Reprogramming of Jeremy: My notes

jeremyHmmmm.

I guess it’s a bit journalistic integrity that pushes me to review the Gail Wagner directed Reprogramming of Jeremy, which made its Delaware premier last night (9 August 2108) at Theater N in Wilmington, Delaware.
It’s kind of weird because Gail is a friend of mine and all I really have to say are good things, so it seems like I am being easy on her. I’m not really.
First let’s start with some technical things. The lighting and sound were first rate. Unlike so many lower budget local films, Reprogramming of Jeremy had excellent sound and lightning. This was key because the subject matter – youth coming of age homosexuality – could be discounted if the technical stuff was cheesy.
This wasn’t.
Gail’s choice to cut between characters in the film as they told their individual stories relative to Jeremy, was risky as this type of film-making can sometimes cause loss of momentum and defeat the intended dramatic arc. That wasn’t the case here. Ms. Wagner was able to build tension and anxiety.
Though I never read Bobby Keniston’s Play of the same title, which inspired the film, the story moved forward at a good pace. Mr. Keniston made some interesting choices concerning characters being honest with themselves and us.
That part of the film was especially interesting. You couldn’t trust the multiple narrators as each had their own rationalizations about their relationships and interactions with Jeremy. Each had their own guilt, and each had their own fingerprints on the eventual end.
That which goes unsaid in this film is often more powerful, than that which is said; much of the film captures the energy of more is less.
At this point I want to shout out to Gina Olkowski. She is a chameleon and seemingly inhabited her role from first descriptive loving hug to violent momma grizzly when her son was in danger. Everyone was wonderful, but Gina’s portrayal really pulled me in.
Another shout out to Emily Ciuffettelli who played Abby (Jeremy’s best female friend – not girlfriend). Her portrayal of Abby was so sincere and vulnerable, I felt she was one of the few characters in the film with whom I would like to have coffee.
Finally, Marsha Amato Greenspan was appropriately dastardly and evil as the Christian running a gay reprogramming camp. Bravo!
And that brings me to my unfulfilled expectation. The director and script dedicated a lot of time to the life that led to Jeremy’s incarceration at the camp. I only wish more time had been spent here and how it all impacted the films finale.
The Reprogramming of Jeremy is an important film and people should take time and see it. I’m not sure how, or even if, it will be distributed. The thing is, the world is crazy and art like this gives us a grounding – or at least a caution of what we’ve won and what we could lose.

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SO IT GOES: Weekend at Timmy’s

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Gracie’s College Friends

Forty-two years ago, my life changed when my brother drove me to the University of Rhode Island (URI) and stopped the car in front of my dorm, brusquely off loaded my stuff, and unceremoniously said, “Carry it up yourself.” He drove off in his forest green Plymouth Fury III and I was left standing there with a set of over-sized homemade stereo speakers and clothes.
I’m not really sure of the sequence of things after that, but somehow, I fell in with a great crowd.
And that’s the point I guess.
You see this great crowd has stayed remarkably intact for more than 40 years. There have been tragedies, defeats, deaths, and all the negative milestones any life endures. On the flip side, there have been births, marriages, new jobs, recoveries, cures, and all the joyous moments that mark full lives. And through it all this group has maintained contact, love, and unity.
And as the saying goes, “that ain’t nothing!”
I could talk about the myriad of “Smitty, remember when …” stories. But I won’t; there are too many and most – though true — border on the unbelievable. They truly do; you know, brushes with death; spurned loves; exams no one should have passed; and assorted college foolishness.
We all got together last weekend at Timmy and Diane’s house. It was the “Sexy and Sixty Party.” We spent the first couple of hours catching up, lying to each other, and just relaxing, then time for dinner, and then a sing along with Chip and Bugsy on guitar.
And that’s where it got special.
Timmy has an above ground pool; it is separated from the patio by a small wooden railing that is part of a deck surrounding the pool. The whole thing has the effect making two distinct areas in the backyard.

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Timmy and Diane

On this particular weekend, Timmy’s daughter Gracie, brought home her college friends. So Timmy had his college buddies and she had hers. It seemed the starts aligned for a torch passing of one kind or another, but it never really happened.
Maybe it was too far of a reach. Maybe they didn’t see it and won’t — until they are 42 years from now. Or maybe I was just looking for something that was impossible to see. I don’t know.
Describing the indescribable of love, loyalty, and perseverance fashioned over 4 decades to college freshmen probably makes as much sense as explaining Hamlet to my dog. I mean he loves the sound of my voice, but it is just a sound; no deeper meaning.
This blog took an unexpected turn; I’ll finish up.
As the night drew to an end and the love we felt in our group glowed, there was a desperation to tell Gracie and her friends to cherish each other and maybe – if they were incredibly lucky – they’d end up as old men and women still loving their friends. I know others felt that way. As we left, each of us tried – in different ways – to explain to them how rare of a day the young people had just seen, but I’m pretty sure we never got it right.
Maybe we weren’t supposed to get it right. Maybe it is theirs to discover and not ours to present to them.
So it goes.

Reedy Point’s Miracle Weekend

I got something to say!!!!
Last weekend the Reedy Point Players in Delaware City pulled off a miracle and like most miracles it came in the guise of hard work and I daresay friendship.
See, they had the 2nd Annual Playwriting competition. It was the usual deal, you know – mandatory lines you had to use, a mandatory prop, and the same set and blah. Blah, blah.
But here is where it all was a bit different. You see Delaware City can seem a bit off the beaten path and theaters in Newark and Wilmington were putting on their own shows on the same weekend, so it turned out “the little theater that could” had a smaller than usual pool of actors, and directors from which to pull.
Those in England now abed …
Sadly directors had to act, actors appeared in multiple shows, and writers to hold their collective breaths.
I won’t go into a play by play of who won what (except I won fan favorite male actor), but magic happened.
This group of crazies put five superb shows across the boards last Saturday night. There were mysteries, love stories, comedies, and one really weird wedding story.
Here’s the kicker – it was a competition with each player invested in someone else’s show. Writers of one show acted in another, trying to kick their own ass for a director they may never have met before.
It was really cool. In fact, it was the gosh-darndest thing you ever saw.
And the shows rocked. Brand new theater across the stage hooking and jabbing to ensure the audience got their money’s worth.
There were rehearsals in backyards; rehearsals on Sundays, rival directors invited to everyone else’s rehearsals, and of course there was beer. Cold beer.
I guess a shout out to Jacob Hunter is in order and so is one for Gail Springer. Jacob was our leader and Gail was the best fantastic cake finder ever!!

 

Murder on Cue — Great Cast Work

Somebody asked me to review “Murder On Cue” this year’s fund raiser for Newark’ Del. Chapel Street Players, playing this weekend and next. For more info go to http://chapelstreetplayers.org/.
Anyway.
The cast is so huge I won’t be able to mention everyone; they were all wonderful.
The show starts out, it seems, as an homage to the 1976 Neil Simon comedy “Murder by Death” and the longtime favorite board game Clue. I could be wrong, but it sure felt that way.
There’s the deaf housekeeper, the nun with a vow of silence, the beauty queen, and the usual suspects in any mystery spoof. It was actually quite effective. This campy tribute goes on for about 15 minutes.
That’s where things change.
Scott F. Mason, the Writer and director of “Murder on Cue,” is shot. The house lights come up and an investigation of the entire cast, crew, and house staff begins under the watchful eye of FBI Agent Sawinski played with pitch perfection by Andre Wilkins.
I knew he was a good actor, but his performance last night cemented him as a great leading man kind of guy.
A plug for Nicole Pierce. She has a certain indescribable vibe (or presence) that I just love; she was her usual superb self this particular evening. Will someone please put her in a leading role!? Jeepers.
Back to the show.
I don’t know if I had ever seen Courtney Lynahan before, but I really liked her as the vow of silence nun and the pilfering cast member (oops don’t want to give too much away).
I can’t go any further without mentioning five of my favorites in the CSP stable of stars. I just love Michelle Cullen, Judy David, Peter Kuo (who is hilarious btw), Michelle Opaleski, and Brian M. Touchette. Each one was superb and acted with great skill. They heightened the tomfoolery and suspense. Bravo!!
As I said in previous reviews – I love Susan Boudreax and Susie Moak. They knock my socks off.
I had never seen Ann Matthews act Before, but she too, was a delightful surprise. She appeared with her husband of 33 years Pete Matthews. I had never seen him act either. Whenever I see him he has a hammer in his hand; this time he had a cigar. Regardless of hand tool, he did an excellent job.
Remember the gloriously evil bad guy in CSP’s production of 1984? That was Zack Jackson. In this show, he played a hilarious loudmouth plumber and then himself as the show progressed. BTW, he has one of my favorite actor skills – he makes great faces.
I’ll tell you who doesn’t get enough credit around here — Heather McCarty. She is a blast to watch and also makes great faces. I always see her doing something interesting down stage left. Isn’t that weird?
Renee G. O’leary celebrated her 55th consecutive fund raiser. She was delightful as Boddy and took a second to show off her great legs to audience.
Danielle Jackomin played bestselling murder mystery novelist LC. She is always fun to watch. Pay attention to her last couple of minutes on stage, those are pretty special.
I don’t know who Darin Bishop is. I think he got swallowed up in the crowd of actors after the shooting of Mr. Mason. He is listed as the EMT in the program, so maybe I had a bad seat and just couldn’t see him.
The last time I saw Patricia Lake was last Spring when she appeared in Holy Traffic. She was delightful.
I really enjoyed Matthew Brown’s performance of Newark policeman Bernhart. It had an honesty and naivety that was really refreshing when juxtaposed to the snarky witness interviews of Mr. Mason’s shooting/murder.

Walt Osborne played Major General Cleopold Poupon and was especially good throughout the sho0,w but really shined in the first few minutes with a small dance bit that got entire audience clapping.
I guess that’s it. Not a whole lot more to say. There is a bunch of people acting and you’ll like them. The show and the cause (CSP Fund Raiser) are a good place to spend your entertainment dollar. So go see it.

Chapel Street Player’s NEXT’s – George Cope 24-Hour Playwriting Festival.

 

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Joe Pukatsch, Christy Wall, and Susie Moak work out blocking details with members of two different casts

A friend of mine asked me to write a review of playwriting festival, but I can’t.

 

I can tell you what I saw, heard, felt, and experienced, but a review is out of the question.

You see, I love the George Cope 24-Hour Playwriting Festival and there is no way I could possibly give you an unbiased review of this miraculous event. So, I am not even going to try.

At about 7:30 pm, Saturday night, the clouds opened and proceeded to pour buckets of water, about 100 hearty souls came to the Chapel Street Player’s Theater, in Newark.

As they dripped their way to their seats, having paid a scant $5, Jose Pukatsch, Lyn Anderson, and Alan Harbaugh raced about shaking hands, making notes, and pressing buttons that made the lights work correctly.

Writers and directors took their seats, held their collective breaths, and each in his/her own way, crossed their fingers.

And after 24 straight hours of casting, writing, and rehearsing — It was showtime!

The night’s emcee, Mr. Harbaugh said it best, “24 hours ago none of this existed,” he said.

Mr. Harbaugh told the drying audience that writers started writing Friday night, and handed off their scripts to directors Saturday morning, and the directors worked throughout the day with casts they had never seen before.

Before the first show, Mr. Harbaugh and Mr. Pukatsch paid a tribute to the festival’s namesake – George Cope. The festival, they said, was Mr. Copes brainchild. Mr. Cope died earlier in the year.

The first ten-minute number was “The Connection” by Sean Kelly, directed by Zachary Jackson, starring Mike Barko, and Connie Regan. It told the story of two memories finding each other in the fog, gently coming together, and drifting back to the fog only to reset again (implying the perpetual remembering and forgetting and remembering again).  

“Unbreakable” by Eric Merlino, directed By Judy David, and starring Susan Boudreaux and Angela Teague was up next. It was tricky little number that told the story of a covetous niece visiting her aunt to buy a valuable painting. Both ladies handled their roles with grace and aplomb. There was a surprise ending and I won’t reveal in case it is ever staged again.

The Birdcage by Lance Thompson. Was a bit more straight forward. (Mr. Thompson was also on the committee that brought the whole evening to life). Sean McKeen, veteran of the first 24-hour ply festival, directed this adult comedy about a woman who finds her own way out of oppressive marriage while maintaining her vows. Michelle Opalesky hopped, skipped, and drug one leg across the stage, wreaking revenge on her philandering husband played with despicability by Leslie Blackburn.

The Magic Stone was playwright Joe Redden’s maiden voyage with the festival. This show directed by Aneila Meinhaldt (many may know her from Reedy Point), Vaughan Ellerton, Mr. Harbaugh, and Heather McCarty portrayed a family finding a magic stone and greedily wishing for everything, but world peace. It was a scream. (A special note Heather McCarty was hilarious. Her voice, movement, and pitch were superbly funny).

Next up was “The Key’s the Thing” written by me. Susie Moak, directed Marlene Hummel and Josh Coslar in this upside down story of a crime family matriarch. Marlene’s special tonal quality and ability to make great faces drove the piece with just the right amount of crazy. Mr. Coslar’s performance built on itself until an explosive end.

Then came the night’s most “no holds barred” production of  “Sleigh Bells” a script written by Jacob Hunter, Kevin Meinhaldt (yes, that Kevin Meinhladt), and award winning playwright Brain Smith. This was a Sweeney Todd, meets Rudolph, meets Body Heat kind of story full of hilarious characters and one dead Santa. Like I said, “No holds barred.” Although Lacey Eriksen, Andre Wilkins, and Gina Olkowski were the only three on the stage, it sure seemed like more. They approached their roles with the enthusiasm of a border collie on speed and with the precision a laser surgeon removing a speck from an eyeball. It was wonderful.

Pulling six different plays, with six different directors, six different casts together I am sure was like herding cats. If I ever need lessons on feline wrangling, I’m calling stage manager Christy Wall. She single handedly kept all the trains running on time and in the same direction.  

I guess that’s it.

It was a great night of homegrown theater for the folks who made it through the rain. In a way the rain was kind of fitting. This was the first time Mr. Cope’s name was added to the event title, so it was more of a baptism of a new thing instead of handwave goodbye to friend.

 

George Cope 24-Hour ONE Act Play Festival –ACTORS NEEDED (IF YOU’RE A LUNATIC)

 

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George Cope Introduces a staged reading of his full length play

George Cope was our leader.
He died, and we miss him.
But he didn’t leave us alone.
Tomorrow night is the second iteration of his brain child – a 24-hour one act play festival.
“We need crazy people,” he told me one cold winter Saturday in basement of the Chapel Street Players Playhouse. “People who are willing to take a chance and put some shows on in 24 hours.”
He was convinced a group of lunatics could write, cast, and stage quality shows in less than 24 hours. He was right – we proved that last year.
Here’s what’s going to happen.
At about 7 pm Friday night, May 11, 2018, seven writers will convene at the Chapel Street Players Playhouse. They will be assigned a director and pick, a yet to be determined, number of actors from an audition pool. The actors will audition using a prop they brought with them, giving a quick pitch about the prop. When the actors are picked, and director assigned, the writers will head home (or to Starbucks or Denny’s) and begin writing. By about 7:30 a.m. the writers will return to the theater and hand the play to the director and the actors and won’t see it again to Saturday night when the show begins.
With any luck what happened last year, will happen again – fellowship, blooming friendships, and magic.
Each show was magic last year as writers of differing skills pulled elephants through keyholes banging out comedies, mysteries dramas, and sci-fi. It was unbelievable.
So, if you are a crazy lunatic actor with the guts to take chance come join us Friday night and audition for one of the most rewarding nights of theater you’ll ever experience.