

The symposium will also involve Princeton students currently enrolled in Dolan’s course on dramaturgy, which is focusing on the continued development of Hoodwinked.   Students have had unprecedented access to Mann’s process, and have contributed to her continued work by providing research, feedback, and reactions to drafts in progress.  Students also observed rehearsals for the workshop reading and are creating contextual dramaturgical materials for the play, which include actor resource guides, audience resource materials, program notes, and other enhancements to deepen the experience of the play for performers and audience members.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Next at Tri-State Actors Susan Goodell’s ‘Heels Over Head’ directed by Patricia Durante

TAT logoAA20Tri-State Actors Theater will present HEELS OVER HEAD, a “Springy” romantic comedy about a couple vowing to keep their poetic, rhapsodic love alive despite overwhelming disruption.Connecticut playwright, Susan Goodell, has written a delicious new comedy about young love and its ups and downs. The premiere production will be directed by Patricia Durante* of Branchville. The comedy opens Thursday, April 24 and runs through May 4, at the Performing Arts Center, SCCC, Newton.

Cast members include Jason Szamreta* (Jake), Rosemary Glennon* (Luna), Ashley Kowzun (Mari), Tara Henderson (Blossom), Tom Walker (Marvin), and Nicholas Wilder (Stan). Tri-State’s Artistic Director, Paul Meacham* will serve as production Stage Manager. [*Member Actors Equity Assoc., the union of professional actors.]

In HEELS OVER HEAD, Jake and Luna meet at a bungee jumping for singles weekend. Jake nervously tries to make small talk with Luna, who is clearly annoyed that Jake is interrupting her attempts at deep breathing to calm herself before the jump. They are getting on each other’s nerves until they make the jump. After which they fall magically in love and elope, not caring where they drive, and spend the next several days at an inn subsisting on blueberry muffins. The young couple promise to never fight and keep no secrets. But as real life awaits, their passion is challenged by dwelling problems (the leases on both of their apartments are running out, and they can’t agree whose apartment to live in,) their crazy roommates (Jake’s best friend Stan and Luna’s allegedly psychic sister Mari,) relatives, old lovers, secrets and many idiosyncrasies.

The play becomes a laugh riot as the newlyweds’ secrets start coming out: Marvin, Luna’s investment broker ex-boyfriend; Blossom, a member of Jake’s phobia support group with a hug-inducing fear of abandonment; and Mari’s habit of adopting wildly different personalities. Love is just a free fall, sometimes it's better with strings attached.

Performance dates and times (two weeks only):
Thu. 4/24 & 5/1 @ 8pm
Fri., 4/25 & 5/2 @ 8pm
Sat., 4/26 & 5/3 @ 2pm & 8pm
Sun., 4/27 & 5/4 @ 3pm

Ticket Prices:
Fri., Sat. Eve & Sun. Mat. = $28, $25 - SRS, $20 – STU
Thurs. Eve & Sat. Mat. $23, $20 - SRS, $18 – STU

Advance ticket purchases are always recommended. Tri-State offers Group Rates and a special discount for SCCC students and staff for all performances. Large print programs, accessible parking, wheelchair access and elevator service are available for patrons with special needs.

For tickets, information, and special services, please contact Tri-State at 973 383-0510. For SCCC Box Office hours call the Performing Arts Center at 973 300-3171. Tickets for are all performances are available on-line at or - click on Box Office. On day of performance, the PAC Box Office is open 60 minutes prior to curtain time.
HEELS OVER HEAD - an unrealistically optimistic comedy about love. . . AS WE’D LIKE TO LIVE IT!

Appropriate for ages 12 and up. Additional information about Tri-State Actors Theater and its programs and services is available on the web at Funding for Tri-State Actors Theater has been made possible by the generous support of The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.
HOH cast

Spring Improv Comedy Classes at Dreamcatcher

9227-250Now enrolling... NEW 4-day improv course!


Fun classes for adults & teens

Improv games are fun!




Have you seen our improv comedy shows and thought "that looks like so much fun"? Do you envy the ease at which some people face a crowd? Are you an actor exploring comedy? If so, these classes are just for you!
GREAT OPPORTUNITY to immerse yourself in the 4-week improv comedy class. Classes are taught by professional improv master Dave Maulbeck.
- Learn traditional improv games
- Develop spontaneity and learn how to shed your inhibitions
- For actors who want to try another angle on performing
- Not just for actors: for anyone who wants to develop these skills

Tuition & Registration


Saturdays, April 26 - May 17, 12pm-2pm

Oakes Center
120 Morris Avenue, Summit     Directions

(entrance on Russell Place, parking lot at 20 Ashwood Ave.)

$160 for four 2-hr classes       Register now

More info on our Web site

Monday, April 21, 2014

Auditions: ‘A Few Good Men’ at Holmdel Theater Company TONIGHT

The Holmdel Theatre Company is holding open auditions for FEW GOODMEN Written by: AARON SORKIN, Directed by: BRIAN REMO
We are looking for a few good men, and one women…
Needed are several performers, ranging in age, including some high school aged performers. All ethnicities are encouraged to audition. Those auditioning need attend only one of the regular audition dates. Monologues are welcome but not required. No pre-registration is required. Audition sides from the script will be provided at auditions. ALL ROLES ARE OPEN. More information including character breakdown is available via our Facebook page.

Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, The Social Network, The West Wing) wrote the captivating courtroom drama, which ran for nearly 500 performances on Broadway in 1989, became an Oscar-nominated film in 1992 and was re-conceived for a 2005 London revival. Originally inspired by true events, this taut, tense thriller erupts when two Marines are accused of the hazing death of a fellow Marine at Guantanamo Bay. This hard-hitting, suspenseful story puts the Marine code of honor on trial.
Rehearsals will run through May, June and July. Performances areJuly 25th thru Aug 9th. Cast members must keep scheduling conflicts to a minimum.
Auditions, Rehearsals and Performances are held at
(Located in front of Holmdel High School)
Please email info@holmdeltheatrecompany.orgwith any questions.

Holmdel Theatre Company at The Duncan Smith Theater 36 Crawfords Corner Road, Holmdel NJ 07733
(on the grounds of the Holmdel High School)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review: José Rivera's ‘Marisol’ at Luna Stage


Reviewed by Ruth Ross (njartsmaven,com)

When Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the originator of "magical realism," died a few days ago, he unfortunately left no Cliff Notes that would render the quintessential Latin American literary genre clear to me. I have always thought of magical realism as a mash-up of realism and fantasy—to the detriment of one to the other. It certainly requires that the audience suspend their disbelief, big time.

As described in the advertising copy and the program, Luna Stage's final production of the season, José Rivera's Marisol, had me scratching my head in confusion as to what was real and what, fantasy, but upon reflection, I realize that the play has quite a bit to say about the world we live in today.

Set in early 1990s New York City, Marisol recounts the story of a young Latina—a graduate of Fordham University (Phi Beta Kappa) who has a job in science publishing and is, as she puts it, "middle class"—forced to navigate a world left in disarray when her guardian angel leaves her to fight a battle of biblical proportion. Along the way, she encounters drug addicts, mentally disturbed homeless persons, Nazi skinheads and babies born addicted to drugs who have died soon after birth. In this post-apocalyptic landscape, coffee and apples are extinct, the financial world is in crisis, milk tastes salty, buildings have vaporized, north has become south, a foot is 14 inches long—nothing is as it once seemed.

To further complicate matters, Marisol Perez has been named as a murder victim in the newspapers, bludgeoned to death with a golf club on a Bronx street. Is the woman we see onstage a ghost, or is she a real person, albeit one who is in the throes of a nightmare? Rivera does not answer that question; the mixing of the real and the unreal are the basis for magical realism, so we are forced to look for deeper meanings to this puzzle.

marisol duoHowever fantastical the plot—and the landscape (which resembles that of those end of the world films so beloved of 18-35 year old males—the acting onstage at the little black box theater is very real. Cynthia Fernandez (right, with Nehassaiu deGannes) shines as Marisol, convincingly conveying the character's confusion and fear. Onstage for every minute and speaking reams of dialogue, Fernandez never loses her character's focal point: She is a true innocent adrift and aghast at what she finds in this future world. Emma O'Donnell as her friend June and Debbie Bernstein as a Woman with Furs depict the burned-out souls of people suffering from the ills of this upside-down universe; Bernstein is especially poignant as a woman hit by the credit crisis. Her wild-eyed look is absolutely riveting and scary.

Christopher Kelly does a splendid job in multiple roles: zany as the guy wielding a golf club and spouting nonsense in the subway (who hasn't seen one of them in the New York underground?); screaming as the Ice Cream man who hasn't gotten paid for a job he performed in a film with Robert DeNiro; wild as the mental wreck  Lenny, June's brother; and touching as Scar Tissue, the man badly burned and still looking for the skin he lost. Although these characters all appear to be variations on the same theme, Kelly delineates each one as a separate entity.

Nehassaiu deGannes (above left, with Fernandez) has a small role as Marisol's Guardian Angel, complete with wings, but this heavenly being appears to have lost her way, too, as she seeks to dethrone a God she thinks has gone senile and replace Him with another more competent to deal with Earth's ills.

niegel-smith-Production values are as solid as the acting. Niegel Smith's steady direction (photo right/see video below) keeps the action moving from one end of the theater to another; the stage runs between two banks of seats, encompassing various venues where action takes place. Arnulfo Maldonado's post-apocalyptic set design, Jorge Arroyo's atmospheric lighting, Erik T. Lawson's otherworldly sound and Deborah Caney's costumes transport us through time and space to a magical place while remaining rooted in reality.

In 1993, Marisol conjures up a world that has, in many ways, come to pass. Homelessness is still a problem, especially for returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and those affected by the recession of 2008. We read stories in our news papers about homeless people attacked and beaten by gangs of marauding youths. Our food is being affected if not by salt, then by pesticides and antibiotics. Crime may be down in New York City, but post-911, we live in fear of terrorism and mass shootings.

SONY DSCMarisol shows us the consequences of unheeded warnings and, as Artistic Director Cheryl Katz (photo right) writes in her program notes, "[We] find ourselves at a point where things that might once have been thought unthinkable now reign as the norm. . .the future conjured up in Marisol has come to pass." A sobering reality, and if it takes some magic to drive home the point, so be it. Marisol may confuse you a bit, but it will make you think—perhaps enough to act.

Marisol will be performed through May 11 at Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road, West Orange. There will be a talkback after the April 24th performance. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.395.5551 or visit online at

Photo: Nehassaiu deGannes (L) and Cynthia Fernandez (R)
Photo by Niegel Smith

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Writer/Reviewer will be sidelined for several weeks


oops ...Heart Bypass surgery on Monday at  Morristown Medical Center. Expect to be on the sidelines until late June.
My dear friends Ruth Ross and Michael T Mooney will provide reviews during that period for me.
Thanks for all the good wishes. (more time with Annie).