LIVE THEATER? IT’S NO ZOMBIE ART FORM

Dan Lauria of TV’s WONDER YEARS is among the actors, directors and playwrights taking part in a Theater Brut Festival of Short Plays this weekend in West End…while Ray Dademo and Frank Falisi star as the brothers Mizner, when Ocean Grove’s NENAproductions takes on Stephen Sondheim’s rarely seen ROAD SHOW.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), October 3, 2019

On a weekend when the Zombie hordes lurch once more along the boards and boulevards of Asbury Park (and the force of nature known as Shatner walks the land, and a couple of veteran Springsteen bandmates play a free concert), a couple of seemingly unrelated happenings serve to remind us that — when it comes to resolutely original, routine-breaking, risk-taking live theater — this place sits squarely within the Land of the Living.

In fact, with more professional and semipro companies active in the area than at any time in recent memory — and several more ambitious fledgling troupes prepping for their turn in the spotlight (Asbury Park Theater, Dromio Theater, and Shore Thing Improv — about which more to come in this space), those who branded the art form a “fabulous invalid” in general, and a walking-dead issue on the local front, have to up and admit that the live local stage is most definitely No Country for Old Zombies.

THE SCENT OF BRUT

The French defined “Art Brut” (“raw” or “outsider” art) as a creative work that “colors outside the lines” of socially accepted, polite, or even legal norms — and while “Theatre Brut” as practiced by the folks at New Jersey Repertory Company is done entirely according to copyright law, Equity rules, and public permit, the (more or less) annual festival of that name represents an opportunity for the Long Branch-based company to assemble an allstar team of their favorite frequent-flyer guest artists — having fun, and playing fast-and-loose with expectations, in a way that allows actors, directors, and playwrights to invade each others’ wheelhouse.

Going up for four separate sessions between tonight, October 3 and Sunday, October 6, the 2019 Theater Brut Festival of Short Plays presents 16 never before seen works, loosely collected under the assigned theme “Some Like It Hot.”

It’s the eighth such event presented by NJ Rep co-founders SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas, and the third to be hosted inside the West End Arts Center, the reborn and repurposed elementary school building (occupying a whole city block worth of Long Branch’s West End neighborhood) that’s the subject of some truly ambitious plans for future seasons. It’s also the centerpiece of the latest West End Festival of the Arts, a five-day fling that kicked off Wednesday night with an all-star poetry reading hosted by poet/ educator/ editor/ musician Daniel Weeks and his magazine This Broken Shore (there are also concurrent visual art and photo exhibits on display for the duration of the weekend).

As with previous years’ themes (some of which have included “The Seven Deadly Sins,” “The Circus Comes to Town,” and “America’s Pastime”), playwrights are invited to submit scripts that interpret the given title in any number of ways — and, as SuzAnne Barabas explains, the concept of “Hot” has inspired the authors to deal with topics that range from sexual relationships, to climate change — and even “elements from the movie Some Like It Hot, like gangsters and drag!”

And, as is the custom, those playwrights are a diverse lot, ranging from award-winning veterans to newcomers — and even a couple of scribes who are more familiar as faces on our nation’s TV screens.

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