Thursday, January 21, 2016

New Jersey Repertory Company a Jersey shore treasure

"On the eve of the opening of THE SUBSTANCE OF BLISS,
Executive Producer Gabor Barabas (right) had a sudden realization: that same night, BUTLER, a play that received its world premiere at NJ Rep, was simultaneously enjoying productions at respected regional theaters in Sarasota, Indianapolis, and Detroit. Last summer Richard Strand's Civil War drama was a hit at Barrington Stage and this June is headed for a much-anticipated off-Broadway production. 

For the past 18 years Barabas' New Jersey Repertory Company has dedicated itself solely to the production of new plays – the state's only professional theater with this unique mission. In that time, more than 100 new works have first seen the light of day on Broadway – Broadway in Long Branch, that is.

  David Sitler and Ames Adamson
BUTLER's remarkable success story is not the only one Barabas has to reflect upon. The intimate shoebox theater by the sea has lately been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades. 

Last season's ANGELS AND MINISTERS OF GRACE by Elaine Smith scored a record nine Broadway World Awards. Judith Hawking was honored by New Jersey Footlights for her outstanding performance in 2014's SWIMMING AT THE RITZ by Charles Leipart. Most recently the group was nominated as one of the 'Best Theaters To See A Play' by Discover Jersey Arts' People's Choice Awards. 

Barabas and his wife, SuzAnne (right), the group's Artistic Director, are not only presenting world-class premieres, but also world-class talent. Michael Tucker and his real life wife Jill Eikenberry (both of TV's L.A. LAW) played husband and wife onstage in THE M SPOT, a play Tucker himself wrote. Emmy-nominated stars Gary Cole (VEEP) and Wendie Malick (JUST SHOOT ME!) were featured in CLOSURE, a noir-style thriller by Richard Dresser. Dan Lauria (THE WONDER YEARS) wrote and starred in the sold-out hit DINNER WITH THE BOYS, in which he shared the stage with SOPRANOS stars Richard Zavaglia (Salvatore 'Big Pussy' Bonpensiero) and Ray Abruzzi (Carmine Lupertazzi Jr.). The comedy about a pair of retired wise guys holed up in the Garden State was such a huge success it later moved to New York's Theater Row.

Not only do the Barabas' have good reason to celebrate the Rep's past and present, but its future, too. The non-profit arts organization recently took possession of a nearby school with plans to convert it into the West End Arts Center. The new venue will feature a 150-seat proscenium theater, a 75-seat black box theater, a rehearsal room, an art cinema, classrooms, and an art museum. They also plan to retain their current performance space. Despite the added square footage, there are no plans to stray from the group's original mission. They still plan to produce new plays, “Just more of them,” says Barabas. 

 Susan Maris and Chris Daftsios in The Substance of Bliss
Meanwhile, the immediate future looks bright at their current location. They've just opened their 19th season with THE SUBSTANCE OF BLISS by Tony Glazer, recipient of the 2009 Weissberger Award. The play finds two tense parents anxiously waiting up for their troubled teenage son. 

August will see another first for the troupe, the posthumous premiere of IAGO, by the late James McClure, author of LONE STAR AND PVT. WARS, which was seen on Broadway in 1979. Described as “Shakespeare with a sharp comedic twist,” IAGO takes a backstage look at three actors and a well-known director piecing together a production of OTHELLO. 

As hard is it is to believe, NJ Rep also finds time on its calendar to host a Monday night reading series. On January 25th the group welcomes back Michael Tucker for ASSISTED LIVING, a comedy about three couples in their golden years who decide to move in together....($10 charge to non-members/free for members). 

Once the curtain goes up, you'd think Gabe Barabas would try to find a quiet corner to curl up and nap, but instead, he greets and personally seats audience members, both newcomers and loyal subscribers alike. Before the lights go down, he makes a short but warm curtain speech to let you know how far the troupe has come, what's going on currently, and what you can look forward to in the future. He even manages a quick fund raising and subscription pitch – all with the ease and charm of an old friend. He traditionally ends his welcome with the sincere wish that you will “Enjoy, enjoy the show.” If the group's amazing past is any indication, you certainly will."    Michael T. Mooney

To find out more about NJ Rep, buy tickets and subscriptions, or make a donation, please visit or call (732) 229-3166. THE SUBSTANCE OF BLISS is onstage through February 14th at 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey 07740. 

Photos: NJ Rep/S. Barabas

No comments:

Post a Comment