Clockwise from top left: Marnie Andrews, Dana Benningfield, Corey Tazmania and Jenny Vallancourt star in in THE REALIZATION OF EMILY LINDER, the play by Richard Butler making its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory on April 25.
The first time that Richard Strand had one of his scripts produced at New Jersey Repertory Company, it was a Kafka-esque comedy by the name of Ten Percent of Molly Snyder — a nutty nightmare in which a young woman’s very identity threatens to vanish in a vortex of clerical errors and berserk bureaucracy.
Here in 2015, Strand is represented in Long Branch once again with The Realization of Emily Linder — a world premiere work in which a middle-aged woman gathers her daughters together to inform them that she has determined the exact date and time of her death.
If both of those scenarios seem like they wouldn’t be out of place on Rod Serling’s vintage Twilight Zone, the California-based playwright doesn’t consider that an insult — going so far as to cite Serling as one of his primary writerly influences.
“I didn’t see a lot of plays back when I was ten years old,” offers the author of numerous published plays, dating back some four decades. “It became clear early on, that there was some good writing and storytelling to be found on TV.”
The kid in front of the TV has grown up to become an award winning dramatist, director and set designer — as well as the theater department head at Mt. San Antonio College in Los Angeles County. He’s also a proud parent when it comes to such works as Butler — the award-winning Civil War historical drama that was produced to great acclaim by NJ Rep last year, and which has been announced for high-profile productions at Barrington Stage in the Berkshires and Chicago’s Northlight Theatre.
For Emily Linder, the career academic has composed a central character who’s a retired professor — one who is convinced that she’s going to die in a couple of days, and whose matter-of-fact preparations for her own funeral threaten to drive her adult children to their own stress-induced early graves.
Marnie Andrews, a prolific actress, author and director with numerous West Coast stage and screen credits, stars in the title role of the fated matriarch who “is not at all in mourning for herself…there’s no terminal illness; no basis for her conclusion that she’s going to die.” The co-star of such past NJ Rep shows as Touch of Rapture and The Women of Lockerbie returns to the Long Branch stage for the first time since 2006.
New Jersey Reportory artistic director SuzAnne Barabas has assembled a very promising cast that boasts several other familiar Rep regulars — including Dana Benningfield (the recent Angels and Ministers of Grace and many others), Corey Tazmania (the breakout success The Housewives of Mannheim), and Jenny Vallancourt (the capable young co-star of Release Point and October 1962).
Representing two generations of a not entirely functional family, it’s a collection of performers who are charged with putting forth the sort of thing that veteran playwrights seem to specialize in — a meditation on mortality.
“I’m not too many years from retirement, and I suppose that such thoughts have gone through my head,” says Strand, in acknowledging that there’s a bit of Emily Linder in himself and vice versa. “In order to write about it, though, I’ve got to disguise the character enough so that they don’t recognize ME up there on stage!”
The Realization of Emily Linder offers preview performances on April 23 and 24 — opening the night of the 25th and presenting a matinee performance on April 26. The play continues until May 24 with performances Thursdays through Sundays. Take it here for ticket reservations, showtimes and additional information.