Treading the Boards
by: Jim Sulzer
Nantucket’s 2017 theater season features a compelling mix of new and classic shows from Theatre Workshop of Nantucket and White Heron Theatre Company.
WHITE HERON THEATRE COMPANY
White Heron, Nantucket’s professional Equity-only theater company, is starting its second season in its new home behind the Nantucket Whaling Museum. President and artistic director Lynne Bolton and executive director Michael Kopko recently talked about this year’s selection of plays.
The season opens with “Outside Mullingar” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley. Set in rural Ireland, it is a poignant story about the possibilities for love between two stubborn, independent characters.
“We fell in love with this play, its Irish black comedy,” Kopko said.
The leads will be played by the Tony Award-nominated Jeremy Shamos and Janet Zarish, perhaps best known for her performances on “Seinfeld.” The show will be directed by Skip Greer of Geva Theatre in Rochester, N.Y. and run from July 5-28.
White Heron’s next production, “SeaWife,” is brand new: a family-friendly show about whaling that will receive its first staged production in a theater on Nantucket.
Bolton and Kopko described it as “half play, half concert.” Created by a group of New York actors/musicians known as The Lobbyists, the story is set on a Nantucket whaling ship and features 19 original songs. The talented cast not only acts but plays a variety of instruments, from cello to fiddle to squeeze box. The show will run from July 10-Sept. 1.
August’s offering, “Romeo and Juliet,” will be led by director, actor and Folger Shakespeare Library scholar Louis Butelli. This innovative version will feature four men and one woman playing all the characters.
September’s show, the critically-acclaimed “Constellations” by Nick Payne, is a love story between a beekeeper and a physicist. The two-person show is about “the quantum physics of love, the small choices you make in everyday life,” said Bolton,
who will direct it.
Getting the rights to the show proved to be a major challenge. Bolton and Kopko first tried several years ago, when their phone call to London was greeted, they recall, by long laughter. But after years of effort, Bolton said, “we persisted
and we succeeded” in getting the rights to the highly-sought-after play.
White Heron’s season will close with “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” an adaptation of the popular seasonal movie, with a wrinkle: The play is set in a radio station in the 1940s or 1950s, with the actors presenting a live radio version – complete with live sound effects from a Foley artist (as sound-effects people are still called, in honor of the first such artist, Jack Foley). The show will open on
Thanksgiving Day and will run for three weekends.
THEATRE WORKSHOP OF NANTUCKET
As it has the past few years, Theatre Workshop is opening its season with a Neil Simon play. This year it’s his 1964 drama “Barefoot in the Park.” The play, which was Simon’s second, is a profound exploration of the relationships of two very different couples, TWN artistic director Justin Cerne said. Like most Simon works, it is also extremely funny.
“Simon builds a joke so well. Sometimes the payoff doesn’t come until the second or third act, but it’s so worth the wait,” said Cerne, who is directing the show. Kaitlyn Jane Kurowski and Jeff Barry (who performed in last summer’s “Venus in Fur”) play Paul and Corie, while Nantucketer Susan Lucier takes the role of Ethel. The show runs from May 10-June 17.
The next TWN production, “Fully Committed,” is a one-person tour de force set in a restaurant. An unemployed actor takes a job answering the reservation line at a hot restaurant in New York and tries to keep from drowning in the tidal flood of demands from the insatiable public. The actor also gives voice to the 40 or so different characters with whom he interacts. Gina Rattan, who has worked on Broadway, will direct the show, which will be at Centre Stage, downstairs in the Methodist Church, in June. At press time, the actor had not yet been cast.
TWN’s summer musical will be “Mamma Mia!,” the upbeat and rousing show based on the songs of the 1970s group ABBA. Cerne will direct and choreograph the production.
“It’s one of my favorite books written around songs. The story is great for all ages. There’s a cheesy factor, but it’s lots of fun,” he said. Jennifer Hemphill, who played Donna, the mother, on Broadway, will reprise the role on Nantucket. Cerne said he is also excited about the set Peter Waldron is designing to evoke the Greek isle where the story takes place. The show runs from July 8-Aug. 26.
TWN’s September show is the Edward Albee masterpiece, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” While the searing drama would be a powerful addition to any artistic season, Cerne noted Albee’s death last year and the importance of honoring this seminal American playwright. Dan Foster, the artistic director of Hudson Stage, will return to TWN to direct the drama.
TWN’s season will conclude with the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “The Sound of Music.” As with “Mamma Mia!,” it wasn’t easy to secure the rights for the show, because it is presently on tour, Cerne said.
Fortunately, he said, “on Nantucket we can make the argument that we’re 30 miles out in the ocean, so we will not be competition.”
The well-loved show “is appropriate for many reasons. You walk out of ‘The Sound of Music’ and feel good and hopeful,” Cerne said.
“We provide an escape for two hours from life – whether you need to escape for good or bad reasons – and it’s with a group of other people,” he added, reflecting more generally on the central role that theater plays in the life of a community.
Cerne will direct “The Sound of Music,” which will run from Nov. 17 to Dec. 10.
Jim Sulzer is an author and retired teacher living on Nantucket. He is the theater reviewer for The Inquirer and Mirror and occasionally writes for Nantucket Today.