6/13: ‘Stare’ Into the Spotlight

Trailer Tradge’: Trey Gibbons, LeeAnne Hutchison and Shane Patrick Kearns are among the denizens of a Florida mobile home community in AMERICAN STARE, the world premiere play going up this week at New Jersey Repertory Company. (photos by SuzAnne Barabas)

Speaking on behalf of playwright Tony Glazer, director Evan Bergman explains the title of American Stare as “that blank, empty look…that Tony saw in the people down there.”

“Down there” is Glazer’s home state of Florida — specifically, a trailer park that serves as the Sunshine State setting for Stare, a “dark comedy” that initiates its world premiere run beginning this week at  New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

Not that we don’t have our own legacy of Trailer Park Tradition “up here” — but anyone who enters into NJ Rep’s latest mainstage offering with expectations of easy laughs — at the expense of characters who make TV’s Trailer Park Boys look like the Bloomsbury Set — has a double-wide rethink coming.

In fact, give Bergman a script about a group of working-class Floridians (including a young widow and a disabled man who’s been accused of being a child predator) up against the suit ‘n tie specter of disruption to their very Way of Life, and he’ll tell you that trailer parks are “very fiercely connected communities…there’s a positive, bonding thing going on.”

Becca Ballenger is doing something. Summer Crockett Moore, Lee Ane Hutchison, Brad Holbrook, Shane Patrick Kearns and Trey Gibbons are watching.  

“It’s nothing like the false sense of community you find in a McMansion development,” the director continues. “Trailer parks are more like urban settings…they offer more to work with than a Co-Op City.”

The cast of six actors — a fairly large one by NJ Rep standards — includes Becca Ballenger, Trey Gibbons, Brad Holbrook, LeeAnne Hutchison, Shane Patrick Kearns and Summer Crockett Moore; newcomers one and all to the Rep family (and presumably guests at the company’s “Buffalo Bill House” in Long Branch).

Bergman, by contrast, is a familiar figure to regular observers of the Upper Wet Side’s only playhouse dedicated entirely to new and challenging works for the stage — having helmed items like the noir duet The Tangled Skirt, and having displayed a satisfyingly symbiotic collaboration with the playwright Jack Canfora. The director’s dexterity with intense ensemble pieces like Canfora’s Poetic License (the Rep-developed drama recently and successfully re-staged Off Broadway) makes him a natural fit for a project that centers around “the disenfranchised; the in-betweeners who are being passed over.”

“It’s a comedy,” the director reassures us, “but with undertones of what’s facing the country at the moment…the comedy comes from the behavior of the characters.”

“These people find a way to bond when something threatens them,” says Bergman. “It illustrates that the strongest force comes from inside.”

Under the artistic direction of NJ Rep co-founder SuzAnne Barabas, the professional troupe has made something of a specialty in the subgenre of Dark Comedy — with such productions as Women Who Steal, Night Train, Love and Murder and the Bergman-directed Jericho exemplifying the truly depraved depths that characters will sink to in search of a nervous laugh from the audience. It’s a highly specialized vein of theater in which the results can be, in the director’s words, “fruitful, satisfying; kind of a nice sorbet.”

“It’s challenging to find that balance between tragedy and comedy,” says Bergman. “Fortunately New Jersey Rep has created this wonderful environment for artists…it allows you to try things you would never dream of doing elsewhere.”

American Stare presents matinee and evening previews on June 14 and 15; opens June 16 at 8pm, presents a matinee performance on June 17, then continues until July 22 with performances Thursdays through Sundays. Ticket reservations, showtimes and additional information can be obtained here.