A smorgasbord of savvy speakers get PASSIONate at the Paramount…the sound of Asbury Park gets seriously POLKA-fied at everyone’s favorite Festhalle…a former flavor-du-jour from the major label exurbs finds his INDEPENDENT voice, in a House call to the Cookman corridor…while a PROJECTIONIST pays tribute to a childhood icon, AND a lakeside Asbury landmark. It’s WHAT’S UP for the week ahead, and we’ve got the highlights right here right now…while the printed pages of THE COASTER carry your full rundown of sights, sounds, screens, and scenes!

SCENES: TEDx Asbury Park at the Paramount

“PASSION” is the theme for this year’s TEDx Asbury Park, the sixth annual edition of the happening that commandeers the Paramount Theatre stage on Saturday, May 19 for a day-long menu of dynamic speakers, storytellers, songsmiths and celebs. A hyper-local and independent offshoot of the international TED talks, the event that began life as TEDx Navesink (with early host venues that included Red Bank’s Two River Theater and the Lincroft campus of Brookdale Community College) has found its happiest harbor here in Asbury town, the Shore area’s crossroads for so much of what’s most exciting in art, commerce, and the marketplace of ideas. Far from a snoozefest in a stodgy lecture hall, the TEDx AP program is at its best a confluence of the people, the projects and the progressive thinking that will shape our shoreline in the seasons to come — with maybe just a healthy dose of ego.

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Joe Iconis, composer of the cult-hit musical BE MORE CHILL, returns to Red Bank’s Two River Theater to star in a special benefit event on Saturday, May 19. (photo courtesy Two River Theater)

Published in the Asbury Park Press, May 4 2018

The merry month of May brings a bounty to Shore area theater fans, courtesy of a few newly flowering perennials, a couple of surprise sproutings, and maybe even an invasive thriller or two to keep things truly interesting. We’ve got your roundup, so to speak, right here.

A recent, widely read article in the New York Times called it “one of the most popular new musicals in America, with a passionate fan base that dwarfs the number of people who have ever seen the show” — a reference to none other than Be More Chill, the supercharged sci-fi high school musical that made its commissioned world premiere at Red Bank’s Two River Theater back in 2015. Based on a novel by the late Ned Vizzini — and playfully touching on themes that include addiction, acceptance, and assimilation into the popular-kids social hierarchy — the show by composer Joe Iconis and book writer Joe Tracz has since gathered major momentum through viral streaming of its soundtrack album, an international fanbase, and a series of school and community productions that included a successful staging by Tom River’s Exit 82 company. On the eve of a commercial Off Broadway revamp — and even as Two River Theater Company commissions an all new project from the Two Joes team — the Be More Chill songwriter returns to Red Bank for a special benefit event on Saturday, May 19. Billed as “An Evening with Joe Iconis and Family,” the fundraiser for TRTC’s ambitious slate of development programs is “a combination of rock ‘n’ roll jamboree and musical cabaret” that “will include classic tunes, new numbers, and works-in-progress.” Joining Iconis and director John Simpkins are such “family” member vocalists as orignal Chill veterans Lauren Marcus, Eric William Morris, and George Salazar; tickets ($60-$250) and details on a pre-show cocktail reception and post-show family dinner are available at or 732-345-1400.

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‘Dancing’ in language and light, at Two River Theater

Harry Smith watches over his family as the narrator Michael in DANCING AT LUGHNASA, on stage now at Two River Theater in Red Bank.  Photos by T. CHARLES ERICKSON

Published in the Asbury Park Press, April 27 2018

Winner of the 1992 Tony Award for Best Play; revived and produced by countless professional, school and community companies; adapted into a screen vehicle for Meryl Streep — the Brian Friel play Dancing at Lughnasa is familiar ground for the legions of theatergoers who have chanced to look in on the Mundy household during that momentous Irish summer of 1936.

Yet even a single visit to this ensemble drama that’s been rightly branded a modern classic — a “memory play” that comes packed with its own set of spoilers regarding the characters’ offstage lives and future struggles — can whet the appetite for more. And whether you’re a newcomer or an experienced “Lughna-tic,” the production of Lughnasa now onstage at Red Bank’s Two River Theater  — a production under the nuanced direction of Broadway-vet actress Jessica Stone; previously known here for broadly comic outings like Forum — impresses with its splendid stagecraft, and its embrace of the playwright’s often beautiful language.

Set in the fictional County Donegal village of Ballybeg, during the late-summer harvest festival known as Lughnasa, the play is at heart a group portrait of the five Mundy sisters — led, more or less, by the prim schoolteacher and breadwinner Kate (Megan Byrne, in an adept portrayal of her take-charge character’s flashes of vulnerability and humor). Add to that mix the more boisterous Maggie (Mylinda Hull), the introverted Agnes (Christa Scott-Reed), the somewhat slow-witted and entirely lovelorn Rose (Mandy Siegfried), plus the lovely and rather defiantly unmarried young mother Chris (Meredith Garretson). It’s a portrait framed by the recollections of Chris’s now grown-up son Michael (Harry Smith), who observes and comments upon the play’s action, provides some often sobering updates, and performs the lines of his five-year old self, there in that interlude when so much seemed possible, and yet so many storm clouds were gathering in the big world beyond cottage and village.

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The cast of the Brian Friel play “Dancing at Lughnasa” conjures a slice of Irish life in the 1930s, in the Two River Theater production on stage beginning this weekend in Red Bank.  (Photo by Yurik L. Lozano)

Published in the Asbury Park Press, April 13 2018

“It’s one of the great plays of the twentieth century,” says the director Jessica Stone of her latest project for Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company. “And it’s because of how universal its themes are.”

While its characters, cultural references and conflicts are very much of a piece with its setting in the Irish countryside of 1936, there is a certain quality to Dancing at Lughnasa that resonates with audiences in the here and the now…and when Two River’s John Dias suggested Brian Friel’s Tony- and Olivier award winning 1990 play to Stone, the director “jumped at” the chance to “explore this world; to explore the bond of these five sisters, and the ways in which we live through our memories.”

Kicking off a month-long limited engagement this weekend at Two River’s mainstage Rechnitz Theater, the production represents something of a hat-trick for Stone, a young veteran Broadway actress (her credits include the 2011 revival of Anything Goes, and a debut as Frenchy in the 1994 staging of Grease) who has credited the late New England-based theater legend Nicholas Martin with mentoring her journey from player to professional director. It’s a road that’s seen her helm some acclaimed projects throughout the eastern United States, including a 2014 Boston staging of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike that carried on in the spirit of Martin’s Tony-lauded Broadway production — and for Two River, the Alan Ayckbourn comedy Absurd Person Singular, plus her own all-male, all-madcap take on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

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Poet, playwright, producer and powerhouse performer Rock Wilk returns to Asbury Park on April 13, for a one-night engagement of his Off Broadway solo piece BROOKLYN QUARTET at Palette Artspace. (photo courtesy Rock Wilk)

Published in the Asbury Park Press on April 6, 2018

The potentially taxing month of April spells many happy returns for theater fans, suddenly faced with a springtime smorgasbord of choices. We’ve got your roundup right here — and it begins with a couple of intriguingly original oddities on display in and around Asbury Park.

One of the area’s best-kept-secret showcases for new original stage works is happening within the halls of a high school — the old Neptune High School, that is; alma mater of Tony winning lyricist Lynn Ahrens, and a place rebranded in recent years as Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center. It’s there that La Strada Ensemble Theater has made a home for itself, with the collective of Shore-based playwrights and performers having workshopped and debuted dozens of full-length and short works for the stage. On Friday, April 6, it’s Brick Township playwright Darren Debari’s turn in the spotlight, as the troupe presents its premiere production of the drama “Destruction of the American Male.” La Strada artistic director A.J. Ciccotelli stars as a hard-drinking actor turned stockbroker who’s had (and lost) it all more times than once, with Lite-FM radio personality Christine Nagy co-starring in the play that takes an unflinching look at the relationships, personal demons and identity crises that define men in 2018 America. Evan Black (who also appears in the supporting cast) co-directs with Donna Ault Jacobson, and “Male” call is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with an additional 7 p.m. show on Sunday, April 8. Tickets ($25; senior and student discounts) can be reserved by visiting or calling 732-455-2748.

He’s a poet, a playwright, a record producer, a spoken word artist, a vocalist and musician — and on the evening of Friday the 13th, Rock Wilk is a panorama of vividly realized characters, as the multi-talented, multi-tasking performer brings his one man show “Brooklyn Quartet” back to Asbury Park for a one night stand. It’s a return to his onetime “stomping grounds” for the artist who previously workshopped the full-length piece at such area venues as the historic Stephen Crane House — and whose Off Broadway and touring engagements of “Quartet” built on the momentum of his acclaimed (and autobiographical) solo piece “Broke Wide Open.” A fast paced, passionately performed script that’s been honed to razor-edged precision by its author, “Brooklyn Quartet” sketches a group of urban neighborhood friends as they make an uneasy, sometimes tragic, and cautiously hopeful transition from youth to adulthood. It’s a bracingly adult work for audiences in search of something different —and it’s on exhibit at Palette Artspace, the “arts block” gallery located at 716 Cookman Avenue. Admission is just $5, and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. sharp. Continue reading



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, 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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David Lee HRHFRASIER co-creator David Lee (left) returns to Red Bank to direct a young cast of pros (including Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, right) in the Two River Theater Company production of CAMELOT.  Originally published on, November 14, 2014 Even as Red Bank’s own Phoenix Productions offers up a supremely silly take on the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table — courtesy of Monty Python’s Spamalot — the professionals at Two River Theater are getting serious about “The Once and Future King,”   beginning with Saturday’s first preview performance of Camelot. The 1960 golden-age musical from the songwriting team of Lerner and Loewe — a Broadway costume classic that originally starred Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, Roddy McDowall and Robert Goulet — is already an unorthodox choice for the Two River team led by John Dias and Michael Hurst. But a closer look reveals a production that loses the brooding middle-aged actors in favor of a dynamic young ensemble of just eight players — even as it preserves the award winning score that gave the world “How to Handle a Woman” and “If Ever I Would Leave You.” Directing the show that opens on Friday, November 21 and runs through December 14 is David Lee, the Emmy winning sitcom impresario (Frasier, Wings) whose previous Two River outing was the celebrated Present Laughter from two seasons back (he also re-teamed with some of the original Frasier cast for a fundraiser presentation on the Red Bank stage). He’s working with an awesomely experienced cast that includes Oliver Thornton, a young veteran of London’s West End (Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Rent) who’s making his American stage debut as Arthur — plus Nicholas Rodriguez (Disney’s Tarzan) as Lancelot, and (as the man-you-love-to-hate Mordred) Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, who shared the Broadway stage with Angela Lansbury and Elaine Stritch in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Tony nominee Steve Orich (Jersey Boys) directs a live ensemble of seven musicians. Your upperWETside Control Voice spoke to David Lee about the pros and cons of parades, pageantry and pointy hats. Read on… Continue reading


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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