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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CONSIDER THE SOURCE: NJ REP PREMIERE IS RIPPED FROM (AND RIPS) THE NEWS

L-R: Conan McCarty, Andrew Rein, and Eleanor Handley co-star in THE SOURCE, the new play by Jack Canfora that enters its world premiere engagement this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photos by SuzAnne Barabas

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link News (Long Branch, NJ) March 7, 2019

“SAFE” — it’s a word that somehow applies itself very well to New Jersey Repertory Company, nearly every bit as much as it doesn’t.

After all, as the area’s sole theatrical troupe dedicated exclusively to the promotion of new and original works for the stage, the Long Branch-based professional playhouse has seldom played it safe in its choice of edgy and unorthodox scripts — taking things far afield of the family musicals, drawing-room mysteries, and Neil Simon sitcoms that once comprised what we thought of as “local Shore theater.” In the process, founders SuzAnne and Gabor Barabas have continued to cheerfully challenge their faithful audiences with deeply adult themes, complex characters, you-can’t-DO-that-on-stage tech work, language as salty as the briny Atlantic surf, and the occasional flash of full frontal.

When Jack Canfora refers to New Jersey Repertory as “safe,” he’s talking about a creative concern that’s offered snug harbor to the Huntington, NY-based playwright and his body of work throughout the years — a place of “insightful, talented artists who are all working toward the same goal…they’ve been very supportive and tremendously generous to me, and whatever my career is, I owe it to them.”

It was NJ Rep that first committed to a full staging of a script by the young writer, actor and musician from Long Island, with a production of the drama Poetic License that almost didn’t make curtain when the lead actor had to bow out at the eleventh hour. The show would actually go on to an Off Broadway run in NYC — as would Jericho,another Canfora work that faced its first sudience in Long Branch — and in between those two scripts, NJ Rep would premiere Place Setting, a cocktail-saturated suburban storm that counted Jack Canfora himself among its ensemble cast.

In addition to establishing a fruitful working relationship with “Gabe and SuzAnne,” the Jack-of-many-trades found a likeminded creative collaborator in Evan Bergman, the in-demand director whose projects as a Rep regular number more than a dozen — and who helmed every one of Canfora’s productions in downtown Long Branch and at New York’s 59E59 stage. For his first project at NJ Rep in some eight years (not counting a contribution to one of the company’s short play festivals at their new West End Arts Center facility), the playwright reunites once more with Bergman and the Barabas team, for the world premiere of The Source, an intimate drama that’s been described as being “ripped from the headlines” — or, perhaps more to the point, the moral gray areas behind the black-and-white headlines.

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