GARDEN STATE FILMFEST CULTIVATES SOME JERSEY TOMATOES

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park NJ) and The Link News (Long Branch NJ), March 21, 2019

“It’s an honor. An honor!

The preceding represents the entire transcript of a speech delivered by Christopher Lloyd, as he quickly accepted an award from the producers of the 2018 Garden State Film Festival— and just as quickly made his way out the door of the festival’s host venue, the onetime Neptune High School building reborn in recent years as the Jersey Shore Arts Center.

A vividly familiar presence in big-budget Hollywood properties like the Back to the Future franchise, The Addams Family, Star Trek III and Roger Rabbit — and a serial Emmy winner for his work in Taxi and other projects — the veteran character man was briefly present in Ocean Grove to promote his participation in an indie thriller being screened that evening, and to help welcome the festival as it went “back to the future,” in a return to the community that it called home for the first 11 years of its existence.

Founded in 2003 by Diane Raver and the late Robert Pastorelli (an Emmy nominee as Eldin on the original Murphy Brown), the GSFF spent four years in Atlantic City before relocating once more to a fast-morphing Asbury Park and neighboring precincts. By that time, the city had spawned several all-new entertainment venues (including the  expanded ShowRoom arthouse cinema); welcomed aboard a slew of new concert series and special events — and given birth to a high-energy, high-profile Music and Film Festival whose upcoming schedule in April 2019 boasts appearances by, among others, writer-producer-director Peter Farrelly (fresh off his  double Oscar win for Green Book).

But while Raver’s festival has welcomed such well known guests as Glenn Close, Ed Asner, Batman producer Michael Uslan, That 70s Show actor Kurtwood Smith, On the Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg and half the cast of The Sopranos beneath its tent in past editions, its roots remain grounded in the still-fertile soil of the independent filmmaking movement — with a particular emphasis on the plump and flavorful “tomatoes” cultivated by the creative community of the Garden State.

And when the 17th annual GSFF presents its smorgasbord of international fare beginning this coming Wednesday, March 27, the guest list will carry a pronounced Jersey accent, with special recognitions given to a set of screen performers with deep local connections — and a keynote event that once again explores our seemingly bottomless fascination with the legacy of HBO’s Sopranos series.

Screening at 7 pm Wednesday, and hosted at the JS Arts Center, My Dinner With Alan finds writers Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz — longtime television correspondents for the Star-Ledger, and authors of the book The Soprano Sessions— discussing the lasting impact of David Chase’s groundbreaking, Jersey-centric project (among various other topics) inside Holsten’s, the Bloomfield restaurant that served as the setting for the show’s still-controversial finale.

Sepinwall and Seitz are scheduled to be present for a post-screening panel discussion with director Kristen Fraga, joined for the occasion by a trio of Sopranos actors: Artie Pasquale, Federico Castelluccio, and Dan Grimaldi (famous for playing both Parisi twins, and familiar to followers of Long Branch’s New Jersey Repertory Company for his roles in Mercy and The Jag). While it’s included in the festival’s weekend pass option, the event (which features a book signing pre-order option for $25) also offers a $15 individual ticket at brownpapertickets.com/event/4094178.

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The quality of ‘Mercy’ is sort of strange, at NJ Rep

Nadita Shenoy and Jacob A. Ware share an uncomfortable moment at the workplace in MERCY, the play now in its world premiere engagement at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

Published in the Asbury Park Press, June 22 2018

Orville Marks (Jacob A. Ware) is a man with no small share of problems — not least of which is the fact that his pregnant wife was recently killed by a drunk driver, leaving him the entirely unprepared single father of a “miracle baby” who never cries, smiles, or otherwise makes a sound. His boss (Nandita Shenoy) is making unsolicited and un-subtle sexual advances at the workplace; his widowed father Walter (Dan Grimaldi) is urging him to go out and have as much sex as possible — and he’s just seen a man on the street (Christopher Daftsios) who he’s sure is the motorist that turned his world upside down.

It doesn’t take long before the many tragedies, frustrations and stressful situations of Orville’s life threaten to reach critical mass in Mercy, the play by Adam Szymkowicz that’s currently in its world premiere engagement at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. The various ways in which the basically introverted and deeply unhappy office drone manages to deal with his problems — or fantasize about dealing with them — form the thrust of a script that looks at the titular concept of Mercy from some odd angles; ranging from forgiveness, redemptive love and plain old pity, to humiliation, power dynamics, and the cold gunmetal of revenge.

Presented without intermission, and directed by NJ Rep artistic associate Gail Winar — her first mainstage project for the company since the goofy musical Don’t Hug Me in 2006 — Mercy offers its occasional glimpses of dark comedy; the kind that audiences aren’t always so sure they should be laughing at. But while its dramatic flashpoints are tautly constructed, and explode with the jarring energy of a quiet man pushed to the  brink, the real unsettling moments are those in which the slow simmer of the increasingly edgy Orville directs him toward some ever more regrettable choices — and directs the audience to the realization that neither we, nor he, quite know all that he is capable of.

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A FERBER FEST, AND A WORLD PREMIERE, MAKE AN EXCITING JUNE AT NJ REP

The great American playwright and novelist Edna Ferber is the focus of a weekend-long “Five by Ferber” festival, featuring never before seen stage adaptations of the author’s stories at New Jersey Repertory Company’s new West Ends Arts Center. 

Published in the Asbury Park Press, June 1 2018

There’s a weekend-long tribute to an American woman of letters whose life and literary legacy continue to resonate in these times — and a new play that mines its “dark comedy” from touchy themes of remorse, responsibility, redemption, and revenge. All of it making its world premiere in this month of June, and all going on at two different Long Branch locations of New Jersey Repertory Company.

Happening right now at the West End Arts Center (132 West End Ave.) — the reborn and repurposed public school building that’s the focus of some very ambitious plans by NJ Rep — the festival known as “Five by Ferber” shines a well-deserved spotlight on Edna Ferber (1885-1968), the late playwright and fiction writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1924 novel So Big. A daughter of the midwest and (like Long Branch-born Dorothy Parker) a member of the fabled Algonquin Round Table, the vanguard feminist collaborated with Table-mate George S. Kaufman on several Broadway hit plays (Stage DoorThe Royal FamilyDinner at Eight) — and new generations of fans have been introduced to such sprawling, socially conscious epic novels of American life as CimarronCome and Get It and Giant through their popular Hollywood adaptations, while Show Boat served as the basis for the groundbreaking Kern-Hammerstein musical of the same name.

With “Five by Ferber,” NJ Rep artistic director SuzAnne Barabas teamed with the author’s great niece Julie Gilbert to curate a quintet of new short plays, each of them adapted from a Ferber short story by a female playwright. The program presented at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 1 features “salon readings” of Gilbert’s own adapatation of Mother Knows Best, as well as two one-acts from writers who’ve enjoyed a past association with the Shore-based professional company — That’s Marriage by Marisa Smith (NJ Rep’s Mad Love) and The Sudden Sixties by D.W. Gregory (author of the acclaimed Radium Girls).

The scripts — which look at the concept of Love through the missed opportunities, hard choices, and constant challenges which define it for all too many people — are followed up on Saturday, June 2 by Julie Weinberg’s adaptation of Ferber’s You’re Not the Type, plus Every Other Thursday by Sheilah Rae and Debra Barsha. Like many of the author’s works, the stories center around women who find themselves at a crossroads in career and life — or who harbor pursuits and desires that confound others’ expectations of them.

The “Five by Ferber” festival concludes on Sunday, June 3 with a sixth “bonus” attraction; a “concert reading” of a long-lost Ferber adaptation by a fellow Pulitzer winner, the late Texas native Horton Foote. Based on the hard-working and inspirational central character from So Big, the full-length script Selina Peake will be performed at 4 p.m. in a special one-time arrangement through the Ferber and Foote estates. Tickets for each of the individual programs in “Five by Ferber” are priced at $25, with festival passes available for $75, and discounts offered for NJ Rep subscribers. Call 732-229-3166 or visit njrep.org for reservations and additional details. Continue reading