Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lots of people have asked for pictures from our production of The Other Place. Here they are:

Juliana's sales pitch

Bobby -  here to help

reaching for Laurel

Comfort from a stranger

and more comfort.

Juliana and Ian

Juliana wants him to lighten up.

Dr. Teller

There's her diploma, on the wall.

She's breaking his heart.

Two hearts breaking.

Is this Richard?

What about with money - lots of money?

An episode of what, television?

When did you go out and get a sense of humor?

Coming next week - photos of Joe Egg.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

JOE EGG post #1

Two weekends of performances left for our production of Joe Egg.
Here's a photo of Andy and Allison in rehearsal:

And the review just came out this morning. One of the best ones the paper has written - I think she really got it. Here it is:


‘Joe Egg’: When Cracks Appear, the Truth Runs Right Out

By Nicola Smith
Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 7, 2014 
(Published in print: Thursday, May 8, 2014)

Sheila and Brian, a young married couple in Bristol, England, have evolved an elaborate strategy for dealing with their severely incapacitated daughter Joe, who cannot speak or walk and is confined to a wheelchair. They joke, they clown and do the old soft shoe in a heroic effort to keep despair and exhaustion at bay. But behind the manic humor and antic word play is a marriage divided and a child whose uncertain future has put her parents’ lives in limbo.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, which premiered in 1967, was Peter Nichols’ first play, and is still his best known, although he went on to write Privates on Parade and Passion Play, both successes on London’s West End. Joe Egg is nearly 50 years old, but it hasn’t lost any of its ferocity or brilliant, comic knife edge. Nichols wrote the play partially based on his own experience; he and his wife had a daughter who was disabled and died at 11.

Shaker Bridge Theatre in Enfield is staging an impassioned production of Joe Egg through May 18. Borrowing routines of the English music hall, Nichols has his characters speak directly to the audience, using pantomime and interludes of surreal comic business that come out of the iconoclastic British tradition that produced Beyond the Fringe, the troupe made up of Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller, and Monty Python.

The great thing about Nichols’ writing is that instead of going for the nudge-nudge, wink-wink of shock value, as do so many contemporary TV shows and films, he actually goes for the genuine electric shock, the jolt of unleashed energy and anger that leaves the audience simultaneously laughing and twisting uneasily in their seats.

Nichols dares you to laugh, and makes you laugh, at moments that, in other dramas, would be played for piety, a smiling-through-the-tears bathos shimmering in a golden light and accompanied by a tinkling piano. But Nichols brings you right up to the edge of what’s considered good taste and frequently plunges right over. The writing is unsparing. It avoids phoney-baloney euphemisms and unapologetically runs roughshod over genteel, you-can’t-say-that sensibilities.

A school teacher, Brian relies on mimicry and clowning around to relieve the strain of being in a marriage where all the attention, by rights, falls on Joe. She is the couple’s only child, and the barometer of the household goes up or down based on her mood and health. Sheila worries over and tends to her as only a parent could, but Brian feels that he’s the also-ran, no more or less important to Sheila than the assortment of small pets she’s collected. So he’s needy and clinging one moment, and adolescent-jokey the next.

Sheila dotes on her daughter, but is less forgiving with her husband, with whom she’s frequently impatient and annoyed. She already has one child who needs more attention than she can give; what does she want with another? You can see why she is so terse, so fed up — she’s been asked to give unstintingly of herself for years — but her short temper can feel mean and uncharitable, as if she were the only martyr in the house. So she hurries off to amateur theatricals, which give her an outlet from her responsibilities, and leaves Brian with Joe.

Into this powder keg of a household come posh Pam and Freddie, who have been working with Sheila in the theater group. They’re offended by what they find. Pam is the kind of woman who falls back on acronyms to separate herself from the great unwashed masses. So she throws out PLU, for People Like Us; and NPA, for Not Physically Attractive. She can barely stand to look at Joe, or listen to the catalog of ills that plague her.

Freddie is at the other end of the scale, one of those interfering souls who finds Brian’s continual joking deeply tasteless and a sign of moral bankruptcy. He says he only has Sheila and Brian’s best interests at heart, but his ideas for how to improve their lives lay bare his appalling lack of imagination. And just when this seems like more than the couple can stand, Brian’s mother Grace arrives, an Iron Lady well before Margaret Thatcher earned the sobriquet.

How this all plays out is by turns harrowing and savagely funny, as performed by an exceptionally able cast. As Brian and Sheila, Andy Lindberg and Allison McLemore do an expert dance of mutual affection, attraction and loathing. They can’t bear to be together, but they don’t really know how to be apart, either.

Lindberg, a new actor to the Shaker Bridge stock company, finds the vulnerability in Brian’s buffoonery. He also catches the desperation of three lives caught in a vise from which there is no easy exit.

Allison McLemore is particularly affecting as Sheila, whose brisk manner and cutting wit conceal the anguish of a mother who cannot do more for her child, and who blames herself for Joe’s disabilities. McLemore has developed for the role a voice that she keeps at a neutral pitch, as if to exert the utmost control over the deepest emotions, and it serves as an ironic counterpoint to a situation that threatens to spiral out of control.

As Pam and Freddie, Kay Morton and Mike Backman are the epitome of clueless twits, making you laugh and cringe in the same moment. One of the virtues of Nichols’ writing, though, is that every character can pose important questions, or reveal the things that people think but will not say. So Grace and Freddie, in their insensitive ways, occasionally stumble onto unpalatable truths, as does Brian’s mother, played with a bustling self-righteousness by Kim Meredith.

Keira Hines is Joe, and although the play calls for her to do little but lie limp, or sometimes make sounds, the fact that the audience can see her fragility and humanity makes the family’s dilemma even more crushing. What is more important: the child’s well-being or her parents’? You can’t really answer that with any degree of satisfaction or complacency, and director Bill Coons draws out the play’s tenderness and black comedy with an expert hand.

For tickets and information, go to www.shakerbridgetheatre.org/html/about.shtml or call 603-448-3750.
Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith @vnews.com.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Other Place

The review is in for THE OTHER PLACE (by Sharr White), and here it is:

‘The Other Place’: Coming Unmoored in a Storm-Tossed Life

By Nicola Smith
Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, March 29, 2014 
(Published in print: Saturday, March 29, 2014)

Sharr White’s play The Other Place , which runs at Shaker Bridge Theatre in Enfield through April 13, is an ingeniously framed mystery, but not in a whodunit, dead-body-in-a-locked-room way. The mystery lies in that most elusive of entities, the human mind. How do we remember, and how do we trust our memories, given that memory is both unreliable and subjective?

The play, which clocks in at a taut 75 minutes, begins with Juliana Smithton, a neurologist for a pharmaceutical company addressing a conference of doctors in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. She’s assured, witty and tough, dressed in a power suit, and has given this pitch for a new drug so many times she knows where to insert the sure-fire jokes and go for the close-the-deal Eureka moments.
But midway through her slide presentation her mind goes blank, the words evaporate, and she’s left standing there, disoriented and afraid.

Put it down to stress. Smithton’s husband Ian, an oncologist, has announced he’s leaving her. Smithton’s research associate Richard ran off with her young daughter Laurel, a shock that Juliana and Ian still regard as a profound betrayal. Laurel hasn’t forgiven her parents for their refusal to acknowledge that Richard has become her husband, and won’t let them see her twin children. Little wonder that Smithton seems to be coming unmoored, assuming an increasingly belligerent, sardonic mien even as she is struggling to find a firm foothold.

As the play progresses, the mysteries deepen. White has almost constructed two plays in one, with the result that each character has more than one persona. The ground shifts underneath the audience’s feet. What’s real, what’s not? And who’s to say that acts of the imagination are less authentic or meaningful than what purports to be reality? Is it self-delusion to make a willful effort not to remember, or is it self-preservation?

White makes the point that time is no more fixed or linear than memory. It’s malleable, with some moments lasting an eternity, and others flying by at alarming speed. With six plays to his credit, White isn’t a neophyte. But The Other Place , which had productions both Off-Broadway and on, is the play that moved him up into the next rank of American playwrights.

It’s not hard to see why: the tight, intricate design of the play— one thinks of a first-rate carpenter building a chair or table, joining the parts together so that they fit snugly — is ideally suited to its subject. And the way White plays with language shows us that for all its power, the moments when it deserts us completely are often the ones that strike us to the core.

The play also offers plum parts for its four actors, but the meatiest of them is Juliana Smithton . In her first role at Shaker Bridge, Susan Haefner gives a virtuoso performance as Juliana. She’s intimidating and relentless one minute, f rightened and vulnerable in the next. The harder she tries to exert control the more things fall apart. Haefner is a compelling knot of contradictions all the way through until she dissolves into a pool of pure emotion that is very affecting.

She’s well matched by David Bonanno, who was last seen at Shaker Bridge in December in the comedy Miracle on Division Street. Bonanno plays Ian, the husband at the end of his rope. He wants desperately to help his wife but it comes at a heavy cost for him. Bonanno is immensely sympathetic as a husband driven nearly to despair by his wife’s erratic behavior.

Caitlin Glasgo plays three roles: Laurel, a doctor and a woman with whom Juliana finds unlikely refuge. She’s particularly persuasive as the woman who lives in The Other Place, a house where Juliana, Ian and Laurel used to live on Cape Cod; she brings humor and compassion to the part. As Richard, Dan Weintraub has a smaller role than the other three actors but he adds his own crucial piece to the puzzle, trying to navigate between two hostile parties, Laurel and her parents.

Such plays as The Other Place and Good People at Northern Stage are a heartening reminder that while the majority of contemporary American films are notable for their dearth of complex roles for women, the same can’t be said of the theater. Here women aren’t one-dimensional cut-outs but flesh and blood.
Director Bill Coons continues his good work of bringing new drama to the Upper Valley. I’ve seen a number of Coons productions now, but it occurred to me watching The Other Place that one of his talents as a director is, in a sense, his invisibility. There are no flashy tricks or ostentatious directorial flourishes. The audience’s attention is where it should be: on the characters and the actors who inhabit them.


The Other Place continues at Shaker Bridge Theatre in Enfield through April 13. For information and reservations, call 603-448-3750.



Susan Haefner and David Bonanno


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Freud's Last Session

Here are some production photos. The cast was as follows:

Sigmund Freud . . . Kevin Gilmartin*
C.S. Lewis . . . Jeffries Thaiss*










Production photos

Here are some photos from our (enormously popular) December production of "Miracle on south Division Street" by Tom Dudzick. The cast was as follows:

Jimmy . . . David Bonanno*
Ruth . . . Brandy Zarle*
Clara . . . Peggy Cosgrave*
Beverly . . . Jeannie Hines

"Don't say that!!!"

Goin' bowlin'

It's the face!

That's the way it is, Ma.

Thanks, Ma.


Careful . . . she's a virgin!

Your grandmother said what?


It's called the Vagina Monolouges . . .










Monday, November 4, 2013

Cast announcement !

The casting is now complete for the Tom Dudzick comedy, Miracle On South Division Street. This is a very funny and touching play for the holidays - by the same playwright who gave us Greetings a few years ago.


Miracle on South Division Street finds the Nowak family, amidst the urban rubble of Buffalo’s East Side, performing their unique Christmas ritual of gathering at the shabby old homestead to commemorate the family “miracle.” According to legend, on Christmas Eve in 1942 the Blessed Mother herself appeared to Grandpa in the family barbershop.  Now Clara, the family matriarch, happily tends the family heirloom, a twenty-foot memorial shrine to the Virgin Mary which adjoins the house. As the play develops, daughter Ruth divulges her plan to finally “go public” with the miracle by creating a one-woman Christmas Show about the sacred event. But during the course of the meeting, the entire family’s faith is shaken to the very core when a deathbed confession causes the family legend to unravel. The results are heartfelt and hilarious!




CLARA will be played by Peggy Cosgrave. Peggy has not only done a lot of work on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Film and Television . . . but she originated the part of Clara in the New York production! It goes without saying that we're very lucky to have Peggy in the cast.



RUTH will be played by Brandy Zarle. Brandy is a very busy New York actor who has appeared here at Shaker Bridge three times - in Boston Marriage, in Time Stands Still and last season in OrI'm always excited for the chance to work with Brandy again.



Playing Ruth's brother JIMMY will be David Bonanno. David has appeared on Broadway, off-Broadway, in several national tours and at some of the great regional theatres of this country - including the Weston Playhouse, where he's familiar to virtually everyone.


Rounding out this amazing cast, playing Ruth's sister BEVERLY is Jeannie Hines. Jeannie has appeared on this stage eight times, but everyone remembers her in Sylvia. Twenty years from now someone will come up to her in the grocery store and call her Sylvia. Now you'll be able to add Beverly to the list.



Opening night is December 6 . . . you don't want to miss this one!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Frankie and Johnny

Here we go . . . it's season seven!
We started out with Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune by Terrence McNally. A beautiful play, and it was created by two remarkably talented actors: Grant Neale and LeeAnne Hutchison. I told them last spring, when they were here doing North Shore Fish, that whenever I thought about Frankie and Johnny - I heard them. And now that they've done it, I can't imagine anyone else in those parts.

"It was a tremendous fart . . . "

The review came out on the first weekend, and it can only be described as a rave. Here it is:


‘Frankie and Johnny’ Make Passionate Theater at Shaker Bridge
By Nicola Smith
Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, October 12, 2013 
(Published in print: Saturday, October 12, 2013)
Johnny’s a guy who’s hard to love. He pushes too hard, talks too much, doesn’t take no for an answer and is a sap, to boot. Frankie, on the other hand, is all sharp elbows. She talks too little and doubts too much and tries to put as much distance as possible between herself and Johnny’s crazy insistence that they’re magic, based on one admittedly incendiary sexual encounter. And in Terence McNally’s funny, romantic, radiant play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune , they’re meant for each other. Johnny thinks they are, anyway, but Frankie’s got other ideas.
The two-person play, which was first produced off-Broadway in 1987 with Kathy Bates as Frankie and F. Murray Abraham as Johnny, opens Shaker Bridge Theatre’s season this weekend in Enfield.
I’d seen another production of this play some time ago, and wasn’t enamoured of it. And the movie adaptation, directed by Gary Marshall and starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer as, rather implausibly, lonely souls who’ve bottomed out in the love department, had a bad case of terminal cuteness. It’s the kind of movie where stereotyped old ladies sitting at the next table comment on the action — Look, Marge, he’s asking her out. You don’t say, Gladys! Now he’s kissing her! Pass the smelling salts! And we’re supposed to say, Adorable!
But in this entrancing version, directed by Bill Coons, all of Johnny’s moony, swoony, let’s-get- married love talk, which sounds completely nutty at first considering they don’t really know each other at all, starts to work on you, just as it does on Frankie.
Johnny’s a short-order cook in a New York coffee shop, and Frankie’s one of the waitresses. They’re supposed to be middle-aged, and less-than-perfect looking, and I haven’t seen one production where the actors actually met that standard of unremarkableness. This one’s no different. The two leads, Grant Neale and LeeAnne Hutchison, are not middle-aged and they’re attractive. But they’re so persuasive as the two lovers who spend one evening making love, and then circling each other until dawn comes, that it doesn’t really matter.
The point McNally is making isn’t new — love can make us extraordinary — but he sells it with such feeling, panache and good will that he reminds us of the transforming power of love. Frankie really would prefer, all things being equal, to be left to herself without a nudge like Johnny around to tell her that he knows what she thinks and feels. Johnny is manic, on fire with the certainty that Frankie is The One. He’s a preacher and she’s the potential convert, hard and cynical on the outside, but more vulnerable and wanting to believe than she lets on.
Both Hutchison and Neale are outstanding as Frankie and Johnny. She’s tense, wary, angry and impatient. He’s ardent, jokey, demanding and relentless. Alone, they’re just two people going about their lives, but together, they sand away each other’s rough edges. What they give each other is possibility, and that most delicate of butterflies — hope. In less capable hands, the play could verge on gooey, but director Bill Coons makes it an expansive, big-hearted evening of theater.
“Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune” continues through Oct. 27 at Shaker Bridge Theatre in Enfield. For more information and tickets, call 603-448-3750 or go to shakerbridgetheatre.org.

Yeah, we do good work here. 
Here are some more photos from this wonderful production.

"You're not the easiest person to talk to."

"There's nothing better than this . . . "
"Ice for a burn?"

"See that old couple down there?"

"I knew what it was like to be loved"

"I want more, I need more"

"I don't love you!"

"Your Prince Charming is here!"

"Johnny . . . shhhhh."