Christina Liang, Stan Egi, Kathleen Kwan and Fenton Li are featured in ISSEI, HE SAY, the play by Chloe Hung that makes its world premiere this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company. (Photo by SuzAnne Barabas)

Published in the Asbury Park Press, April 20 2018

“It’s what we think of as the American Dream…work hard, and all your dreams will come true,” says playwright Chloe Hung of Issei, He Say, the four-character drama that makes its world premiere this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. “But it’s not like that at all.”

Subtitled “The Myth of the First,” the play that was workshopped before audiences at DC’s John F. Kennedy Center ‘breaks the myth” of immigrant families inspiring their first-generation offspring toward easy assimilation and success, by “exploring how you don’t really know what it’s like until you get there.”

The American Dream — or, more to the point, the North American Dream — is examined here through the experiences of 13 year old Lucy Chu (Christina Liang), a recent arrival whose parents (Kathleen Kwan, Fenton Li) have recently emigrated from Hong Kong to a suburban community in Canada. Set in the late 1960s — a time when the wounds of the Second World War were far from healed — the script is “semi-based” on the playwright’s own grandparents, mother and other relatives, and their experiences as residents of Toronto’s Scarborough district.

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Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, April 19 2018

Keepers of the punk flame invade the market stalls and mini-malls for an entirely respectful “wreck-a-store-day” weekend…the mayor and friends saddle up the Pony during a Rodeo for Recreation…acapella devotees go LIVE without a net, on the Pollak stage…magical PJs at the Paramount, and a Lenny Centennial at the APAC…Runapalooza pounds the boards for the Special Olympics NJ…trash is treasure is TRUE at an Earth Day After Party…and a wise old Byrd comes back to roost on the MU campus.

It’s WHAT’S UP in and around Asbury town these next seven days and nights…check the printed pages of THE COASTER for the full rundown of music, movies, art, theater and more…and dig if you will the highlights HERE, on the upperWETside!

SCENES: A Weekend of Punk Rocking ‘n Shopping

Here in the place Where Music Lives, old-timers are still talking about the time that Michigan-based proto-punk godfathers The Stooges and the MC5 waged informal band-battle at the old Sunshine In…while over at Convention Hall, fellow Wolverine staters Grand Funk Railroad added to a legendary 1960s/70s roster that famously included Jim Morrison and The Doors. On the unofficial high holy day of 4/20, those concert memories of yore flashback in style, as our still-standing Circuit landmark the Wonder Bar hosts a Tribute Fest that features Black Licorice as Grand Funk; Manzo Rising summoning the Lizard King and company; Future Now kicking out the jams as MC5, and the Street Walking Cheetahs channeling the raw power of Iggy Pop and the Stooges. It’s all-in at 7 pm for Friday’s fest, with tickets ($10 advance, $12 at the door) gettable at wonderbarasburypark.com.

Any vinylphile could tell you that April 21 is Record Store Day at indie institutions like Holdfast and Groovy Graveyard — and on Saturday afternoon, the latter outpost of pop culture (inside the Shoppes at the Arcade, 658 Cookman Ave) celebrates Platterday with another in a series of super-fun live music presentations on the upper level of the engagingly offbeat mini-mall. Returning to the Graveyard shift FREE-for-all at 4 pm are the Brunswick-based cowpunk/psychobilly cats The Junk Rumblers (pictured above), followed at 5 pm by Asbury’s own unique band of pirate-themed punkaneers, The Jolly Daggers (featuring merrily moonlighting members of such upstanding organizations as Battery Electric and The Black Flamingos).

The weekend’s worth of alternative NOWstalgia comes to a climax on Sunday, April 22, when the forces of Groovy join more than 100 other local/regional purveyors of vinyl records, CDs, movies, magazines, books, toys, collectibles, wearables, and MORE for the springtime edition of the Asbury Park Punk Rock Flea Market. Hosted inside Convention Hall, the three-ring flea circus opens its big heart to all, and its doors at 10 am, with admission $5 between 11 am and 5 pm (and an earlybird rate of $10 for savvy scouters). There’s live and DJ music in the air as well, with a full rundown of vendors viewable at asburyparkpunkrockfleamarket.com.

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The cast of the Brian Friel play “Dancing at Lughnasa” conjures a slice of Irish life in the 1930s, in the Two River Theater production on stage beginning this weekend in Red Bank.  (Photo by Yurik L. Lozano)

Published in the Asbury Park Press, April 13 2018

“It’s one of the great plays of the twentieth century,” says the director Jessica Stone of her latest project for Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company. “And it’s because of how universal its themes are.”

While its characters, cultural references and conflicts are very much of a piece with its setting in the Irish countryside of 1936, there is a certain quality to Dancing at Lughnasa that resonates with audiences in the here and the now…and when Two River’s John Dias suggested Brian Friel’s Tony- and Olivier award winning 1990 play to Stone, the director “jumped at” the chance to “explore this world; to explore the bond of these five sisters, and the ways in which we live through our memories.”

Kicking off a month-long limited engagement this weekend at Two River’s mainstage Rechnitz Theater, the production represents something of a hat-trick for Stone, a young veteran Broadway actress (her credits include the 2011 revival of Anything Goes, and a debut as Frenchy in the 1994 staging of Grease) who has credited the late New England-based theater legend Nicholas Martin with mentoring her journey from player to professional director. It’s a road that’s seen her helm some acclaimed projects throughout the eastern United States, including a 2014 Boston staging of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike that carried on in the spirit of Martin’s Tony-lauded Broadway production — and for Two River, the Alan Ayckbourn comedy Absurd Person Singular, plus her own all-male, all-madcap take on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

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Clockwise from top left: Gary Cavico and Vini Lopez, Joe Rapolla, and Pat Roddy help Monmouth University mark the 40th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen’s DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN, during a weekend of words, music, and history. (Bruce photo by Michael J. Booth; Rapolla photo by John Posada)

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, April 12 2018

From the bins of Sam Goody and Record Town — to the win-an-album wheel games where so many life-changing LPs found their forever-homes — Memorial Day 1978 came and went without an official transmission from the Future of Rock and Roll. But from the boardwalk to the bars and the bedroom communities beyond, there was a palpable “Something in the Night” that said the world would soon hear again from Bruce Springsteen, the man whose Born to Run spun the scene off its axis in summer ‘75; shining a sudden spotlight on all things Jersey Shore, and shuttling its author to a realm of national magazine covers and radio rotations.

Of course, the Boss had spent those three years locked in a legal quagmire with his old manager, and unable to release new music; a case of careerus interruptus that would have proven lethal for any less grounded artist. But he had also spent that time in careful burnishing of a growing legend — gigging throughout North America; putting his stamp on those fine early albums by Johnny and the Jukes; hitting the charts through covers (Manfred Mann) and collaborations (Patti Smith); doing cagey cameos on records by Robert Gordon and Lou Reed; watching as a slew of popular bootlegs kept the fanbase energized — and working on a massive trove of songs that would eventually become his fourth long-player, Darkness on the Edge of Town.

When the album dropped on June 2, much of the world got its first look at a new, Schick-shaven Bruce pouting out from the cover of Darkness. Gone was the grinning wolfman in the po’boy cap; replaced by a Thinking Man’s Fonzarelli whose brooding challenge suggested that the truth wasn’t out there on the highway escape routes after all, but somewhere within the papered walls and drawn blinds of a room full of secrets — and that you’d have to go through him to get to it.

The sound inside the spiral scratch was at once instantly familiar but also transitional; the word-high poetic epics and one-act playlets beginning to give way to muscular mini-manifestos, in which those working-dude hopes and dreams were sparked with the seeds (and stems) of doubt— and extinguished within the somber ballads that smoldered each side of the record to a close.

That was forty years ago; several lifetimes removed in the roller-coaster ride of Asbury Park history, and an alien place defined more than anything by all that we didn’t see coming — not the least of which was The Promise, the 2010 box set of remasterings, recollections and revisited outtakes that served to illuminate and complicate a work that had become a part of so many listeners’ lives.

Beginning today, April 12, and continuing through the weekend, Monmouth University shines new light into the heart of Darkness, during a fan-friendly International Symposium of words, music, and history that commandeers some hallowed haunts around Asbury, as well as the MU campus on the edge of town.

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That’s right, it’s our weekly roundup of highlighted happenings in and around Asbury Park! Check this selfsame space for our feature on this weekend’s DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN Springsteen Symposium…and check the printed pages of THE COASTER for the most comprehensive listings of music, movies, theater, art and special events in town!

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, April 12 2018

SOUNDS: Asbury Music Awards at the Stone Pony

“As crazy as it gets, I’m committed to these awards…and a lot of people look forward to them,” said Scott Stamper, ringmaster of rock’s downtown boxcar berthplace The Saint, and the patron producer behind the peer-reviewed promenade that is The Asbury Music Awards. Back for its 26th annual edition, the “gala night of celebration for our music community” returns to the Stone Pony stage (having long since outgrown the Main Street musicbox and its original home at the long-gone T-Birds Café) for a glittering tribute to “the men and women who put their self-respect, their solvency and their sanity on the line for our entertainment, day and night.” Returning host and Asbury Award-winning comedian Taylor Allen (pictured up top) emcees the affair that features mini-sets by Waiting On Mongo, Dentist, Black Suburbia, The Double Negatives, Billy Walton and the proverbial many more. It’s all ages admitted for $20; 21 to drink, with nominees (of which there are many, in some 50 separate award categories) admitted free. Check thesaintnj.com/asbury-music-awards.php for a full list of nominees — and catch Allen on the bill with Derek D and Friends Who Are Funny, Friday at House of Independents. April 12, doors at 6:45 pm; $20

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Poet, playwright, producer and powerhouse performer Rock Wilk returns to Asbury Park on April 13, for a one-night engagement of his Off Broadway solo piece BROOKLYN QUARTET at Palette Artspace. (photo courtesy Rock Wilk)

Published in the Asbury Park Press on April 6, 2018

The potentially taxing month of April spells many happy returns for theater fans, suddenly faced with a springtime smorgasbord of choices. We’ve got your roundup right here — and it begins with a couple of intriguingly original oddities on display in and around Asbury Park.

One of the area’s best-kept-secret showcases for new original stage works is happening within the halls of a high school — the old Neptune High School, that is; alma mater of Tony winning lyricist Lynn Ahrens, and a place rebranded in recent years as Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center. It’s there that La Strada Ensemble Theater has made a home for itself, with the collective of Shore-based playwrights and performers having workshopped and debuted dozens of full-length and short works for the stage. On Friday, April 6, it’s Brick Township playwright Darren Debari’s turn in the spotlight, as the troupe presents its premiere production of the drama “Destruction of the American Male.” La Strada artistic director A.J. Ciccotelli stars as a hard-drinking actor turned stockbroker who’s had (and lost) it all more times than once, with Lite-FM radio personality Christine Nagy co-starring in the play that takes an unflinching look at the relationships, personal demons and identity crises that define men in 2018 America. Evan Black (who also appears in the supporting cast) co-directs with Donna Ault Jacobson, and “Male” call is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with an additional 7 p.m. show on Sunday, April 8. Tickets ($25; senior and student discounts) can be reserved by visiting http://www.lastradaensemble.org or calling 732-455-2748.

He’s a poet, a playwright, a record producer, a spoken word artist, a vocalist and musician — and on the evening of Friday the 13th, Rock Wilk is a panorama of vividly realized characters, as the multi-talented, multi-tasking performer brings his one man show “Brooklyn Quartet” back to Asbury Park for a one night stand. It’s a return to his onetime “stomping grounds” for the artist who previously workshopped the full-length piece at such area venues as the historic Stephen Crane House — and whose Off Broadway and touring engagements of “Quartet” built on the momentum of his acclaimed (and autobiographical) solo piece “Broke Wide Open.” A fast paced, passionately performed script that’s been honed to razor-edged precision by its author, “Brooklyn Quartet” sketches a group of urban neighborhood friends as they make an uneasy, sometimes tragic, and cautiously hopeful transition from youth to adulthood. It’s a bracingly adult work for audiences in search of something different —and it’s on exhibit at Palette Artspace, the “arts block” gallery located at 716 Cookman Avenue. Admission is just $5, and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. sharp. Continue reading


A stellar fur-mament of famed felines joins celebrated animal rescue advocate Hannah “The Kitten Lady” Shaw as special guests, during the first annual Catsbury Park Cat Convention, going on in and around Convention Hall this weekend, April 7 and 8.

Published in The Coaster, April 5, 2018

“Cats are in vogue,” declares Dean “DJ” Bornschein, speaking on a recent sunny afternoon just prior to yet another late-season snuggler of a coastal storm. “The 21st century is the century of the cat.” 

While there are those in this passionately pooch-friendly city of Yappy Hours and canines-OK café tables who may sit up and beg to differ, there’s no denying that the age of fun-size digital cameras and globe-conquering social media platforms has elevated many examples of the domesticated CAT from hairball-producing homebodies, to internationally famous, instantly recognizable household names.

With that fact in mind — and with the mewy momentum generated by his recent opening of the Garden State’s first full-fledged “cat café” — Bornschein gets set to mark the town’s territory on behalf of all purry pets and their personal assistants, during this weekend’s first annual Catsbury Park Cat Convention.

Going on in and around Convention Hall and the Paramount Theater — an area where not so very long ago a community of feral felines made its home beneath the former Howard Johnson’s — the two-day affair looks to be the biggest such event on the east coast; a happening that boasts dozens of vendors of cat-centric products and services, plus info tables sponsored by animal rescues and other nonprofits, an on-premises SPCA adoption center, an art show, special guest speakers, games, activities, and of course a furry firmament of stellar celebri-cats, there and at the Asbury Hotel.

It’s an A-list collection of red-carpet clawers highlighted by Li’l Bub, the one-of-a-kind, uniquely adorable “most amazing cat on the planet” whose journey from feral-runt rescue to viral-views sensation is the stuff of legend. She’s joined by Nala, the Guinness-record “most famous cat on Instagram,” as well as fellow fame kitties Pudge (“the girl with the mustache”) and Klaus (loyal sidekick to the late Oskar the Blind Cat). Representing the homegrown talent are Oriental shorthairs Teddy and Dexter, of Monmouth County’s own Hobbikats Cattery.

Two-legged guests abound as well, with the Paramount Theater hosting a pair of special talks (on kitten care, and the Trap-Neuter-Return [TNR] approach to feral population control) by rescue advocate and self-proclaimed “neonatal kitten warrior” Hannah “The Kitten Lady” Shaw, for which tickets are sold separately from the convention’s general admission. She’s joined by TNR specialist “Paul the Cat Guy,” and internet/ meme maven Amanda Brennan, in featured events that are accessible by GA ticket.

Proceeds from the weekend help to fund the ongoing operations of Catsbury Park, the Bornschein-owned nonprofit storefront dessert café and adoption center that opened last year on the fast-morphing “arts bloc” of 708 Cookman Avenue. Also designated as beneficiaries are two of the sources from which the café receives its resident cats — the Tinton Falls-based Associated Humane Societies of NJ, and the Jersey Shore Animal Foundation — in addition to Asbury Boardwalk Rescue, the Brodie Fund of Rumson, the Camden County Animal Shelter, and Paul the Cat Guy’s NYC-based organization.

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Here are just a few additional reminders highlighting things to do in and around Asbury Park this week…for a complete rundown of music, movies, art, theater, words and MORE, check out the weekly WHAT’S UP section, ONLY in the printed pages of THE COASTER!

SCENES: A downtown Devil  of a Festival 

It is decreed, by proclamation of the Mayor of AP: the Jersey Devil is the official cryptid of Asbury Park. And not a moment too soon, as Kathy Kelly of the recently re-opened Paranormal Books and Curiosities has staked out this very weekend to honor our homegrown haunter of the deep dark pines (and a few roadside rest stops), with a Jersey Devil Festival that offers all due sympathy for the Devil by folding in film, art, spoken word, scholarly study, and a cloven-hoofed cavalcade of activity along the Cookman Avenue corridor.

Having added a whole new dimension to the local year-end holidays through her annual Krampus Festival, the mistress of the arcane and eldritch hosts a salute to the Garden State’s proprietary gargoyle that begins in earnest on Friday evening, April 6 at The ShowRoom. It’s there that a one-night-only Jersey Devil Film Festival unspools at 7:30 pm, with a selection of Devil-themed short subjects followed by a 20th anniversary screening of The Last Broadcast, the ultra-indie horror epic that staked a claim to being the first feature shot on handheld video camera and edited on a desktop suite. Director Lance Weiler joins Asbury Park Press correspondent Alex Biese for a live discussion of the 1998 film, during the program for which tickets ($10) are available at theshowroomap.com.

Then on Saturday, April 7, the legend and legacy of the Jersey Devil — from the storied spawn of Mother Leeds, to such cryptid cousins as The Big Red Eye — takes center stage in and around the all-new Paranormal Tower at 621 Cookman. Beginning at noon, attendees will thrill to a Devil-themed Hall of Images exhibit, author/ storyteller readings, lectures on our state’s freakish folklore, plus contests (tattoos, stories, posters, and costume contest at 4 pm), free walking tours of haunted history — and, at 4:30 pm, a March of the Jersey Devils to a Summoning Site at which “competitors will hoot, howl and growl…enough to wake the Jersey Devil!” The devil, as they say, is in the details…and the details are there for the searching, at paranormalbooksnj.com (events are free, but registration is recommended). Continue reading