The Play’s the Thing -July 2014

From now through the holiday season, only a handful of nights will be dark on the stages of THEATRE WORKSHOP OF NANTUCKET

by: Lindsay Pykosz

photography by: Jim Powers

With its 2014 season already underway, theater-goers will again find a little bit of everything to satisfy their cravings: family-friendly shows, comedies, a Broadway hit, all combining the talents of island and mainland actors in a professional, public setting.

The kick-off this year was Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever,” directed by TWN newcomer Erik Pearson, with a cast that TWN executive director Gabrielle Gould called “the most diverse in terms of talent.” Three actors were new to the island and coming from New York, two were professional equity actors who have homes here and another was from California and also owns a home on Nantucket. The rest were familiar names and faces to the TWN family.

The three-act “Hay Fever” ran through mid-June and starred Susan Lucier, John Knox-Johnston, Hannah D. Scott, Wally Marzano-Lesnevich, Susan McGinnis, David Lazarus, Laurie Richards, Vince Veilleux and Kate Splaine.

“It’s a Coward show, and you can’t go wrong with Noël Coward, generally speaking,” said Justin Cerne, resident artistic director of TWN, who is filling in for John Shea as he continues to film his movie “The Grey Lady.” “It was fast and funny and we knew we were able to bring in a great director from New York who could handle it. Coward is deceiving in the fact that anybody thinks they can take it on, and most people can, but in order to take it on well, you have to have someone who understands the language and timing. There’s a lot of underlying themes under the dialogue, and Erik was able to really convey that to the cast who rose to the occasion.”

Before sitting down to choose the season’s productions, Gould and Shea meet with the other members of their artistic committee, including technical director Eric Schultz, production director Molly Martin and costume, set-decoration and property designer Anne Breeding, to discuss each play. They take into account what works for their Bennett Hall and Centre Stage theaters and which plays fit the mission of the company.

“This year, we chose our season a little bit differently than we had in the past,” Gould said prior to announcing the 2014 season. “This year, our board became more involved and we really have a top-notch artistic committee. Basically, what we started doing was gathering with a couple bottles of wine and a lot of great minds who get to read and see a lot of great theater that John and I would never get to. As John and my jobs have become so much more full-time and we haven’t been able to get to New York as much as we’d like and also see as much theater, we look at our board members who have a need to do so.”

Cerne started working with TWN remotely until his contract officially began April 1, and Gould said she has relied heavily on his input since. A New Yorkbased actor, director and choreographer who worked with Martin about seven years ago on a production, Cerne is familiar with Theatre Workshop, as he directed its production of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” last November. The experience allowed him to get to know the community, its actors and talent, and he will be reprising his role as director of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!”, which opens July 16.

“A lot of musicals got thrown around, and a classic hasn’t been done here in a while,” Cerne said. “Rodgers and Hammerstein shows are iconic, all of them are. ‘Oklahoma!’ particularly is. The story never stops, the music never stops. Everything that happens musically and dramatically propels the plot. It’s such a fantastic piece of theater. Obviously I love it. Taking on ‘Oklahoma!’ on this island is something we’re very excited about. We are 30 miles out to sea so it’s a great challenge for us. We’re really combining off-island with on-island talent with that one.”

A.R. Gurney’s “Black Tie” will open July 2. The story centers on a father and son whose cultures begin to clash around the time of the son's wedding.

“It could not be, and I mean this in the most loving way, more well-suited for Nantucket,” Cerne said. “It’s about the meeting of the generations and just letting go and compromising and the father wanting so much to hang onto the values that his father taught him, realizing his son has values that are different.”

The story takes place in what Cerne described as “a fancy but horrible lodge in the Adirondacks,” and is a production that he feels will be well-received by the Nantucket audience.

Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last 5 Years” will come next, opening Aug. 13. A musical, the story chronicles the five-year span of a marriage from beginning to end, or end to beginning, depending on how you look at it.

“It’s a really interesting piece because these two people start five years apart and they come to where they cross paths and end up five years on the opposite end,” Cerne said. “It’s about a relationship. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking and it will make you feel, which is why I think it’s such a profound show because it makes you feel something.”

Cerne said TWN has Evan Bergman, a New York producer and director, coming in to direct the show. A friend of Shea’s, he has already taken the time to meet the actors and discuss the show, of which Cerne said he “has a really unique concept for it.” Familiar TWN faces Donald Dallaire and Vanessa Calantropo are in the lead roles.

“For the last three years, I’ve looked at our productions and said, ‘Where do we put them?’,” Gould said. “We have put them in roles, but character roles. We were always asking them to be characters and it was never about them. This is the perfect opportunity to say, ‘We want to give this to you. You’ve worked hard and you’re so talented.’”

The company’s Centre Stage Theatre will be busy from mid-September through mid-October with Jeffrey Hatcher’s “A Picasso” and John Logan’s “Red” running in repertory. The first play is set in 1941 Paris, and artist Pablo Picasso has been summoned by German occupation forces. He is soon faced with a difficult decision: He must give up one of his pieces to the regime in exchange for his life. “Red” follows artist Mark Rothko and his young apprentice.

“I have been championing this idea for three years of running these two every other night in rep,” Gould said. “Both are incredibly powerful pieces, and both have two people in them. I thought we could do this rep idea. It’s a great concept, and this is the year it took root. Two plays will be performed simultaneously every other night and spin from these two unbelievable masters of their craft.”

The season will wrap up with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s production of “Cinderella,” a Tony Awardwinning musical that will be TWN’s large-scale holiday show.

“It will be our big, huge holiday show and a time to get a wonderful group of young and upcoming actors out there,” Gould said. “It’s geared toward kids, definitely, but it’s also, as ‘Oklahoma!’ is, geared toward an entire family experience.”

Looking at the season as a whole, Gould said that TWN has taken some big chances this year and will be offering a great variety of productions geared for audiences of all ages.

“We’re taking some interesting risks this year, some chances, and I think for Justin and I, we sort of have two mantras this year: transparency and a leap ahead. Those are the two things we’re really after,” Gould said. “We really want to jump off the precipice and see where we go with it.” ///

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

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