8/6: Party Plays and Twisted Thoughts

Writer-director Alice Quinnett brings a little BRIGHTNESS to one of the “dark” storefronts of the AP Boardwalk, when the “interactive party-play” project gets underway this week, courtesy of Paratroupe productions.

“I wrote this as a crowdpleaser, for a younger audience…it’s a fun show, a little bit teen movie-ish, with a happy ending.”

It’s a late weekday afternoon, in the dwindling doggy days of summer, out on the herringboned hardwoods of the Asbury Park boardwalk — and we’ve been invited inside a cavernous and climate-controlled space within the Fifth Avenue Pavilion to listen to writer-director Alice Quinnett shine a little light upon a thing called Brightness.

Almost as much of a mystery at first as the “interactive party play” that she’s writed-directed — and, we daresay, as hot as the hazyhumid humpday that seethes and steams outside the door — the twentysomething Barnard grad (and founder of the Paratroupe performance company) turns out in person to be a confident creative who’s having a blast with the project of a lifetime; a “house party with rules” that brightens up a relatively dark corner of the oceanfront strip for twelve shows beginning this Thursday, August 9.

Leah Barker as Mary — she of those legendary parties — is “looking fierce mid-fight” during rehearsals for BRIGHTNESS.

You might say it’s an “interactive party play” any old time of the day or night out there on the Asbury boards; “a crazy world of eccentric but understandable characters” that range from the tourist to the townie; oldtimers who “heard it was coming back” to stalwarts who never went away; wedding party photo oppers and festival daytrippers; the human statues and sleight-of-handers; a greet-and-seat with Pete at the Langosta Lounge podium or a caricature from Cap’n Flash.

Still, even many of our fellow daily regulars were perplexed by the first indicators of Brightness; an “original, interactive and engaging experience” that seeks to transform an otherwise vacant doublewide storefront (in the stretch between twin landmarks ‘Howard Jetsons’ McLoone’s and Madam Marie’s) into a pocket-universe amalgam of guerilla theater, circuit rockclub and an infinitely hipper version of stuff like Tony ‘N Tina’s Wedding.

Vigorously promoted by AP Boardwalk.com with tantalizing signage, social-media blastage and side-of-building laser projections, Brightness is a mashup of a scripted comedy with an improvised element that allows audience members to familiarize themselves with the characters prior to curtain time — a pre-show mixer in which “the cast members will be out and about, mingling in character.”

That cast of fourteen young actors from around the region — all of them complete unknowns to us — portrays a group of “very eccentric people in their twenties” who are in attendance at one of the legendary parties thrown by “Mary” (played by Leah Barker); events that have famously featured half-clothed artists, live music, fortune telling and elaborate games of Let’s Pretend. As Quinnett points out, “this party is their escape from the world in this harsh economic climate. It’s their place to let go.”

Into this comic set-up meanders “Todd” (Dennis Hall), a “shy young man” who, to put it succinctly, “ends up going on a little adventure.” Precisely what that adventure entails remains a riddle right now, but with a dozen performances in which to work things out — and with the audience as the wild-card factor in the equation — we have every reason to believe that Quinnett and her Paratroupe squadron are going to explore every available facet of Todd’s (hopefully excellent) adventure. And, as a fiftysomething who vaguely remembers having been twentysomething once upon a time (and whose frequent forays as drama critic have often left him marveling at the fact that he was apparently the youngest person in the room), we’re applauding in advance this effort to get the current crop of hands-on millennials interested in live theatah, or something very much like it.

Adding a whole other level of chaos theory to the proceedings is the fact that each performance of Brightness will feature live music by “some of Asbury Park’s great local musicians and performers,” with a different act appearing at the party-play for each show. A detailed breakdown of featured acts hasn’t been released as we post this, but we note that super-soldier songthrush (and Tequila mockingbird) Christine Martucci has announced that she’ll be playing the show’s August 9 opener, as well as the final two performances on August 25 and 26.

Performances of Brightness are Thursdays through Sundays at 8pm, August 9-26, with party guests allowed in at 7:45pm. All tickets are $10, and you can get them in advance at Experience Asbury (at the Fourth Avenue Pavilion on the boardwalk), or at The Bamboozle Bodega (located inside the Grand Arcade at Convention Hall), as well as at the door. For more info on Brightness and other upcoming Paratroupe missions, call 732.897.6500 or drop in at http://www.paratroupe.com.

Toms River playwright A.J. Ciccotelli kicks up a TWISTED dust-devil of one act plays this weekend beneath the Black Box banner — including “Everywhere/ Nowhere,” which stars (left to right) Jim Watson, L.D. Raynor, Evangelos B. Williamson, Elizabeth Meinders and Isabel Martin.

Although it’s been an ever-shapeshifting thing that’s involved the talents and energies of dozens of different people over the past decade, the “Multicultural Arts Incubator” known as Black Box of Asbury Park stands as the longest-running outlet for bracingly original theater in and around the urban hatchery — a grass-roots, skin-of-its-teeth, nonprofit collective that helped kickstart what would become a pretty dynamic arts scene in Asbury town, via presentations at venues that included the Berkeley Hotel, The Wonder Bar (in that uncertain interlude when it didn’t have a liquor license), long-vacant downtown storefronts and even our home base here at The Stephen Crane House (where Jeffrey Seeds continues to conduct The Black Box Writers Group on the first Monday of each month, including TONIGHT August 6).

Although 2011 brought an ambitious preview of a Black Box seasonal slate (conveyed with a showcase event at Chico’s House of Jazz), a bare-bones production of Midge Guerrera‘s play Email 9/12 at Asbury’s VFW Hall 1333 was the only announced show to come to full-fledged fruition. Here in 2012, it was a new cast of Black Boxers who presented A Night at the Tonys, a July 13 fundraiser revue that gathered a stellar group of local musical comedy talents (including Bre Cade, Jay Giberson, Samantha Croce, Dannyelle Zywan and Spiro Galiatsatos) on the newly constructed stage of the Theatre at St. George, the repurposed Greek Orthodox church that recently became home to ReVision Theatre Company.

Carrying their Black Box on their backs, the company travels to yet another new venue — The Actor’s Workshop theatrical school at 76 Monmouth Road in Oakhurst — for the premiere of an original evening of one-act plays that goes up for three performances, beginning this Friday, August 10.

Presented under the title Twisted, the program of “musings from the mind of A.J. Ciccotelli” collects an octet of short-shorts about “the nature of art, artists, changing identities, broken connections, new futures and never forgotten pasts.” Included are “Valentino’s Muse” (in which a woman attempts to inspire a creative spark in an agoraphobic would-be poet), “To Be” (in which a troubled young man is “haunted by the memories of his teacher from high school”), “Ange and Tone” (a drama about two teenagers in love — one who’s in the closet, one who’s not — in a world that’s transitioning between childhood and adulthood), and “Undestined Traveler” (a comedy mashup of Chaplin and Hitchcock, in which a clumsy traveler desperately seeks the destiny promised by a fortune teller).

Also on the bill are “Everywhere/ Nowhere” (seen at Kentucky’s New Voices festival), “The Politics of Pottery,” “The Dance,” and “Twister.” The Toms River-based playwright co-directs with Steven Thornburg, Brian Stikes and Marylee Sumeriski; Black Box regular George Hansel  handles tech direction, lighting and sets, and the cast includes Michael Fentin, Brendan Keffner, Alexis Kozak, Isabel Martin, Elizabeth Meinders, Robert A. Parise, Diane Raynor, Trevor Rex, Marylee Sumeriski, Stephen A. Wagner, Jim Watson, Evangelos B. Williamson and Danyelle L. Zywan.

Performances of Twisted are 8pm on August 10 and 11, and 7pm on August 12. Tickets ($20) are available at the door; take it here for info on parking and such, and here for a detailed breakdown of the show’s costs, as well as what you can do to help Kickstart the production.

The cast of ReVision Theatre’s PIPPIN — including Brett Colby as Charlemagne, at far right — faces front as the musical revival heads into its final week at the St. George Theatre in Asbury.

There’s lots more on the boards this weekend, including the return of producer-director Mark Fleming‘s Premier Theatre Company to the Paramount Theatre on the Asbury Park boardwalk, having just successfully staged Cabaret in their all new, 120 seat Premier Room (inside a ballroom of the nearby landmark Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel). A surefire crowdpleaser and a perennial among community theater troupes, Fiddler on the Roof brings the “Tevye the Milkman” tales of Sholom Aleichem  (set in the Jewish villages of Tsarist Russia) to musical life through a Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock score that includes “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and of course, “If I Were a Rich Man.” The show plays for a single weekend, August 10 and 11 at 8pm, with a 1pm Sunday matinee wrapping things up on August 12. Tickets ($28, with discounts for seniors, students and kids under 14) can be reserved online or by calling  (732)774-STAR — and Fleming and company return to the Premier Room on August 26 with another in their 2012 Playwright Reading Series (a feature that kicked off July 29 with Wild Children, by rookie playwright and Sopranos soldier Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore).

Meanwhile, over at St. George’s old stomping grounds, Bob Angelini and the ReVivified ReVision Theatre company wrap up their production of the Stephen Schwartz musical Pippin with five more peformances, Wednesday through Sunday, August 12.  Tickets ($15 – $40) and schedule details can be obtained online, or by calling 732.455.3059; take it here for our review of the show on the Asbury Park Press website — and stay tuned to upperWETside for updates on ReVision’s very first non-musical play, when John Logan’s Red (a two-character piece centered around abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko and his assistant), running August 23 through September 9.

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