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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.
Playwright-singer-songwriter Ethan Lipton brings a jaunty and knowing look at unemployment, disenfranchisement and overall bewilderment to Red Bank beginning this weekend, when NO PLACE TO GO turns Two River Theater’s “black box” room into THE place to go. (photo by Heather Phelps-Lipton)
Time to give the Pink Slip to those Working Class Hero rockers with their too-easy arena anthems. The clock-punching, cubicle-crawling, real-deal working stiff in all his/her “permanent part time” glory has a new musical mouthpiece — and it’s a middle aged, mustachioed, suit-and-tie spinner of songs and stories by the name of Ethan Lipton.
The Brooklyn-based singer, songwriter and playwright is a man whose frankly honest and devastatingly funny sketches of modern millennial life have regularly tweaked and/or tipped such sacred cows as pet lovers, parents, police, the Greatest Generation and the tawdry ritual of the holiday gift basket, over the course of several indie albums and the odd orphan track. It’s all delivered with a certain jaunty good cheer, over arrangements that mix lazybones back-porch blues and blue-yodel Americana with hotel-lounge jazz and the many moods of Randy Newman, Warren Zevon or early Tom Waits.
At the same time that he was brewing up his own peculiar musical cup o’ soup, Lipton was honing his craft as a dramatist — one of whose plays (Luther) was hailed last June by the NY Times as a “wine-dark satire…both hilarious and horrifying,” and another of whose plays (Red-Handed Otter) recently made its world premiere at the Off Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre.
Somewhere along the line, the California native wed his way with words to his songsmithing savvy — and the result was No Place To Go, a song-cycle described as “a musical ode to the unemployed” and inspired by the artist’s own experiences with sudden job loss, dislocated self-esteem and whatever dark passenger brings a grown man back to his parents’ doorstep. Commissioned by NYC’s venerable Public Theater, the show made its premiere inside the Public’s Joe’s Pub earlier this year — earning its creator an Obie Award, a Village Voice cover and a December trip to the UK, where the work will be seen as part of the annual All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival.
Before that, however, No Place To Go makes itself quite at home inside the Marion Huber “black box” space at Red Bank’s Two River Theater, for an extended engagement that’s being helmed by Leigh Silverman — acclaimed director of the show’s run at the Public, and not coincidentally Associate Artist with the borough-based Two River Theater Company.
Silverman joins TRTC Artistic Director John Dias, Managing Director Michael Hurst and Associate Artistic Director Stephanie Coen as young Public Theater veterans who have teamed up to plug the Two River brand directly into the visionary Joe Papp’s frankly awesome legacy. It’s a connection that’s upped the ante on Two River’s bid for the vanguard of the regional theater scape — as in the case of last month’s revival of Topdog/Underdog, directed by the show’s own Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Suzan-Lori Parks.
For No Place To Go, the TRTC team has temporarily and playfully rebranded the Huber as a cocktail-table nightclub by the name of John’s Pub. It’s there that Lipton and his Orchestra (standup basswalker Ian M. Riggs, saxmaster Vito Dieterle and percussive, reverby, avant-eclectic guitarist Eben Levy) spin a heroic epic around the saga of a guy who loses his low-impact, “permanent part time” publishing job when his company announces a relocation to the relatively cost-effective canyons of Mars. The singer ponders a move-in with his “Aging Middle Class Parents,” gets wistful about the Depression-era “WPA” — and, in the rocking “Shitstorm,” deals with the life-changing maelstrom headed his way by “making a macho move in Scrabble” and paying a visit to the workplace vending machines. It’s a work of art that will absolutely resonate with anyone (this correspondent no exception) who’s ever clocked just under 40 hours a week; sharing in all of the workplace pain, with none of the benefit perks.
UpperWETside spoke to Ethan Lipton on the eve of the show’s run of previews — a string of performances that begins October 6, and continues to the doorstep of Opening Night on October 19.
Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks directs her own Pulitzer Prize winning play TOPDOG/ UNDERDOG — starring a pair of brothers as a pair of brothers — when Two River Theater Company opens its new mainstage season this weekend.
For centuries, the irresistible promise of quick cash money has kept the classic betting game known as Three Card Monte — or Find the Lady, The Old Shell Game, and dozens of other variants — a favorite draw on street corners and cardboard boxes worldwide. This despite the fact that things are pretty much never quite as they appear, to put it diplomatically.
Ten years ago, no less an entity than the Pulitzer Board recognized the eternal allure of the game, by awarding that year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama to the Suzan-Lori Parks play Topdog/Underdog — a tale of two brothers, three cards, and a collective past that can’t be escaped.
As the first African American woman to have been awarded the Drama Prize, Parks made history back in 2002. And, on the tenth anniversary of that theatrical milestone, Two River Theater Company artistic director John Dias and managing director Michael Hurst return to the play that they helped develop in its premiere at NYC’s Public Theater — with the playwright herself onboard as director for this inaugural offering of TRTC’s 2012-2013 mainstage season.
While her resume also boasts an additional Pulitzer nomination (for In the Blood), an Obie award (Venus) and a MacArthur Genius Grant, the playwright and screenwriter who was raised in a Germany-based military family (and who garnered huzzahs for her adaptation of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, itself a Tony winner this year for Best Musical Revival) won acclaim for capturing the sad, seedy, SRO world of brothers Lincoln and Booth. Upping the ante on the excitement of Parks’ personal participation is the fact that the siblings with those weirdly conflicting first names are being portrayed here by a pair of real-life brothers.
In the intimate setting of the script, Brandon J. Dirden (seen earlier this year in TRTC’s production of August Wilson’s Jitney) appears as older brother Lincoln — a man whose resume involves working as a shooting-arcade human target, dressed like Honest Abe. He’s also a man whose split with his spouse has deposited him at the downscale digs of his younger brother Booth, played by Jason Dirden (a co-star in the 2010 Broadway revival of Wilson’s Fences). Over the course of the humor-laced dramatic action, the brothers reopen old wounds, argue the finer points of the three-card street game, and show off some fine stolen clothes — only to find that in the process of “striving for a better life, bound by their love for each other, they are haunted by their own pasts — and our country’s history.”
UpperWETside wasn’t able to hook up with the Pulitzer’d playwright during the one 20-minute window made available — to be fair, the multi-tasking artist has been conducting rehearsals at TRTC’s branded Bridge Avenue arts center, even while continuing to perform her solo show Watch Me Work at NYC’s Public Theater, and preparing for a new teaching session at New York University — but we were pleased and thrilled to speak to Brandon (who was then just wrapping up his contribution to the Tony and Pulitzer-winning Clybourne Park on Broadway) and Jason at the edge of a grueling round of rehearsals. Turn that card over for more…
Addressing a stageful of local residents at Two River Theater last Thursday night, Larry Keigwin framed a pre-rehearsal peptalk with “It’s great how in this digitally saturated age, we’re all doing something together that’s live and interactive.”
The occasion that brought the award winning choreographer together with a group of several dozen Monmouth County neighbors — an eclectic collection that boasts at least one septuagenarian, six or seven primary school kids and a dog — is a project by the name of Bolero Red Bank.
Designed exclusively for the Red Bank area audience, the dance piece uses the magnificent musical merry-go-round of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” as the soundtrack to a celebration of the greater Red Bank area — and the things that the people who live here love the most about it. And, when Bolero Red Bank hits the stage of the Bridge Avenue performing arts center this Friday and Saturday night, it will prove to be something of a “day at the beach” for audience and participants alike.
With as many as 60 local “pedestrians” expected to take part in the one-weekend show, Bolero Red Bank will encapsulate the spirit of summertime recreation and Shore life through movement, humor, and accessories that range from roller skates, boogie boards and hula hoops, to metal detectors, kites and Frisbees. It’s a colorful theme that quickly emerged from talks that Keigwin conducted with his amateur cast — all of whom responded to an open-call audition at the theater on July 9.
“I get a lot of joy out of cooperating with the performers,” explains the NYC-based choreographer — who, contrary to the stereotype of the dictatorial director, welcomes suggestions from the cast regarding costumes and onstage business.
“I do a little research before I come to town, but I trust the people. The people know their community, and the kind of characters who live in it.”
The founder of the Keigwin + Company troupe has organized “Bolero” presentations to great acclaim in several other American cities, from Akron (“we had 50 tires on stage”) and Santa Barbara (“lots of surf and sand”) to the suburbs of Fairfield County (“shopping carts”). In fact, it was Two River Theater Company artistic director John Dias who, having witnessed that production of “Bolero Suburbia,” invited Keigwin to work his magic on Bridge Avenue — a prospect that left the choreographer “really jazzed about bringing this to Red Bank.”
In advance of the two public performances on July 20 and 21, an intensive schedule of rehearsals found dozens of participants taking time out from their everyday lives — among them Lorraine Stone of Eatontown.
“What I love most is that this is a chance for the community to get into the act,” says Stone, a performance artist, writer and grandmother who can often be seen dancing at the evening drum circles on the Asbury Park boardwalk. “Any excuse to dance!”
As for Ravel’s “Bolero” — a popular classic that received its widest exposure through the 1970s Bo Derek-Dudley Moore movie “10″ — Keigwin selected a New York Philharmonic recording that clocks in at a satisfying 15 minutes, a window that the choreographer points out “relates to the Andy Warhol quote about everyone being famous for fifteen minutes.”
“Dancers from our company will also be there on stage, guiding people and adding more dance elements to the piece,” explains Keigwin. “It’s the responsibility of a choreographer to make everyone look good, and play to their strengths.”
Bolero Red Bank will be performed as the centerpiece of an 8 pm program that also features four short works (Caffeinated, Love Songs,Triptych and Contact Sports) spotlighting the professional dancers of Keigwin + Company. Tickets ($20, $37, $42) are still available and can be reserved right here.
“I feel like I’m having a dream,” said the playwright and performance artist Lisa Kron as she faced a capacity crowd at Two River Theater on Monday night.
“In high school, we, the theater people, were like the outcasts…this is the pep rally we never had.”
The occasion for the spirited assembly was the annual new season announcement by Two River Theater Company — one of the most highly anticipated such events in New Jersey stage circles, and one presided over by John Dias, now in his second season as TRTC’s artistic director.
As introduced by the nationally renowned producer and some celebrated associates, the 2012-2013 schedule builds upon the successful template established in the current 2011-2012 season — a season that climaxes with the production of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s My Wonderful Day, going up in previews on May 15.
Utilizing both the mainstage Rechnitz auditorium and the “black box” Marion Huber space at TRTC’s branded Bridge Avenue arts center, the new slate of eight shows mixes classics of the English language with new American voices; intimate solos with exquisite ensembles, and new faces with a whole lot of returning favorites — with words from the likes of Noel Coward, August Wilson and a guy by the name of Shakespeare.
When last we looked in on Two River Theater Company, the folks over at Red Bank’s regional professional stage were keeping the motor (and the meter) running on an acclaimed production of August Wilson’s Jitney, a modern American classic set in the heart of a scarred but scrappy urban neighborhood.
When the lights come up this Sunday inside Two River Theater’s intimate “black box” performance space, they’ll beam down upon a now-vacant home in a quiet bit of country; a setting in which two sets of strangers — a troubled young couple who’ve lost their way, and an older pair who’ve returned to this place to find something they’ve been missing — are brought together by chance on a frosty New Year’s Eve, In This House.
At first glance, the two shows would appear to have little in common — but a closer look reveals the presence in both casts of Chuck Cooper, the Tony winning actor and singer (1996 Best Featured Actor in the musical The Life) who topped the cast of Jitney as Becker, dour and disillusioned boss of the play’s gypsy cab depot.
In the “chamber musical” that’s being staged for the first time anywhere in Red Bank — one of two world premieres in TRTC artistic director John Dias‘s 2011-2012 season (the other was last October’s Seven Homeless Mammoths…) — Cooper co-stars with Brenda Pressley (Broadway’s original cast of Dreamgirls) as the older couple Henry and Luisa. Jeff Kready (Broadway’s Billy Elliott) and Margo Seibert (TRTC’s Orestes) appear as younger couple Johnny and Annie under the direction of May Adrales.
And, as if the production didn’t already have enough to distinguish it, it may just be the only musical you’ll see this season that boasts a score by a former NFL defensive tackle.
One’s a celebrated British-born expert on all things Shakespeare; a veteran of Broadway and the West End who won an Obie for playing no less melancholy a Dane than Hamlet.
The other’s a native son of Lawn Guyland who’s “known as much for polarizing politics, paternal peccadillos and personal-life pugnacity as for his powerhouse performances.” An actor whose adventures on the Great White Way have run more toward the Stanley Kowalski end of things — and whose Oscar nommed, Emmy winning forays as various smartguys, mademen, bigshots and slick anti-heroes are crowned by this, his most eloquent soliloquy.
Sounds like a surefire pitch for a network sitcom, you bet — but if Alec Baldwin and Michael Cumpsty haven’t quite hashed out the contracts for a new revival of The Odd Couple or even The Sunshine Boys, they’ve nonetheless apparently got much to talk about.
One of those bits of common ground revolves around Red Bank’s Two River Theater, the Bridge Avenue performing artspace upon whose boards both gents have trod — although not at the same time. On the night of Monday, November 21, however, they’ll be working to rectify that, as Cumpsty joins Baldwin for an intimate evening of scenes and stories that could ONLY be subtitled An Intimate Evening of Scenes and Stories.
Mercedes Herrero (right) stars as a slightly dizzied Dean in SEVEN HOMELESS MAMMOTHS WANDER NEW ENGLAND, the “academic sex comedy” by Madeleine George (left) making its world premiere at Two River Theater.
This Saturday, October 15, marks a momentous occasion for Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company — the first preview performance of an all-new, never-before-seen, world premiere play, developed by artistic director John Dias and the team of creative people at TRTC’s branded Bridge Avenue artspace.
We’d tweet you the title, but we’d probably go over the character limit.
An original comedy by Madeleine George — a college professor and writing teacher whose resume includes some of the best-known universities and correctional facilities in the state of New York — the show called Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England is pitched as an “academic sex comedy;” one that’s being recommended for mature audiences on the basis of “simulated sex between prehistoric college students and contemporary lesbians.” You know, for those who are a still a tad flinty about where Pebbles and Bamm Bamms come from.
In the production (going up inside the Two River building’s “black box” Marion Huber Theater space) under the direction of Obie winner Ken Rus Schmoll, a small-college administrator named Dean Wreen (Mercedes Herrero) must contend with the budget-axe amputation of the struggling school’s Natural History museum — at the same that her ex-girlfriend Greer (Deirdre Madigan) re-appears to further complicate things with the Dean’s much younger current partner, Andromeda (Flor De Liz Perez).
Throw in a campus Caretaker (Joel Van Liew) who apparently lives in the basement — and a come-to-life couple of Early Man exhibits (Lauren Culpepper, Jon Hoche) who “take us through the history of human relationships, without moving a muscle” — and you’ve got what Dias has championed as a play that “weaves together screwball comedy and academic satire with a truly profound view of contemporary relationships, and the different ways that people make a family.”
A draft of the playwright’s script for SHMWNE (pronounced Sham Wow?) was performed as a reading at Two River Theater earlier this year, a crucial first step in the company’s renewed commitment to making Red Bank a destination for new and original stage works. Dias, who’s made good on his promise to bring “a couple” of world premiere shows to local audiences — the other is In This House, opening in March 2012 — sat down with upperWETside to talk about what we can expect to see when the Mammoths lumber into town (spoiler alert: it’s NOT a stage full of trained elephants)…
Flashback to the evening of May 2. The folks at Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company were proudly and publicly unveiling the new 2011-2012 season of mainstage entertainments at their branded Bridge Avenue arts center — their first under the purview of artistic director John Dias, and the first to offer an expanded schedule of seven productions (plus a holiday-season family show) at both of the building’s performance spaces.
For several magical minutes, however, the auditorium named for TRTC founders Robert and Joan Rechnitz was the bully pulpit of a special guest — British-born actor Michael Cumpsty, a major presence on Broadway and Off-Broadway stages (he won a 2006 Obie award for playing no less a role than Hamlet) and a sought-after specialist in the works of one William Shakespeare. Strolling the boards and extolling the attributes of the theater that opened in 2005, the 51 year old veteran of stage, screen and other screen hailed the Rechnitz room as “a singular space” for performing the Bard’s plays in their proper physical dimension and scale — and delivered excerpts that showed Shakespeare’s range of attitudes toward love, from purple proesy to pragmatic plainspeak.
Beginning with an extended run of preview performances this Saturday, September 10, and continuing a limited engagement through October 2, Cumpsty makes his official Two River Theater debut in one of Shakespeare’s most oft-produced comedies about love, Much Ado About Nothing. In this fresh take on marriage and mayhem in sunny Sicily with a cast of 15 actors, Cumpsty stars as the male half of that classic couple Beatrice and Benedick — a pair of combatants in a “merry war” who would seemingly rather be anything but betrothed to each other, until they and a pair of sickly-sweet lovebugs known as Claudio and Hero (Aaron Clifton Moten, Annapurna Sriram) are variously sabotaged, deceived and otherwise manipulated into and out of each other’s arms by a series of intrigues, misunderstandings and comical conspiracies.
Throw in a broadly comedic constable named Dogberry (TRTC vet John Ahlin, of Broadway’s Journey’s End and Waiting for Godot), a dastardly “bastard” nobleman and a literal squadron of surprise houseguests, and you’ve got a play that’s described by Dias as “very populist in its appeal…it deals with the complications over what it means to fall in love.”
The star wattage represented by Cumpsty (1776, 42nd Street, Richard III, Timon of Athens) and Ahlin extends as well to the show’s Beatrice, Kathryn Meisle (a Tony nominee for Tartuffe) and the show’s director — fellow Tony nominee Sam Buntrock, for whom Cumpsty co-starred in the 2008 Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George, and who, as one of the hottest and most in-demand directors on either side of the Atlantic, comes to Red Bank prior to beginning an extended residency at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre.
UpperWETside spoke of Nothing in particular with Michael Cumpsty — with Dias, a relatively recent arrival to Middletown Township, and a 30 year resident of “the colonies” who became a US citizen in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.