DIRDEN ROLLS A LUCKY ‘SEVEN’ WITH HIS DIRECTORIAL DEBUT

Your Blues COLORA familiar face on the Two River Theater stage, Brandon J. Dirden (right) returns as a first-time director, with a production of August Wilson’s SEVEN GUITARS that opens the new Two River season this weekend. 

Last time the Drama Desk looked in on Brandon J. Dirden, the actor was preparing for his starring turn in the Two River Theater world premiere of writer-director Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine; a project that capped a busy year on the Broadway stage (where he won acclaim as Martin Luther King Jr. in the Tony winning All The Way), the TV screen (a recurring role as Agent Aderholt in the FX series The Americans), and — with wife and frequent co-star Crystal A. Dickinson — the ongoing adventure of new parenthood.

When the native Texan helps Two River Theater Company inaugurate its new season this Saturday, September 12, it will be without Santiago-Hudson, the collaborator who previously directed him in the August Wilson plays Jitney (in Red Bank) and a 2012 production of The Piano Lesson that earned the actor an Obie award. It will, however, be in the spiritual company of the late great African American playwright, whose ten-play “Century Cycle” receives continued exploration by TRTC, with a limited engagement of Seven Guitars that runs through October 4 — and that represents Brandon J. Dirden’s first foray as director. Continue reading

A DREAM CAST, A NIGHTMARE SCENARIO, A SLOW-SIMMERING NOIR AT NJ REP

closure23Gary Cole plays one-man Good Cop/ Bad Cop with Biniam Tekola in CLOSURE, the steamy tropic-set noir drama now in its premiere engagement at New Jersey Repertory Company.

Summertime is noir time — a fact borne out by the programmers of Turner Classic Movies, and by the crime-thriller authors who rush to ready their latest page-flippers for beach-blanket consumption. There are many more of us for whom the seemingly celebratory season of sun and surf instead conjures thoughts of temperatures-rising passions “touched by fire;” of lost hours spent disappearing into the crowd and cacophony of a blackout night-before…and of the harsh morning-after light that hammers its way past the dusty venetian-blind barricades of a small and stifling room.

Here in what’s normally a season of rest for new dramatic productions in the region, New Jersey Repertory Company has stepped up with a slowly simmering noir scenario that’s in sync with the coastal currents, cocktail-fueled confessions and sudden storms of a Jersey Shore July — one that jettisons the signature concrete settings of the naked city for the patio furniture, potted palms, pastels and deceptively laid-back pacing of a small (and not terribly specific) Caribbean resort island.

Written by Richard Dresser (Rounding Third) and tautly directed by Joe Cacaci of of LA’s legendary Playwrights Kitchen Ensemble, the regional premiere Closure makes for a tense but tight fit with the similarly claustrophobic confines of the Long Branch playhouse’s shadow-box stage. Its quartet of characters — the parents of a college-age young woman who’s gone missing; the American expatriate police detective charged with investigating the disappearance; a “person of interest” hotel worker — are castaways in a curiously depopulated place that offers little room for hiding, and no apparent options for escape from the personal demons that cruise like sharks in the unseen waters beyond. Too caught up in the lethally languid spell of this oppressive “paradise” to do what they know to be the right thing, they make another excuse, put another drink on the tab — and help turn what could have been a turgid potboiler into a darkly compelling piece of theater.

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SWEET ‘BLUES’ ON RED BANK’S UPPER WEST SIDE

BrandonJDirdenBroadway and TV actor Brandon J. Dirden returns to Red Bank as star of YOUR BLUES AIN’T SWEET LIKE MINE, the drama by Tony winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson that begins its world premiere engagement this weekend.

It’s been quite a year-and-change for Brandon J. Dirden, the Obie award winner whose previous projects for Two River Theater Company include August Wilson’s Jitney, and Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog, in which he starred alongside his brother Jason. The 35-year old actor made a big impression on Broadway — as Dr. Martin Luther King, no less (and alongside Bryan Cranston’s LBJ) — in the Tony-winning smash All The Way. A role on the FX series The Americans found him becoming a regular presence as FBI Agent Aderholt — and somewhere along that timeline, he and his wife, actress Crystal Anne Dickinson, became the parents of a baby boy.

When Brandon Dirden returns to Red Bank this weekend, he’ll be reuniting with his Jitney director — Tony winning actor (and August Wilson authority) Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who also steered Dirden to that Obie in a 2012 production of Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. The vehicle for their collaboration this time is Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine — an original script by Santiago-Hudson that stands as the second of three shows making their world premiere on Bridge Avenue this spring.

Merritt Janson co-stars as Judith, a well-to-do Manhattanite whose encounter with homeless-shelter staffer Zeke (Dirden) sparks an Upper West Side dinner party invitation that “brings an unlikely group together, spawning a passionate and explosive debate on America’s relationship to race.” Andrew Hovelson, Roslyn Ruff and Charles Weldon complete the cast, and your upperWETside Control Voice caught up with Brandon J. Dirden as Your Blues prepped for its first preview this Saturday, April 11.

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A RUMSON SCREEN STAR’S CHARACTER THERAPY

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Movie-TV actress (and Rumson mom) Siobhan Fallon Hogan…seen here with fellow regular Matt Dillon in the new Fox TV series WAYWARD PINES…returns to the stage of Two River Theater this Saturday with her sold-out solo show, ACTING OUT.

(Originally published on RedBankGreen.com, February 26, 2015)

Hers is a face you’ve likely encountered in and around her home on the Greater Red Bank Green, where she’s apt to be sighted at one of the schools her kids attend — as well as many of the staple sites of local community life.

A quick safari through the channel guide can match that face with a whole streaming smorgasbord of well-known movies and TV shows, from Seinfeld (she was Elaine’s roommate Tina), Men in Black (she was the alien farmer’s wife) and Forrest Gump (she played Dorothy the school bus driver), to Danish director Lars Von Trier’s arthouse oddity Dogville, and under-appreciated items like New in Town with Renee Zellweger. Not to forget a stint as a cast member on Saturday Night Live.

Expect to see a bit more of her. Beginning this May, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, a Rumson resident of 10 years, will be a regular presence onWayward Pines, the Fox TV “event thriller” limited series (starring Matt Dillon, Terrence Howard and an ensemble supporting cast) from producer M. Night Shyamalan. Before that, though, Fallon Hogan returns to the stage of Red Bank’s Two River Theater — where several years back she debuted an original one-woman show entitled The Salty Sea PTA — with an all new showcase for her multi-tasking character skills.

Written by its star and entitled Acting Out!, the all-new comic solo quickly sold out its two scheduled performances on Saturday, with an encore presentation now added for Thursday, March 12. The Drama Desk atredbankgreen managed to catch up with the beyond-busy actor, mom and playwright, prior to a brief but well-deserved beach vaykay — and between a weathery year of shooting in Canada, and a run of rehearsals here on the icy banks of the Navesink.

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NOW YOU HAS CHAZZ: BRINGING ‘BRONX’ BACK 2 THE BASIE

Chazz(horiz)COLORChazz Palminteri brings his solo stage play A BRONX TALE back to the Count Basie Theatre, for a two-night stand .

Originally published on RedBankGreen, 6/24/14

In the 1993 film A Bronx Tale, Robert De Niro directed a hitherto little-known actor, screenwriter and former Hollywood bouncer named Chazz Palminteri, in the Bronx native’s own semi-autobiographical script about a teenager named Calogero and the two father figures in his life — his morally upright bus driver dad, and a neighborhood mob boss named Sonny, who takes the young man under his wing in the racially charged powderkeg of 1960s NYC.

The actor born Calogero Palminteri would go on to a busy career in the moving pictures, highlighted by cult favorite The Usual Suspects and an Academy Award nomination for Bullets Over Broadway — but not all of his newfound fans realized that Bronx began life as a one-man stage play; custom crafted by the struggling thespian, who performed it numerous times in his adopted city of L.A. before industry word-of-mouth carried it all the way to Broadway. In between screen projects (and side projects like Chazz: A Bronx Original, the Baltimore restaurant he opened in 2011), Palminteri has continued to bring the original solo stage version of A Bronx Tale to live audiences — and this Thursday and Friday, June 26 and 27, he returns to the Count Basie Theatre for a two-nighter followup to his well received Red Bank engagement of last year.

Your upperWETside Control Voice spoke to the actor, writer, producer and restaurateur about projects old, new and perhaps never to be — with a Q&A around the corner.

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GO, GO ANNETTE: A ‘THIRD’ METRIC FOR SUCCESS

ThirdOscar and Emmy nominee Annette O’Toole stars in Wendy Wasserstein’s THIRD, continuing through June 22 at Two River Theater.

Originally published on RedBankGreen, 6/20/14

Wednesday marks the final homestretch of performances for Third, the Wendy Wasserstein play that closes out the 20th anniversary season at Two River Theater. For anyone who hasn’t caught the production under the direction of Broadway star and Middletown resident Michael Cumpsty, there are six more chances to catch the acclaimed and dynamic turn by Annette O’Toole now through Sunday, June 22. The Emmy nominated actress (for The Kennedys of Massachusetts, which also featured Cumpsty in a supporting role) and Oscar nominated composer (with her husband Michael McKean, currently on Broadway with Bryan Cranston in All the Way) stars as a middle-aged maverick professor at a Liberal Arts college, whose own bold ideas about Shakespeare’s King Lear are challenged by a young male student (Christopher Sears) who comes to represent everything the academic despises. Emily Walton, JR Horne and Amy Hohn co-star as the friends and family members in the professor’s eventful orbit.

Your upperWETside Control Voice spoke to Annette O’Toole about her role (and her time in Red Bank), with a Q&A around the corner.

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7/16: Big Star, High Priest, Dalai Lama

AlexChiltonAlex Chilton, pictured in later years fronting the millennial version of Big Star. The twisted history of “The Greatest Band That Never Made It” is encapsulated in BIG STAR: NOTHING CAN HURT ME, the doc feature that opens this Thursday as part of the Summer Music Film Series at The ShowRoom.

It was during those still-smoldering weeks in the wake of September 11, 2001. While Bruce Springsteen began work on the big important album that America expected, nay demanded him to produce, Alex Chilton took the stage of a small downtown club for one of the neighborhood’s first sets of live music since the attacks. What he offered up to the modestly scaled crowd managed to sum it all up better than anything that wound up on The Rising.

“Let’s twist again,” he sang. “Like we did last summer.”

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5/17: Visions of Latino Culture, Aquí y Allá

borderThe acclaimed documentary feature HARVEST OF EMPIRE screens at Two River Theater Sunday night as part of a three-day Vision Latin-American Film Festival at locations around Monmouth County. 

Its performance spaces may have gone momentarily dark between mainstage productions — but this weekend, Red Bank’s Two River Theater becomes one of the newest participating hosts for an arts event that’s primed to connect with some new audiences: the annual Vision Latin American Film Festival.

A presentation of the Latino Coalition of New Jersey — the nonprofit organization that’s hosted the annual Latino Festival of Monmouth County in Freehold Borough since 2005 — the newly expanded program offers up a slate of seven feature-length dramatic and documentary films selected to increase the understanding and appreciation for the various Latino cultures that thrive in New Jersey.

“Through the eyes of the filmmakers, we will see Latino perspectives on relationships, politics, family, religion and customs that surround their lives,” the coalition says in its press materials for the filmfest, which will feature introductions by guest speakers as well as post-screening Q&A discussions.

The celebration of Latino cinema has forged a separate identity from the summertime festival in Freehold, with a two days/ three nights schedule of recent works from North and South America that screens this weekend in three different Monmouth County locations — including Two River Theater Company’s branded Bridge Avenue artspace.