10/24: Fear Factors and Trans-formed Actors

CarrieThere WILL Be Blood: Emily Chester is America’s telekinetic teen, as Nick Montesano’s NENAproductions resurrects CARRIE: THE MUSICAL for one more prom dance, beginning this weekend in Ocean Grove.

The breathlessly anticipated resurrection of one of the most fabled flops in musical theater history…a deep-fathom thinkpiece by Edward Albee, on display at a community church-playhouse…an Obie winner pitches a double-header in Red Bank…all this plus edgy experiments in the suburbs, a cask of Poe to go, and an Evita that shows her professional roots. THAT’s what’s going up on local stages in the days and weeks to come…and THAT’s why a night out on the aisles is more than just Neil Simon anymore (not that there’s anything wrong with that; our friends at Monmouth Players are right now presenting an entire ambitious “Season of Simon” at their newly reborn and rebranded Navesink Arts Center).

CARRIE On Screaming: Townsfolk tremble at her name, and not simply because she packs the gazebo-leveling wallop of a thousand Sandy Katrina Tsunamis in every Sissy-Spacek staredown. No, while America can’t seem to get its fill of Stephen King’s tortured telekinetic teen Carrie White (witness this month’s latest multiplex makeover), it’s CARRIE: THE MUSICAL that’s had Broadway bravehearts whimpering in the wings, since its megamillion-dollar 1988 debut went down in flames after just five performances. Enter Nick Montesano, producer/ director/ impresario of NENAproductions Theater Project — and a fearless sort who’s never shied from energizing the community-theater stage with some of the most unorthodox items from Sondheim (MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE), McNally (KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, CORPUS CHRISTI) and more (AVENUE Q, URINETOWN, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER). Nick and his NENA company have resurrected the dark tunefest (book by screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen; songs by the Oscar-winning team of Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford) for a welcome new look, in an engagement that opens Friday, October 25 and runs for two weekends (Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, with a 3 pm Sunday matinee on November 3) inside the prom-ready auditorium of Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center; the old high school at the corner of Main and Main.

Authentic seventeen year old Emily Chester takes on the title role, with Jennifer Nelson in the vivid part of Carrie’s holy-roller mom. They’re supported under Montesano’s direction by a troupe of NENA regulars (Jessica Berger, Jeff Caplan, Arnold Teixera) and newcomers for a “classic tale of bloodsport and revenge” that, underneath the power ballads and the pig blood, is “a story of bullying more timely than ever.” With that in mind, the cast will be  joined after the October 26 performance by Jessica De Koninck of the New Jersey State Anti-Bullying Task-Force, for a discussion on “the state of bullying, its heightened effect on young people in our area, and as it relates to new and progressing HIB laws.” Tickets ($25) from ticketleap.com or at 732.988.1007.

Albee from the Black Lagoon: In his cacophonous classic WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, Edward Albee crafted the modern stage’s ultimate grand guignol; a deliciously sadistic quartet of horrific head games, devilish deceptions and poisonous cocktails, heavy on the bitters. In his 1975 Pulitzer winner SEASCAPE, Albee once again tosses together two couples in dialogue on life and love — only this time two of the principals are human-size lizardy creatures from the depths of the sea. That these refugees from the black lagoon (Frank Langella played the male half of the duo, in full scaly get-up, in the original Broadway production) conduct themselves in a generally more civilized fashion than the howling wino-sapiens of WOOLF is a comment on the human condition in itself — and their curiosity about life on the surface world sparks a contemplative play that’s poetic, philosophical, gently humorous, sharply dramatic and genuinely thought-provoking. That it’s getting an extremely rare airing on a suburban community stage (courtesy of Spring Lake’s South Street Players) falls under “this we gotta see” territory — and that this might have been someone’s idea of a Halloween play makes it all the more intriguing. Dave McGrath directs Leslie Hochman, Carl Hoffman (humans), Sequoia Davis and Jonathan Andrews (lizards) in the production that plays one more weekend (October 25 and 26 at 8 pm; October 27 at 2 pm) at Wesley Hall inside St. Andrew’s Methodist Church; reserve tickets ($22) at 732.447.5169.

The Oblong Black Box: Between George Hansel’s BURLY MAN SINGS GIRLY SONGS at Where Music Lives, Stephen Larsen’s ORDER 17 at Collective Art Tank, and the Fear Cabaret afternoon at The Saint, it’s been an event-filled October for the Asbury-based arts collective known as The Black Box — and the run-up to Halloween finds the ever-industrious people of the “multicultural arts incubator” lurking around Gallery 13 (upstairs at 658 Cookman) for two nights’ worth of FEAR FEST ONE-ACTS on October 25 and 26, featuring “tales of gorillas, starlets, the big bad wolf, monsters in 12-step, headless horsemen and other business” composed by Larsen, A.J. Ciccotelli, Alexis Kozak, Rich Quatrone and more. It’s $12 in advance; $15 at the creaking door for either of those 8 pm performances. Stick around 13 if you dare on Saturday night, as the prolific playsmith Ciccotelli hosts an 11 pm reading of his murderous melodrama THE STATUE, THE CORPSE AND ME for which tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. Afraid of the dark? Make your daylight hours a waking nightmare with your choice of two POE POE POE programs, featuring the twisted telltales of the master adapted in performance at the newly relocated Art Tank (529 Bangs) on October 26 at 2 pm, and October 27 noon, with tickets $8 in advance and $10 at the door. Reserve ’em here.

Putting Red Bank on the MAP: The transition from October to November sees the area premieres of not one but TWO mainstage productions at Two River Theater — and the run-up to one epically lonesome cast party, as both are autobiographical one-man shows written by and featuring actor, author and playwright Martin Moran. A “journey to forgiveness” inspired by the tweenage Moran’s sexual relationship with a Catholic boys’ camp counselor, the Obie-winning solo THE TRICKY PART goes up in previews on Saturday, October 26; opening on November 1 and continuing through November 17 in repertory with Moran’s 2013 follow-up piece ALL THE RAGE. Presented under the umbrella title A MAP OF THE SOUL, the two plays will even be performed as a double-feature deal on Sundays in November. Check the Two River website for info on special event performances (including a book-club appearance by Moran on November 10); take it here for tickets ($20-$65) — and here for a full length Q&A with Martin Moran on the upperWETside.

CircleMirrorThe full Vermont-y: the cast of CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION gets clockwise, as Annie Baker’s edgy comedy gets a welcome airing by Holmdel Theatre Company in November.  (photo by Grace Modia)

CIRCLE in the Not-So-Square: Like Citizen Kane raiding the candy store, the folks at Holmdel Theatre Company have been surreptitiously seducing some top regional talents to come play at their house of late. That modest-looking old barn of a playhouse known as the Duncan Smith Theater (on the grounds of Holmdel High School, Crawfords Corner-Everett Road) has been steadily acquiring a reputation for superior and skillful interpretations of vintage American classics (OUR TOWN, INHERIT THE WIND, THE CRUCIBLE), kinetic comedies (NOISES OFF), Shakespearean shenanigans, and a monthly readings series that’s showcased the work of some awesomely talented NJ playwrights. An unorthodox (but entirely welcome) choice with which to keynote their new season, Annie Baker’s Obie winning ensemble play CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION presents a drama class of small-town Vermont amateurs as they’re put through the paces of “seemingly harmless theatre games” — and life begins to ape the improv exercises, as “hearts are quietly broken, and small wars of epic proportions are fought and won.” For the production that opens on Friday, November 1, HTC has scored the services of actor/ director/ educator Kathy Hendrickson, assistant director of Mike Nichols’ Tony winning DEATH OF A SALESMAN and a veteran of some celebrated productions from NY Shakespeare Festival and HBO Films. She’ll be working with a cast that includes Equity pro Karen Collazzo, as well as Cody Dalton, Dave Murray, Devlin Stark — and Tom Frascatore, a recent “defector” from Red Bank’s Phoenix Productions, and a frequent flyer in the Billy Van Zandt-Jane Milmore stock company of comedy specialists. Showtimes are 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays (and 2 pm Sundays) through November 16; tickets ($22 adults) can be reserved right here.

Mayhem in the MIDDLE: “Amid the drone of industrial air conditioning and the buzz of fluorescent lights, middle manager Stan and fiscal analyst Michael toil away on an exhaustive annual report in their desolate 60 floor office tower.” — we’re kind of liking this already. When the new production MIDDLEMEN goes into previews at Long Branch’s New Jersey Repertory Company on Thursday, November 7, it’ll present a two-man world in which “One by one, their co-workers have mysteriously disappeared, but neither really seems to care — except that no one bought milk for the break room and they may have been responsible for the collapse of Bolivia.” Rep returnee Marc Geller (NOIR) directs David Friedlander and Duncan Rogers in the 2011 play by David Jenkins, opening November 9 and continuing Thursdays through Sundays until December 8. Get your tickets ($35 previews; $40 regular performances) here.

Living EVITA Local: When Manasquan’s Algonquin ARTS Theatre presented their production of the two-woman show ALWAYS, PATSY CLINE earlier this year, advance attention naturally focused on the presence of the Emmy winning Broadway veteran Sally Struthers — but when audiences left the venerable venue humming those classic Cline tunes, it was Carter Calvert who put that musical bee in their bonnet. The actress-singer, who returned ‘Squanside for a solo concert this past summer, lends some all-important star quality to a rare local production of an Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice milestone that’s never quite made the short list in the hinterlands — EVITA. Starring as the charismatic Eva Peron (under the direction of Jayme McDaniel from Maine’s celebrated Ogunquit Playhouse), the veteran of Broadway boards (IT AIN’T NOTHING BUT THE BLUES) and major national tours (CATS) takes the spotlight for two weekends beginning Friday, November 8 and wrapping on Sunday, November 17. That final performance, by the way, has been sold out (a couple of the other shows seem close to doing so as well); an additional November 16 matinee looks like the best bet for tix ($29-$36 adults), which can be reserved right here.