ReVision Theatre Company inaugurates a new series of staged readings of new plays and musicals, beginning Monday, January 11 at The Showroom.
By TOM CHESEK
When last we looked in on ReVision Theatre Company, Asbury Park’s resident professional stage troupe and its triad of Producing Artistic Directors (Thomas Morrissey, David Leidholdt and Stephen Bishop Seely) had returned to the roundhouse stage of the historic Carousel house with a production of The Full Monty — a fun followup to their summer 2008 success with Hair at that same engagingly unorthodox venue.
Fraught with the kind of “frontier theater” eccentricities that the partners had almost become accustomed to (including an opening night power outage that lasted as long as the second act), that go-round at the Carousel capped a rollercoaster year in which the ReVisionaries produced a holiday revue that unfortunately failed to set the till bells jingling (Scrooge in Rouge); a new hip-hop infused musical that proved a winning gambit (Kingdom) and an ambitious fundraiser of Funny Girl (complete with special guest Lainie Kazan) with a leading lady — Streisand specialist Steven Brinberg — who was still “on book” at curtain time.
Live and learn, as they say — and as the company prepares to announce a 2010 season that’s understandably skewed toward the warmer weather months, even while scouting out possible locations for a long-awaited homestage space (another announcement to be made later), there have been some changes made at the company’s downtown Asbury offices, with board veteran Alicia Brooks now joining Leidholdt and Morrissey as the third partner.
Helping ReVision to ReBoot in the new year is an offering that’s potentially very exciting; one designed to keep the company’s name on the public radar throughout the bitter-cold blasts of a long Jersey Shore off-season. Beginning this coming Monday, January 11, and continuing one Monday each month through May is a new series of live workshopped readings of new plays, presented free of charge under the title Readings from Asbury Park.
In a satisfying symbiosis of vaudeville and venue that puts a Tillie-esque grin on our face, the series will be hosted at The Showroom — Mike Sodano and Nancy Sabino’s Cookman Avenue screening space that’s been rewriting the ground rules of what a neighborhood nickelodeon can do, ever since it popped its first batch of popcorn in the spring of last year. The comfortably scaled little stage, flexible seating plan and technical aspects of the storefront auditorium make it a perfect winter home for the troupe, which in true “hermit crab” fashion has inhabited spaces ranging from the cavernous Paramount to the Bingo hall of the city’s historic VFW Post.
Monday’s inaugural event will be a 6:30pm performance of the Jeff Hughes play In the Jersey City Moonlight, in which a 29 year old guy named Bob Burns (TV veteran Andy Powers) yearns to “escape life behind the bar and join the local fire department.” Elaine Bromka (the Emmy winning actress who starred recently in Tea for Three at Two River Theater), Jen Peterman, Gary Martins and Phil Callen also appear, under the direction of Daniella Topol.
Next up on February 15 is The Interpreter by Joe Vitale, an exploration (directed by ReVision board president Bob Angelini) of the fictional relationship between Hitler’s right-hand man Hermann Goering and the young Jewish-American private who serves as his interpreter during the Nuremberg trials. Then on March 8 comes a sneak peek at a much talked-about show — The Cuban and the Redhead, a musical (by Robert Bartley and Danny Whitman) based on TV power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Just added as an additional show on March 15 is Julie Marino’s Wildfire Season, in which the California wildfires provide a blazing backdrop to a domestic drama of a disillusioned, grieving political activist who drifts away from family and friends as she becomes involved with a contractor on her home. The April 19 show (pitched as a cocktail of Sex in the City and The Women) is the John McMahon-Jay Jeffries musical Friends Like These, with Kelly Briggs directing a story about a group of glamorous, successful NYC friends who help their celeb-newswoman friend achieve even more glamour and success. The series concludes on May 17 with a show to be announced later.
Red Bank oRBit went off-script to quiz David Leidholdt about this promising new series, as well as all of the other potential excitements in the works at ReVision. Read on.
The Showroom on Cookman Avenue, the nimble nickelodeon that’s become something of a multi-platform storefront center for the performing arts.
RED BANK ORBIT: Looking forward to the new Readings series, David. Personally I enjoy those kinds of things, and it’s a good way for you guys to keep your hand in during the colder months.
DAVID LEIDHOLDT: We did do one reading previously with Lou Liberatore over at the VFW; Lou’s been busy doing workshops in New York, so he’s had to step away from being our Literary Manager for a while. But doing readings of new plays goes back to our development days, before we came to Asbury Park — this is what we’ve always done, mostly; try to help writers nurture and grow their plays. And we’ll be doing it in a great, local neighborhood setting.
I can’t argue with that — the room’s just perfect for what you’re doing. You just needed to wait until it came into being.
The Showroom is just great; it’s exactly the right size for our purposes, with a little sound and lighting system. And Nancy and Mike have been very supportive.
One of the things that’s most interesting about attending a play reading, is when you get a chance to catch that same play in a full staging years later and you see how much it’s been brought back to the workshop and revised; sometimes radically so. Will you be doing the talkback sessions after the performance, with the actors and the author?
We’re not sure if we’re going to be doing a formal Q&A with these events — we’ll leave it up to the writers, to see how they want to play it. In the past, we’d solicit comments by passing out forms for the audience to fill out. But whether or not they’re asking questions of the playwright, a lot of people just like to be there on the ground floor, the early stages of a play’s journey. It’s a way for the audience to take a little bit of ownership of the show.
We’re counting on getting a more diverse crowd here also — in New York, it’s all artists who come to these things. Here, hopefully, we’ll get a mix of artist types and regular theatergoers as well. But the variety, the diversity of our audiences has been one of the most satisfying things about the whole experience. With Kingdom, for instance, we just didn’t know what to expect — the older theatergoers might not understand or like it, and the younger people who didn’t normally come to live theater might continue to stay away. But as it turned out, all sorts of people saw it and loved it.
I understand that ReVision had a bit of a revision in its management situation.
Stephen went back to acting, which is what he had been doing several years ago; he decided to pick up his career, which he had to sort of put on hold as we worked to get this thing off the ground. I think the three of us all made a commitment to give up our personal goals in favor of the group goals — I know it’s an entirely different experience, when you’re a person with an artistic background who then has to be concerned with all sorts of administrative matters.
So, Alicia Brooks, who’s been a member of our board, has stepped in to become the third partner; more or less assuming Steven’s place, since we’ve been used to having the three producing partners. As far as the breakdown of responsibilities, everybody pretty much continues to do a little of everything — I think that as we grow, we’ll be able to decide and define our roles.
That’s kind of part and parcel of the frontier spirit that infuses your work — kind of a reflection of Asbury Park itself; reinventing itself by trial and error…
It’s all kind of fun; kind of rough around the edges. You know we’ve had our challenges and our adventures, doing professional theater in a new place; and in the middle of a major recession that hit just as we were getting underway. But we’ve always believed in what we’re doing, we’ve had a lot of support from the people of the city, and we plan on being there for the long run.
Do you have anything you can tell us about the upcoming season of shows?
We’ll be doing two summer shows this year, both in the Carousel — and a fall show at a location to be named later. Hopefully inside our very own home space, which is something else we’re working on right now. But we should have a formal announcement of the season very soon.
Well, you know who to call first. For the time being, you’ve got a good little thing lined up; you’ll be part of what’s happening on the “arts block” of Cookman — kind of a neighborhood, Sesame Street kind of vibe.
Well, it’s probably a little more Avenue Q than Sesame Street!
For more info and updates on ReVision Theatre Company, call (732)455-3059 or take it right here.