Smart, Witty, and Viciously Funny
By Suzanne Daub
The laughs start at rise, from the moment wide-eyed Gus enters the posh upstairs bedroom of a Manhattan townhouse, staggering under an armload of coats from the famous partygoers “downstairs.” He unceremoniously dumps them on the bed, then wanders starstruck through the room. The expressions and the physical comedy of Sterling Gates sets the tone for TWN’s very funny production of It’s Only a Play, the affectionately snarky, fast-paced farce about life in the theatre.
Written by Tony Award winner Terrence McNally, who confesses that he’s never forgotten a review of his first play in which the critic wished “the parents of the playwright had smothered him in his cradle,” this play spares no one. There’s James Wicker, the egotistical and sarcastic yet engaging tv star and best friend of the sincere and everhopeful playwright, Petere Austin. Julia Budder, the naïve but well- meaning dilettante bankrolling the play and hosting the after-part, is constantly mangling famous quotes. They’re joined by Victoria Noyes, a coke-fuled film actress trying to regain her stardom while on parole; Ira Drew, the arrogant theatre critic who secretly wants to be a playwright; and Frank Finger, the wildly successful neurotic director with a touch of kleptomania who desperately longs for a flop.
The play mercilessly pokes fun at the narcissism of actors and the convictions of all involved that only Theatre matters, to the point where they mute tragic and dramatic news stories till the allimportant reviews of their show come on tv. While you don’t have to be a frequent theatergoer to enjoy this comedy, it will be funnier, and it’s references more pointed, if you have some knowledge of Broadway. Viciously funny though it is, the play is not all jabs and insults, the innocent optimism of Gus is heartwarming, Scott Corry is fun to watch as the delightfully sleazy critic, and Booth as Austin and Sarah Fraunfelder as Budder both deliver sincere expressions of love for theatre and its role in life.
Act one and two take place on the same set: Budder’s bedroom, where the ensemble anxiously waits for reviews after opening night of Austin’s newest play. The set is arranged to give each cast member a Grande Entrance, and designed perfectly to imply the off-stage action. Locals will appreciate strategically placed details like Hostetler sculptures and a portrait by John Devaney.
Staging and pace are superb, and TWN Artistic Director Justin Crene and Director Jedadiah Schultz have perfectly cast the roles, assembling actors who have great stage presence, good comedic timing, and the chemistry to pull off this “comedy with serious overtones,” as Austin describes his play in It’s Only a Play. While every part is we-acted, Rian Jairell as James Wicker, Tim Booth as Peter Austin, and Kamal Sehrawy as Frank Finger give stand-out performances – expressive, energetic (in the case of Sehrawy, manic), slightly wacky, and convincing in their roles. They draw in the audience until by the end of the play, the audience willingly plays a role in it. This play is about a play within a play makes for a fiercely funny evening of lively entertainment.
“It’s Only A Play” an over-the-top romp
TWN comedy at Bennett Hall through July 7
By Jim Sulzer, Contributing Writer
Theatre Workshop of Nantucket has kicked off its 2018 summer season with a hilarious comedy about the theatre world, “It’s Only a Play,” now at Bennett Hall. Brought vividly to life by a brilliant cast, spot-on direction and an elegant set, Terrence McNally’s effervescent play straddles the line between realism and hyperbole and delivers laughs by the bushel.
“It’s Only a Play” offers a behind-the-scenes look at the angst and turmoil of the cast, producer and playwright in the hours after the opening of a new play on Broadway, “The Golden Egg,” by “America’s oldest-living most promising young playwright.” Peter Austin (Timothy Booth). All the action occurs in the upscale bedroom of the producer, Julia Budder (Sarah Fraunfelder), a place of both refuge and worry, up a flight of stairs from the unseen party Budder is throwing downstairs. Between opening-night jitters, the playwright’s maniac desperation for a smash hit and the tortured wait for the all-important New York Times review, there’s plenty of plot points that involve the glorious collisions of swashbuckling egos, and plenty of moments of bitter heart-break and mutual recrimination.
As a frame for the story, McNally opens the play by introducing a few outsiders, starting with the temporary help, Gus P. Head. An actor/singer wannabe fresh off the farm, Gus greets the famous guests downstairs and drags ever-more-massive loads of overcoats up the stairs. Sterling Gates, a junior at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, gives a delicious rendition of the star-struck Gus, milking his every reaction to maximum effect and, in the second act, showcasing a fine voice in his highly-stylized rendition of “Defining Gravity”. Gus shares the opening scenes with James Wicker, the playwright’s best friend who has flown in from Hollywood for the opening.
A former stage actor who played the lead in Austin’s first his, Wicker has since sold out and now stars in a weekly TV series. Rian Jairell, new to TWN, is exceptional as this central character who carries many scenes and, in fact, never leaves the stage. His character is, in part, a vehicle for granting the audience an outsider’s perspective on the wackiness and absurdity of everyone involved in “The Golden Egg.” Jairell’s facial expressions are priceless as he reacts to the self-absorption of those around him.At the same time, he displays his own fell palette of snarkiness, petty jealousies and ego. He’s more than willing to throw anyone under the bus, including his best friend, and reveals himself to be as blind and self-absorbed as those he criticizes.
What adds to our enjoyment of the play, of course, is our knowledge that the vanities it satires do not belong to theatre people alone. The pretensions, the blind spots, these are foibles we all share. Even the one sympathetic character in the play, the wealthy producer Julia Budder, does not escape McNally’s acid touch. The talented Fraunfelder (one of the two year-round islanders in the cast) creates a genuinely nice character who – nonetheless – reveal some amusing gaps in her knowledge of theater and indeed the world in general. She misquotes everyone, starting with Irving Berlin. She misunderstands the notions of striking the scenery and what a “hit” is. In a fine piece of acting, Fraunfelder maintains a delicate balance, delivering laughs at her character’s expense while projecting her basic decency.
Tim Booth, as the play-wright Peter Austim, is convincingly stressed and overwrought on the night that he hopes will be the culmination of his career. In one wonderful scene, he manages to lead all the other character in “a playwright’s prayer,” convincing them to fall to their knees as they plead for success and good reviews. Toward the end of the play, when he accepts a phone call of congratulation from his father, he creates a genuinely touching moment as he tries to sell half-truths and evasions to his father. Sara Fetgatter, new to TWN, gives a riotous portrayal of Virginia Noyes, the star with an electronic bracelet and some serious personal issues. She complains about her parole officer’s insistence that she call in so frequently. Fetgatter fills her role with infectious energy, carryinging all of her star- sized emotions to the limit.
Kamal Sehrawy, a recent graduate of NYU’s Tisch School, shows a strong presence in the bringing forth the most edgy character of them all, the soon-to-be-knighted young director, Frank Finger. Moody and elusice, he is a troubled kleptomaniac with a desire to fail. Sehrawy gives a supercharged portrayal of Finger’s psychic breakthrough when he relives a trauma from his childhood in an entertaining fit of outrageously uninhibited theatre. Rounding out the cast of characters is Ira Drew, a sardonic theatre critic with a secret or two of his own. Islander Scott Corry plays the role with humor and cunning. He gives Drew some creepily-annoying traits (a weird laugh, a certain cluelessness about when to tell a joke and when to remain silent) that define this unsavory piece of humanity who, after an earlier play Austin, wrote in a review that Austin’s parents should have smothered him in the crib.
Lines like this, and others, sometimes take “It’s Only A Play” far past realism and even past stereotype, int a scorching mix of satire and surrealism. These extreme forays exist side by side with the more human and realistic moments of the play and might be difficult for some directors to reconcile. But Jedediah Schultz (who staged the splendid TWN production of “Venus in Fur” two years ago) harmonizes the various elements of McNally’s script into one coherent, highly-enjoyable piece of theater. The staging flows effortlessly, the characters are well-defined, the laughs keep coming and the moments of pathos are believable. The production is graced by Peter Waldron’s beautiful set, an elegant upscale bedroom somewhere in Manhattan. It’s especially gratifying to see an iconic David Hostetler sculpture and a lovely portrait (of Julia) by John Devaney. The lighting by Stephan Petrilli is effective and timely, and the costumes by Jimm Halliday are fittingly glamourous, through sometimes covered with food, as the characters work out their interwoven and messy fates. Because of frequent language issues and adult topics, this wouldn’t be a good show for young kids.
Music by Tom Snow
Lyrics by Dean Pitchford
Stage Adaptation by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie
Based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford
Additional Music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Steinman
DIRECTOR/CHOREOGRAPHER: Justin Cerne
MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Nick Wilders
REHEARSAL DATES: June 26 - July 12, 2018
SHOW DATES: July 13 - August 25, 2018
AUDITION DATES: April 30 & May 3, 2018
AUDITION TIMES: 6:30pm-8:30pm
By William Ferrall, Contributing Writer
What makes “The Sound of Music” endure as an exemplar of musical theater unfolds with conviction in its current production at Theatre Workshop of Nantucket.
The solemn opening preludium flows from the nuns’ chorus of crystal- clear voices, then is leavened by Maria’s rendition of the familiar theme song. An animated “Maria” follows, setting the stage for her conflict and leading us to the von Trapp household. By play’s end, we’re emotionally all in for the Trapps to survive the sturm und drang of the German army advancing to their doorstep, with startling onstage reminders of Nazi armbands and banners.
This irresistible story of perseverance and courage, told with few diversions, and underscored by unforgettable melodies and lyrics, continues to find fans.TWN delivers superbly for its audiences, with some of the finest singing voices ever heard on Nantucket stages by a mixed professional and volunteer company.We’re reminded how satisfying it can be to hear live voices to captivate and touch us.
For those who’ve forgotten or might not know, the origins of “The Sound of Music” started decades before its Broadway debut 58 years ago. Originally conceived as a straight play, writers Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse changed many details of the actual Trapp family story for dramatic effect. Producers brought on board the accomplished musical-theater team of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein ll to add original songs, which evolved into a complete, new musical.
Hammerstein died in 1960, but Rodgers added the songs 'I Have Confidence' and 'Something Good' for the 1965 movie version. Sometimes omitted from staged versions of “The Sound of Music,” both are heard in the Nantucket production, along with heart-warmers “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,”“Edelweiss,” “Do-Re-Mi,” and more.
“The Sound of Music” continues to be a paragon of musical theater. Critics first disparaged the new musical, with New York Times reviewer Brooks Atkinson calling it “hackneyed” and an example of “. . . the American stage succumbing to the clichés of operetta.”
Forget the naysayers then and now.
TWN director Justin Cerne and his cast, especially those in leading roles, add nuances that distinguish this “Sound of Music” from misguided or run-of-the-mill versions.
By William Ferrall, Contributing Writer
Don’t fear seeing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at Theatre Workshop of Nantucket. There’s a lot of bite in this impressive production of one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.
For fans of daytime TV serials, the “soaps” as they’re known, it’s a chance to see vivid and engaging performances by award-winning actors Kim Zimmer and Robert Newman, the colorful pair of Reva and Josh on the long-running CBS drama “Guiding Light.”
Edward Albee’s dark masterpiece puts him and the play in the pantheon of modern American drama with Eugene O’Neil, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. Despite its three-hour length and unrelenting acrimony, this faithful rendering of Albee’s masterful script, with fine performances by four skilled actors, demands that an avid theater-goer not miss it.
When considering a staged production of “Woolf,” let’s dismiss with the elephant in the room: a bright pink elephant in the context of the play’s alcohol-fueled action. Don’t expect a replication of the famed award-winning movie version. In truth, many prominent actors have played the roles in many different major stage productions. TWN’s rendition of “Woolf” would rank among the best.
By Jim Sulzer, Contributing Writer
For this year’s peak summer season, Theatre Workshop of Nantucket has put all its eggs in one basket – the musical “Mamma Mia!” – and they seem destined to turn to solid gold.
Even for someone like me who is not a big ABBA fan, “Mamma Mia!” is a pleasure-packed, briskly-paced romp, with scintillating singing and dancing, crisp acting, foot-stomping show tunes, a creative set and some outlandishly-beautiful lighting design. If you happen to be a lover of ABBA’s music, well, you’ll be over the moon.
Theatre Workshop artistic director Justin Cerne, who directed and choreographed the show, writes in the “Director’s Note” of his special love for ABBA, and his affinity for the Swedish pop group’s songs permeates every corner of the show.The production is coherent, joyful and highly entertaining.
By Jim Sulzer, Contributing Writer
As you walk away from Theatre Workshop of Nantucket’s hilarious, don’t-miss production of Becky Mode’s inventive comedy “Fully Committed,” you may ask yourself: Was that really just one actor?
It’s hard to believe, but it truly is just one actor: the endlessly-versatile Daniel Quadrino. In this scintillating one-person show, Quadrino creates not only one quite likable main character, but also dozens of colorful supporting characters, through 80 minutes of non-stop fun under the insightful, creative direction of Gina Rattan.
By Jim Sulzer, Contributing Writer
Theatre Workshop of Nantucket’s production of “Barefoot in the Park,” which opened last week at Bennett Hall, is a high-energy exploration of the simmering tensions of a newly-married couple in Manhattan in the early 1960’s.
The first major hit by the superb comic dramatist Neil Simon, this 1963 play now seems to come from a different era than ours. It remains relevant and enjoyable, however, because of Simon’s extraordinary facility for clever plotting and dialogue and – in this production – because of the very talented cast that TWN has brought together, under the confident direction of Justin Cerne.
By Jim Sulzer, Contributing Writer
Theatre Workshop of Nantucket has brought forth the perfect antidote to the chilly, gray days of early spring: "Mere Mortals," a series of brilliant one-act pays by the master of short form, playwright David Ives.
Acted and directed with energy, wite and impeccable timing, the eight short plays deliver bushels of laughter as they pursue their provacative, sometimes edgy conceits to the outermost borders of absurdity and hilarity.
November 3rd, 2016 - Theatre Workshop of Nantucket announced their 2017 season of MainStage productions at Bennett Hall. In addition to five MainStage productions, Theatre Workshop will continue to collaborate and produce many other events throughout 2017, including the Staged Reading Series with the Nantucket Athenuem, LUNAFEST 2017, and other to be announced special events.
By Jim Sulzer
Contributing Writer The acclaimed playwright David Ives treats audiences to a show of almost preternatural cleverness in his one-act play "Venus in Fur," now being performed at Centre Stage in a gripping Theatre Workshop of Nantucket production of this twocharacter tour de force. "Venus in Fur" is many things at once, but at its most basic level it’s an edgy drama about the twists and turns of a struggle for domination and submission between Thomas, a successful playwright/director, and Vanda, an out-of-work actress.
By Rebecca Nimerfroh
We all have that one friend. She’s single. She’s messy. And when you go over to her house the only thing in her fridge are condiments. And we all have that other friend. She’s married. She’s a neat freak. And she thinks she’s Martha Stewart or at least pretends to be on Facebook. Now, what if these two friends moved in together for a week, a month, or even a day or two? It would be pretty funny, right? That is the basis for this hilarious comedy, The Odd Couple, a Neil Simon classic that has been repeated in theme ever since its original debut in 1965. We’ve seen it a thousand times, whether its with two very different cousins in the eighties sitcom Perfect Strangers, or simply redone for today’s television with actors Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon on CBS. The gist of the humor never ages, even as the play itself continues to do so. And here, for Nantucket audiences only, we are FINALLY gifted with a female version, a delightful re-mix using the play’s original language and lending it to the female voice of 2016.
By Jim Sulzer
Contributing Writer Neil Simon’s ‘The Odd Couple’ burst onto Broadway in the mid-1960s with its wildly entertaining tale of two recently-divorced dads, the slovenly Oscar and the fastidious Felix. The play cemented Simon’s place as one of our greatest comic playwrights, garnering a Tony award and spawning a movie and popular TV series.
In 1985, Simon penned a new version of the play with female leads, conceived along similar lines, with names that echo the original: the slapdash Olive and the meticulous Florence. Rewrites such as this often don’t work – they can seem stale and derivative – but happily, Simon’s writing in the new version is equal to the original, and in some scenes is superior. Theatre Workshop of Nantucket has wisely chosen t o perform this version, and its new production is terrific, generating non-stop laughs and some moments of outright hilarity. The acting by the female leads and supporting cast is consistently strong, the direction by artistic director Justin Cerne is adroit, and the result is another must-see show for TWN.
By Jim Sulzer
“Relatively Speaking,” Theatre Workshop of Nantucket’s “winter show” for 2016, is a sizzling comedy featuring short plays by three brilliant and stylish writers: Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen. The talented cast, described as “all-local” in the credits, does some fine ensemble work, playing off each other with verve and intelligence, and delivering laughs by the bushel.
March 1, 2016 - Theatre Workshop of Nantucket (TWN) announced today that three-time Academy Award winner and nineteen-time Academy Award Nominee Meryl Streep will appear at a special benefit cabaret on Saturday, July 30th at the Nantucket Hotel and Resort. The evening will pay tribute to TWN’s 60 years of performing on the island. “On With The Show - A 60th Anniversary Cabaret”, will feature theatre songs and stories starring Streep, John Shea, TWN’s Artistic Director Emeritus, and actor/director Joe Grifasi, who will recreate the cabaret group they formed while classmates at Yale.
Theatre Workshop of Nantucket announced today that A Christmas Carol, The Musical, music by Alan Menken (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and Little Shop of Horrors) and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Seussical, and Once On This Island) has been added to Theatre Workshop’s schedule of events. A Christmas Carol will be produced in place of the previously scheduled Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Performances will run at Bennett Hall on November 20th – December 13th as previously scheduled.
A Christmas Carol, The Musical is an adaptation of Charles Dickens' novella of the same name, considered a classic Christmas story. The creators were drawn together by the desire to make a show that could appeal to children and families to experience live theatre. As Mike Ockrent said in his original director's note, "I hope that kids and families will experience the same thrill I had all those years ago of enjoying the show and the wonderful reminder that nothing need remain the same, that within us all we have the capacity to share, communicate and love each other.