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Its performance spaces may have gone momentarily dark between mainstage productions — but this weekend, Red Bank’s Two River Theater becomes one of the newest participating hosts for an arts event that’s primed to connect with some new audiences: the annual Vision Latin American Film Festival.
A presentation of the Latino Coalition of New Jersey — the nonprofit organization that’s hosted the annual Latino Festival of Monmouth County in Freehold Borough since 2005 — the newly expanded program offers up a slate of seven feature-length dramatic and documentary films selected to increase the understanding and appreciation for the various Latino cultures that thrive in New Jersey.
“Through the eyes of the filmmakers, we will see Latino perspectives on relationships, politics, family, religion and customs that surround their lives,” the coalition says in its press materials for the filmfest, which will feature introductions by guest speakers as well as post-screening Q&A discussions.
The celebration of Latino cinema has forged a separate identity from the summertime festival in Freehold, with a two days/ three nights schedule of recent works from North and South America that screens this weekend in three different Monmouth County locations — including Two River Theater Company’s branded Bridge Avenue artspace.
The question was a tricky one, regarding the founding of the NHL, and the number of member teams at the time that the league came together in 1917. The correct answer (four) fairly flummoxed fans who were brought up on the legend of the hallowed “Original Six” franchises — prompting Quizmaster™ Jim Norton to observe with a dry drip of feigned arrogance, “To all of you who actually submitted ‘The Original Six’ as your answer…and who even underlined it, like I’m some kind of an idiot…well you’re wrong. Fuck you. YOU’RE the idiot!” It was just another Tuesday in Asbury Park — traditionally a day of rest for many local businesses, there in the drab foothills of the working week — and a day often given over to some creatively wacky pursuits; a fact hammered home by this Tuesday’s head-spinning Steel Cage Match of a city council election. But on May 7, a homegrown tradition returned to take root, as the pop-cultural force of nature known as Tuesday Night Trivia reappeared with a reassuringly familiar host (Gentleman Jim) and a new lease on life, at an all-new host venue — the atom-age retro rec room Asbury Lanes. (more…)
Fred Grandy (right, with Christian Pedersen) — he of both Gopher and US Congress fame — makes like Olivier in Anthony Shaffer’s SLEUTH now playing at Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven. Photos by CHASE HEILMAN PHOTOGRAPHY
Long-time supporters and observers of Surflight Theatre — Beach Haven’s can-do professional purveyor of crowdpleasing entertainments — might be forgiven for believing that the LBI landmark exists beneath some colossal jinx cloud, Job-like test of faith, or Richard Bachman gypsy curse.
The venerable venue very nearly entered the realm of bygone nostalgia a few years back following a bout with suffocating debt and bankruptcy — an interlude from which it emerged under the too-brief tenure of producing artistic director Roy Miller at the start of the 2011 season. Before departing Surflight the following year, Miller — whose sudden passing a few weeks back seems to be part and parcel of the theatre’s trials and tribulations — rolled out his great big Rolodex of connections and packed the playhouse’s “comeback” season with personalities that ranged from Justin Guarini to Judd Hirsch; Dawn (Mary Ann) Wells and Cindy (Shirley) Williams; Laugh-In’s Jo Ann Worley and Brady Bunch’s Eve Plumb.
A 2012 fire at a neighboring restaurant that also damaged the Surflight property would appear to have signaled the theatre’s ultimate phoenix-like rise from the ashes — but then along came Sandy. The Octo-pocalypse, its winds and waters of mass destruction — and the long dark aftermath of utility outages, inaccessible neighborhoods and transportation issues — put a piercing exclamation point on a lousy year; ensuring the cancellation of the Christmas production and casting all prospects for 2013 in deluge-dampened doubt.
Still, springtime saw the re-emergence of the Surflight brand under executive director Ken Myers with a newly rebuilt stage and shop, a work-in-progress renovation campaign (to which Broadway legend and serial Tony winner Tommy Tune contributes a benefit concert later this month), and a full slate of productions that kicked off in April with an earlybird salue to ABBA.
Beginning tonight and opening officially on Thursday, May 9, the 2013 Surflight season continues with a new staging of Sleuth, the Tony’d-up, twisted-inside-out, drawing room mystery by Anthony Shaffer that’s directed here by Clayton Philips and starring another familiar face from countless TV nights — none other than The Love Boat‘s affably goofy Gopher, Fred Grandy.
It’s a decidedly different characterization for the actor — that of one Andrew Wyke, successful British author of detective novels and smoking-jacketed lord of a country manor that’s choked to the gills with bizarre antique toys, slightly sadistic games and potential traps around every rococo corner. It’s there in this house of mystery that the grandiose gentleman coerces his wife’s lover, playboy hairdresser Milo Tindle (Christian Pedersen, sensational in New Jersey Rep’s Dead Ringer) into a grand deception that twists and turns upon each of the principals in ways that can only truly be appreciated by losing one’s self in the deliciously nasty play’s world of murderously good manners and oppressively eccentric atmosphere.
It turns out that the regional theater thing is also a new twist to the Grandy resume. The Iowa-born Harvard grad — a lifelong Republican whose first widescale public exposure was his role as best man for the wedding of his friend David Eisenhower to Presidential daughter Julie Nixon — served four full terms as a United States Congressman, serving on the House Ways and Means Committee and stepping away from elective politics following an unsuccessful bid for the governorship of the Hawkeye State.
A career as a reliably right-wing commentator followed, on outlets that ranged from National Public Radio to D.C. area talk station WMAL — with the host of The Grandy Group program (an editorializer against Islamicization, for whom the phrase “Shariah-compliant” is an oft-wielded verbal cudgel) resigning amid a broadcast brouhaha involving statements made on-air by his wife Catherine Mann-Grandy. It was a kerfuffle during which supporters of Grandy (who serves these days on the executive staff at Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy) branded even conservative WMAL as “Shariah-compliant.”
With a brief interview window between intensive rehearsals of Sleuth, Grandy and your upperWETside correspondent left the politics to fester like seaweed on the Ocean County beaches, and spoke of sitcom signatures and of Sleuth, the vehicle by which the GOPher emerges from the burrow of prolonged showbiz hibernation. Read on…
“That was the greatest ride,” says Lisa Kron — or rather, Lisa Kron as her own diabetic, heart-diseased, legally blind father — in “2.5 Minute Ride,” a rollercoaster that rambles up one track on an outing to a sun-baked Midwest amusement park, and swoops down another on a pilgrimage to the dark heart of Auschwitz.
The one-woman show, for which Kron won an Obie Award in its 1999 staging at New York’s Public Theater, is being performed by its creator for the first time in several years, during an all new engagement at Red Bank’s Two River Theater. It’s a production that re-teams the playwright with director Mark Brokaw — as well as with Two River Theater Company’s John Dias, who brought her play “Well” to Broadway a few seasons back.
The title notwithstanding, “2.5 Minute Ride” is an approximate hour and a half of high comedy, matter-of-fact tragedy, poignant fantasy — and the reality that life means having to drive many hours to get from one to the other. Framed as an unseen slide show on a sparsely appointed stage (designer Allen Moyer works with lighting director Philip Rosenberg and the audience’s own imagination to fill in the “missing” elements), the play finds Kron, laser pointer in hand, quantum-leaping from the slapstick sitcom of her aging family’s annual caravan to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio — to the “malevolent ground” of the Birkenau death camp, where she accompanies her ailing father on a trip to the place in which his parents met their fate.
Delivered by the playwright in a largely breezy, conversational tone that doesn’t let the pace flag for a second, it’s a “Ride” that hurtles willy-nilly through time more so than space; a midway attraction that travels parallel tracks, branching off into unexpected detours — a strangely funny scene at a Winona Ryder movie, a Gestapo member’s thought-provoking words to his interrogators, a supermarket encounter with the ghosts of Kron’s grandparents — that somehow converge on a satisfying end point. It may take a moment to realize that the ride has reached its conclusion, but a conclusion has most surely been reached.
Kron is hardly the first performer-playwright to have collaged a solo show from a scrapbook of family memories (or to have used the spectre of the Holocaust as the glue that holds the images in place), but unlike too many “Journey to Me” theatrical pieces, the author is not the center around which the universe revolves — she’s an observer-participant who cedes the spotlight to her impressions of her notoriously picture-phobic mother; a crippled and contrary aunt; a cantankerous closet-case uncle and a lonely brother whose Jewish Singles explorations lead him to embrace the Orthodox faith. The implication is that all of these people reside within her to varying degrees — and that it takes an understanding of these (at times unsympathetic) figures to form a portrait of the storyteller.
An out lesbian in a clan that would just as soon never have to attend another wedding — and a self-appointed caretaker who’s often in need of directions herself — the Lisa Kron of the script uses keynotes like food to trigger jumps between memories, and goes from complaining about the Sandusky theme park to wishing that the hopelessly confusing real-world Poland of her travels was replaced by a more easily navigable “Poland World.”
Lisa Kron has the take-no-prisoners timing of a battle-tested standup comic, the sizing-up savvy of a seasoned sideshow barker, the laser-honed instincts of a photojournalist, and the entrancing oral-tradition skills of that one good friend whose stories are a joy to listen to. She’s no slouch as a playwright and a performer either, and for the duration of this “Ride” she’s got the audience strapped in right where she wants them.
“2.5 Minute Ride” continues with a mix of matinee and evening performances through May 12. Tickets ($20 – $65 adults) can be obtained by calling (732)345-1400 or visiting www.trtc.org.
Reunited once more for their most ambitious tour in over 25 years, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong take it to the boards of the Count Basie on May 1, for an evening of mirth, music and munchie-inducing classic routines.
Is this any way to observe 420 Day? If you’re the elder stoner statesmen Cheech and Chong, you’ve spent that nationwide celebration of cannabis culture in seemingly uncharacteristic fashion — up before the sun, doing tightly scheduled rounds of press, and interfacing with fans on social media platforms that range from Facebook and Twitter, to Pinterest and everything short of Christian Mingle.
Truth be told, Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong have a collective work ethic that’s seen them embrace new tech, new formats and new channels of distribution almost as fast as they’re dreamed up — and, with their first big tour in over 25 years now underway, the Grammy winning kings of most media have a lot of lost time to make up.
On the night of Wednesday, May 1, Cheech and Chong’s Third Reunion Tour finds the gold-plated “cult” stars of stage, screen and stereos heading into Red Bank, for an 8 pm appearance at the Count Basie Theatre in which the pair recreate many of the classic, bongwater-basted sketch routines from their smash comedy records of the 1970s — a post-Woodstock era that routinely saw single releases like “Basketball Jones,” “Earache My Eye” and “Sister Mary Elephant” crashing the Top 40 charts (and causing as much angst among radio programmers as among parents of the nation’s easily corrupted youth).
It’s a debut for the duo, in the borough that claims a couple of their spiritual offspring — Jay and Silent Bob — as “homegrown” favorites. It’s also a chance for the veteran comedy team to promote the first new Cheech and Chong project in a generation — the soundtrack to the feature-length Cheech and Chongs Animated Movie!, with nine all-new songs augmenting a cartoonified collection of vintage vignettes from such discs as Cheech & Chong’s Wedding Album, Los Cochinos, and Big Bambu (coincidentally, Jay & Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie! kicked off its tour of screenings and podcasts on 4/20).
With Marin having stretched his mainstream chops in recent years (through projects that ranged from playing cops on network TV series, to producing a series of children’s music albums) — and with Chong’s intermittent screen appearances overshadowed by a controversial 2003 federal prison sentence (documented in detail here) for selling drug paraphernalia online — the stock characters of the street-savvy Chicano and the eternal hippie look to take on new dimensions of time and tide and life experience.
4/20 came and went without a scheduled phone interview — but an apologetic Chong called upperWETside the following evening to bring us up to date. Flip the record over for more, man…
In the hands of its creator, it’s a thrill ride unlike any other; a midway attraction that clatters up a rollercoaster track in Ohio’s Cedar Point amusement park — and hurtles down the other side on a grim pilgrimage to the concentration camps at Auschwitz.
Although it lasts a bit longer than its title suggests, 2.5 Minute Ride is an experience that’s more of a trip through time than space — a “funny, complex meditation on tragedy, grief and family” that unfolds exclusively through the spoken word performance of Lisa Kron, the play’s sole cast member and the author who netted an Obie Award during its inaugural Ride in 1999.
Returning to the one-woman show for the first time in five years — and reuniting with Mark Brokaw, who directed that 1999 production at NYC’s Public Theater — Kron comes to Two River Theater for a new staging that opens this weekend and continues through the second week in May. Going up inside the mainstage Rechnitz Theater at the Bridge Avenue artspace, it’s a Ride that also re-teams the Tony nominee with Two River Theater Company artistic director John Dias, who co-produced the Broadway production of her play Well in 2010.
Antoinette LaVecchia, Nick Lehane, Lizbeth Mackay, Lucy DeVito and Steven Skybell in THE ELECTRIC BABY, the ensemble drama by Stefanie Zadravec now onstage at Two River Theater. (Photos by T. Charles Erickson)
The TV/film actor turned playwright found herself spending even more time in the city when one of her twin sons was referred for treatment to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh — and Zadravec writes eloquently here on how being the parent of a seriously ill child served to illuminate the development of what was then a work-in-progress script. Opening officially with a sold-out performance this Friday, April 19, The Electric Baby is one of two shows running through the early part of May at Two River — and part of an exciting slate of events as the 2012-2013 season enters its heated homestretch.
Troma Studios multi-media mogul (and barnstorming Barnum) Lloyd Kaufman — seen here with studio mascot TOXIE on the steps of Asbury Lanes — returns to the Shore’s atom-age rec room for the 14th TromaDance Film Festival, Friday night and all day Saturday.
In an interview with Dorothy Creamer on our old Red Bank oRBit site (archived here on the upperWETside), Troma Studios‘ merry mogul Lloyd Kaufman described his ultra-underground, infra-indie empire as “the jalapeño peppers on the cultural pizza” of a fastfood entertainment industry…a resolutely outsider paragon of poverty-row pedigree, now closing in on 40 years’ worth of a decidedly vintage-vaudeville approach to “creating movies of the future.”
The film production and distribution marque that gave us The Toxic Avenger hasn’t mega-morphed too far beyond its 1980s roots as a video-age inheritor of a proud drive-in tradition; a successor to all of those sub-American International outfits that were little more than a stogie-chomping would-be mogul with a three-line phone and an art-metal desk. Under the leadership of Yale-educated businessman Kaufman and co-founder Michael Herz, the Troma brand would accrue a library of cult favorites that numbered among them Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, Surf Nazis Must Die!, and Poultrygeist (for which our own Mike Black contributed to the score).
Armed with both a gore-drenched Herschell Gordon Lewis sensibility AND an extra edge of “strong social satire,” the “Toxie” franchise made mainstream inroads with a trio of sequels, Marvel comics adaptations, a Saturday morning kidtoon and an off-Broadway musical that boasted music by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan. And, in the tradition of Roger Corman and his various proteges, several Troma epics would see some of the earliest screen work by Samuel L. Jackson, Vincent D’Onofrio and director James Gunn.
What Kaufman and Troma appear to have done best is to remain a boil on the butt of the industry — both the one-dimensional dumbdowns of the MilkDud multiplexes, AND the predictable pretensions of the fair-trade-tea festival circuit. It’s a dynamic that inspired Kaufman and kompany to crash the annual Sundance Festival to establish the pirate-satellite celebration of all things inconveniently indie known as the Tromadance Film Festival — and it’s extended to an ongoing online crowd-funding campaign to invade the 2013 Cannes Film Festival for the purpose of producing a documentary (“about how independent art must fight corporate conglomerates to stay alive”) with the working title of Occupy Cannes.
Before anyone gets to go sunning their bikini lines away on the French Riviera, however, the time has come for TromaDance, an event that’s moved from the snowy slopes of Utah — to Asbury Park; specifically the atom-age tenpins taproom turned retro-rocking rec room that is Asbury Lanes. The fightin’ Fourth Avenue landmark — pretty much the only thing left standing on a block characterized by vacant lots, boarded-up bars and the skeletal carcasses of bankrupt condo projects — has provided snug harbor for the freakishly free of charge filmfest, and on Friday and Saturday, April 12 and 13, the center Lanes once more welcome the distinguished ambassador of the alternative arts for the 14th edition of the event that’s turned the Asbury waterfront into a “trash Cannes” for slumming cinephiles, unrepentant rockers and Fat Guys who go Nutzoid for vaudeville that remains verboten even in a post-ironic age where the concepts of the underground and the taboo have been rendered moot.
Go-to blues authority and pedigreed purist John Hammond “arrives like a big train coming” in a concert TONIGHT at Monmouth University; one of a springtime slate of Performing Arts shows that further features the MU debut of Southside Johnny AND the return of Roger McGuinn.
Press releases, for the Center for the Arts at Monmouth University! We’re happy to be able to do them…and happier still to share the word on FOUR forthcoming shows (brought to you by Vaune Peck, Eileen Chapman and the terrific team at Center central) on the stage of the Pollak Theatre; beginning TONIGHT with seasoned stringbender John Hammond, and continuing with appearances by Step Afrika, Southside Johnny and the return of Roger McGuinn!
Bluesmaster Hammond Booms the Room
Tom Waits called his sound “compelling, complete, symmetrical and soulful; a “great force of nature” that arrives “like a big train coming.”
“A virtuoso. A conjurer. A modernist,” said no less an authority on American music than T-Bone Burnett. “The language goes out through the night…The Big Boom. Boom the room.”
The performer they’re talking about is John Hammond, an artist with a recording career that dates back 50 years — and with a name that in and of itself conjures an entire American century of world-shaking sounds.
As musical pedigrees go, they don’t come much more awesome than being the son of legendary record man and activist John H. Hammond — the same Hammond who’s credited with discovering everyone from Basie to Billie Holliday, Bob Dylan to the Boss. That said, John Paul Hammond has independently and indisputably forged a name for himself as a master blues guitarist and vocalist; a Blues Hall of Famer and multiple Grammy nominee whose recorded debut in 1962 served to keynote a journey that would take in eclectic collaborations with the likes of Waits (whose music formed the foundation of 2001’s Grammy-nominated Wicked Grin), Dr. John, Duane Allman, Robbie Robertson, and G. Love.
The man who once boasted both Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix in his band continues to stake his considerable reputation on his skills as a solo performer — and on the evening of Friday, April 5, the ongoing journey brings John Hammond to the stage of one of the area’s premier venues for acoustic music, the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University.
Presented as part of the 2012-2013 Performing Arts Series by the Center for the Arts at Monmouth, the 8 p.m. event finds Hammond doing what he does best — delivering the blues, through his big voice and harmonica and National guitar — in a way that renders any further embellishment moot. With acoustic blues having been rediscovered — as it has been every so often, by a new generation of fans — Hammond stands uniquely poised to “show them how it’s done,” with laserlike focus, crossroads authority and a youngblood troubador’s passion that hasn’t dimmed a lick since he emerged from the Greenwich Village scene of the early 1960s.
Fans of homegrown blues are in for an additional treat, as the concert features a special guest opening set by Billy Hector, the veteran slide guitarist, blues belter and songsmith whose résumé as a bandleader (Hot Romance, The Fairlanes, The Shots) and solo performer has seen him share the stage as a peer of some of the most formidable names in music (including the late blues pioneer Hubert Sumlin) — and dazzle crowds with regular headline spots at Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Festival events. It promises to be a fine fit for Hammond, who remains an artist with impeccable taste in music, his instrument, and the audience he plays to. ($30/ take it here for tix)
They told me there was a broken light for every heart on Broadway…and when the play called NOIR hits the stage in downtown Long Branch, you can take it to the bank that a femme fatale and a greenhorn gumshoe had better keep aware of their surroundings. (photo by SuzAnne Barabas)
The “Middletown side of Red Bank,” they call it. That place just across the river where the sidewalk races your dreams to see which one can run out faster than a rube’s luck at a find-the-lady table. It wasn’t much to look at — a couple of beaten-down country clubs, a little roadside joint called Nick’s or somesuch — but as I slid over Cooper’s Bridge I picked up a faceful of north wind that damn near knocked my hat into the drink, and reminded me that I wasn’t exactly enjoying this view from behind the glass of a vodka Collins at the Pearl Lounge.
I’d come to this godforsaken little acre to check out a tip from Gabe the Hungarian, a character I knew from too many nights spent down on the dark end of Broadway Long Branch — a neighborhood that’d long since been given over to the odd bit of Leon Rainbow graffiti and the occasional zombie flick. The Hungarian and his missus, who pretty much had the whole block to do with as they pleased after hours, were in the business of putting on certain types of entertainments for certain discerning customers, at a little out-of-the-way establishment called New Jersey Repertory Company — and their “opening night receptions” were the kind of near-legendary wingdings that I for one wouldn’t miss for the world.
Seems that a lawyer by the name of Stan Werse had come to them some weeks back, with a story so far-fetched that it naturally intrigued my Hungarian friend into pondering whether he could do business with this tall stranger who drove a late-model Chrysler with a kiddie seat strapped into the back. I asked Gabe for the facts, just the facts, and he riffed to the effect that “Andrews has left town, Klein is dead, Lydecker is dead, Betty…well she’s still alive, but someone has beat the pretty off her. Clay Holden has his first big chance as a detective…but this is one case that he may not want to solve.”
He showed me a folder that the counselor had left with him, marked only with a single word on the front: NOIR. I told him I’d look into this Werse guy, mostly as a favor, and set off down the block to see Ingrid at the Free Public Library.
My request to grab some interwebs time was met with a little European ice, although things warmed up considerably after I paid my fine for never bringing back the Wally Stroby novel I checked out in 2009. An online once-over told me that our attorney friend was strictly on the square — lifelong Jersey guy, State Bar Association, Widener School of Law, former prosecutor, municipal public defender in places like Middletown, Tinton Falls, Union Beach — and that he “loves politics and is an accomplished Playwright.”
Hot-botting the word “Noir,” I landed on the Asbury Pulp site and learned that it’s “a conflation of two phenomena” that says in essence, “doom is cool. You just met a woman, you had your first kiss, you’re six weeks away from the gas chamber, you’re fucked, and you’re happy about it.”
I scratched the skintag on the back of my neck and stared at the screen while the Freep staff made noises about closing up. Something about this whole business had taken a turn for the Werse, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Sure, the public defender was hardly the first solid citizen to have developed a taste for the darker side of Noir — to slip out of the suburban house for a dance with that lurid and seedy genre of empowered temptresses and damaged anti-heroes and streets lit only by the embers of an unfiltered Chesterfield — but it still didn’t add up. Why would a hard-working professional and respectable family man risk everything, just to throw in for a couple of hours with characters like a bitter and cynical cop, a mystery woman and “a not-as-dumb-as-he-looks resident enforcer?” And why in Sam Hill would he use his real name? I grabbed my hat and decided to pay a visit to our playwright.