New Theater In Town -July 2014

by: Lindsay Pykosz

photography by: Cary Hazlegrove

It’s a warm summer night on Nantucket and you’re looking for a
place to relax and enjoy some of the culture the island has to offer.
Walking up one of downtown’s historic, quaint cobblestone streets, you come across a large tent. Inside is a stage, rows of comfortable movietheater seats, and a production is about to begin. You sit down and enjoy a play performed by professional actors while the warm breeze surrounds you.

This truly is a different way to enjoy theater, but it’s not a new concept for White Heron Theatre Company, Nantucket’s professional repertory theater. Now in its second year of providing theater under a tent, the organization is gearing up for another busy summer season full of collaborations, one-person plays and talk-backs with cast members. The company also has plans in the works to build a permanent theater on its North Water Street property, and hopes to break ground in the fall.

“It’s more theatrical than stand-up comedy, and more stand-up comedy than theater.”
The shows will be running in rotating repertory – different shows each night over the course of the summer – and will be performed in the tent that includes 75 theater seats that executive director and co-artistic director Michael Kopko picked up in New Orleans – on a homemade stage with professional lighting.

The season will kick off with two readings of Joe DiPietro’s “The Second Mrs. Wilson” on Thursday, July 3 and Friday, July 5 in collaboration with the Tonyaward winning New Haven, Conn. based Long Wharf Theatre. The collaboration was developed with the purpose of bringing together actors, playwrights and directors on Nantucket to explore and develop a new work by an established playwright. It will be directed by Long Wharf ’s artistic director Gordon Edelstein.

“Joe DiPietro is a very well-known playwright,” said Lynne Bolton, president, founder and artistic director of White Heron. “It’s a play about President Woodrow Wilson and his second wife. Woodrow Wilson’s first wife died while he was in office in his first term, and he was courting this woman in his reelection campaign, which was a bit controversial at the time. They married after he was reelected, he had a stroke, and she ran the country for two years. It’s a really interesting, beautifully-written play. It has a lot of legs in the sense that it’s a good vehicle for a well-known actress.”

The two July performances will mark the first time anyone has seen the play read, and after the July 5 reading, “CBS Sunday Morning” film critic David Edelstein will lead the talk-back discussion on the collaboration. Bolton said DiPietro’s production has already been slotted for the Long Wharf season and will also be heading to Broadway.

“The play will go from here with our name on it to Broadway,” she said.

On Wednesday, July 17, Tom Dudzick’s “Miracle on South Division Street” will open, a comedy that has gained popularity over the last couple of years, Kopko said. It follows the Nowak family of Buffalo, N.Y. and their shrine to the Virgin Mary that miraculously shows up in front of their barber shop.

“We generally don’t pick straight comedies,” Kopko said. “We were looking for very well-written pieces, pieces that are structurally classical in the way that they’re structured. We’re pretty fussy with straight comedies, but this one struck us. It’s smart and classically constructed.”

Audience members will also have a chance to see another comedy, Frederick Stroppel’s new play “Small World,” about Walt Disney and Igor Stravinksy, who work out their differences during the making of “Fantasia.” The play is making its national premiere at White Heron this summer.

“It’s very funny, and it’s very much about what’s art and what’s not art and what that means to each of them,” Kopko said. “They each went at it differently.”

The company also chose to bring back one of its favorite playwrights, A.R. Gurney, whose production of “Family Furniture” will run through July and August. Most of the story takes place in a family’s summer home and centers around the threads that hold us all together.

“His stuff is funny, beautifully written, classically constructed and as deep as it needs to be, generally,” Kopko said. “But this piece kind of touched us in a different way than most Gurney pieces. There’s a little more to it. There’s something extremely poignant about this play.”

Bolton added that the story takes a closer look at the lengths people will go for love and family.

“There’s that sort of central dynamic, which is they have this summer home and they spend time there together in this house. And it’s their happy memories of their family,” she added.

The team will also be bringing back Hamish Linklater’s “The Vandal,” a show they brought to the island in March. Kopko and Bolton went to see the play at The Flea Theater in New York City over a year ago and instantly fell in love with it for its redemptive and beautiful story, which follows three characters on a cold night in Kingston, N.Y. and weaves together stories of people loved and lost.

“We did a reading of it during our studio-reading series last spring, and we just wanted to do a concert reading of it and see how we felt and how the cast worked and we thought it worked very well,” Kopko said. “The audience responded really well, so we thought, let’s put up a full production.”

On Mondays in July and August, beginning July 21, White Heron and the Nantucket Comedy Festival will join forces to present one-person plays by actors and comedians who help connect the worlds of theater and comedy. Kopko, who is friends with Comedy Festival founder Kevin Flynn, said the two began talking about a collaboration and co-producing a new series.

“There’s a whole genre in theater of one-person shows, one-woman shows or one-man shows. They tend to be funny, they tend to be poignant and life stories of the people who write them,” Kopko said.

“It’s more theatrical than stand-up comedy, and more stand-up comedy than theater.”
When picking productions for an upcoming season, Bolton said each member of White Heron gets to contribute to the conversation, but with rotating rep, there has to be a central focus. This year, they seemed to work their summer season around “Family Furniture.”

“That doesn’t make ‘Family Furniture’ the better play, and it doesn’t necessarily make it the most fun or the most important play of the season. It just happened to be where we started to design it,” Bolton said.

Next year, Bolton and Kopko said they hope to have their permanent theater, a repurposed barn, up and running so performances can continue in that space. Bolton has been working with a company from Texas where they will have the barn shipped from.

“These are virgin timbers, made from amazing wood. They’re like a cathedral, or the hull of a boat. The structures have incredible integrity and history and they can also be disassembled and reassembled quickly. You can take them apart, bring them over on the boat and then have a barn-raising. You can have a barn-raising in a week,” Bolton said.

Work is currently underway on the barn’s interior design, but it will ultimately include a 140-seat theater on the first floor, an open area over the theater with a mezzanine level and a third level with a large, open room which can be used as rehearsal space. Bathrooms and dressing rooms will also be located on the third floor.

White Heron hopes to break ground in the fall, a plan that Bolton called “very doable.” ///

Lindsay Pykosz is a Nantucket native and staff writer for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket's newspaper since 1821.

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